I have a love/hate relationship with my journal—and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’ve been keeping up with a diary intermittently since I was a tween as a way to unleash the clutter from my brain and better understand myself and others. In some ways, I see my journal as a friend with whom I can share my goals, fears, and sometimes seemingly empty thoughts without judgement. It helps me refocus and regroup, and holds up a mirror to my headspace, revealing what’s really going on in my brain. But a lot of the time, I’ve seen journaling as a tireless chore that led to no real answers. Plus, my journals document an incriminating record of my deepest thoughts and feelings, sometimes in sharpie. No one needs to know who I had a crush on in 2003.

So despite my greatest efforts, I’ve tried, and failed, to keep a consistent daily writing practice over the years. I’d pressure myself to fill a page with something profound every day, and instead record patches here and there between long stretches of off-the-record existing. But those times I wasn’t journaling were also the times I felt the most estranged from myself. Times I was doing more existing than truly living. I’m not the kind of person who can process my emotions in my head right away, and oftentimes I have to get them out of me in order to understand how I really feel. These days, instead of seeing journaling as yet another obligation for self-improvement, I see it is a necessary means to understanding myself. Plus, in this act of slowing down and being present, I’ve found that no thought or moment is too small to write down.

No matter what words fall onto the page, journaling can reveal the ongoing dialogue between your past and present self, out of which greater awareness emerges.

Whether you’re into journaling or not, the benefits are undeniable. Writing things down every day not only preserves memories to look back on, but leads to inspiration, self-discovery and stronger connections to ourselves and others. Even though being present with yourself can sometimes be uncomfortable, journaling has been credited as the single most transformative ritual of so many successful people. But building this daily habit starts with letting go of your inner critic and expectations. When you’re getting out of your own way, sometimes it helps to start with a prompt to get the ball rolling.

Feature image by Kristen Kilpatrick.

These 40 journal prompts are topics you can explore every day in just a couple of minutes, and help you discover a greater sense of self.

Image by Riley Reed.


  • What are three great things that happened yesterday?
  • What are 30 things that bring you joy?
  • What are you looking forward to right now? If you can’t think of anything, what can you do to change that?
  • What is one totally-free thing that’s transformed your life?
  • What things in your life would describe as “priceless”?
  • What are 10 things you’re actively enjoying about life right now?
  • Write about the most fun you had recently. What were you doing and who were you with?
  • Write about about an act of kindness that someone did for you that took you by surprise.
  • What are some of your favorite ways to show the people in your life that you love them?
  • Reflect on a moment of profound beauty that you recently experienced. What about it surprised you and drew you in?
  • In this moment, what are three things in your life that you feel the most grateful for?
Image by Riley Reed.


  • Name the top three emotions you are feeling at the moment. What are the emotions you want to feel today?
  • What is the one thing you would tell your teenage self if you could?
  • What is your body craving at the moment?
  • What are 10 questions you wish you had the answers to right now?
  • What do you know to be true today that you didn’t know a year ago?
  • What are you scared of right now?
  • What’s not working in your life right now?
  • Write about someone you miss, what do you miss about them? How do they make you feel?
  • Picture someone who you’ve experienced a conflict with in the past and try to drop into their perspective. What were they feeling at the time of your conflict? If it’s available to you, how can you express sympathy for their experience?
  • What areas of your life are causing you stress? What areas of your life are bringing you joy?
  • What would you describe as being the greatest accomplishment of your life so far?
  • If someone was to describe your life story back to you, which three events would you want them to highlight the most?
Image by Teal Thomsen


  • What would your ideal day look like? Where would you be, what would you be doing and who with?
  • Describe your perfect home. Where is it, what does it look like and who do you share it with?
  • When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up and why?
  • If failure wasn’t possible, what would you be doing right now?
  • If you only had one year left of life, what would you do?
  • In another life, who would you want to be? Write out this character, what they do for a living, their personality traits, etc.
  • Reflect on your career and personal goals. Are there parallels and consistencies between the two? How do you keep these two areas of your life separate? How are they the same?
  • If you could master one skill, what would it be?
Image by Teal Thomsen


  • What’s something you wish others knew about you?
  • Who is someone you admire? What qualities do you love about them?
  • Who is someone you envy and why?
  • What distracts you from what’s truly important each day?
  • If you decided right now that you had enough money, and that you would always have enough, what would you do with your life?
  • When you picture yourself 10 years from now, what do you want to have achieved and experienced?
  • How do you want to contribute your talents and passions to the world? Who could be touched by you and how would it affect them?
  • What role does love play in your life?
  • What does friendship mean to you?

This post was originally published on September 30, 2020 and has since been updated.

Share this Post