I'm a Health Writer who swears by journal prompts – 11 to help you reflect on your year, as 2024 draws near

Pens at the ready.

Journal prompts: A planner from Papier
(Image credit: Dionne Brighton)

Seen everyone talk about journal prompts but have yet to try them? Take this as your sign. As a Health Writer, I swear by them. Scribbling everything down into my journal has been part of my routine for years and, in my humble opinion, is one of the best self care ideas out there - it's a free, easy, and quick way to boost your wellbeing.

I'm not the only one who finds it helpful - there are over 500 million views on the "journal prompts" hashtag on TikTok and even model Kendall Jenner has said she's a fan. One study by StoryTerrace even found that 22% of individuals found it to be seriously beneficial for boosting mental health. 

I should know - I've used journal prompts before when journaling for anxiety and can't tell you how useful they've been in helping get my worries and thoughts out of my brain and down on paper, instead.

So, why are they so useful? In short, when you're stressed out or overwhelmed, putting pen to paper and letting it all out can help to rationalise your thoughts and fears. They can also be a useful reflection tool, which might come in handy as the year ends. If you're thinking ahead and setting goals for the new year, journal prompts can help you organise your thoughts and make a structured plan for the year ahead. 

"When guided by prompts, journaling has been associated with many psychological and emotional benefits," says Dr Sophie Mort, clinical psychologist and mental health expert at Headspace. "Journal prompts promote your cognitive processing of experiences, and research into cognitive processing theories emphasises the importance of these strategies when coping with stress," she continues. 

Don't miss our guides to how to journal and the best self-reflection journaling prompts, while you're. But for now - keep scrolling for journal prompts to set you up for the year ahead.

Journal prompts are seriously effective at helping you reflect and plan - 11 to try

A bit anti-resolutions and not sure if taking time to reflect is worth your time? Trust us on this one. Even if you take ten minutes out of your day to applaud what you achieved in 2023 and what you'd like 2024 to look like, it can be an invaluable way to boost your confidence.

"Self-reflection is crucial for your own personal development and wellbeing," explains Dr Mort. "Taking the time to assess your experiences over the past year allows you to learn, grow, and build emotional intelligence." 

Experienced at journaling? I've been journaling for years, but always need new prompts, especially for self-reflection. 

What are journal prompts?

Journal prompts are questions, suggestions, or ideas that can help inspire you to write in your journal," says Lisa Gunn, Mental Health Prevention Lead at Nuffield Health

"They're open-ended statements or questions that inspire us to reflect, both externally and internally, when writing down our thoughts" adds Doctor Mort. 

Why are journal prompts effective?

As mentioned above, Dr Mort tells us there are psychological and emotional benefits, including personal development and wellbeing. Still, even I was surprised to find out just how much this simple activity could boost my mental health. 

"Your daily life tends to be overwhelmed by stress and mental clutter," shares Doctor Mort. "While many of you might have kept a diary in your younger years, research suggests that maintaining a consistent journaling practice can support better mental and physical health in your adult years, too." Why? Well, because journalling is an excellent opportunity to capture and reflect on your thoughts, potentially offering a sense of clarity and perception, too. 

This can be particularly poignant at the end or start of a year to help you consolidate everything that came with this period of your life. "Reflecting on the past year can be beneficial in helping you to grow as an individual or move towards your life goals," shares Gunn. 

Other benefits of utilising journal prompts include:

1. Improved mental health

"One study showed that in just four days, practising positive affect journaling helped participants to better manage anxiety and depression, feel less stressed, and even improve mood," Dr Mort tells Marie Claire UK.

Wondering what positive affect journaling is? In short, it describes writing about a difficult experience for fifteen to twenty minutes each day.

2. Better physical health

Yep, you read that right. Did you know that journaling can boost both your mental and physical health? 

"Journaling has been proven to also benefit your physical health, with studies showing that individuals with chronic health conditions like asthma and chronic pain found it helped to reduce health problems and even boost their immune systems," reveals Dr Mort. 

3. Increased self-awareness

This one's important. "Journaling is a retrospective exercise rooted in reflection," Doctor Mort highlights. 

As a result, it allows you to recognise your patterns and behaviours and even the narratives that you may have otherwise missed in your daily lives. "It creates a space that enables you to lay out the things in your life that might trigger negative thoughts and emotions," she shares. In turn, you can then recognise them, and then prepare yourself to respond in another way next time. Clever, right?

4. Improved sleep

Struggling with how to get to sleep recently? Journal prompts may be the answer. Kendall Jenner has previously said she uses journaling to help her drift off. "Journaling helps you to release the thoughts that you might have swirling around your head, which helps you to switch off before bed," Doctor Mort explains. 

5. Better acceptance and awareness

Often too hard on yourself? Consider opening your journal. "The research suggests that when you journal, you go through a process of acceptance rather than judgement, which can help alleviate some of the negative feelings that you might've attached to your thoughts or circumstances," explains Gunn. 

