How to Write a Reflective Journal with Tips and Examples

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One of the most commonly used and therapeutic ways to utilize your journal is to reflect upon experiences you deem profound or that had an impact on your life. Getting it all down on paper can really give you a completely different perspective on things. Writing in your journal can be an incredibly useful tool to help you better understand yourself and the world you operate in. Reflective learning journals are also a great way to find creative solutions to difficult problems.

So, what exactly is a Reflective Journal?

A reflective journal (aka a reflective diary) is the perfect place to jot down some of life's biggest thoughts. In a reflective journal, you can write about a positive or negative event that you experienced, what it means or meant to you, and what you may have learned from that experience.

A well-written journal can be an important tool. As with any tool, to get the most benefits, you need practice. This could mean forcing yourself to write, at first, but after a while, it will become like second nature. Write down your entry as soon as possible after the event. This way, the details will still be fresh in your mind, which will help later in your analysis.

5 Reasons To Write a Reflective Journal

Reflective journals are most often used to record detailed descriptions of certain aspects of an event or thought. For example, who was there, what was the purpose of the event, what do you think about it, how does it make you feel, etc. Write down everything, even if you don't have a clear idea of how this information will be helpful. 

Here are some of the most common reasons why people find reflective journals so useful:

  1. To make sense of things that happened. What you write should sound as if you are describing the details to someone who wasn't there. Be as descriptive as possible. Just the act of writing down the details of what happened may give you perspective that you may not have otherwise considered had you just continued to think about it.
  2. To speculate as to why something is the way it is. Your views can come from your own common sense, or from something you have heard at a lecture or read in a book. Either way, speculating why something is the way it is can be a very useful exercise in reasoning.
  3. To align future actions with your reflected values and experiences. After positing your interpretation, continue to observe the subject of your speculation to decide whether you want to stick to your original views, or make changes. That is one of the great things about an online journal--you can make changes to your entries at any time.
  4. To get thoughts and ideas out of your head. Writing down your thoughts can help relieve pressure or help resolve problems. It will also help you focus the task at hand.
  5. To share your thoughts and ideas with others. Getting opinions from others about what you wrote can help you clarify your feelings for a deeper understanding of yourself.

The Reflective Journal Thought Process

When writing a reflective journal, you are simply documenting something that has happened in your life that requires you to make a change or consider the impact of your decision. Your journal, in many ways, is a dialogue that you are having with yourself. You are forcing your brain to think critically about something and to produce written words accordingly.

The worst thing you can do to a creative flow is to start inputting criticism before your thought is complete. Allow yourself the time to make a mistake and keep going. Who cares if you didn't phrase that exactly how you should have or you didn't spell that word right? Those things just aren't important here. Find whatever works for you.

4 Tips To Get Your Reflective Journaling Started

Writing a reflective journal requires not only that you describe a learning experience, but also that you analyze the topics covered and articulate your feelings and opinions about the subject matter. There is no set structure for writing a reflective journal, as the diary is meant for your own use. The writing process is entirely free-form. However, there are certain guidelines to follow that will make you more successful at this. Here are some basic tips at how to write a reflective journal. 

1. Always Keep the Journal Nearby

The first step in learning how to write a reflective journal is as simple as being prepared to jot down your thoughts and opinions on something you are learning anytime the mood strikes. For example, if you have an insightful observation about a book you're reading while on the bus, it pays to have your journal with you. Penzu's free diary software come in handy in such a situation, as online and mobile entries can be made in your Penzu journal from any location.

2. Make Regular Entries

While you can write in whatever form and style you please, it's important to write regular entries, even if a moment of inspiration doesn't arise. This ensures you are reviewing content and actively thinking about what you have learned. This will develop your writing and critical thinking skills while keeping you organized. In the end, this should enable you to better understand specific topics you are studying.

3. Participate, Observe, Summarize and Contemplate

While reflecting is the main part of keeping a reflective diary, it's also vital that you first participate in a learning activity, make observations and summarize facts and experiences. For example, if you are writing a lab for science class, be sure to first cover what you did and what the goal and outcome of the experiment was prior to elaborating on your ideas and opinions of what was discovered. Reflective journaling is first about participating and observing before writing.

4. Review Regularly

Take time to read over previous journal entries and see how new experiences, additional knowledge and time have altered how you think and feel about the material you've been analyzing and contemplating. This will make the journal more valuable to you personally, as it will shed light on how you've grown. 

Reflective Journal Topic Examples

To create a reflective journal that really provides detail on your overall perspective on a variety of different situations, consider using one of the prompts below to help with your thought process.

  • Write about which relationships have the most meaning to you and why. Include ways you can grow to help maintain these close relationships and get rid of the toxic relationships currently in your life.
  • Write about what you are learning at school or in college.
  • Write about someone in your life who has experienced a positive change and how you can learn from their situation.
  • Write about what you want out of the next five years of your life and what you can do to achieve these goals.

If you’re looking for more topic examples, check out these great reflective journal prompts

Reflective Journal Example

The passage below is a sample reflective diary entry about losing a job:

“This week I lost my job because my employer thought I was not consistent in my work. At first I was a little upset, because I'm always on time, and I complete what I can by the end of the day. I couldn't figure out what she meant by stating that I wasn't consistent in my work. After thinking about the situation, I realized that I can only complete the work assigned to the best of my ability. What she doesn't realize is that the problem started because I constantly received incomplete reports. Whoever ends up with my former job will have the same issues if that problem isn't addressed first. However, knowing that I did what I could will allow me to continue to move forward with a positive outlook for the future.

A reflective journal is a personal account of an educational experience that offers a variety of benefits, from enhancing your writing skills and helping you retain information to allowing you to express your thoughts on new ideas and theories.

When keeping a reflective journal, it's important that you have privacy and convenience. Penzu's online account and mobile platform offer secure access and the ability to write entries from anywhere, and your diary will never get lost or stolen.

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