7 Ways to Turn Your Journal from Whiny to Empowering

When I first started journaling, over twelve years ago, it was usually a place for me to record all the negative things in my life. A few years ago, when I was flicking through that journal, I read some of the entries and put the journal aside with disgust. It was all negative, and I most certainly don’t remember my life being that bad. I wanted to look back to some happy memories, but based on my journal, it was all doom and gloom.

Do you ever finish writing in your journal only to end up feeling more depressed than when you started? Do you focus mostly on who hurt your feelings, was horrible to you, or how many bad things happened to you? Do you write a screenplay of arguments you had with your loved ones? do the pages of your journal ooze negativity?

You are not alone.

It’s a human tendency to focus on negatives. When we have problems, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. Most of us complain to whoever would listen, including our journals. When the problems are too personal to share with others, a journal often becomes the only listener.

There is nothing wrong with sharing your woes or even winging in your journal, and you don’t even have to be fair. Complain and get it out of your system, but don’t let that become the only use for your journal.

If you are going to forget that when you are going through a hard time, leave reminders in your journal to include other aspects of your life.

Things you can use:

  • A simple post-it note inside the front or back cover.
  • A photo of someone you love, or even of you – smiling wide and bright.
  • Something that inspires you – a poem, a landscape, just some random image from the Internet.
  • Your happy place – write a detailed description of it, or if you have the skill, draw it.
  • Use whatever works for you, but the aim s to get a full picture of your life in your journal. When you capture your life as a whole, you will be able to look back at your journals for learning rather than to drown yourself in depression or disgust.

7 Ways to Turn Your Journal from Whiny to Empowering

Don’t go to bed without a positive entry in your journal

It doesn’t have to be a long entry, and it doesn’t have to be something that makes you ecstatic. It could be something as simple as someone bringing you a cup of coffee with a smile, or telling you a joke that made you laugh. It could be stepping outside in bright sunshine, and smiling just because of the beauty of the day. It could be a movie that made you laugh, or giggling with a girlfriend over something silly. It just has to be something that gave you one tiny moment of happiness.

If you can’t think of anything at all, then stop right here, and make an appointment with a therapist. I’m serious. You need help. Go and get it.

List Three Things You are Grateful for

Not just today or yesterday or last week. Look back at your entire life. What are the three things that you are grateful for?

What about any of these:

  • Parents who tried their best for you, loved and supported you
  • Sibling who hero-worshipped you
  • Best friend you’ve had forever
  • You’ve always had a comfortable home and food on the table
  • You’ve always been in good health
  • You’ve travelled and seen the world
  • You’ve experiences that made you grow that many people don’t have
  • You’ve someone who loves and adores you
  • You’ve brought up wonderful children
  • Write Your Most Powerful Positive Memory

Sit somewhere quiet and comfortable. Close your eyes and focus on your memories. What is the happiest moment you can remmeber? A moment when you were just happy to be alive? Is it a memory that brings a smile or even tears of joys every time you think about it? Maybe it brings a wide grin or maybe it makes your heart fill that you wonder how could anyone contain so much happiness? Focus on this memory with every fibre of your being and write it down.

Write fast and furious so you can focus on your feelings and emotions rather than your thoughts. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Don’t even focus on your words. Just focus on your memory and write from your heart.

Focus on your visceral reactions. What were your physiological reactions when you were feeling this? Was your heart racing? Palms sweaty? Or maybe you were calm and content and every muscle in your body was relaxed. Depending on the nature of your memory you would have different reactions as you focus on that memory with complete intensity you might even start getting same physical reactions.

Use them. Write them down. When you are done, put down your break and take a break to savour those emotions.

Congratulations! You have just create created a happy pill for yourself.

Write about your favourite holiday as a child

Christmas, New Year, Easter, anything. It doesn’t matter what the holiday is, as long as the memory is good and powerful.

  • What did you do?
  • Who did you celebrate with?
  • Did you have any traditions with either family or friends?
  • Did you exchange presents?
  • What kind of food did you eat?
  • Did you play games or did activities together?
  • What was the weather like?

Again, focus on the details. Write as much as you can.

Make a list of your strengths

Everyone has strengths. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Hopefully, you already know some of your strengths, but if you don’t, this is a good time to start with that area of self-awareness.

Our strengths, like us, are unique and comparison to others is not required and not recommended. Focus on you – who you are – and what are your unique talents.

Maybe you are super at organising stuff, or maybe you bake a hell of a cake. Perhaps your strength is in being a mediator and bringing people together. Think about this. When have you used your strength and made something happen? Ask close friends or family members.

