The morning is enormously important. It’s the foundation from which the day is built. How we choose to spend our mornings can be used to predict the kinds of days we’re going to have.
When I wake up in the morning, my mind gradually gathers, and I begin to move as the early morning light is just starting to seep through the windows. My family is still sleeping. It’s a peaceful beginning.
I stretch, drink a glass of water, start the tea kettle, and practice a short journaling exercise for ten minutes. Then I enjoy a cup of tea as I read one chapter of a good book. And finally, I write on my laptop, diligently (disconnected from online distractions), for an hour before the hustle of the day begins.
Once my family awakens, I pause to join them for a short time and we appreciate the full presence of each other’s company.
This is just a rough sketch of my mornings, and they make me happy.
It wasn’t always this way, however. I used to wake up in a hurry, rushing and cranky before stumbling into work and errands and meetings. It was unpleasant, but it was my life. I didn’t know any better, so I didn’t think I could change. Thankfully, I was wrong.
I’ve changed my mornings so they work for me and not against me. And although the various changes happened gradually, they all started with one simple, month-long ritual. This ritual gave me the gift of self-reflection at a pivotal point in my life, and it provided me with a solid foundation for making decisions that ultimately altered my thinking on just about everything. I’ve shared this part of my journey—this ritual—with hundreds of course students and conference attendees over the years, and as simple as it is, many of them come back to me a month or so later and say, “Thank you!” I’m hoping you find value in it as well…
A Month of Morning Journaling
Journaling is a priceless tool for self-reflection and self-improvement.
J.K. Rowling keeps a journal. Eminem keeps a journal. Oprah keeps a journal.
Successful people all over the world—those who consistently make positive changes in their lives—reflect daily and learn from their life experiences. And they often use some kind of journal to accomplish this. For the longest time, I knew the value of journaling—I heard the success stories of others—and yet I never took action. Why? Because I thought I didn’t have enough time for it. I was “too busy.” That was, until my ongoing negligence led to heightened levels of stress that literally put me in a hospital (my life was so disorganized and hectic, I started having panic attacks). I learned the hard way, but YOU don’t have to.
Journaling was my first step to getting back on track. And it was a life-saver.
If you want to get somewhere in life, you need a map, and your journal is that map. You can write down what you did today, what you tried to accomplish, where you made mistakes, and so much more. It’s a place to reflect. It’s a place to capture important thoughts. It’s a place to sort out where you’ve been and where you intend to go. And it’s one of the most underused, yet incredibly effective tools available to the masses.
If you’re interested in getting started with journaling, or if you’d like some fresh ideas for your current journaling practice, I’ve listed 31 journaling prompts below that I’ve personally used in the past to nudge myself into self-reflection. They will bring awareness to the subconscious beliefs and assumptions you have. And they will help you think through situations, big and small, and make better decisions.
Challenge yourself to read and write on each prompt for at least ten minutes every morning for the next month (roughly 31 days). See how doing so gradually changes your life…
Forgive yourself for the bad decisions you made, for the times you lacked understanding, for the choices that hurt others and yourself. Forgive yourself, for being young and reckless. These are all vital lessons. And what matters most right now is your willingness to grow from them.
What specifically do you need to forgive yourself for? What have your error(s) in judgment taught you?
The mind is your battleground. It’s the place where the fiercest conflict resides. It’s where half the things you feared would happen, never actually happened. It’s where your expectations get the best of you, and you fall victim to your own train of thought time and time again.
What’s one thought that has been getting the best of you lately? How has it been influencing your behavior?
What you focus on grows. Stop managing your time. Start managing your focus. 99% of what stressed you out recently won’t even matter a month from now. Shake off the nonsense, bring your attention back to what’s important, and move forward with your life.
What is truly worth focusing on today? What is NOT?
Happiness is letting go of what you assume your life is supposed to be like right now, and sincerely appreciating it for everything that it is. So, RELAX. You are enough. You have enough. You do enough. Breathe deep… let go, and just live right now in the moment.
What do you appreciate most about your life right now? Why?
A tiny part of your life is decided by uncontrollable circumstances, while the vast majority of it is decided by your internal responses. Let this sink in. Regardless of what’s going on around you, peace of mind arrives the moment you come to peace with what’s on your mind.
What is one reality you need to come to peace with? Why?
It’s funny how we outgrow what we once thought we couldn’t live without, and then we fall in love with what we didn’t even know we wanted. Life keeps leading us on journeys we would never go on if it were up to us. Don’t be afraid. Have faith. Find the lessons. Trust the journey.
