For us students, our summer break is one occasion where we are most likely to have some spare time on our hands. What better opportunity could there be, to dedicate a fraction of the day to your thoughts, hopes, and dreams? As most of us spend plenty of time analysing experiences, pondering goals, and identifying fears, it can be valuable to set some time aside, and work through everything on paper. In this context, keeping a diary is very different to reflective journaling. If a diary is similar to a report on your life, think of journaling as more of an intricate dialogue, that can function as a learning tool, and aids personal development. The good thing is, journaling doesn’t require you to be the “writing type”, so have a read and see if it’s something you’d like to incorporate!

The Basics

For clarity I have broken up different aspects of journaling for personal development into three main parts: Self-reflection, goal-setting, and planning. Pure reflection can be said to mainly deal with the question ‘where am I at the moment, and how did I get here?’, whereas goal-setting concerns ‘where do I want to go?’, and finally planning is linked to ‘how will I actually get there?'. If at this point you’re starting to wonder what you could possibly gain from this, you’re in for a treat. Reflective journaling has so many benefits, that I could dedicate an entire article to them. One could even say that it can help you with anything you intend it to. Find out more in the subsequent sections! 


Girl leaning against bus window


Reflection can be useful for all areas of your life: your job or internship, as well as your academic studies and personal life. Depending on what you’re reflecting on, it can be useful to start off the process with some key questions. In the beginning you may want to make basic notes on the relevant situation, to help you produce more detailed memories. The main questions you may want to consider are ‘what happened?’, ‘how did it happen?’, ‘why did it happen?’, ‘what went well and what didn’t?’, ‘can I prevent it from happening again, and how?’. Asking yourself how a certain situation made you feel, or what you have learned are other prompts, and perfectly suited to aid you in drawing conclusions from your experiences. However, a structured approach isn’t always the most suitable-sometimes it can help to just write down everything you can think of, in relation to the situation. Self-reflection in this capacity won’t only help you keep track of what is going right or wrong, it will also provide you with a deeper understanding of your own thoughts and actions, as well as of your environment. It becomes easier to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, and you will start noticing things that you may have otherwise missed. Over time you may start noticing more and more changes, as the benefits of regular reflection tend to be cumulative. Personally, I have found reflection to be extremely valuable in analysing past work experiences, which in turn has made new job applications much easier.


The next main aspect of journaling for personal development is goal setting. Even if you’re already aware of your goals, you will be surprised by how much of a difference actually putting them to paper makes! Firstly, it is important to break this stage up into 2 parts-long term goals, and short term goals. Your goals are your own, and should correspond with your personal priorities, so don’t worry about what others might think! In terms of further advice, a frequently applied concept is that of ‘SMART’ objectives. Linked to a 1981 issue of the Management Review, by George Doran, the concept has since been amended and developed by others. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. This concept sums up the approach to goal setting, and can also be applied in other contexts, as it highlights the need to set detailed, attainable targets, within a specific time-frame.


Whereas the previous section helps you identify where you want to end up, the planning stage will guide you on your journey to reaching your goals. A useful tool to be aware of here, is an ‘action plan’. As the name suggests, these are plans that lay out the detailed action steps needed to reach a specific goal, and should contain everything that needs to be considered. Make sure you incorporate resources, precise tasks, and time needed. This will enable you to set clear, achievable aims and objectives, in order to reach your goals. You will also be able to track your progress better, as it becomes easier to identify steps taken along the way, no matter how small, in order to reach your goals. This in turn is bound to keep you more motivated, and focused.

Happy journaling

In addition to the above guidelines, I would just like to share some concluding remarks that I have found to be helpful as well. Most importantly, try to make this a regular practice! Especially when it comes to self-reflection, the saying ‘the earlier, the better’ definitely holds true. Mainly because analysing a situation becomes more difficult, the more time passes. Another thing to bear in mind, especially when getting used to this type of journaling, is not to get too hung up with details! Instead of overthinking how you’re going to carry out your reflection, goal setting, and planning, you’re better off just getting started. On a side note, you don’t have to run out and buy a specific journal or planner, as they can be quite pricey. Planners can be helpful, and a great visual aid, but not necessary. There is a range of printable material online, which can be easily accessed through a simple google search. The whole process may seem intimidating at first, but it definitely pays off in the end, and remember that everyone’s approach is different!

Alexandra Kimbo (23)

Student: Media, Culture, and Society


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