This article originally published by The Huffington Post.
At age 8, I received my first diary for Christmas: A pink gingham hardcover complete with lock and key to protect my words from unwanted eyes. I fell in love with this form of writing as a child and it has since become a significant part of my routine as an adult, too.
In those early days, my journal mostly consisted of a recap of my days, such as who sat by me at lunch, what school project I was working on, or what one friend said to another.
As an adult, my journaling takes on a different form and, often surprising to others, has supported my professional life as much as my personal life.
At this point, I’m what you might call a journaling evangelist. Most of my coaching clients will tell you that I’ve encouraged them to experiment with journaling at some point in our work together. I don’t force it, but I am always not-so-secretly delighted when I have a convert. And over the years I’ve had many — not because of my convincing arguments but because they’ve experienced the benefits for themselves.
A question that arises frequently is, “What do I write?” The true answer — “Anything you want” — isn’t particularly helpful for someone feeling stuck. So here are 25 prompts to get your ideas flowing. In typical coaching form, I present them as questions on which you can reflect and record.
1. If I was guaranteed unlimited time and money, with the only condition being that I pursue my dream career, what would I do?
2. What did I particularly enjoy doing as a child?
3. Who are the 3-5 people I admire most in the world? What do I admire about them?
4. What activities light me up, energize me, or make me feel stronger, better, or more inspired?
5. If I were granted an extra hour each day, and all basic needs (i.e., sleep) were met, how would I spend it?
6. Who is living a courageous life? Why do they come to mind? What can I learn from their experience?
7. If I am completely honest with myself, what beliefs or assumptions hold me back?
8. What’s the best job I’ve ever had? What made it so great?
9. Who would I want giving toasts about my life at my 95th birthday party? What would I want them to say?
10. Who in my world inspires me? What do I learn from them?
11. What’s the best book I’ve ever read and/or movie I’ve ever watched? What stands out about them?
12. What relationship(s) would I like to enhance? What are some possible first steps?
13. As a kid, what did I dream of doing when I grew up?
14. What activities are so engaging, I lose track of time?
15. Who’s the best leader I’ve ever had? What qualities made her/him so amazing?
16. When do I feel the most successful? Like I am in the right place, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing?
17. What are some small actions that, if I made them part of my daily routine, would make a positive difference?
18. What do I need to let go of (grudges, past frustrations, long-ago mistakes) in order to freely move forward in my work, leadership, and life?
19. If my favorite magazine asked to write a feature article about me a year from now, what would I want the story to be?
20. What distractions am I allowing into my days? How can I start to minimize them?
21. When I think of my whole life — mind, body, spirit, career, relationships, etc. — what do I need more of? Less of?
22. What are 5-10 accomplishments that I am really proud of?
23. What role does kindness play in my work, leadership, and life? How could I invite more in and express more?
24. How do I make a positive difference in others’ lives? How could I do that even more?
25. What words do I want to come to mind when others think about me?
The neuroscience behind journaling, as well as the anecdotal evidence, is both fascinating and compelling. Let go of any “shoulds” and just allow yourself to write what feels best: Choose a prompt a day, select a few as the mood strikes you, or simply write whatever comes to mind in the moment. Just put pen to paper, suspend any expectation, and release your spirit. You may find clarity, insight, and unexpected breakthroughs waiting for you at the end of the page!
Dr. Christi Hegstad is a certified and award-winning coach, author, and speaker. A recognized leadership and professional development expert, Christi helps people live, work, and lead with meaning and purpose. She has received such honors as NAWBO Iowa Business Owner of the Year, Forty Under 40, and is current president of ICF Iowa. She is a frequently sought-after speaker and writes regularly for Huffington Post, Des Moines Business Record, ICF, and more.