Reflective Journaling as an Approach to Life
Table of Contents
At JournaledLife we believe journaling is a keystone life habit that everyone should have. If you have never journaled before and are trying to figure out how to journal, reflective journaling is an excellent way to start journaling. Figuring out what to write about in a journal and getting journaling ideas can be difficult. Reflective journaling is a practice that continuously gives you journaling ideas and has a built-in set of journaling prompts to help with writing in your journal. Whether you are journaling for success, to find your life’s purpose, personal growth, or spiritual reasons, reflective journaling will help deepen your understanding and internalize what you learn.
What is reflective journaling?
Reflective journaling is the practice of documenting both your experiences as well as your interpretation of those experiences.
What is reflection?
The Cambridge dictionary defines reflection as:
the activity of thinking about your own feelings and behaviour, and the reasons that may lie behind them.
Reflective journaling is the result of reflection on experiences that were profound or had an impact on our lives. Self-reflection and journaling what we learn allow us to learn from similar experiences in our past. All life areas can be examined reflectively and will help us understand why our life is the way it is today. Important life events and turning points will be revealed. These events are not always noticeable at the time they happen but take on importance as we see the effect they have on our life.
Through the reflection of our feelings and behavior, we can learn who we are and where we fit into the world. We can build on our strengths to allow us to create a larger change in the world. A consistent practice of reflection on who and why we are results in a greater understanding of who we are and how we interact with the world. This will allow us to make more effective decisions that then result in a more effective fulfilling life.
Reflection gives us the mechanism to refine and grow our greatest resource: ourselves.
Examples of reflective thinking
What I experienced
There is the opportunity to learn from any experience in your life. Sometimes events that seem insignificant at the time they happen, become more significant over time. Sometimes events that seem very significant when they happen, lose significance over time. When reflective journaling is part of your ongoing journaling practice you will capture both.
Journal the experience
Journal what happened as objectively as possible. Add as much detail as possible so you will remember what happened when you review your journal in the future. Note any feelings or emotions that experience elicited in you.
Questions to ask
- What happened?
- How did the experience unfold?
- How did I deal with the outcome of the situation?
Reflect on the experience
Once we have the experience objectively recorded reflect on the experience. Take the time to be introspective, to see how you feel deep down about the experience. What feelings and emotions does the experience bring up? Ultimately, what can we learn about the experience?
Questions to ask
- Why did you make a particular decision?
- Was the experience a positive or a negative experience.
- What could you have done during the experience?
- What did you think after the experience was over and the emotions had subsided? How does this compare with what you thought during the experience?
What did I learn
Now that you have taken a deep introspective look at the situation and you in the situation, distill what you have learned. What has the experience revealed about who you are and how you handle situations in the world.
Questions to ask
- What did you learn from the experience for the future?
- What would you do differently next time?
- What life lessons did you learn?
- What will I do next time?
Journaling what you will specifically do the next time this experie3nce or a similar experience comes up is an important step. Learning the lessons is one thing, determining what the lessons mean in your life is another. Having written down what you will do makes it more likely you will follow through when the time comes.
Example reflective entry
Today is my last day at my current contract. I have conflicting feelings about what I should do next. The easy path is to find another contract and keep working. That will keep me as a freelancer which in a way is just a glorified employee. I want to create a business that has value outside of the time I am working. This brings up worries of articulating the value I bring to clients – my version of the imposter syndrome. Sitting back, I can see that those aspects that bring me trepidation are those that I need to create artifacts (process, documents, outlines) that show the value I bring to the table. Going forward I am going to build those assets to the point where I feel confident going forward.
You have the capacity to grow, to learn new skills, to consistently increase your value to society. The more value you are to society the more opportunities you will have to create a fulfilling happy life. There will always be people who need and will compensate you for the value you create.
A life long learning approach to life, focused on you is essential in the ever-changing world that we live in today. With a focus of constantly trying to improve who you are and what you do in life, you put yourself in the best position to succeed.
Reflective journaling is an ideal practice that mirrors your life long learning approach.
Reflective journaling has been shown to be effective in any type of learning. By documenting your interpretation of what you are learning and relating the learning to your experiences, results in a deeper understanding of a subject.
When you are learning about yourself, reflective journaling makes perfect sense. It allows you to look at yourself and your experiences both good and bad and from those experiences learning how to be better, more effective. This works in all areas of life from relationships, career, leisure.
Sometimes people don’t want to document all their experiences since they are not all positive. While they are not all positive, they are all human. We are having a human experience, that includes all aspects, embrace it.
Reason to start a reflective journal
- A reflective journal gives you the opportunity to look at a situation from different perspectives.
- Reflective journaling gives you a deeper understanding of your life experiences.
- Reflective journaling helps you understand who you truly are.
- A reflective journal allows you to learn from your past so you can live your future aligned with who you are.
