It’s undeniable that writing down your thoughts in a private journal is helpful, and even more so if you are able to reflect, reframe, and rediscover a healthier way of thinking.
For anyone seeking therapy-based prompts, or a more defined structured way of expressing their thoughts, perhaps looking into Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help.
CBT is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment people can use to keep their mental state in check. According to it, our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are related and can be influenced by each other.
Thus, one of the main concepts in CBT is cognitive restructuring or reframing of thoughts. By addressing and challenging our unhelpful thoughts, we can also see a change in emotions and behaviour.
As a therapist who has translated CBT exercises into journaling, here are a few prompts you can try out for yourself.
Exercise 1: Create A Thought Log
When you start expressing your thoughts through journaling, do try to write about a variety of moments in your life, from those that were great to those that you might not be proud of.
This way, if you ever wish to look back and understand why you said or acted in a certain way, writing it down in the form of a thought log could be helpful.
According to the CBT model, our thoughts and emotions can influence our behaviours in any situation.
Try to explore what you’ve experienced and see how they could’ve led to your behaviour by jotting down what happened!
Exercise 2: De-catastrophising
If you feel that you’re anxious or constantly worried about something to the extent that it affects your mood for the rest of the day, it could help for you to look at the situation from a different point of view!
Worrying is normal, but when thoughts turn into predictive catastrophes, it can really wipe us out.
Here’s a thought-challenging exercise called de-catastrophising. All you have to do is answer these 5 questions in your journal:
When you take your time out to do this exercise, it can help slow down that worry spiral and create step-by-step ways for you to find reassuring and realistic answers!
Exercise 3: Behavioural Experiment
Some of our most harmful thoughts and behaviours stem from negative beliefs about ourselves, such as, “I’m not good enough” or “No one likes me”.
It can be tough to challenge these beliefs on our own. A CBT activity that you can do to combat this is the behavioural experiment, where we will set a hypothesis— a statement we test to see if it’s true or false.
By using a behavioural experiment, we can test the negative beliefs about ourselves by gathering evidence from around us.
Try asking your friends or colleagues about what they think of you, with questions like:
Then, note down what they say verbatim. These will be the results of your experiment and would likely prove that your negative beliefs aren’t true at all. Scary, but helpful!
Exercise 4: Track Your Moods + Habits
Humans are creatures of habit but sometimes, we need to work on increasing our good habits while decreasing our unhealthy ones.
Fortunately, we like to feel rewarded in our efforts to maintain new changes. Having a cute and structured habit tracker to check off your daily habits feels fulfilling and motivating, which strengthens our new behaviours.
Try pairing your mood tracker with your habit tracker. Tracking our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours reminds us that they are all connected, that to work on one will definitely benefit the rest.
If you need more tips and tricks on using habit trackers, here’s a handy guide to kickstart your journey.
Although these are only a few examples of exercises used in therapy, I can assure you by just reading this article, you’ve taken the first step towards improving your mental health.
It’s not necessary for you to adhere strictly to each part of the exercises as structured above, but be assured that these detailed prompts are stemmed from evidence-based therapy approaches that can definitely lend you a hand.
And if this isn’t your cup of tea, that’s perfectly fine! Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach and you may benefit from a looser, more expressive way of journaling for your mental health.
I say that if it works, it works!
Amanda is a clinical psychologist based in Kuala Lumpur who aims to bring awareness about mental health to all while taking charge of her own.
She is frequently seen reading fiction, gaming, or trying out weird hobbies to discover new forms of self-care. You can find her on Instagram at @pocketofcare.
Also, thank you to both Amanda and Chee Zhen for the visuals!
Garfinkel, P. (2016). How the ancient art of writing therapy can help you create a brighter future. Los Angeles Times.
Cherry, K. (2020). What is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?. Very Well Mind.
Psychology Tools (n.d.). How to use CBT thought records to change the way you feel. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
The Center for Growth (n.d.). Decatastrophizing: Challenging anxious and depressive thoughts. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
Morin, A. (2020, February 12). How to perform behavioural experiments: Test how real your assumptions are and you might change your life. Very Well Mind.
Raue, P. (2019, October 2). The power of tracking your mood. Sanvello.