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Being More Reflective Through Journaling

Journal PictureBy: Rachel Wagner Sperry
National Trainer, Devereux Center for Resilient Children

Reflective practice is defined as the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning. John Dewey’s famous quote “we don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience” is an important lesson for all adults who care about children. Over the course of any given day we can have hundreds (if not thousands) of experiences with children, but without reflection we might miss important information, cues and details that could help us help them.  As a former preschool teacher, my favorite method of reflection was journaling and I tried to regularly take time to write about my days with children.  In one journal entry I noted that a student named Alice had been particularly clingy.  This little girl was not acting out or being disruptive, so without reflection I could have easily missed this behavor and continued about my busy days with her hovering near my leg.  Because of my reflections, I made a point to check in with Alice and her family and learned that their home life had become much more chaotic recently due to the addition of 3 cousins that needed a place to stay.  The family reported that these cousins were challenging and that Alice had been “shrinking into her shell” and “wetting the bed again.”  If I had not asked I would have never known and I would not have been able to provide Alice with the extra love and care she needed to “bring her back out of her shell.”

As a mental health professional and adult educator, I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of being reflective. Because I have seen the benefits first hand and continue to do reflective journaling in my own life, I am passionate about this subject.  There are many ways to engage in reflection from talking to a colleague, doing mindfulness exercises, or writing in a journal.  Journaling is a profound tool and there is no “correct” way to do it!  I know that some people reject the idea of writing because they fear it will take too long, or worry that they are a “bad writer”, but the great thing about journaling is that no one has to read it, it doesn’t have to take much time and you do not have to be a good writer to benefit from reflecting in this way.  If you are not a seasoned journaler consider a “5 minute flurry.”  This is the practice of only writing for 5 minutes.  I guarantee that it will be 5 minutes well spent and what bubbles to the surface (or from your pen) will be enlightening.

It is helpful to use journaling prompts to get your started.  Here are some prompts to try:

1.  Complete a sentence using a sentence stem like:
• My body is telling me…
• I really want to…
• The thing that brings me joy is…
• I feeling happy when…
• I am avoiding…

2.  Answer a reflective question like:
• What is the lesson here?
• Have you been here before?
• Are you losing energy to this?
• Are you holding on to something you need to let go of?
• Are you in the present?
• What do you need to do now?
• Who’s in control here?
• What is your responsibility here?
• Are you at peace with this?

Pen Picture3.  Write a letter to:
• Your healthy self
• Your inner child
• A person you love
• A person you are struggling with (you don’t need to send it)

4.  Make a list.  Possible lists include:
• List when and where you have been your happiest
• List the things you loved to do as a kid and you can’t do as well anymore
• List the things you really need to keep you at your best
• List the habits or behaviors of older people you admire
• List the places in nature you’d rather be than where you are right now

List ideas from:
Segalove, Ilene.  Velick, Paul, B.  (2003)  More List Your Self – Listmaking as the way to personal discovery.  Andrew McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, MO.

5.  Use a picture as inspiration:
• Write about a beautiful painting and how it makes you feel.
• Write about a childhood photo and what memories it creates.
• Write about a picture from a magazine and what comes up for you.
• Write about a funny photo from social media and what it makes you think.


Try one of these journaling prompts and see how it feels for 5 minutes.  I hope you will find this method of reflection helpful to both your professional and personal life.  Napoleon Hill said, “Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire.”  Good luck making your reflections more concrete.


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