Think of it this way: when you're unaware of your negative thoughts or judgements, they can start to impact your mood and behaviour and impact your emotional wellbeing. "Identifying unhelpful thoughts can help you to be more in control of what thoughts you allow to influence your mood and behaviours," she continues.

11 journal prompts the experts recommend

1. What storyline plays on repeat in your mind? Where does it come from and how do you tend to fuel it?

Dr Mort suggests this journal prompt, because "the nature of your mind is to create certain stories that don't reflect reality," she explains.

"If these stories go unchecked, they can shape your perceptions and beliefs of yourself and others around you. By paying attention to these storylines, you can begin to release them."

2. What do you recognise in yourself that creates unease when observed in others?

I love this journal prompt from Dr Mort. It's helped me to refrain from judging others when I can see them practising self-sabotaging behaviour. 

"This type of self-inquiry helps you to become less judgmental of others, while also increasing your awareness and understanding of yourself," says the psychologist. 

3. Who in my life do I want to extend some extra loving kindness towards today?

Another of Doctor Mort's suggestions that is perfect for this time of year is to ask yourself who you want to extend extra love and kindness towards. It's the season of joy and spending time with your loved ones, but it can be a tricky time, too. 

"While journaling is an excellent way to self-reflect, it can also offer you an opportunity to extend loving kindness to others who need it," suggests Doctor Mort. 

4. What three things am I grateful for this year/today?

Research has shown that gratitude can have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing by simply reminding you of what you're grateful for - and the practice of actually writing it down will only boost that gratitude. 

"This can help you to focus on all the things you have, increasing your happiness, gratitude, and keeping your focus off what you perceive you might be lacking in your life," suggests Gunn. 

5. What went well this year/today and what am I most proud of myself for?

As well as feeling grateful for others, it's important to reflect on how grateful you are for yourself and everything you've achieved this year. "This can be the smallest thing such as "I made myself a nourishing lunch", or "I didn't spend so long on social media today"," says Gun. 

Point being: that this can help you to reflect on the things about you that you like and boost your self-esteem.

6. What didn't go so well today/this year and what did you learn from it? How do you think you handled it and what would you do differently next time?

Reflecting on what didn't go well can also be a powerful tool. "How do you think you handled it and what would you do differently next time?" Gunn adds.

She suggests this journal prompt as "a great way to reflect on who you are and how you behave, which in turn develops self-awareness and honest self-reflection about what parts of yourself you may want to change or work on."

Plus, journaling about what you learned and what you would do differently can help you set new goals for the year ahead. 

7. What distracted me today/this year from being productive or achieving what I wanted? How will I help myself to do better tomorrow/this year?

It's easy to get distracted, and whether it's your phone pinging or your pet begging for food, it's good to notice when these distractions turn into habits. 

"This is great for becoming aware of subconscious behaviours, in other words, things that you do on autopilot that might not be serving you very well," explains Gunn. Why? "Because this can help you get out of unhelpful habitual behaviours."

8. What feelings and thoughts am I aware of right now and how are the impacting me?

Gunn says this is one of the best journal prompts for reflection as "this process helps you to switch out of autopilot and see what is going on in your body and mind."

This can help you adapt in the moment and rid yourself of unhelpful things you may be repeating, like holding tension or replaying a negative thought.

9. What aspects of your daily routine bring you genuine joy or fulfilment?

As you reflect on the year gone by, do you notice certain parts of your day that are most fulfilling? Taking time to think about what those moments are and how you can add more of them into your routine is worth your time. 

Dr Mort reckons that asking yourself what aspects of your daily routine bring you genuine joy is one of the best journal prompts to try. Also ask yourself, how can you amplify these moments in your life? "Focusing on activities that bring happiness can enhance overall satisfaction and contentment," the psychologist recommends. 

10. What unfinished conversations or unresolved emotions weigh on your mind?

This one's key - addressing what unresolved conversations or emotions you're carrying might be key to personal growth. Ask yourself this: "How might addressing these help in your emotional growth and healing?", Dr Mort suggests. 

While this journal prompt may bring up some uncomfortable emotions, to begin with, you'll only feel better for "exploring lingering thoughts or emotions, as they can facilitate closure and promote personal healing," she shares. 

11. What limiting beliefs do you hold about yourself?

Last but by no means least, ask yourself: What limiting beliefs do you hold about yourself? "How can you reframe these beliefs to empower and motivate yourself?", the Doctor asks.

This is key to self-growth because "identifying and transforming self-limiting beliefs can be pivotal in cultivating self-confidence and resilience."

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Dionne Brighton

Dionne Brighton is a writer at Marie Claire UK, specialising in all things shopping, beauty and fashion. Born and raised in North London, she studied Literature at the University of East Anglia before taking the leap into journalism. These days, you can find her testing out the latest TikTok beauty trends or finding out what the next full Moon means.