What’s something you’ve let go that once meant the world to you? And, what’s something you love today that you never even knew you needed in your life?
Most of the time you have a choice. If you don’t like a changeable aspect of your life, it’s time to start making changes and new choices. And it’s OK to be low-key about it. You don’t need to put everything on social media. Silently progress and let your actions speak for themselves.
Over the past month, what have your actions been silently saying about your priorities? Are there any changes you want to make? If so, elaborate.
We waste our time waiting for the ideal path to appear. But it never does. Because we forget that paths are made by walking, not waiting. And no, you shouldn’t feel more confident before you take the next step. Taking the next step is what builds your confidence.
What’s the next step you’ve been thinking about taking, for far too long?
The next step means nothing if you are in love with your comfort zone and simply walking in circles. Don’t live the same day 30,000 times and call it a life! Growth begins today, at the end of your comfort zone. Dream. Attempt. Explore. This moment is the doorway to anything you want.
How have you stretched your comfort zone in the past month (even slightly)? What did you learn from this experience? What’s one new comfort zone challenge you’d like to conquer?
Your capacity to be happy is directly related to the quality of people whom most closely surround you. So, be with those who are good for your mental health. Those who bring you inner peace. Those who challenge your bad habits, but also support your ability to change and grow.
Who have you spent the most time with over the past month, and how have these people affected your life?
Too often we say “life is not fair” while we’re eating our food, sipping a drink, and reading tweets on our smartphones. Think twice, and be thankful. At the end of the day, before you close your eyes, breathe deeply, appreciate where you are, and see the value in what you have.
What is one privilege you have that you often take for granted?
When things aren’t adding up in your life, begin subtracting. Life gets a lot simpler when you clear the clutter that makes it complicated. Fill your life with lots of experiences, not lots of things. Have incredible stories to tell, not incredible clutter in your closets.
What kinds of physical clutter have been complicating your life and diverting you from meaningful life experiences?
Even when it seems personal, rarely do people do things because of you, they do things because of them. You know this is true. You may not be able control all the things people say and do to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Make that decision for yourself today.
What’s something you often take too personally even though, logically, you know better? How has this habit affected your life?
You can’t control how other people receive your energy. Anything you do or say gets filtered through the lens of whatever they are going through at the moment, which has nothing to do with you. Just keep doing your thing with as much love and integrity as possible.
What’s one good, recent example of someone with a bad attitude completely misjudging you?
You won’t always be a priority to others, and that’s why you have to be a priority to yourself. Learn to respect yourself, take care of yourself, and become your own support system. Your needs matter. Start meeting them. Don’t wait on others to choose you. Choose yourself, today!
How have you chosen yourself recently? How will you choose yourself, today?
Just breathe, be, and pay attention to what it’s like to be YOU. Nothing to fix. Nothing to change. Nowhere else to go. Just you, breathing, being, with presence, without judgment. You are welcome here. You belong here. Here, you are enough. Close your eyes. Breathe…
What’s something true about you that you need to embrace more openly and lovingly?
The wisest, most loving, and well-rounded people you have ever met are likely those who have been shattered by heartbreak. Yes, life creates the best humans by breaking them first. Their destruction into pieces allows them to be fine-tuned and reconstructed into a masterpiece.
How has your past heartbreak made you stronger, wiser, and more loving? Be specific.
There’s a big difference between giving up and starting over in the right direction. Know when enough is enough already, and respect yourself for feeling that way. Sometimes we have to say goodbye before we can say hello. Sometimes we have to let go to move forward with our lives.
What’s something from your past that you are thankful you gave up on? Why?
Give yourself the space to hear your own voice—your own soul. Too many of us listen to the noise of the world and get lost in the crowd. Stand strong! Live by choice, not by chance. Work to grow, not compete. Choose to listen to yourself, not the jumbled opinions of everyone else.
What has your inner voice been trying to tell you lately? What does it mean?
Forget popularity. Just do your thing with passion, humility, and honesty. Do what you do, not for an applause, but because it’s what’s right. Pursue it a little bit each day, no matter what anyone else thinks. That’s how dreams are achieved.
What’s something that’s worth working on today, regardless of what other people think? Why is it so important to you?
If it entertains you now but will hurt or bore you someday, it’s a distraction. Don’t settle. Don’t exchange what you want most for what you kind of want at the moment. Study your habits. Figure out where your time goes, and remove distractions. It’s time to focus on what matters.
