Journal Prompts for Self-Worth
The antidote to feeling like you have to come out of this pandemic as a new and improved version of yourself, says Laura Rubin, is figuring out that you’re perfectly good just the way you are now. Rubin is the founder of AllSwell, a brand based in journaling workshops and creative coaching. In her workshops, she teaches just how much we can get out of a pen and a few pieces of paper. Whether you prefer to write or draw (AllSwell notebooks have lined pages for words and unlined pages for everything else) journaling can be like a quick hit of therapy. It can be emotionally intense, cathartic, and healing, or none of those things at all. There’s no real obligation in an empty notebook. All a journal asks you to do is slow down.
Rubin has provided us a few prompts aimed at helping us realize our self-worth in a time when what we really need is a comfortable and stable baseline. But if you end up writing about how weird and frightening life is right now or just doodling suns and moons and stars, that’s good, too.
For more journaling prompts, you can check out AllSwell’s The Deck—a stack of cards that guide drawing and writing for creativity and clarity.
Writing for Self-Worth
Our “stuff” tends to show up in times of extreme stress. Whatever the chink in your emotional armor, an intense situation can force it into notice. Rather than introducing new obligations of self-improvement, let’s hit pause and identify where we can give ourselves a pass. We can focus on the radical notion of self-acceptance: respecting yourself exactly as you are. Self-worth is one key to a well-lived life. It impacts our decisions, how we treat ourselves, and how we ask to be treated by others.
My preferred way to foster self-worth is by putting pen to paper. It’s effective, accessible, and flexible. You can do it almost any time and pretty much anywhere. Choose a notebook that feels good, pick your tools—do you want to use a pen (the solidity of ink) or a pencil (the built-in permission of an eraser)?—and make this ritual your own.
That said, nourishing your sense of innate self-worth doesn’t mean you can’t put effort into self-improvement if that’s something you want to do. On the contrary, self-worth creates a beautiful foundation for self-improvement. In this time of stress, go ahead and try that streaming class or jump into a new creative project—but whatever you’re doing to take care of yourself, do it with positive intent.
Counter the Negative Bias
For many of us, negative self-talk—the Mean Girls–style tape running through our heads telling us we aren’t X or Y enough—is the dominant voice in our heads. But we can turn that talk around by filling our brains with positive reinforcement to help balance out the criticism.
One study in behavioral science suggests that when we work in teams, we need two pieces of positive input for every piece of criticism just to maintain a medium level of performance. (In the same study, the highest-performing teams gave nearly six positive comments for every negative one.) We can apply the same idea to our internal chatter.
This is where journaling comes in. Try writing a list of positive inputs to counter the negative.
Make a list of fifteen things you appreciate about yourself—traits, qualities, elements of your personality, how you exist in the world. Maybe you are a loyal friend, have beautiful hands, are a good listener, have a whip-smart sense of humor, or make a great BLT. It all counts.
Finding this difficult? Flip it around and answer the question: What would some people who love you—maybe your best friend or your kid—say about you?
A list of fifteen feel easy-breezy? Great! Double down and go for thirty.
Afterward, reflect on how that felt. Was it harder or easier than you expected? Did getting to fifteen feel like climbing Everest? What did you learn? Were there some things on the list that surprised you?
Repeat this exercise every so often. Weekly is great, but please don’t use this exercise as another way to put pressure on yourself. Between exercises, start taking mental notes of positive things you can add to your list for the next time, from “I sure set a beautiful table” to “My eagle pose is righteous.” Over time, this practice becomes a lens to help you better appreciate yourself on a regular basis.
Listen to Your Body
Our bodies carry tremendous wisdom. By slowing down enough to pay attention, we’re giving our bodies a chance to provide us with guidance. This mindful writing exercise helps us shift into a state of present awareness, helping us simply and respectfully observe rather than judge. I’m inviting you to write a letter from your body to yourself. What does your body have to tell you?
Give yourself six minutes to write and see what emerges. And if you want to keep writing after you get to the six-minute mark, great. Keep going. If not, that’s okay.
While you’re writing, notice which parts of your body show up and have something to say. Is it your gut, your skin, your joints, your lips, or the hair on your head? Is it your body as a whole, responding as one?
Afterward, take a moment to reread what you wrote. (Don’t edit. There is no reader except you.) And notice: What is your body craving? Do you need more pleasure, rest, or movement?
What tone does the letter take? Is it one of gratitude for all the things you do to look after yourself? Is it one of concern, letting you know that there’s something up that needs a bit of attention?
Laura Rubin is a creativity coach and the founder of AllSwell. In addition to making notebooks and other tools for writing and drawing, AllSwell hosts journaling workshops intended to unplug creativity and connect communities.