4 simple ways to start journaling daily with journaling prompts

I started journaling daily back in 2001 and since then it’s become the foundation of my daily practices. Why? Simply because it works like nothing else to clear the mind and get focused.

journaling daily: sharing gratitude

Over the years I’ve tried journaling daily in lots of different ways. In this post I’ll share what's worked for me and give you some ideas of how you can start journaling daily. 

I’ll also share some great journaling prompts – these are questions to help you make the most out of your daily journaling. If you’re wondering, “What the hell do I write about?” then journaling prompts can be a great way to get your juices flowing.

How journaling daily works

The idea is simply to commit to writing a daily journal and keep going. It can be digital or on paper, it can be in the morning or at night, it can be structured or free-form, long or short. In the beginning, that daily commitment is really important to help you get to know yourself better and also to help you build momentum. 

These days I don’t sweat it if I miss a day or two or even a week. It’s my tool and I own it, not the other way around. What I’m trying to say is don’t use journaling as another reason to give yourself a hard time about not doing something perfectly. Yeah... you know who you are.

The benefits of journaling daily

With over 20 years of journaling daily under my belt, I can safely say that it’s the one routine I keep coming back to. Journaling daily has helped me process all kinds of experiences. From the good, the bad and everything in between. I’ve gotten to know myself better through the process.

Actually seeing what you think written down on the page in front of you (or on screen) can be a real eye-opener. Often I surprise myself when I journal. Taking the time to write things down can help you clarify what you really think about something, even if it can seem confusing.

When to journal

There are three times that journaling daily can be really helpful: 

When things are going well

This may feel counterintuitive but I’ve found that writing when things are going well is important. When life is going great it’s the perfect time to journal because you’ll have the energy to write and even be inspired. You’ll also be able to cultivate an even deeper sense of gratitude and perhaps realize that the good times are going to pass, so best enjoy them. 

When things are not going so well

Often when things aren’t going well, daily journaling can be really very useful. The situations that you’re facing in your life and the feelings associated will give you plenty of juicy journaling. The consistency of daily journaling will also give you ample opportunity to revisit issues and feelings again and again. This has two benefits: you really get to connect with what's going on with you and you also notice when things begin to shift. 

After my second divorce I felt terrible for over a year but I remember noticing the difference when I opened my journal one day and realized I didn’t feel awful that morning. This was a real relief, I can tell you. 

In a crisis

Sometimes things go badly wrong in our lives and in these situations you’ll need everything you’ve got to get through. Things can get very dark. Thankfully this doesn’t happen all that often for most of us. But when it does you’ll need to dig deep in order to pull through. Daily journaling while in crisis and recovering from crisis can be deeply therapeutic and healing. 

It won’t fix you or your situation but it can give you valuable perspective as you write about what you’re going through. I’ve found when journaling in crisis that my writing often contains great sadness and grief but at the same time little seeds of hope sprout occasionally on the page. 

When I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in March 2022 and spent a week in intensive care, I journaled daily, sometimes two or three times a day. You have a lot of time on your hands when you’re in intensive care, people are dying around you and you’re slowly recovering.  

4 ways to start journaling

In this section I’m going to describe 4 ways you can journal. I journal on paper with a biro or ballpoint pen. I prefer to journal on plain paper without lines in an A4 size ring-bound notebook. For me it’s important to get some screen-free time every day and I enjoy the physical act of writing – even though sometimes it’s hardly legible! It doesn’t matter how it looks or if I can even read it back to myself – after all, there's no audience: I write just for myself.

Interestingly, over time I can look back and see how my writing has changed. When I started daily journaling over 20 years ago I wrote in black in small block capital letters. My writing and my emotions were tightly constrained and I was trying very hard. After a few years my writing and my feelings really opened up and my writing became much looser. 

Writing a letter

This is actually how I first started journaling. I wrote a letter to God each morning. I didn’t have a clear idea of who or what God was but it was a useful way to express my hopes and fears in a familiar format. It reminded me of letters I wrote to my grandparents as a child where I would try and think of something interesting to say and then ask them what their news was.

I’d start the journal entry with: Dear God. As time went on, this began to feel more contrived and weird (mainly because I don’t believe in a dude with a white beard sitting in the clouds), so I dropped the salutation and moved to a more freeform writing which felt more natural.

The letter format can be helpful because you’re writing to an imagined reader. It’s also more familiar than just freeform writing which has no particular recipient in mind. In the beginning, this format was useful for me but ultimately it was too constraining. If God doesn’t feel right for you then you could write to an imaginary friend or perhaps a long-dead relative. 

Using the letter format for resolving conflict

The letter format has another very useful application if you’re embroiled in a conflict with someone. You can write that person a letter with the intention of not sending it. This is a very helpful tool because it encourages you to really lay out your argument or what it is that the other person has done that is so troubling for you.

You can really vent your anger to the fullest, knowing that they aren’t actually going to read your words. I’ve found this format useful when dealing with conflict in areas regarding parenting with my ex-wife. In this case you’re writing to a real person about an unresolved issue which can be very helpful to both let off some steam and understand why you’re so upset. 

For safety, you may want to burn your letter after writing it, because it being read by another person could have a damaging effect. Remember it’s not actually for the other person; instead it’s a tool to help you express and process your own feelings. 

Freeform writing

I first picked this up when my mother bought me a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. One of the foundational tools in the book is a technique called morning pages. When you do your morning pages, you get up and write first thing in the morning. You write 3 pages and you don’t stop, you don’t censor yourself and you don’t overthink it. You write whatever comes to mind: pure stream of consciousness writing. 