What distractions have been getting the best of you lately? How often? Why?
Don’t fall back into your old patterns of living just because they’re more comfortable and easier to access. Remember, you left certain habits and situations behind for a reason: to improve your life. And right now, you can’t move forward if you keep going back.
What’s one old pattern of behavior that sometimes still sneaks up on you? What’s a better alternative, and why?
Your mind and body need to be exercised to gain strength. They need to be challenged consistently. If you haven’t pushed yourself in lots of little ways over time—if you always avoid doing the hard things—you’ll crumble on the inevitable days that are harder than you expected.
How can you provide healthy challenges for both your mind and body on a daily basis? What will you do today to walk the talk?
As you age, you’ll learn to value your time, genuine relationships, meaningful work, and peace of mind, much more. Little else will matter. Thus, the strongest sign of your growth is realizing you’re no longer worried or stressed by the trivial things that once used to drain you.
What’s something that used to drive you crazy, but no longer bothers you? Why?
Everybody you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something. Know this. Respect this. And be extra kind. Take time to really listen. Take time to learn something new. Take time to say thank you. Today.
What can you easily do to be a little kinder than usual today? And, who was the last person who was unexpectedly kind to you?
People will rarely think and act exactly the way you want them to. Hope for the best, but expect less. Agree to disagree when necessary. And be careful not to dehumanize those you disagree with. In our self-righteousness, we can easily become the very things we dislike in others.
How have your recent expectations of others gotten the best of you? What happened, and what have you learned?
Love what you do, until you can do what you love. Love where you are, until you can be where you love. Love the people you are with, until you can be with the people you love most. This is the way we find happiness, opportunity, and peace.
How will you embody “love” today? What specifically will you do?
The older we grow, the more peaceful we become. Life humbles us gradually as we age. We realize how much nonsense we’ve wasted time on. So, just do your best right now to feel the peace that flows from your decision to rise above the petty drama that doesn’t really matter.
What kind of drama do you sometimes get caught up in? What can you do to rise above it?
It’s not too late. You aren’t behind. You’re exactly where you need to be. Every step is necessary. Don’t judge or berate yourself for how long your journey is taking. We all need our own time to travel our own distance. Give yourself credit. And be thankful you made it this far.
How far have you come? How much have you grown? Think about the specifics of your recent and long-term growth. What have you not given yourself enough credit for?
You’re not the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or a week ago. You’re always growing. Experiences don’t stop. That’s life. And the very experiences that seem so hard when you’re going through them are the ones you’ll look back on with gratitude for how far you’ve come.
What’s the hardest thing you’re trying to accomplish or cope with right now? What is something small and necessary about this struggle?
There will come a time when you think it’s all over, everything is finished…you’ve reached the end of the road. That’s the starting line. Be humble. Be teachable. The world is bigger than your view of the world. There’s always room for a new idea, a new step… a new beginning.
What does a new beginning mean to you right now? What is the first thing you will do with it?
Consistency is everything…
These morning journaling prompts mean almost nothing if they are not practiced consistently. One morning of journaling by itself won’t cut it.
It is the compound effect of simple, seemingly mundane actions over time that leads to life-altering, positive results.
There is nothing immediately exciting about putting one foot in front of the other every day for weeks, but by doing so, many normal human beings have climbed over 29,000 feet to the top of the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest.
There is nothing immediately exciting about forcing yourself into self-reflection first thing in the morning, but by doing so, I (and hundreds of students and clients Angel and I have worked with) have drastically better lives.
Remember, the mind needs to be trained to gain strength. It needs to be worked consistently to grow and develop over time.
And that’s precisely what morning journaling will gradually allow you to achieve. If you don’t proactively push your mind in little ways every morning, of course it’ll stumble later on in the day when something doesn’t go your way.
You have a choice!
Choose to put one foot in front of the other from the get-go, when it would be easier not to.
Choose to open your journal at dawn, when it would be easier to sleep in.
Prove to yourself, in little ways every morning, that you have the power to take control of your day, and your life.
(Note: Angel and I build small, life-changing daily rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of the Getting Back to Happy course.)
The most fundamental aggression to ourselves and others—the most fundamental harm we can do to human nature as a whole—is to remain ignorant by not making the time to pause every day and look at ourselves and others carefully, honestly and gently.
With this in mind, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this article and the morning journaling prompts. What resonated with you? What didn’t? Is there anything else you would add?