What’s in a Guided Journal? (And Other Questions You May Be Asking As You Start Your Journey to Self-Exploration)


By Bre Pickens

When I was a kid I was so excited to become an adult. I thought my life would look like the movies and I’d live in a big city and have a small group of select friends that would die for me, and we’d go out to breakfast every day, and talk about our dreams and partners and always look unfathomably chic. Safe to say it didn’t take very long after I’d left home for college and actually lived on my own to figure out that it’s the rare few, if any adults, that can afford to eat out everyday and have a stuffed closet consisting of clothes not carried over from what feels like a previous life. 

I don’t know if there’s an exact moment when you start to wonder why you are the way you are. As an awkward, anxious adult I know that I’ve always kind of felt out of place as far back as I could remember. Everyone else seemed to understand the social norms of what was expected seemingly without having been told, and I spent a lot of time lost in my own head because I was too shy and afraid that I would make someone uncomfortable by taking up space. It didn’t occur to me until well after it should’ve that there’s no way to avoid taking up space and I had just as much of a right to exist in my awkward, anxious space as everyone else did in their comfortable lives. It also didn’t occur to me that possibly others felt just as uncomfortable as I did. It took a long time for me to really break out of my shell and journaling was in part why I was able to grow into a confident, if still generally anxious, adult. 

The journaling I did as a child is different from the journaling I do now and that’s in large part due to finding guided journals. What’s a guided journal? It’s a blank book that usually asks a question per page about yourself that you’re meant to explore and answer however you feel comfortable. Often I’ll find that I want to write more than a single page and so I usually start on a guided journal and then switch to lined paper or typing on a new note on my phone/ computer to finish my thoughts. There are no rules with guided journals and so I’ve made an effort to be as honest as possible. I figure that if the point of writing is to help my brain process my emotions then it doesn’t do me any good to lie. There are lots of common sayings about self-honesty but there’s one in particular from Nelson Mandela that I’ll pull up every now and then. The quote is “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”

We can’t avoid impacting other people. Because of this I find that in my journey to becoming a better person I’ve begun asking questions of myself regularly. Questions like: am I putting more good into this world than yesterday? Am I treating myself with as much kindness as I am others? How can I improve as a human being? 

There are many different kinds of guided journals. Some focus on breaking rules (Wreck This Journal being the most popular), others on easing you into new habits (Start Where You Are is very calming for people who want to take it slow), and some are very comprehensive (here’s lookin’ at you Who Am I? by The School of Life). None of them are better than the others. They’re simply unique and distinct flavors of the same exploration, and if you’re willing to take a look inside of each you’re sure to find one that meshes with what you’d like to get out of your own self-exploration.



Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith- This one has been so popular that there are even different covers to choose from beyond the standard black that haunted my middle school halls (I’m not kidding when I say that all of my friends’ parents bought them a copy for either Christmas or a birthday within my three years of having braces).

Do It For Yourself by Kara Cutruzzula- There are five main sections to this journal. The goal at the end of the journal is  to help reorient your mindset using mindfulness to encourage you to overcome obstacles that may be setting you back from your goals.

Start Where You Are by Meera Lee Patel- A short and colorful journal with prompts of writing and drawing intermixed. This was one of the first ones I picked up myself when starting to look for guided journals. 

Who Am I? by The School of Life- With 10 sections in this one, this journal guides you through the stages of your life you may (or may not) have experienced so far, starting with talking about your parents and childhood. If that sounds thorough I should mention this one was written by a group of people who offer therapy services and psychological education. They’ve made over 500 videos and numerous books on different parts of psychology over the years and I’ve yet to pick one up that I didn’t enjoy. 

Joy Journal: My First Gratitude Practice by Kristine Petterson- (Only Available in Store) Local author alert! This one has an age range of 3 and up and is meant to be more drawing oriented than words, but you can certainly make it your own. Kristine includes a note in the front for any parents that picked up a copy for their kids with some helpful ideas on how they can help converse with their children once they’ve finished their page. There are also suggestions at the front for how kids may respond if they need a little help on getting started. 

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone The Journal by Lorie Gottlieb- Each week is assigned a different topic and prompt with a small area to respond every day. The idea is to hold this thought for the week as you slowly ruminate on what this may mean to you or how it’s affected your day or life. There’s also a mid-week kindness check-in and weekend reflection for every week which is a good moment to reflect on the past week.

The Kindness Workbook by Robin Raven- The subtitle for this one is “An Interactive Guide for Creating Compassion in Yourself and the World” and contains prompts that consider how you’d rewrite a bad day, what kind of boundaries you have, create a kindness book club, and asking you to recall what the first act of kindness in your life was.


I hope these suggestions help you on your journey of self-discovery, and I wish you self-compassion while you explore the different facets of your life, aspirations and create new future goals.