I remember some mornings I just wrote a long list of swear words for a page without any sentences before I was able to write anything coherent. The idea is to use this tool to process the thoughts and feelings before you start your day so that you’re not caught up in them during the day, so you can really meet the day as it is. 

journaling daily: getting past the blank page

It can be a bit intimidating at first, staring at that blank page, but once you get going it can be a very liberating practice. As an aside: Cameron also wrote a follow-up book called The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding The Dragon.

Don’t read this book if you want to stay employed! Over the years, I worked through the 12-week program in the book, twice. The first time I quit my job and started a business and the second time I shut down a business, started a new one and moved to India. 

If you’re feeling stuck and feel like you need a change but don’t know what or how to get started, then these books are great. Also, don’t be put off by the word 'artist' in the titles – they work for normal everyday civilians too.

So, back to freeform writing. The idea is simply to open your journal each day and write whatever comes up. Unlike morning pages you don’t need to write a predetermined length. Some days you may write half a sentence before the baby wakes or there’s a knock at the door. Other days you’ll be gazing out over the majestic sunrise crafting deep and insightful poetry. Ok… maybe not that often! 

These days, most of my daily journaling is a combination of freeform writing and a to-do list. I often start off writing about recent events the day before and then this leads me on to capture things I need to do based on what’s happened. If I’m looking forward to anything then I write about that too.

If there’s anything major going on then that generally takes more space and time on the page. But sometimes tiny things appear and take up lots of space too. Perhaps my partner made a passing comment or someone was rude to me at the grocery store. 

Journaling prompts

Journaling prompts are a great way to get started because they get the ball rolling for you. Having some journaling prompts helps overcome that intimidating blank page. If you like the idea of freeform writing but struggle to get started, you can use journaling prompts initially and then continue with freeform writing. The idea is that you use questions to help you frame your writing. 

My favorite journaling prompts

What am I grateful for?

What do I need?

How could I help someone?

How do I feel in my body?

Do I feel sad? If so, why?

Do I feel angry? If so, why?

Is there a difficult situation that I could have handled better?

Pick 3 journaling prompts from the list above and commit to answering them each day for a week. It’ll be interesting to see how your answers change each day. 

Gratitude list

Writing a gratitude list at the beginning of the day is a really fantastic way to live a happier, more content life. Writing a daily gratitude list is extremely powerful, especially if you’re feeling down, sad or ungrateful. When I first started writing a gratitude list I would struggle to find 5 things to add to my list. 

These days, I can easily fill a page with things I feel grateful for, and have trained myself to be more spontaneously grateful. It’s simple and very effective. I can’t recommend it enough. In fact, I should have a gratitude page in the concepts section of my website. Coming soon!

Times of day to journal

Generally speaking, there are two times of the day when it's most practical and useful to journal. 

Journaling early in the morning

Including journaling daily as one of your morning rituals is a really great way to start the day. It’s best done before the rest of the household is awake. So this is something you may need to consider if you’re not an early riser.

I’ve found over the years that if I don’t journal first thing before the day gets started then it’s unlikely I’ll get back to it, despite my best intentions. Once the day starts it has its own momentum. Journaling at the beginning of the day has the added benefit that it's most often free from interruptions from family members, friends or work.

Journaling at the end of the day

Another opportune time to journal is at the end of the day. If you journal on paper like I do (and I recommend you do too) then it’s also a great opportunity to get away from the screen, which has the added benefit of improving your sleep. Screens and the stimulation they provide are not good in the evenings as we need to unwind and relax in order to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

The big difference between journaling daily in the morning and at the end of the day is that you’ll have lots of fresh material for your journal from the day just gone. This means that you can use your evening journaling to reflect on your day, take stock and even take inventory.

Taking inventory

Taking inventory is the process of reflecting on all of the interactions you’ve had with yourself and others and assessing if you could have handled things better. The process of identifying areas of our behavior that need refinement and improvement is essential to human growth and maturity as a person. Taking a daily inventory at the end of the day can be helpful because it allows you to correct your behavior before things get out of hand. 

It’s important to note that this is about taking your inventory; it’s not about you taking other people’s inventories. If you’re angry with someone then you’re better off journaling about why you’re angry and then practicing forgiveness or acceptance. It may well be that you also need to take ownership of the situation in order to avoid the same thing happening again. 

Depending on your schedule and lifestyle, you’ll either find it easier to journal at the beginning or the end of the day. Journaling early can be helpful to prepare you for the day ahead, while journaling at the end of the day can be helpful to review the day just past.

A simple way to take inventory at the end of the day is to ask yourself these 3 questions and write down the answers:

  • What did I do well?
  • What could I have done better?
  • What did I forget to do?

How to start journaling

By now you have a good idea how to journal, so it’s your turn.

Pick a method you feel most comfortable with:

  • Writing a letter
  • Freeform writing
  • Journaling prompts
  • Gratitude list

Decide when you’re going to write:

  • Early morning
  • End of the day

Decide how you’re going to journal:

  • On paper (buy an A4 notebook and pen)
  • Digital

And that’s it!  

Now it’s just a matter of doing it each day for as long as you can. If you miss a day or a week, no problem. Just pick up again the next day. But for the first month try and be as consistent as possible to build up the habit and establish a routine. Remember: this is not for me, your partner or anyone else. This is for you and it’s your time. Enjoy it!


It doesn’t really matter how you journal. What matters is that you do it and do it as consistently as possible, especially in the beginning. The benefits are worth it. You’ll get to know yourself really well which will mean you’ll be able to make better life choices based on your accurate self-awareness. When times get tough your journal will also be a safe haven for your troubled mind.

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