3 Levels of Journaling (and Why Kaizen Journaling is not Just About Tips and Techniques)

If you’ve been following the blog and keeping an eye on the comments, you might have noticed an interesting discussion going on in this post. That discussion has led me to write this. I’m really pleased that it has, because it means digging deep into the value and purpose of this blog and sharing it with all of you.

Kaizen Journaling is not just about journaling tips and techniques. It wasn’t intended to be that from day one.

Here is why:

After twelve years of experience in keeping journals, I now divide journaling into three levels. These are not official rules, dictated by Journaling Gods. These levels are what I have created, because they make sense to me. They often overlap, and they will come at different stages for different people, but nonetheless, I think they exist.


Foundation Journaling


This is the beginning. This is when you pick up a blank notebook or download a journaling app or buy yourself a fancy journal and a fountain pen, and wonder what to write. You may write for days, or for weeks. Sometimes you write now and again for a few years. Or you might write regularly for a certain period and then stop.

In the Foundation stage, these are some common things:

Focus is quite often on the negatives

You had a bad breakup or an illness, and you journal about it to get it out of your system. You might have financial troubles that you don’t know what to do with. Journaling would either help you clarify your thoughts and eventually you will move on from that trouble, and stop journaling.

You seek out prompts and tips and read journaling articles

Once you don’t have a particular negative problem to dwell over, you don’t really know what to write. Your life feels too mundane and boring. You wake up, go to work, come home, have dinner, spend time with the family, watch kids, go to bed. Like millions of other people. There is nothing special. There is nothing to write. So you scour the internet for prompts and techniques, and look for a way to make your journal more interesting.

Advanced Journaling


This is the next step. If you reach the Advanced stage, congratulations, because you are already ahead of hundreds of thousands of people who are never going to move past the Foundation stage.

You know that journaling adds value, even if you are not quite sure how. 

You begin to feel attracted to the habit. Something happens when you write in your journal. Maybe you feel soothed afterwards, or you feel like you do have someone that you can say anything to. Your mind feels clear. Your decision-making ability gets better.

You become conscious about improvement

You are still used to habits of your foundation days. You either keep a diary of your day-to-day activity, or you keep a particular type of journal such a one-liners, morning pages, gratitude journal, depression journal, dream journal etc. You are not sure how to move onto different things, and you worry about doing it right. But now and again, you have real urge to do more. Sometimes you give in and get inspired by a burst of creativity. Or you seek inspiration from other people. But you know that there is more, and you want it.

You try new things

Art journaling is often the first experiment people do. If you find that you are artistic, you move on to art journals and create amazing stuff. If your artistic ability isn’t up to your standards then you get frustrated, and look for something else. You try different prompts, and have fun with it. You learn about new techniques, such as creating lists. You join in journaling challenge. You write daily, and you write more.

Kaizen Journaling


This is the final step, because it never ends. When you get to this stage, journaling is both a reflection of and an extension to your life. It is not a hobby or a chore. It is not something you force yourself to do. It is part of who you are, and how you process life. Kaizen Journaling is for a Kaizen Life.

You focus on thinking big

Day log is still important. You want to record the life you are living, but that is only a part of it. You journal for progress. You journal to dream your big, audacious goals and then you create a plan of how you will make them happen.

You analyse your self for personal growth

Authenticity is important, but authenticity doesn’t mean we stay as we are, and nurse our weaknesses. To live a Kaizen Life means constant growth, and without awareness, there cannot be growth. You realise that, and so you read your old journals, you evaluate the emotions and the rational, and you observe your progress as a person. You learn to find the areas of your life where old pattern keeps repeating itself. You learn to find the blind spots that hold you back. You record your evolving personality, and your evolving dreams.

You make necessary changes based on the results

You record your evolving personality, and your evolving dreams, and you adjust your course accordingly. You use your journal as a guide to steer you in the right direction. It’s not about stubbornly doing the same thing forever, just because you once decided to do it. It’s about focusing on the right choices for you, at any given time.

You learn to gain subconscious awareness of your life, through your journals

This comes with time and practice. It comes from experience of doing many of the above things. But eventually, you get to a stage where as you journal, your mind is subconciously aware of the shifts in your life, in your opinions, and in your attitude. It is aware of your values, and where you are fooling yourself. It may take you time and effort to bring it to your conscious brain and do something about it, but the seed is there, and it will sprout if you continue on the path to a Kaizen Life.


Every article here is in itself a journaling prompt, because under every article you have an actionable step that you could journal about.

The title and the tag line of this blog tell you the core values of this blog, and each article is to help you focus on one or more of those values, whether by direct journaling tips, or ideas and questions that make you reflect on your own life.

