how to be more honest with yourself?

I think journaling is a great way for people to improve their relationship with themselves. For me, it has created a much-needed space where I can see myself as I am, honestly look at my thoughts and feelings and practice supporting myself like a good friend.

I used to routinely avoid sitting with uncomfortable feelings.

I remember I first tried journaling when I realised that this pattern of neglecting myself and not knowing what my emotional boundaries were was negatively impacting my close relationships.

I was not sure how to do journaling so I bought the 6-minute diary which offered a simple structure for daily check-ins: three questions in the morning, and three questions in the evening.

It was easy, structured and offered ready-made prompts that I could just answer.

Soon I got a hang of it and wanted more freedom and new prompts so that I could dig deeper into myself.

A friend recommended I try writing Morning Pages, from the book The Artist’s Way. Every day, wake up and write down three pages of whatever comes to your mind.

It was cool to play with my own stream of consciousness.

Sometimes it was easy, other times not so much, but there was a quality of flow to it. And a realisation that my mind was a rich place with many answers that were usually hidden in plain sight.

All it took to reveal them was to actually sit down and give myself some time and a piece of paper.

Now, several years later, a journal is a fixed part of my life. I have a physical one at my bedside, a digital one on Notion and recently I started making voice notes to journal with spoken words too.

Over the past three years, I asked myself a lot of good questions and some of them proved so effective that I come back to them on a regular basis.

Here are some of my favorite journaling questions.

What would I do if I loved myself?

This question was inspired by the book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It that helped me understand self-love better and is one of the main ways in which I bring myself back to self-love when faced with non-obvious choices.

When to use it? I often use it when in doubt about what the best thing to do is. An example could be when considering a change of jobs, responding to someone’s request even though we had other plans… even choosing food to eat for dinner.

Why I like it? It’s so simple and immediately encourages me to put myself first and consider my needs. I am always amazed at how loud and clear the answer I receive is. (Tip: I like putting my hand on my heart when I ask. Ask and give it a moment. See if anything arises.)

Is this the most helpful story?

I was prompted to consider this question following a great meditation sit led by Daniel Thornton on stories our mind creates – you can listen to it here.

When to use it? I use this when I feel negative or like I’m falling into a victim mentality. It’s fun to grab a piece of paper, write down what’s my current story (i.e. It sucks that lockdown made it impossible for me to grow my community) set a timer for 5 minutes and try to generate as many alternative stories as I can. In the end, if one seems more helpful, I try to adopt it and decide to change my mind. (i.e. Lockdown helped explore my introverted nature and showed me the value of my home and neighbourhood).

Why I like it? It shows the power of perspective. At any time, there must be at least several ways to think about a problem I’m facing. I got a lot out of looking at both the stories I actively believe (e.g. about what is not possible, about how I am, about what is right) as well as the stories that I often don’t even tell myself.

Could I be 5% more relaxed right now?

I generally struggle with relaxing my body and hearing this question for the first time instantly made me experience slight loosening. I guess sometimes you don’t know until you try.

When to use it? I usually do it at the beginning (or during) of a meditation/breathwork session, at the beginning of (or after) an important meeting at work or when I’m just generally feeling tense.

Why I like it? I think the magic lies in its simplicity. It’s asking you to just be 5% more relaxed, not to whip out an hour-long yoga session. It’s always worth making time for a longer decompression, but you don’t have to wait until later to actually feel a bit better.

Can both be true?

This question came from a time when I was learning to deal with inner conflicts and realised the value of contemplating “both and” statements. It’s a way of holding together facts or emotions that seem contradictory and considering that they could both be true at the same time.

When to use it? Basically, any time that some contradiction in terms seems to be holding you back. It was really helpful for me when I was considering a new career opportunity and struggled to make sense of both my desire to stay at the previous job and to start a new chapter. It was freeing to allow myself to both engage with my sense of loss and a very real need to prioritise my own growth at the same time. There is space inside me for both feelings and they are both important.

Why I like it? This question creates space in places where you might otherwise feel trapped. Like a good therapist, it allows you to explore both feelings, rather than reject one of them as valid in an attempt to escape a contradiction.

What parts want your attention now?

I’ve been recently experimenting with the Internal Family Systems therapy (also called parts work) and this is one of the prompts that a session might start with. If you haven’t heard about IFS, here’s a great podcast to start.