- Reflective journaling gets thoughts out of your head so you can look at them objectively.
- A reflective journal allows you to share your life learning with others. Ultimately you can pass your journal on to your children as your autobiography. Then can then pass it on to their kids.
- A reflective journal gives you the opportunity to review events in your life to see patterns and themes.
- A reflective journal allows you to live life as an experiment. You make assumptions about underlying reasons for events which can be compared to the underlying reason of future events.
- As you reflect on life experiences, who you are, what your values and beliefs are will be unveiled. This allows future experiences to be lived according to your values and beliefs.
Benefits of Reflective Journaling
The mindset of constant improvement of self and the habit of reflective journaling go hand in hand. The more you do one will result in doing more of the other. The mindset of constant personal improvement is key in creating a more and more fulfilling life. The creation of that mindset is the greatest benefit of reflective journaling.
Everyone reflects in different ways. Everyone has different reactions and interpretations of events in their lives. Understanding your interpretations and your reactions are a great benefit of reflective journaling.
Reflective journaling is a lifetime activity. Imagine being able to remember how you interpreted a situation when you were young as opposed to old.
Reflective journaling is used as a teaching tool to enhance learning in many professions such as teaching and nursing.
Other benefits of reflection journaling
- You are more focused on the life you are creating.
- You have experiences you can share.
- Enhanced creativity
- Clarity of self and clarity of goals in life
- Understand and deal with problems rather than ignoring them
Reflective Journaling Prompts
Prompts to help get started or going deeper.
Discover Prompt– Remembering the experience
- What happened?
- Where did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- Who was involved?
Analyze Prompts – Interpret the experience
- How does it compare with other experiences?
- What is important about the event?
- What is interesting about the event?
- What are explanations for the event?
- Why did the event happen?
Innovate Prompts– What can be learned from the experience
- What is the life lesson?
- How can the life lesson be applied in the future?
- What patterns can I recognize going forward?
Reflective Journaling as Part of Your Journaling Practice
If you currently journal there are probably already some reflective journaling aspects to your journaling.
Reflective journaling starts with the mindset of consistently trying to get a deeper understanding of yourself. As you document the experiences in your life you also document your understanding and your interpretation of those experiences. You act as your own personal life coach.
While interpreting your experiences and what you can learn from them, you can gather insight from external sources. You will not be the only person to be on the life path you are on. Once you start to ponder the meaning behind your experience you can find others who have had similar experiences and see if what they have learned resonates with you. There is a vast amount of information on the web and in books from life coaches, life gurus, self-help gurus that may help you have a deeper understanding of your experiences.
As you learn from your experiences you can ask yourself:
- What happened?
- Why did it happen?
- What can I learn?
It is important to separate the experiences you have had from the interpretations of those experiences. The experiences you have and the reflections and interpretations of those experiences can be years apart. An extreme example of this is childhood experiences. Oftentimes it is much later in life that you realize how much impact certain experiences had in your life. What you remember as your favorite teacher, later in life you remember it was the changes that teacher had in you that made her your favorite.
Your journal is a tool, journaling is the skill. As with any skill the more you practice the better you will get. Incorporate reflective journaling into your morning and or evening routine. By reflective journaling on a regular basis, you will build introspection, writing skills, and critical thinking skills.
Five tips for Improving Your Reflective Journaling Practice
- When you are writing, just write. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling or how neatly you are writing. Get the thoughts and ideas down first and then go back and correct grammar and spelling.
- As much as possible write about the experience with as much detail as possible before you start analyzing and interpreting the experience.
- When describing the experience really step into the experience and try to relive it. Describing the experience in this way will make the experience real when you review it in the future.
- Create notes during the day when the experience happens to remind you to journal the experience later.
- Review your journal regularly, especially what you have learned from the experience. It is best if you are using some form of a digital journal to be able to find what you have journaled in the past.
Reflective Journaling and the Life Design Framework
You can improve your reflective journaling by using the Life Design Framework. Looking at your experience from the point of view of the different Life Design Framework segments.
To maximize the effectiveness of reflective journaling you need to know what your aim in life is, who you are, and what your current plan for getting there is.
- How does your experience relate to your aim in life?
- Does your interpretation of the experience change your aim?
Understanding yourself will allow deeper insights into your interpretations of your experiences.
- What does this experience say about who I am?
- How are my interpretations of this experience affected by my values?
- How are my interpretations of this experience affected by my beliefs?
Having a plan allows you to evaluate your experiences against what your plan is.
- Does this experience reinforce my map?
- Does my map need to be refined because of this experience?
You can have a great purpose, know yourself well, and have a great plan for your life but you have difficulty executing the plan. Reflecting on how you execute will help you execute better. Understanding how you execute will help you understand yourself more. Also, the more you achieve, the better position you will be in to clarify your purpose and vision.
- What does this experience show about how I approach situations?
- What patterns are revealed by this experience?