Tired of being stuck in a meaningless slump or on a confusing plateau?
Want to take some time and think about it, maybe write it out in a journal, but don’t know where to start?
Taking the time to write can help us clarify what we truly believe, and maybe even figure out our life purpose.
The following journal prompts are designed to help you clarify your thoughts, perspective, and desires. They are organized into four overarching categories:
- Who are you?
- What do you want?
- What do you know/think you know/want to know?
- What is your unique purpose?
Each prompt or group of prompts also comes with a brief explanation for why it was included.
And at the end of this article, there are some suggestions on how to use/get the most out of these prompts.
So without further ado, I give you…
Who are you?
1. List the 5 people you spend the most time with, why, and how they’re affecting you — your behaviors, your thoughts, your life.
2. List the top 5 people you admire, and why.
3. Who is your favorite person in all the world and why?
You are a summation of the people you spend the most time with. So it’s important to be conscientious of who we choose to spend time with.
In addition, we don’t just spend time with people we know, or people in real life. We also spend mental time with people we watch on TV, people we read about, or people whose works (books, articles, youtube videos) we consume. Who among these people do you admire most, and why? What are ways you can spend more time with the people you want most to be like? (For me, Desmond Doss is one of my personal heroes, even though I never met him in real life)
4. What is your favorite song/musical piece and why?
5. Or: what music do you regularly listen to and why? How do you feel after listening to it?
Music is powerful. More than we realize. It affects your whole brain, not just part of it, and continues to have a hold on us even after we’ve lost other brain functions.
It’s important to consider what music you’ve been listening to, and how it affects you. Are your musical choices benefitting or hurting you? What does music mean to you?
6. List your top 5 favorite books/movies, and why.
According to writing coach, Lisa Cron, our brains are wired for story. How do stories resonate with you? What books are you drawn to? What themes do all your favorite books have in common? Redemption? Persistence? Something else?
The stories we consume affect the stories we tell. And we ALL tell stories — about ourselves, our lives, our world. How do your favorite writers see and interpret the world? You may find that it is very similar to the way YOU see and interpret the world, for better or for worse.
7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
The famous Alcoholics Anonymous serenity prayer says:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
We can’t always change things about ourselves, but you might be able to change more than you think. What would you like to change about yourself? Why haven’t you done it yet? Is there some step you can take to bring you closer to changing it?
8. What was the most painful thing you ever went through? What did you learn from it?
Pain impresses itself on our memories more than pleasure does.
There’s a reason that C.S. Lewis said:
Pain insists on being heard. God shouts to us in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
Pain is often a teacher — for better or for worse. But if you’re anything like me, you don’t really like to think about pain that much. Still, you should ask yourself, at least once in your life, what was the most painful thing you went through? What did you learn from it?
Maybe you can figure out something that you learned, so that you do not waste your pain.
One caveat about this prompt: Do not spend TOO much time on this. It’s not healthy to dwell on negative things for long. Think about this question for a set amount of time, write down your answer, then move on.
What do you really want?
9. If you didn’t have to worry about money or people’s opinions, what would you do with your life?
10. What was your childhood dream and why? What happened to that dream and why?
We often let fear get in the way of our potential. We don’t usually think big enough. Or we think too big.
11. What about your life makes you miserable? What do you know you need to give up?
Not everything we do or want is good for us. Sometimes we have to selectively give things up.
12. How do you spend your time? On a weekday? On a weekend?
13. How do you spend your money?
14. Create an ideal budget for your time and money based on percentages (Ex with finances: 10% donations, 40% to live on, 20% to support family, 15% taxes, 10% savings, 5% fun stuff, or something) Why is this your ideal budget?
What you spend your time and money on indicates what things are a priority in your life.
If you want to really get into it, take a week and record (without changing anything) exactly how much time you spend on each activity. Don’t stop if it’s an “atypical” week. Do this for an extra week, if you like, and then look at your results. The answers may surprise you.
Same thing with your financial spending.
You may find that you’re not spending enough time/money on what you truly value. Alternatively, you may find yourself spending time and money on things you never expected, or you don’t want to spend time/money on anymore. In that case, cut those things out, and add in the things you do want.
What do you know/think you know/want to know?
15. What is a book you wish someone would write?
If you can’t write that book, why not? Are you not a good enough writer? Do you not know enough about that topic? In which case, should you be learning more about that topic, or about how to write? Which leads us to the next question…
16. What is the next thing you want to learn? And to what degree?
Stay curious. There’s so much to do with life. Besides, staying curious can help you stay healthy!