Kaizen Jouranling is not for people looking for just journaling tips. This is for people who want to be Kaizen Warriors. This is for people who want to take their journaling to the next level, and be the best they can be.

This is not about just writing. It’s about applying. It is no use to outline your brilliant plans in a journal if you are never going to use them. Kaizen Journaling is about constantly and consciously striving towards a Kaizen Life, and understanding that the process is all about the journey, not the destination.


Spend some time, thinking or journaling about which of the 3 stages of Journaling you are at. It doesn’t matter what the answer is, because it is never too late to start, and it is never too late to start moving forward. But you need to know your starting point, before you can have a goal post.



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42 Responses to “3 Levels of Journaling (and Why Kaizen Journaling is not Just About Tips and Techniques)”

  1. Loran Hills May 16, 2012 at 23:15 # Reply

    My journaling has gone through all these phases. I never called it Kaizen journaling but I do outline my plans and then apply some of them. One of the great things about writing them down is being able to go back and check on the goals because I forget them sometimes. Or they shift. It is definitely about the journey.

    • Dolly Garland May 16, 2012 at 23:18 # Reply


      Yup! Journey is the important, and it doesn’t matter what name you call it, or even if you don’t give it a name. The growth journaling brings is the key thing.

  2. Bobbi Emel May 16, 2012 at 23:22 # Reply

    Thanks for this post, Dolly. It’s very explanatory and clear. I get it now!

    • Amit Amin May 17, 2012 at 17:09 # Reply

      Yes, same for me. Now I’m 100% clear on why you’re writing, and what I should be taking away from your posts to gain maximal value.

      Alas, I’m at stage .5, I have a long way to go. Still, I had no idea journaling could do so much. I’ve generally thought of it as something girls hide from me, more than something that creates value (I know that’s not true anymore).

      • Dolly Garland May 17, 2012 at 22:43 # Reply


        Thank you. Your comment was the one that resulted in this post. It doesn’t matter if you are at stage 0.5 (though based on my levels, you can’t be 0.5 :P you are journaling, so you are at least 1).

        Now that you have seen what it could do, and how much impact it could have, hopefully that will change your journaling, and have ripple affect on your life as well.

    • Dolly Garland May 17, 2012 at 22:41 # Reply


      Thanks :-) Glad it made sense.

  3. Lori Lynn Smith May 16, 2012 at 23:29 # Reply

    I love thinking about it this way… it means I journal all the time! maybe not in my red pretty journal, but every day when I am making a new plan, analyzing what the heck I did wrong yesterday or why I am changing my mind a that subject that should remain nameless.

    I am definitely feeling that I need to get even deeper and I love that idea!

    • Dolly Garland May 18, 2012 at 00:13 # Reply


      Awesome! Journaling does not necessarily have to be happen in a specific notebook (though I prefer it, because it keeps everything in one place). It’s more about the act itself, and the result you gain from it, rather than how or where.

  4. Blaze May 17, 2012 at 04:20 # Reply

    What has your journal taught you today?

    • Dolly Garland May 18, 2012 at 00:26 # Reply


      Today, journaling has given me more clarity on my coaching programme, and told me that I am overthinking things, instead of going with a concept which was right there in front of me.

  5. Kaylee May 17, 2012 at 22:00 # Reply

    Makes sense! I love the “how to use this site” section… It makes it very clear how you want us to use your site in our own journaling experience – to help us become Kaizen warriors. Thanks, Dolly.

    • Dolly Garland May 18, 2012 at 00:29 # Reply


      It’s not so much about what I want people to do – but rather a different way to look at it. I can offer my opinion of how I think this site could be best used, so that you can get the most value out of it. But I’m sure each of you will still find your own interpretation of it, and find what works best for you. And that’s how it should be,because journaling and growth are both very personal, and very individual things.

  6. Christine May 17, 2012 at 22:24 # Reply

    Great, I like the idea of adjusting my course and using journaling to steer me in the right direction — never thought of it quite like that…

    • Dolly Garland May 18, 2012 at 00:30 # Reply


      It’s always wonderful for me when anything I say about journaling, makes people view it differently :-) Thank you for visiting.

  7. Beth May 18, 2012 at 14:43 # Reply


    You’ve just shown me with very clear-cut directions how to take my journaling to a new level. I’ve known since childhood that my journals are an extension of me; now I understand how I can use them to learn patterns and truths about myself.

    Thank you for your wisdom.

    B Well!

    • Dolly Garland May 18, 2012 at 21:30 # Reply


      It’s great that you got so much out of this post. Since you are already quite attuned to your journaling, I think it will help you a lot. Happy Journaling, and I would love to hear from you as to how you get on with digging deeper in your journals.

  8. Chantal Beaupre May 18, 2012 at 22:05 # Reply

    Incredible post, Dolly!

