Journaling for Problem Solving: Effective Techniques and Prompts

A problem is often followed by a lot of emotions, thoughts, or information. We need to navigate through this to find the best solution. This can be overwhelming. To work through the problem, you might need to get the problem out of your head and into the open. One way to do this is with a journal for problem-solving.

Your problems might come in many different shapes. You might be in emotional turmoil or have to make a difficult decision. With an issue as broad as this, there isn’t one kind of journaling effective for all kinds of problems.

Let’s have a look at 4 journaling techniques and 12 prompts for problem-solving.

A picture showing 4 different types of journaling for problem solving
Journaling for problem solving

Thought journal

A thought journal is a type of journaling where you let your thoughts flow uninterrupted onto the paper. There is no predefined structure, no prompts, or anything else for you to think about. Your thoughts need to run freely.

You’ll often get new insights and ideas when you let your thoughts run freely. This is great for finding alternative solutions to a problem. Sometimes you won’t get any useful insights with you journal. That’s okay. You gave your brain a chance to vent and calm down, which is just as valuable.

How to use a thought journal

Thought journaling is a simple yet effective type of journaling for problem-solving. Here’s how you can do it in 3 steps:

  1. Take a moment to reflect on your problem. What is it? How does it make you feel? What are you thinking right now? Take a moment to be present with whatever is going on.
  2. Start writing using your short reflection as a starting point. Let your thoughts flow uninterrupted onto the paper.
  3. Continue writing until your head feels clear, you have found a solution, or you don’t want to write anymore.

You might want to go through your journal once you’ve finished to see if there are any insights you’ve missed in the middle of writing.

When to use a thought journal for problem solving

You can use a thought journal as a tool to solve any kind of problem. But it’s most effective when it’s related to high stress or anxiety.

Pros and cons

You probably already know the pros and cons list. It’s a classic tool to help you make a decision when you have to choose between a limited number of options.

How to use pros and cons

The pros and cons list is probably the simplest tool on this list. Here’s how you can do it yourself.

  1. Have a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. Name one column pros and the other cons.
  2. Fill the pros column with all the good things about this option
  3. Fill the cons column with all the negatives about this option

Once you’ve filled the columns, it’s time to reflect. How does your situation look now that you’ve weighed your options side by side?

If you have to choose between more than one option, such as which school to pick, you can go through the process with each option.

When to use a pros and cons for problem solving

The pros and cons list works best when you have to make a decision between a limited number of options. This might be choosing a school or a job. The more options you have, the less effective this method is.

Fake letter for problem solving

Fake letters are a popular journaling technique where you’ll write a letter to either yourself or someone else. The reason why it’s fake is that it’ll never be sent. Nobody but you will ever see it.

There are several types of fake letters. Here we’ll look into two of them. One for problems and another for difficult emotions

How to use a fake letter for problem solving

Most people find it easier to find a solution to a friend’s problem than to find one on their own. A fake letter for problem-solving takes advantage of this.

With this technique, you’ll pretend that a friend is in the exact same situation as you. They have asked for your advice on how to solve a problem they’re facing (your problem). Write a letter to your friend and give them advice on how to solve it.

Your advice might not be perfect every time, but it’ll help you think no matter what. It’ll help you move closer to a solution.

How to use a fake letter to vent

A fake letter to vent is similar to the one for problem-solving. The main difference is that you’re looking for tension relief instead of a solution here.

With this technique, you’ll write a fake letter to someone else. Someone who has frustrated you lately but that you aren’t able to tell how you feel. Pretend to write a letter to that person. In the letter, you tell them whatever it is you need to do.

Remember, you don’t have to sugarcoat anything. Let all your anger, sadness, fear, or frustration out. Write whatever it is you need to, how you need to.

When to use a fake letter for problem solving

A fake letter for problem solving is effective for any kind problem.

When to use a fake letter to vent

A fake letter to vent should be used when a person, thing, or situation provokes a lot of strong feelings in you.

Related: Find peace with a gratitude journal

Prioritization journal

When we have to make a difficult decision, we often have to prioritize between several things. When you know what you want, that’ll be easy.

Most people have an idea about what they want, but once they dig a little deeper, they have no idea.

A prioritization journal can help you dig past the surface and discover what you truly want. And the more you practice this, the better you’ll know yourself. The easier it’ll be to make decisions and prioritize.

Related: Learn how to increase productivity with a journal

How to use a prioritization journal

Before you can use your prioritization journal to solve problems, you have to know what your priorities are.

  1. Spend some time on self-discovery. Make a list of your values, dreams, and life necessities.
  2. Give each item on your list a number. Give the most important thing 1, the second 2, and so on. Be sure that you rank them based on how you really feel.
  3. Update the list frequently to ensure that it’s still relevant.

Once you have a list of priorities, you can use it as a tool every time you face a new decision. Weight how the different decisions affect the long-term effect of your goals and values. The option which benefits your top priorities is usually the best decision.

This method is similar to a goal journal. You can read more about goal journaling here.

Related: How to beat procrastination

When to use a prioritization journal for problem solving

This type of journaling can be used for any kind of problem but are most effective when you have to make a difficult decision. This might be when choosing a school, a job, or something as simple as whether you should go to the gym today.

Journaling prompts for problem solving

Prompts are short statements or questions that can help you get started with a journal and can work on numerous things. One of them is problem-solving. Here are 12 prompts you can use for your problem-solving journal.

  1. Describe a recent challenge that you’ve overcome. How did you do it?
  2. Identity a recurring issue in your life. What is it and how can you overcome it?
  3. Take a complex issue you’re facing and break it into as many smaller parts as possible. Which part of the problem can you solve right now?
  4. Think back to a situation where you had to make a tough decision. What did you chose and how did it play out?
  5. Think back to a time where you faced failure or setback. How did you bounce back?
  6. Think back to a moment where things didn’t go as planned. How did turn out?
  7. What is the worst thing that can happen? How likely is it that this will happen?
  8. Think back to a time where you successfully collaborated with someone else. How did it turn out?
  9. Right now, what feels best to me?
  10. If I make this choice, how do I think it’ll affect my future?
  11. Have a faced a similar problem in the past. Did I learn anything from it?
  12. What would I do in this situation if I didn’t care about what other people think?

Finishing thoughts

Journaling is a great tool for problem-solving. It can give you an overview of the situation, calm your thoughts and emotions, and help you make a decision that aligns best with your values.

Hopefully, you’ll find that journaling can make dealing with your problems a bit easier.

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