Guided Journals: A Review – 2022
Jessica Gutowitz April 11, 2022
- Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration by Meera Lee Patel
- I Am Here Now by the Mindfulness Project
- Self-Care Check-In: A Guided Journal to Build Healthy Habits and Devote Time to You by GG Renee Hill
- Connecting with Loneliness: A Guided Journal by Jessie Everts
For those trying to begin a journaling practice, the availability of guided journal options can be overwhelming. Plenty of research has extolled the benefits of journaling, but where to start? There are guided journals and blank journals, apps and notebooks, more extensive and shorter-term interventions.
Guided journals can be a not-so-overwhelming place to begin building journaling habits and learning what works for you. I am a sporadic journal writer, so a journal with structure helps me keep up with the exercise. While sometimes I have something weighing on me that I want to work out on paper, my goals for my daily journaling practice involve more general self-care. Journaling provides a way to check in with myself and foster more overall mindfulness, self-love, and self-acceptance.
With this in mind, I sought out a suitable guided journal. But a simple search of “guided journals” yielded thousands of results. I parsed through the numerous options and found four books that seemed promising. To help others find what they’re looking for and ease the process of starting something new, I ordered all four, considered their strengths and weaknesses, and determined which I’ll continue to use.
Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration by Meera Lee Patel
This was the first journal I tried, I’ll admit, because it’s so aesthetically pleasing. Patel is an artist and writer; her other journals and books include Create Your Own Calm: A Journal for Quieting Anxiety and My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown. Her artistic background is clear—this journal was the most beautiful one I tried. Each entry includes a two-page spread. The first page displays a colorful watercolor illustration of a quotation that she terms a “universal life lesson” from famous writers like C. S. Lewis and significant people like Amelia Earhart. The exercise is on the second page and may take the form of a chart, list, writing, coloring, or breathing exercise.
I like the titular idea of starting where you are. It allows the user to shed damaging and distracting thoughts of where they “should” be, based on their perceptions of others and societal messaging, to simply accept where they are and begin their journey of, in this case, self-exploration. It’s small and compact, so it’s portable and easy to take for travel. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to like this journal, the exercises fell flat. For instance, while coloring on a world map with the places I’d like to visit was fun, I don’t feel like I gained any significant benefit or opportunity for introspection. This journal may be better suited for those looking for a more surface-level journal where they can draw, color, and have fun.
I Am Here Now by the Mindfulness Project
This journal has a calmer, more minimalist look than the others, which seems more suitable for its mindfulness-focused content. This journal was developed mainly by Alexandra Frey and Autumn Totton, who founded the Mindfulness Project, which teaches and spreads mindfulness through its courses, workshops, and seminars. Despite the rise of “mindfulness” as a self-care buzzword, I have found it intimidating to begin integrating mindfulness into my daily life. I have read numerous articles, academic and otherwise, about mindfulness, but I’ve had difficulty finding and sticking with a practice.
I Am Here Now helped introduce me to a mindfulness practice. The lengthy introduction was interesting and helpful for me, but geared more toward someone just beginning to learn about mindfulness. I enjoyed the humor and character the journal embodies, like the ownership page, which asks the user to draw a self-portrait with their eyes closed and then, below, adds “it is what it is”; it practices the attitude it teaches by not lingering over an inconsequential drawing that already exists and cannot be altered. I found some of the exercises dissatisfying, like one that asked me to drag a penny across the page to demonstrate the “now,” but most of them helped hone my focus and mindfulness. I also took advantage of the guided meditation, available online, and the meditation tips and field notes at the back of the book. Mindfulness and meditation tend to go hand-in-hand, and this introduction to both can help habitualize a budding practice or form a new mindfulness routine.
Self-Care Check-In: A Guided Journal to Build Healthy Habits and Devote Time to You by GG Renee Hill
This cheerful, bright orange journal felt like sunshine every morning when I opened it to the next prompt. Written by GG Renee Hill, this journal advocates for an intentional and active commitment to self-care. Hill is a writer and speaker who encourages self-discovery and emotional awareness and creates safe spaces for people to express their truths.
In the introduction, Hill talks about her journey to self-care, characterized by the captivity of hustle culture, which left her feeling drained and exhausted. I appreciated the opening, which included Hill’s own experiences, definitions, information about self-care, and instructions for the intended use of the journal. Her story is relatable to me and many others—it’s hard to keep up with the demands of school, career, and family while still making time for self-care. But, as she and many others have realized, tuning in to your needs is necessary to live a happy and fulfilled life. As such, Hill developed a guided journal to help people live in tune with their values, desires, and motivations.
Self-Care Check-In includes exercises that encourage self-reflection and discovery, focus and intention, and inspired action and planning. Each prompt is broken down into three categories: reflect, focus, and do. I found this breakdown beneficial because it helped me consider my firmly held values and determine how and where I can integrate them into my life to live more authentically, aligned with the important things to me.
Connecting with Loneliness: A Guided Journal by Jessie Everts
This journal specifically targets loneliness and is a current and necessary intervention in this era of social distancing, which makes many people feel unable to connect with others the way they once did. Everts is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a yoga/mindfulness teacher, and a mental health practitioner. This journal helps people develop self-awareness, self-love, and self-compassion to foster confidence, contentedness, and connection. It enlists techniques like reconsidering experiences from a more hopeful perspective, embracing the joy and happiness in the user’s daily life, and opening up to new opportunities with confidence and curiosity. I sampled some of the exercises, titled “Connecting with Yourself,” “Rewriting Your Story,” “Embracing Your Joy,” and “Connecting with Confidence.”
Like Start Where You Are, Connecting with Loneliness features some artwork and quotations, though it uses a more minimalistic design and muted color palette and adds affirmations to some of the prompts. I appreciated the introduction, which clearly articulates the purpose of the book. Some of the prompts build on one another; for example, one prompt had me list things I like about myself and things that make me unique, using “I am” statements like affirmations. The following prompt asked me to look back and identify which strengths help me relate to others and consider how I could turn them into actions toward myself.
This is the journal that I was most able to identify with and, therefore, am most likely to continue using. Looking back, my entries in this journal are the longest. It helped me engage with self-talk and consider myself in a more positive light. The prompts make sense—I can see the advantages of listing my strengths or writing a love letter to myself—and because they helped me find good in myself, I found myself better able to connect with myself and others.
All in all, it’s hard to go wrong with journaling. Because there’s no “right way” to practice it, there’s no wrong way either—it’s more about what works for you. For those who want to get the most bang for their buck and dive into a journal that can benefit them, these journals represent some of the most interesting options on the market. Journaling has improved my mental health and wellness and that of others. Consider your goals and choose a journal to help you achieve them—why not start now?