Self-awareness is seen as one of the greatest and most beneficial character traits. People who are self-aware are not only better equipped to deal with the ups and downs of life, but also the mental struggles of others and themselves.
Journaling is one of the best ways to increase self-awareness. This is supported by anecdotes, personal examples and – above all – research and many peer-reviewed studies. But how can you form the habit of maintaining this self-awareness journal? How do you even begin?
This article covers how you can start a self-awareness journal yourself, using examples from our readers, studies and personal anecdotes. After reading this, you’ll know exactly why you need to start your self-awareness journal right away!
- What to focus on when journaling for self-awareness?
- Studies on self-awareness vs journaling
- Examples of self-awareness in journals
- Closing words
Journaling, gratitude, mindfulness, and introspection. What do all these things have in common? It’s that they’re all significantly correlated to your happiness. That’s what the section Journaling For Happiness is all about in the biggest (freely available) guide on how to be happy.
What to focus on when journaling for self-awareness?
Gaining self-awareness is inherent to journaling. But are there specific things you can do while journaling that can further stimulate your self-awareness?
Yes, there are. This section will cover a couple of tips that you can use when writing in your self-awareness journal.
1. Take time to write down the things that bother you
Self-awareness is defined as follows:
Conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings.
If you’re looking to increase your self-awareness via journaling, you’re going to have to write about the bad things that happen to you as well. You cannot be completely self-aware if you’re only an expert in the good things that happen to you. You need to learn how you cope with bad things as well.
The best way to do this is to just write about the things that bother you on a daily basis. For me, this can mean the following:
- How I’m stressed by certain deadlines at work.
- That I’m annoyed at certain actions of my family, friends or girlfriend.
- Or how the bad weather is making me feel slightly depressed.
Whatever it is that bothers you, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of these things when you write about it.
2. Keep track of your emotions, happiness, energy levels, etc
Another thing you can do within your journal is to keep a daily log of certain parts of your mental health. This doesn’t have to be sophisticated at all. Whenever you start writing, just write down the date and take some time to rate certain aspects of how you’re feeling.
For example, you can rate your:
- Happiness/mood (how happy am I?)
- Energy levels (how energetic am I feeling today?)
- Productivity (how much did I get done today?)
- Tiredness (how well-rested are you?)
When I first started journaling, I rated my happiness on a scale from 1 to 10 each day. My pages looked quite messy, but that didn’t matter, because I only cared about the actual thought-process that was going on inside my head. I wasn’t worried about the looks of my journal, as you can see in the image below:
This is how I rated my happiness with every daily journal entry.
Those numbers you see there are my happiness ratings. I made a conscious effort to consider my happiness whenever I was writing in my journal. This had a tremendous effect on my self-awareness, and it’s something you can include in your own journal as well!
I’ve since changed to a digital journal format. If you’re interested in using the same format (it’s a Google Sheet that you can open on mobile, desktop and tablet), then you can download it for free below!
3. Contemplate about how you reacted to certain events
One of the keys to self-awareness is to be able to recognize the way you react to certain events and then alter your reactions for a better outcome.
This may sound like a mouthful, so let me help you with a simple example:
Having the ability to change your own perception of the outside world can make a significant difference
This may be a silly example, but it works really well in explaining how self-awareness can help you improve your life. Imagine that you’re stuck in traffic after a long day at work. You might feel annoyed and irritated about the traffic.
What if you were more self-aware?
Sure, you still don’t like being stuck in traffic. Being self-aware will not magically create an eternal smile on your face.
But it allows you to look further than just the direct effect of being stuck in traffic.
When you are fully aware that being stuck in traffic is not something you enjoy, then you at least have the option to change the way you react to it! You can actually decide that being stuck in traffic will not bother you. You can decide to focus on the positive things that are still happening in your life. Instead of feeling bummed about being stuck in traffic, you can choose to remain happy by thinking about things that make you happy!
Now, how can this be used in your self-awareness journal?
It’s simple, you just have to write about certain events, how you reacted to those events and in particular how you could have reacted in order to reach a better outcome.