    I truly resonate with the way you dissected and explained the different levels of journalling. Although I believe in the healing effects of journalling, that’s the very first time I see this activity in this way… and I LOVE it!

    Be blessed,

    • Dolly Garland May 19, 2012 at 19:44 # Reply


      Thank you for your enthusiastic response. It’s always exciting for me when people see journaling in a new way from something I write.

  9. Dawn Herring May 19, 2012 at 00:16 # Reply

    You have done a brilliant job showing the different levels of journaling in your experience. I love the three tier approach you present. I think it’s an accurate picture of where folks are at in a journaling practice from what I have heard others share on #JournalChat Live and in person. I like the different levels of action, the frequency of entries, and the level of positive change that you share. Very insightful. Love it.

    I have chosen your post, 3 Levels of Journaling, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 5/18/12 for all things journaling onTwitter; I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal: http://www.refreshwithdawnherring.blogspot.com/.

    #JournalChat is every Thursday at 5 EST/2 PST for all things journaling on Twitter; it was great to have your insight at yesterday’s chat! :)

    Thanks again for such an insightful and comprehensive look into the journaling practice and its levels. :)

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

    • Dolly Garland May 19, 2012 at 19:45 # Reply


      Thanks. I absolutely believe in these differences, and in my experience dissecting it makes it easier for others, and especially to those who are new to journaling.

      As always, pleasure to be featured in JournalChat.

  10. Margo DeGange, M.Ed. May 19, 2012 at 15:29 # Reply


    I think it is FABULOUS that you segment journaling into types this way. THAT ALONE brings added awareness.

    I have been journaling for years, and I think you can always get better, since journaling is not only an awareness tool, and a communication tool with self, but a self-development tool.

    I think I will go back to this post and read it again a few times. i would also like to share it with some friends.

    This is beautiful!

    Thanks for writing it.


    • Dolly Garland May 19, 2012 at 19:49 # Reply


      Journaling is often so undersold. People think diary, and they think logging to day-to-day. That’s great in itself, but journaling can do SO MUCH MORE. That is why I am passionate about increasing it awareness, and that’s where these three levels help. It helps people see what is possible.

      Glad to have such positive response from a regular journal keeper. Thanks :-)

  11. Deirdra Eden May 29, 2012 at 00:46 # Reply

    You have a fabulous blog! I’m an author and illustrator and I made some awards to give fellow bloggers whose sites I enjoy. I want to award you with one of my homemade awards: Powerful Woman Writer Award. There are no pass along requirements. This is just to reward you for all the hard work you do!

    Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.

    • Dolly Garland May 30, 2012 at 00:03 # Reply


      Thank you :-) That’s incredibly nice of you. I like the idea of being a “Powerful Woman Writer”

  12. Andrew October 17, 2012 at 01:46 # Reply

    I’ve been attempting to keep a written journal for a while now, and having read this article, I can still only classify myself as a Foundational Journaler. I do see bits and pieces of the Advanced Journaler within me trying to peak through, but for some reason I keep suppressing it. I’m thinking I suppress it because I feel that I should be more of a foundation journaler than any of the other levels.

    Did you have that experience? How did you break through the invisible barriers?

  13. Julie M. Rodriguez December 19, 2012 at 05:24 # Reply

    This is really interesting – I mostly only journal when I have some kind of stress or trauma to work out. So I guess that puts me squarely at level 1. I’ve never really gotten into a regular enough journal habit to go any farther. Now I feel like I should get serious about journalling and give it another try! :)

  14. Andy Shackcloth May 5, 2013 at 18:39 # Reply

    Super post Dolly.
    It was neat to see how ‘awareness’ is increasing through the different stages.

    I think I’ll just spread this around the .net a bit.

  15. design your own t-shirt November 22, 2013 at 13:10 # Reply

    You have demonstrated an intelligent, yet uncanny use of the English language, not seen in many years. The foresight posed by your writer has impressed me, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Thank you.

  16. Alejandrina Mizrahi May 7, 2016 at 11:16 # Reply

    Create a action plan. Begin by creating an outline of steps to adopt, then charge after exactly what you want. You might also want to compose a list of tools, sources, or life coaches to get aid, this will save time in reaching your objectives.

  17. BIFPIGKNSIKKWDTXGB September 1, 2018 at 07:00 # Reply

    Thanks , I have recently been looking for info about this topic for ages and yours is the best I’ve discovered till now. But, what about the conclusion? Are you sure about the source?

  18. You could definitely see your skills in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

  19. BRNDETHSAYYYNJBBYM September 2, 2018 at 11:57 # Reply

    Hey there! I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Lubbock Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

  20. You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.

  21. DSDGXTAWGQNUBQYN September 9, 2018 at 12:36 # Reply

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was curious what all is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% positive. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks


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