Journaling for Personal Development:
Creating a Learning Journal

See also: Personal SWOT Analysis

Keeping a diary, whether electronic or on paper, has many benefits. It can improve your writing and your mental health, and also give you a place to vent. One very big benefit is that it gives you the ability and the opportunity to reflect on your experiences, and learn from them. This can be extremely helpful for personal development.

Many people therefore choose to keep a diary or journal specifically for personal development purposes. This is often known as a learning journal. It is a place to reflect on your behaviour, observations and experiences, and consider how you will behave differently in future. It also provides a record of your thoughts, and therefore allows you to track your progress. This page provides advice and suggestions about how you might manage a learning journal, to get the maximum benefit from the process.

What is a Learning Journal?

A learning journal is a diary in which you record your learning.

It sounds simple—and, indeed, on the face of it, that is true. However, with a learning journal the big question is what to record.

You could record just formal learning: courses, continuous professional development and training. However, most of us now do not undertake very many formal courses of learning or training—so your diary would be fairly empty. You might supplement courses with the results of conversations with mentors or managers that provide obvious points for learning. However, most people find that it is best to use their learning journal to record events and experiences that happen each day, together with your thoughts about what you have learned from them.

A personal matter

A learning journal is very personal. It is for your benefit, so it is entirely up to you to decide how you want to keep it, how often you write, and what you want to include. However, we have gathered some tips to help you make these decisions, and hopefully get the most out of writing or keeping your journal.

Tips for Journaling for Personal Development

1. Choose a format that makes you feel comfortable

Thirty years ago, anyone wanting to keep a journal was basically going to use pen and paper. Now, however, there are many more options.

You can still use pen and paper if you want—but you could also keep an electronic diary, either just for yourself or as an open blog, or a video log (vlog), or even an audio journal. The choice is yours, but choose something that you feel comfortable doing. If you aren’t comfortable with it, you won’t do it—certainly not very often.

2. Completely your journal regularly

It is a good idea to try to write something in your journal each day.

You don’t have to write an essay each time. Instead, just set aside 10 minutes each day. Try to identify at least one point that you thought worth noting. If you want to write more, then that is fine—but try to make sure you write at least something each day.

3. Consider using a structured process for completing your journal entry

Especially when you first start keeping a diary, it can be hard to know what to write. Using a process can help to structure your thoughts, and focus you onto the learning from your experiences each day. The box below sets out a possible structure that you could use.

A suggested structure for a learning journal entry

  1. What happened? Write a sentence or two to set out the background and remind you of the event. It might be something that happened to you, or something that you witnessed.

  2. How do I feel about it? You may want to write down both how you felt at the time, and how you feel about it later, as you write.

  3. Now, what really happened? This should be your objective assessment of the event, and its underlying causes.

  4. What points do I want to note? What do you want to remember about this event or experience? What lessons can you take from it?

  5. What do I want to do differently as a result? What are you going to try to change in your behaviour as a result? Remember, this may not even be something that happened to you. It might be something that has made you think ‘No, I don’t ever want to behave like that when I am in that position’. Note it down.

  6. What do I need to do or achieve to make this happen? Do you need to take any action to achieve your change in behaviour? If so, what action will you take, and by when?

  7. How will I know that I have succeeded? Make a note of your success measure, so that when you review this later, you will know whether you have succeeded.

  8. How does this link to my personal development plan? If your personal development plan is appropriate and ‘right’ for you, your learning points and reflections will fit within it and link to it fairly neatly. There will always be the odd event that comes ‘out of left field’, but still seems worth noting. However, most of your learning should relate back to your overall plan.

HINT: if most of your learning points do not fit within your personal development plan, you might want to revisit your plan—because it’s clear that your plan doesn’t set out what you want to learn!

More simply, you could just use a structure like:

  • Background – what was the situation
  • Action – what did I (or others) do?
  • Result – what effect did the action have?
  • Learning – what have I learned as a result, and what will I do differently next time or when it happens to me?

4. Remember that the obvious event may not be the one that most matters

When you are completing a journal entry, you don’t always need to include the big ‘set piece’ events. You may have attended a big meeting, and feel that you ought to write about that. However, if what really struck you was an interaction with your boss just before you left for the meeting—then write about that.

It’s your journal, and it should record your learning: the points that matter to you.

Be honest with yourself

This learning journal is for you. You will not get much benefit from it if you are not honest. It is no good telling yourself that everyone let you down, and none of it was your fault. That is not going to help you learn—or help you develop as a person.

Instead, be honest about what you write. Take responsibility for your actions—and your mistakes.

Be your own ‘critical friend’. You are not helping yourself by hiding from reality.

6. Include both positives and negatives

It is always easier to focus on what you did wrong, and dwell on your mistakes.

However, it is worth taking the time to remind yourself each day about one thing that you feel you did well.

This will help you to feel better about your development, and remember how far you have come already.

7. Use your diary or journal to help you review your progress

Your journal is a record of your experiences and learning. It is therefore a reminder of your progress in your personal development journey. Use it to help you review your progress, both periodically, and whenever you feel the need for a bit of a boost.

And Finally…

It is a good idea to link your learning back to your goals and personal development plan on a regular basis, just to check that you are making progress in the right direction! Your learning journal can be a useful tool in this process.