How To Journal: 7 Self-Help Journal Secrets I Wish I Knew in My 20s


I have been journaling for most of my adult life. I jot down important ideas, funny thoughts, and observations about the behavior of myself and others. This practice developed mostly out of my own curiosity about what I do and why. It was always very informal and simple. If you want to discover how to journal, the best advice I can offer is to find what you like to journal about. If it’s a chore, you will lose interest and stop. In fact, I think that’s why most people never even start, as that is their expectation. The best I can do is share how I journal and how it helps me.

I enjoyed the process of trying to put into words concepts that otherwise existed as generalized thoughts and feelings. This is often referred to as expressive writing and is often used therapeutically. So many important ideas get lost because we don’t have a way to capture them. It’s not just ideas. Even experiences and feelings that we often live over and over again that simply escape us. We make the mistake of not building a body of knowledge around them that allow us to learn and benefit from what we know. A daily journal will help us to benefit a lot more from all the happenings around us that we are not keeping track of.

How To Journal If You’re Like Me

I believe a daily journal will be helpful in improving our quality of life. I have tried a variety of journal templates or structures that have been created by others but never really fully embraced how they work for me. So I just got into the habit of writing down stuff that I thought would be useful and interesting to me in a more free-form format. I can tell you with great confidence that the process of journaling has been very instructive for me, and I have benefited from this discipline.

There really are no limits to what you can discuss and capture in a journal. Your journal could cover a whole lot of things, such as whether it’s personal experiences, plans, goals, ambitions. You could even record your dreams in your journal.

Additionally, the beauty of journaling comes with health benefits, including physical health benefits as well as mental health benefits. In as much as you are only issued one body and one mind, they are important to care for.

My journal has evolved into the topics that appeal to and impact me. Over the years, I have watched it evolve with the kinds of things that I take an interest in journaling about. As I review volumes of notes about career relationships, experiences, my own behaviors and that of others, I think I can best characterize how I journal as simply a self-help journal. I am looking for ways to capture my experiences in a way that I can think critically about them and learn how to act upon life moving forward. Journaling has helped me learn about myself and others from my own experience and make better choices in small steps over time.

How To Journal?

For plenty of people it is simply a daily practice where they create to-do lists or keep as a diary of what happened. I would say a self-help journal is a collection of all of your ideas and experiences captured regularly that have some potential meaning or influence on future life decisions. Perhaps, it is some exchange in a meeting at work or an awkward moment meeting someone new. And in a moment, it occurs to you that things could have gone differently had you done something differently. So a self-help journal is a form of self-help therapy, and it has the potential to deliver immense value. The collective knowledge you gather over time can help you take tiny steps toward leading a happier life.

Capturing these gentle but often significant insights before they are lost in The Ether can be valuable. Taking a few moments to jot down a note is surprisingly quick and easy. Your journal can include thoughts and insights jotted down with a high level of self-awareness. You are essentially looking to capture your day-to-day experiences for the explicit purpose of improving your life. Let’s look at the 7 self-help journal secrets one by one.

#1: Develop Self-Awareness

So much of life benefits from a high level of self-awareness. Countless people experience life outside of themselves with a very little introspection and self-awareness. The ability to think differently can influence both your character and behavior and help you become more and better than you are today.

Becoming more self aware is definitely helpful. Self-awareness is essentially understanding better your own emotions and moods. A high level of self-awareness can help you lead a happier life. The awareness that you can change yourself and the awareness of how to gather information and make those changes is empowering for men who want to grow and develop over time. Let me give you some quick tips on developing your self-awareness. Pay attention to your thought patterns, your feelings, and your behavior in various circumstances. Look for patterns in the stories you tell yourself about the different daily events that take place in your life.

#2: Keep Your Self-Help Journal Private and Confidential

I’m sure you don’t want anyone to read your journal entries. That’s understandable. None of us want someone to read our most personal thoughts and opinions. Electronic journaling is an effective way to reduce anxieties about privacy and confidentiality. Make sure you have strong passwords that aren’t easy to guess (there are snoops out there).

If you feel certain your thoughts are completely secure, you can use the jottings in your self-help journal to capture your greatest truths. Leave messages for the future you to re-read and re-examine. Your entries can be about both failures and successes. Mistakes and bad experiences are great opportunities for substantial insight and growth. Don’t block them from your memory and make them meaningless and painful. Your most unpleasant experiences can lead to your greatest growth.

How To Journal If You’re Like Me

#3: Make Your Self-Help Journal Easy, Fun, and Helpful

It takes a lot of energy to do things we don’t want to do. And it’s painful to boot. On the other hand, if you find ways to enjoy capturing moments of insight and meaning in your life, it can actually be very motivating. This may, in fact, become the body of knowledge you leave to your children or even their children. Perhaps, someday, you too will start a blog and YouTube channel sharing ideas you wish you had been told about when you were young.

Talk to yourself and think ideas through. Your ideas don’t have to be true or right. They just need to be honest. When you find areas of your life that are of greater interest and importance, focus on those. Think out loud about what you might want or do as if you were talking to a friend.

#4: Make Entries into Your Self-Help Journal Even on Days When You Are Feeling Low, or You Think There’s Nothing Worthwhile to Write About

We all have bad days. It’s quite possible for you to have a series of bad days. That could be particularly disappointing. If you find yourself not wanting to journal, think about why and what would make it easier, more fun, or more helpful. Make a process that’s all yours. My ideas of expressive writing may not resonate with you. But they have for me, in large part, because I stopped trying to conform with templates that others have designed.