List your favourite feel-good books or movies

You know that cheesy movie you wouldn’t admit to liking in sophisticated company, or maybe you would. But it always makes you feel good.

I know a woman who likes bad horror movies. I personally love feel-good light hearted stuff like Princess Diaries or Legally Blonde.

Re-read your comfort book. Some books become companions over a lifetime. You know every scene, but curling up with it, and even just reading a few sentences is like curling up with a favourite blanket. Of course you can do both.

Name one person who makes you laugh on regular basis

If there is no one, you need to make new friends. Being surrounded by positive people is essential for any kind of growth.

Do you know anyone who has perpetual frown on their face? I certainly do. No one likes being around a misery guts, because miserable people only spread their negativity. Positive people lift up their spirits environment around them, so strive to be positive. Laugh a lot. Smile a lot. Smile at strangers (though not at the weirdos who might misinterpret that). Smile at your colleagues. Smile at your family. Sometimes I just laugh and my husband gives me a look that plainly says he thinks I’m a whack-a-doodle. But you know what? Better be a happy whack-a-doodle than a miserable “normal” person.

So stay in regular touch with people who lift your spirits up and make you laugh.

Even if you do only two or three of these things every day in your journal, you will soon have a journal that is full of positivity. When you are having bad days, you will be able to re-read these pages and think about the good things in your life.

To help you focus on the positive side of your life, I have created a free PDF guide, 17 Questions to Find Your Positivity. You can download it by entering your email address below. If you find it useful, I would love to hear from you. Please leave your feedback in the comments below.




  1. Pick at least one of these seven methods today, and apply it in your journal.
  2. Download free guide 17 Questions to Find Your Positivity, and take time to answer those questions honestly, and you’ll never be short of something to make you smile or feel grateful.

If you think this post and this free guide would be useful to others, please share it by using the social media buttons below.


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11 thoughts on “7 Ways to Turn Your Journal from Whiny to Empowering

  1. Excellent, list of positive ideas.

    My favorite is the things I am grateful for, this always changes my mindset.

  2. Dolly,
    I love the premise to this post: Being Positive! What a great purpose for writing a journal entry; it really helps increase that healthful vibration. And you provide a various list with items that can resonate so easily for most. All it really takes is a fresh perspective to move you in the right direction!

    I have chosen your post, 7 Ways to Turn Your Journal from Whiny to Empowering, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 4/18/12 for all things journaling on Twitter; 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 Live is each Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter; this week’s topic is Your Journaling: Stress Busters!

    Thanks again for this insightful and positive post, Dolly.

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

  3. Lori,

    That’s why it’s important to do the exercise on regular basis because depending on our situation and emotions, it would continuously change.

  4. Dolly, this post ROCKS and I’ve shared it far and wide!

    I *used* to fall into whiny journaling and depressing morning pages until I figured out that I *could* actually adapt the practices to suit ME, instead of trying to force myself to do them the way other people did them. My trick was/is simply setting an intention of what I want to get out of the writing session, ranging anywhere from “get into a better mood” to figuring out a solution to a specific problem and then just free-flow writing. I always end up getting whatever result I seek and it happens REALLY quickly, in fewer pages and less time than I predict! :-)

    I took your advice about downloading your guide and I kinda double-dipped #10 (what are you good at) with “make a list of your strengths” from this post. I wrote for 7 minutes and now I feel like a million bucks AND I have more clarity on the focus of my blog.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment, but I’m DELIGHTED to have found your site and I’m looking forward to learning & practicing Kaizen Journaling!


  5. Rena,

    I LOVE long comments. They tell me that you really connected with the post, and have something to say about it, so thank you for taking the time to write this.

    That “AHA” moment is great, when we realise that there are no rules in journaling. It’s about as personal as a process can get. We can share methods and tips and ideas, but at the end of the day, your journal is a reflection of your life and of you.

    Congratulations on feeling like a million bucks! We all need that from time to time. It’s awesome that you spent enough time on the prompt. That’s where most people usually skimp.

    Welcome to the community. I’m delighted to have you here.

  6. I love the idea of using a journal as something empowering. Recently I read somewhere that you shouldn’t go back and read your old journals because you relive negative events. So true if that’s all you do is record negative feelings. Mine have been a mix, but as most people I tend to write when I’m frustrated, upset or angry. What a nice way to look at it if I would find a positive entry at the end of the day. I was keeping a separate gratitude journal, but maybe the trick is to end the daily entry with something positive instead! A-ha! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Rosie,

    I think reading old journals – after a decent interval – could be a really empowering process, but not if it’s only full of negativity. So yes, I would recommend that instead of keeping a separate gratitude journal, keep it all in one journal. That will give you an “all-rounded” journaling experience :-)

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