17. Define the following: Success. Wisdom. Love. Faith. Truth. Courage. Joy
In college, I once spent an entire philosophy class debating the definition of “wisdom.” Turns out, a lot of the words we use all the time and think we understand are not as clearly defined, even in our own minds, as we think they are.
Spend some time clarifying these terms in your own mind. Start with a lengthy definition that includes every caveat you can think of, then try shortening it into a pithy one-liner.
18. What do you think God is like?
If a relational God exists (which I believe He does, but am aware that not every reader may agree), your relationship to Him is the most important relationship in your life. Who do you want God to be? Who do you think God is, irrespective of who you want Him to be? What have others told you about Him? How has your vision of Him been impacted by your experiences?
The way you view God (whether or not He exists, whether or not He is good, kind, relational, loving, etc.) will impact the way you see yourself, others, your life, and the world.
What is YOUR unique purpose?
19. List all the things you think you SHOULD do, that you don’t want to do.
20. Or the opposite: what you SHOULD NOT do, that you do. Why?
Think about what you think you should/should not do, and why you feel that way? Is it culture or conscience that is telling you what you should/should not do?
Or look at this question from another angle: what is keeping you from doing or not doing that thing? Is the block inside or outside of you? What can you do about it? What have you tried doing about it? Have you done anything about it so far?
21. If your house burned to the ground, what are the top 1–3 things you would want to save? (not including people — assume your family is outside already)
This question will tell you what you value, what material goods are important to you? And why?
22. Who can you serve? OR Who do you want to serve?
Life isn’t meant for selfishness. We all can and should help others.
But we aren’t all meant to serve everyone. We all have different gifts and callings.
Just because your buddy is going to work with orphans in Kenya, doesn’t mean that’s YOUR purpose in life. Maybe you don’t feel a connection with orphans. Maybe you’re allergic to sun.
A human body is composed of many cells. White blood cells eat foreign invaders. Red blood cells transport oxygen and CO2. Muscle cells contract so the body can move. Neurons (brain cells) pass electric signals through the brain and down to the body. They all do different, but necessary, functions.
You may be an extrovert. Maybe you’d like to serve international students who need a warm meal and a guide to their new environment.
Or you may be particularly tender-hearted toward low-income families, and that’s who you want to serve.
Look at your life experience, your talents and abilities, and who your heart feels touched or softened toward. Look at the opposite — messages you may have internalized about who you should care about, but you really don’t. Then, maybe look for a way to start serving the people you are drawn to.
How to use the above prompts
Pick a few of these prompts — the ones that resonate the most with you — and get started.
If you’re just a beginning journaler, or you’re not at all sure about all of this, I suggest you take 15 minutes and do one. If you have time, or want to challenge yourself more, take an hour and write on 2 or more of these prompts.
You can also try answering each prompt twice: Once using stream of consciousness, without censoring yourself. Then try it again, this time thoughtfully and deliberately — and erase or delete as you like.
Do you see a difference between the two answers? Is your subconscious telling you something your conscious mind doesn’t want to hear?
Another thing you can do if you want to go deeper on any of these questions is to ask “why” and keep asking “why” until you feel satisfied with the answer.
If at any point you start to feel hopelessly confused and distressed, cut bait. These prompts are designed to help you clarify your perspective, not mentally torture yourself. If it feels like torture, stop it.
Additionally, don’t spend ALL your time writing through these prompts. Maybe take a few hours one day and go through the prompts that you feel would be most relevant, then throughout the week or month, touch base with your written answers that you’ve discovered.
It’s not healthy to be overly introspective all the time. That’s called rumination. At some point, you need to take all you’ve thought about and learned, and put it to work — act, do, go!
Last but not least, be honest
However you decide to write, do your best to write honestly. This exercise is to help you. If you tried and don’t find it helpful, stop. If you’re only going to lie to yourself, stop.
But if you do choose to give it a try, give it an honest try. Burn your journal later if you have to, just get it out, at least once.
As Fyodor Dostoyevsky said:
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love. — The Brothers Karamazov
Viktor Frankl once said:
Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life.
May these prompts help you find your meaning.
Thank you for reading
Are there any other prompts you would add to this list?
If you gave this a try, I’d love to hear how it went and if this was helpful to you! Feel free to share your answers to any of these prompts. And if any of your answers to the above questions turn into Medium articles, let me know, I’d love to read and support them 😊 Feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published on Medium.