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How can reflective journaling change your life?

Normally we explore a topic that helps us lead better lives and talk about it from a behavioural science perspective. But this one will be different. We talked a lot about why reflective journaling is helpful. Today we share stories about how it has helped real people. We have changed names and places to protect anonymity. Get ready for real stories on Reflective Journaling.

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Google how journaling changed my life, and you’ll get millions of hits. Journaling has helped a lot of people. Max Frenzel, an AI researcher, noted a nagging feeling of “it was better before.” This realization led to a journal entry and substantial changes in his life. Reddit is full of stories of how journaling has helped people deal with crappy days at work, overcome anxiety or depression. Of course, it is not a magic bullet. Please seek advice from medical experts for your situation.

We have written a lot about journaling and how it helps. Googling journaling gives you many different tools: Bullet journal, gratitude journal, decision journal, daily pages, journaling to be more productive. We wanted to be specific with Restory and put the benefit of journaling in the center: Retelling your story. That’s why we call it reflective journaling. You reflect on what happened and who you are to gain insights to become who you want to be.

Story 1: Dealing with Grief

At 31, I had:

4 Kids between the age of one and six
1 Ph.D.
A dead husband
No job

Yes, you read correctly: I became a widow two months after turning 31, one month after I defended my Ph.D., and one day after my husband got offered a job. Less than 24 hours after I thought everything was going to be okay, everything changed.

You might now think that I was journaling every day, reflecting on the events. No, I didn’t. I developed my practice of reflective journaling over time. I pondered questions about the values we had as a family and which one I would like to keep, when should you take off the wedding ring, how to interact with my in-laws, should I work or focus on raising my kids. I think the biggest question I wrestled with was Am I a single mother or a solo mother? Should I be angry at people who call themselves a football-widow*

Journaling helped me to make decisions without feeling guilty and wondering “What would my husband say?”

*A football widow is someone who loses their partner to football. It’s when your partner watches football the whole time, and you can do nothing with him/her.

Story 2: Dealing with health issues

This is a fictional story based on my notes.

For a long time, I was wondering if it was the right decision to take. Should I remove my breast to be cancer-free? I talked with my daughter, who had just given birth to her first child. I spoke with Tom. To this day, I still remember him saying, “I married you for your brain, not your looks.” In the end, I decided that my health was more important than my image. But for long, looking at the mirror, I don’t recognize myself. On the street, people look at me weirdly.

My doctor suggested that I participate in this class, “Life after breast cancer.” It was a lot of talking and crying. We had to write three essays about our deepest feelings about our cancer experience. I didn’t like the sound of it, but thanks to Tom I did the exercise. Without this little exercise, I would still hate what I see in the mirror. My daughter copied out a couple of sentences and framed them for me. “Put them next to the mirror. Whenever you don’t like what you see, read them to remember who you are.”

My strength was never my look but my brain.
I have a partner who loves me and kids who want to spend time with me. Breast or no breasts, I’m loved by the people around me.
I have always had a positive attitude about life, and my looks will not change that.
Reflecting on my cancer experience has made me a stronger person.

Stories from the web

I mentioned Reddit at the beginning. It’s a good place to go if you want to read more about how (reflective) journaling has helped people. You get people talking about a specific method (e.g., bullet journal) and how it has helped them be more productive. Other people talk about how they changed from having a diary (describing events) to keeping a journal (reflecting on events) and its impact on their lives.
Books are one excellent source to learn more about how reflective journaling impacts people’s lives. I don’t just mean autobiographies but graphic novels. In The Hookah Girl, Marguerite Dabaie reflects on what it means to have Palestinian roots and live in the US. Another great one reflecting on the concept of gender and national identity is Soviet Daughter. Both books are great if you aren’t sure about your national or cultural identity. You wouldn’t find the answer to your question, but you will find the questions other people pose themselves. Use them to prompt yourself.

If learning about the power of reflection from a book feels weird and distant, have a look at what Alex Oh says about her morning routine. By beginning the day with a simple question (Who am I today), you give yourself the space to show up differently. We are multifacet beings, and while we might do the same things every day, our emotions and needs are different. By asking this simple question, you give yourself permission to be differ

While Alex Oh journals to focus her day on what she needs that day, Matt’s reason for journaling is to discover patterns. By writing daily about what you are doing and how it makes you feel, you’ll gain insights about yourself over time. You could say that reflective journaling is a way to surface your unconsciousness.


One comment on Reddit caught my attention as it describes journaling as magic. Something as simple as writing down your thoughts is compared to the feeling you have as a kid watching a magician bend a coin. The person describes how journaling helped them through an awful day at work.


Ingo Rauth describes journaling as self-coaching. I love that he states that there is no one way to journal. How you journal depends on why you started it.

“The reason why so many swear by journaling is that they found a way to make it effective for themselves. There is no one approach to journaling that fits everyone. Instead, the right journaling technique depends on what you want to get out of journaling.”

Story 3: Your story

I know some of you readers, but the vast majority are faceless email addresses in our systems. But I know that you struggle with certain aspects of your life. How do I know this? Because you are a human being, and humans are complex. Did you know that this is why humans use stereotypes: To make it easier to interact with others. Stereotypes help set expectations and reduce uncertainty.

What events and feelings dominate your story? What would you tell your audience about yourself if you’d go on the stage in 10 years? Or let’s make it more realistic: what story do you tell your kids? What story do you tell yourself?


Tiny tips

1. What’s your story

What events and feelings dominate your story?

2. Tell your story

What would you tell your audience about yourself if you’d go on the stage in 10 years?

What story do you tell your kids?

What story do you tell yourself?

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