At points in my life where things have become complicated (like work, relationships, kids, money, people, did I say relationships?), I have found myself writing like a prolific author. You will be surprised at how many times you face the same problem without realizing it. My boundaries have seriously firmed up as I have a documented record of the foolish things I have done way too many times. It’s like keeping the receipts. Good decisions come from good information. Our memories are more pliable than you think. To be honest, my bad days have actually been good for me. In hindsight, the lessons the hard days contained have helped me to become a better person.

#5: Use an Online Platform to Write Your Self-Help Journal

Long ago, I journaled in spiral notebooks. Of course, the process of articulating only partially formed thoughts into real words that made sense was extremely helpful. But largely, all those volumes of data and information was inaccessible. I wouldn’t want to have to go back and look through all those notebooks trying to find some reference. Having suffered through those low-tech years, I can tell you what you have available today is extraordinary and should not be overlooked.

I use a free product called Evernote, which is both on my phone and desktop. The data is synched, and the searches are instantaneous. I learned to incorporate keywords around a variety of topics. The topics include work, clients, relationships, arguments, health, and so on. The notes that I create are archived in an easy-to-retrieve manner. It’s easy to find anything I might be interested in re-reading. There are several other online platforms that make writing your self-help journal a breeze. Diarium, Momento, Penzu, Five Minute Journal, Grid Diary, and Daylio are some of the best known tools.

How To Journal If You’re Like Me

Speech-to-text is also remarkably good these days. You can have your notes transcribed accurately. This feature is helpful in expressing an important concept worth thinking critically about in a moment. Find yourself a tech solution to help you journal, and it is remarkably fast and easy.

#6: Self-Help Journal Ideas

Being interested in what you are journaling about is very important. I believe what made journaling work for me was finding what I wanted to journal about. I have tried to follow the prescribed templates of other experts who are more knowledgeable than me on journaling. But, often, I found it was a chore, and it took more effort and discipline than I could muster. I think people should find within themselves the topics and the ideas that resonate with them, the things they want to change in their lives, the things that they care about, and the things that they believe can have some impact.

Secondly, I would make sure it was easy and not an onerous task to capture valuable thoughts as it happens. The following are some typical journal entries in my journal practice:

  • Start by writing whatever you want
  • Write what feels good and seems insightful
  • Good tired, Bad tired & Why
  • What made me happy (and unhappy today). Want to learn and keep track of it.
  • Wins and losses and bright spots
  • What worked and what didn’t?
  • Interactions with people
  • What would you do differently if you had it to do over?
  • Create a self-improvement journal template for yourself
  • Create your own template based on what matters to you.

#7: Capture Your Brilliant Moments

I keep the ideas I don’t want to lose in my journal. I also store it on the cloud and have a backup on a removable drive. However, if you use a Smartphone more than a laptop, you can capture your best ideas at night on your phone. Just make sure your best stuff doesn’t get lost forever because you fell back to sleep.

I am reminded of something compelling that Jim Rohn, author and motivational speaker, said, “Be a collector of good ideas. If you hear a good idea, capture it, write it down. Don’t trust your memory.” Therefore, it isn’t worth waiting until the next morning to capture your brilliant moments. Do that at night before you fall asleep. Who knows? You might need to attend to some pressing matter as soon as you wake up. And you might simply lose your brilliant moments forever.

#8 (Bonus) Gift Ideas

I have always found gift giving, especially around required gift giving holidays (Christmas, birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, etc.) to be a headache for me. I’m not hugely material to begin with, but being forced to buy a gift is bad enough without the added pressure of actually finding a good gift that someone would value and appreciate. I much prefer gift giving when it happens spontaneously with genuine intent. ‘I was thinking of you and wanted you to have this’ is so much more meaningful than ‘social law requires I buy you something’. Of course, my bad attitude about gifts only got worse as I struggled to find something acceptable and get through this misery without too much suffering. I’m not sure when I became a gift giving curmudgeon, but don’t let this happen to you.

Gift ideas occur naturally all through the year. People say things about what they like or want at random times. They walk past something at Target, see an ad or make a passing comment during the day. Learn to listen for clues and WRITE IT DOWN in your journal. You can create one note for gift ideas and keep them all there. You can make new notes each time and put the word ‘gift; in there so you can search it later. You will not remember great gift ideas when you need them, so write it down. People feel deeply heard and appreciated when months later you produce the perfect gift and were thoughtful enough to have remembered their interest. You lose no credit for having written it down, in fact bonus points for thoughtful discipline for their wants and needs.

A bonus bonus, get your girlfriends sizes. Pants, shirts, dress, shoes and put them in your journal. Just ask her for them, she’ll love that. You can get help selecting clothing, but you will need sizes. This is a really good suggestion, so put it in your journal.


Life comes with many moving parts and a lot comes at you real fast but try to set aside a little time to journal. A daily journaling habit might be easier than you think, but start slow and be forgiving on your journaling journey. Developing a journaling practice can seem difficult to start, but find a time of day, like a commute or a lunch break, to put pen to paper (writing on paper is old school, but pen to paper sounds cool. I recommend journal apps like Evernote) even if it’s only a single sentence. You might be surprised how the days add up, and a little effort each day will fill a blank notebook. Journal personal thoughts that you want to remember, what do you want future you to remember about today?

The truth is referring to a documented record of the foolish mistakes you have made in the past can prevent you from repeating the same mistakes. And capturing the bright spots and moments of happiness will help you make more in your life. Overall, a self-help journal will improve your quality of life and lead a happier life.

I think it was Ferris Bueller that said “real life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. Give it a shot, start small, write what makes sense to you and in time you will discover a wide variety of powerful benefits.

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