Journaling to Organize Your Thoughts: A Ten Tip Special
by The Coping Counselors

It is not uncommon for individuals to become overwhelmed by the number of thoughts running through their heads every day. The human brain seems to never sleep, even when we do need peace, quiet, and rest. One productive way to begin to gather your thoughts and calm your mind is through journaling. Journaling is a strategy that requires nobody but yourself and can be implemented anywhere at any time.

Journaling may seem like a daunting task, sort of like a homework assignment. This is because many people don’t actually know how to journal properly. Many individuals only know how to write in terms of how they learned to write academic papers in school, professional notes at work, etc. Journaling can be a simple way to manage yourself and your thoughts once you get the hang of it. Below are some tips to get you started on your journaling journey, along with some journal prompts for you to try on your own.

1. Make it a habit. Turn journaling into a habit instead of something you do once in a while. When you only journal “here and there” you may quickly forget how beneficial it is to you. If you keep consistency, journaling will slowly become easier and easier, more cathartic, and may even become something you enjoy doing. First, pick when you will journal. You may choose early in the morning, during a break throughout your day, or in the evening. Next, use your five senses to make it an enjoyable experience. What do you want to smell or taste when you journal? Maybe a fresh cup of coffee or tea, your lunch, or a snack in the evening. What do you want to see? Maybe sitting by a window in your home will be comforting, or by a fireplace, if you have one. What would you like to hear? Maybe you want to make a playlist of calming music that you listen to while journaling. Maybe you just acknowledge the natural sounds around you. And finally, what do you want to feel while your journal? Maybe a soft, comfortable couch. Maybe your bed.

There is no specific amount of time that you should feel you must write for. You should journal for as long or as little as you like. Find all of the circumstances that work best for you and keep you comfortable during your journaling experience so that you want to continue doing it in the future.

2. Keep it simple. You may be somebody who finds writing difficult. It may, like I said earlier, seem more like a homework assignment than a self-care technique. If this is the case, it may be easier for you to keep journaling as simple as possible. You may try writing lists instead of writing paragraphs. For example, you may write a daily list of things you are grateful for or things you want to work on. You may use some of the journal prompts I provide below and respond to them in list form rather than paragraph form. In time, you may find that you want to expand your lists into longer sentences, and eventually, maybe fluid paragraphs. No matter the case, start with what feels right for you.

3. Find your preferred method of journaling. Do you find that you are more of a technology person or more of a pen and paper person? Journaling can be done either way. If you like to use your phone or your computer, journal there. You may use the “notes” app on your phone or a form of Microsoft word on your computer. The benefit of journaling this way is that you can do it at any time anywhere you are. If you prefer pen and paper, then getting a notebook is probably the best option for you. You can keep this notebook safe and private at home, or you may bring it with you throughout your day to write or to re-read some previous entries.

4. Think from another perspective. If you find it difficult to write about yourself or a situation you are experiencing, try initially writing about it in the third person. This may help if you find that you shy away from writing about something that makes you uncomfortable. Writing about it may make it feel “too real”. If you begin by writing about it in the third person, you may be able to distance yourself enough from what you are writing about in order to first get it off your chest. As time goes on, you may begin to incorporate some sentences in the first person. Eventually, you may be able to write about it with little or no problems at all.

5. Work on what is unique to you. Find an area in your life that you would like to improve or to work on. This could be anything- for example, if you have negative self-image, you may want to journal positive things about yourself. If you have a feeling that your life is never good enough, you may want to try journaling gratitude lists. If you feel like your thoughts are unorganized and overwhelming, you may want to try journaling your thoughts in a stream of consciousness to be able to see them and organize them. To get started, try using one or a few of the prompts below that you feel resonate with you to help get you started on your journaling journey.

6. “What are you thankful for today?” This prompt may be useful for you if you find that you are having difficulty seeing any positives in your life. The things that you journal about being grateful for do not have to be anything big or extravagant- you may, for example, be grateful for the food you ate, the sounds of the birds outside your window, or simply getting through another day. This prompt would be a great way to begin your journaling habit. You may want to start journaling a list of things you are grateful for every morning or every night.

7. “How do you know when you need to recharge?” This prompt is useful in helping you to understand your own “warning signs” before it is too late. This prompt can help you to prevent burning out in your social life, family life, or career. If you are able to journal the ways in which you know you need to recharge, you may be able to recognize that these things are happening to you sooner and sooner. This prompt is a reminder to learn more about yourself, and to allow yourself to rest and recharge when you need it.

8. “Think of yourself as a child. What does s/he need to hear from you now?” This prompt can help you to work on some inner healing. It may take some time and reflection. You may want to begin by remembering a time in your childhood that was difficult for you. You may jot down some feelings associated with this time. Next, think about what you now would like to tell that child, with love and reverence.

9. “If someone else described you, what do you think they would say? Why?” This prompt is aimed at helping you to recognize the qualities of yourself that you may find difficult to recognize on your own. You may want to think of this prompt as if your best friend was writing an excerpt about you. What would they say about the qualities and characteristics you share with them and those around you?

10. “What do you know to be true to you today that you did not know a year ago?” This prompt may also require a bit of time for thinking and reflecting. Many times, we see situations as big deals while we live through them, and then afterwards find that they were not quite as scary as we thought they were. This prompt helps you to reflect on things that seemed scary a year ago, that you have overcome now. How were you able to do so? Can you think of any situations in your life currently that may seem different a year from now? Use this prompt as a way to freely move through situations of the past, present, and future.

Journaling is a great way to help yourself to organize your thoughts, calm your busy mind, and find some peace throughout your day. Use these tips and prompts to get you started on your journaling journey, and then come up with your own. You may find it useful to go back to some of your previous writings to re-read them and see how far you’ve come even after just a few journal entries.

Suggestions for further reading:

  • Bacic, D. (2020, September 08). 17 Journaling Tips For Beginners (And How to Actually Start). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from
  • Miller, W. (2014). Interactive Journaling as a Clinical Tool. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 36(1), 31-42.
  • Tartakovsky, M. (2018, July 08). 30 Journaling Prompts for Self-Reflection and Self-Discovery. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

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