This ties back to the first tip of this article. When you write down the things that bothered you, it’s a great idea to think about how you should have reacted in order to reach a better outcome. Using the same examples, here’s what I may write down:
- If I notice that I’m stressed by deadlines at work, I’ll write about how they’re not my final responsibility. I’m just an employee, and all I can do is work hard and if that’s not enough, then I don’t carry the full responsibility for it. Does this solve the issue? No, but it does help me deal with the stress and not worry about things that are not within my control anyway.
- If certain actions of others annoyed me, I will write about how everyone is probably fighting their own battle, and that almost everybody has good intentions. Instead of staying angry, it’s probably better to just talk about it.
- If I’m depressed because of the bad weather, then it’s again good to write about how the weather is not within my control anyway. Maybe I can influence other aspects of my life that will make it better despite the bad weather?
Writing about these things really helps you train your sense of self-awareness. Keep this up and before you know it, you’ll use your self-awareness during the day when you can actually steer your life in a better direction!
Studies on self-awareness vs journaling
In addition to helping you gain more self-awareness, journaling is good for other aspects of your mental health, and we have the scientific evidence to prove it:
For example, a 2013 study conducted at the University of Michigan showed that among people with major depression, expressive journaling for 20 minutes a day lowered their depression scores significantly.
According to another study, visual journaling can help decrease stress, anxiety and negative affect levels in medical students, a demographic known for being more prone to stress and burn-out.
Finally, journaling can also help with self-efficacy: according to a 2008 study, the self-efficacy of undergraduate college students was improved after weekly journal assignments. This one is especially related to self-awareness. With improved self-efficacy results in more confidence and a better understanding of what you are capable of. These traits go hand in hand with self-awareness.
Examples of self-awareness in journals
If you’re still not sure why you need to focus on self-awareness when journaling, here are some actual examples of others that have benefited from doing this.
Bullet journaling for self-awareness
Some people prefer to do it differently. The thing about journaling is, that there’s no right or wrong way about it.
You have to find out what works for you. Just like this person did (as featured in this article on how to start journaling):
I have always had anxiety, depression, and some self-harm issues. Every therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist recommended journaling to “deal” with overwhelming emotions. Ha. It would just spiral down into a pit of despair. I could write a few good things, but once I went to vent it would just keep going. I could write in circles about all the bad stuff. So from 12 – 28 I would buy journals that would never be used past page 50, if that. In 2015 I read about a new organization method called the bullet journal and rapid logging opened up a whole new world of journaling. I’ve filled an entire A5 leuchtturm and half-filled a few test journals in the beginning.
You might have heard about bullet journaling before. It’s a form of journaling that is not just based on simple text, but more around structured lists, graphs, schemes, and illustrations. I can devote an entirely separate post to bullet journaling, so I will leave the details for now.
Anyway, this person continues about how she found a style that works for her in the form of bullet journaling:
Well, I can’t long-form journal, so short concise notes in my dailies are my journal entries. I have a mental health spread every month that covers how much and how well I sleep, a mood graph that I update at noon, 5 pm, and before bed, and a symptom log that covers good things and bad; such as, productive, content, self-harm, cry, panic, 30 minutes self-care, and argument.
I applaud that kind of devotion. Especially since the positive effects of keeping a journal are clear as day.
Observing and writing about problems causes them to lose grip
The following example comes from Sanjay, a long-time reader and follower of Tracking Happiness. Sanjay has a lot of experience with the benefits of journaling, and how they can improve your mental health. This is what he wrote when I asked him to share his experiences.
A lot of the time, people tend to find themselves in a chaotic headspace when they have a lot on their plate, and I am no exception.
I found that writing about my emotional state and describing issues in detail forces me to confront them and take the time to deconstruct them. This usually allows me to understand the issue, and that calms the chaos in my head. You can think of this as clearing the RAM in your system.
Observing a problem seems to have the effect of making it lose its grip on me. I’m not the only one who says this: Jordan Peterson, a well known clinical psychologist, talks about this phenomenon and encourages the process of writing as a way to deal with unresolved issues.
If there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned throughout this article, it’s that journaling is one of the best ways to grow self-awareness. This is supported by science, examples and personal experience. I hope this article has done well to summarize the mountain of info that’s available online.
Now I want to hear from you! Have you incorporated some of these tips to improve self-awareness through journaling? Are you already keeping a self-awareness journal? Do you have any tips to add to this post? I’d love to know in the comments below!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 7 years.