One of the assumptions in the parts model is that all the parts that live inside of you have good intentions but might sometimes be unskilled in how they go about them. As you practice connecting with your parts and understanding what they want, you might discover that even those parts that you most hate, are there to protect you or support you.

When to use it? This question is a great one to ask yourself when you’re feeling agitated, anxious, grumpy or angry. It’s game-changing to simply say “A part of me is angry” instead of “I am angry”. There is a place in you that is not angry because it’s able to see and name the angry part. That is the place from where change begins.

Why I like it? You are not your feelings. This question reminds me of this in a very experiential way. The moment I name those parts, they’re instantly separated from me and this allows me to get curious about them, instead of living and acting through them.

Could things be easier?

I first saw a version of this question in a Tim Ferriss piece on 17 Questions That Changed His Life.

When to use it? When it seems like there are too many things happening too quickly. It’s definitely worth sitting with the feeling of overwhelm and accepting that it’s hard or unfair – if ignored, it can stand in the way of moving on with this question. Once that is done and I am in a stabler place, I’d ask what are things in my control where I can make life easier for myself.

Why I like it? This question indirectly asks me to take responsibility for not making my life harder than it needs to be. It’s usually simple things that make a difference – scheduling more time for rest or dividing my tasks into those that really need doing and those that can wait. When things get stressful, it’s easy to treat everything with the same level of intensity or attention, which drains our energy. Questions like this one help me respect my energy more and direct it in ways that support my most important goals.

What am I needing now?

This one is inspired by the book I recommend to all women (or men who want to know more about the feminine qualities) called Women Who Run With The Wolves. The author, a Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés, recommends asking this question every month to check if there are any unsatisfied or ignored needs in our life. Here’s a great quote from the book:

There are many aspects of our lives for us to assess on a continuing basis: habitat, work, creative life, family, mate, children, mother/father, sexuality, spiritual life, and so on. The measurement used in assessment is simple: What needs less? And: What needs more? We are asking from the instinctive self, not in stilted logic, not ego-wise.

When to use it? I use it when I feel a bit lost and want to consult my intuition about what I need and what would feel good. I remember when some time ago I was worried that I lost my intuition wasn’t sure if I can find it back. After several months of explorations, it became clear that intuition is not something you have or don’t. The skill is to know how to listen to it and this question is one way to do it – just care to ask.

Why I like it? It allows me to create a little ritual where I intentionally dismiss what others are telling me I need or want. I try to only listen to what arises from inside of myself.

A word of caution – it can be quite vulnerable to realise that our needs are not met in some areas and trigger self-critical thoughts. The key is to approach them with compassion. Just the act of sitting down to ask yourself this question comes from an intention to not continue ignoring those needs.

Can I be curious about this?

This is a fun one. As you probably noticed by now, a lot of the questions I suggest here aim to turn your current perspective around to produce new insights – and this one does so surprisingly well.

When to use it? I tend to get very serious and doomsday when dealing with difficult feelings. Countering that with curiosity is not something that was intuitive for me at first, so I learned to anchor myself with the I wonder… structure in those moments. Instead of thinking, I don’t know why I am so sad I might try to ask I wonder what this sadness is trying to tell me? instead.

Why I like it? Working with emotions can get heavy and energy-draining pretty quickly. This question helps me see myself as a laboratory where interesting interactions occur and many things are possible. I actually sometimes try to imagine Dexter or a mad scientist looking at an interesting specimen of a feeling under a microscope.

This helps me take the feeling outside of myself and explore what it’s trying to tell me. Once I realise that my feeling is not all there is to me, I can decide if and what to do about it.

If you’d like to get a better model for thinking about emotions, I recommend a post that my partner shared with me when I was struggling to make sense of mine – Feeling Rational.

What if I was to treat myself like I would a good friend?

I first encountered this question in an experimental program where the goal was to improve my relationship with my body. I had some initial resistance in answering it but when I did it, I remember the sadness that came over me. I do not treat myself as well as I do my friends. It was a turning point in how much I can accept and support myself.

When to use it? When you feel lonely, anxious, stressed out – especially when you cannot access external support from your community or loved ones. Instead of waiting until they are available in a sub-optimal state, you can ask yourself this question or some variations of it like: What would be good to hear right now? What would feel good right now?

Why I like it? It might seem quite harsh at first (after all, realising that I have been treating myself badly all my life is no small thing) but it gets very soothing and heart-warming quickly. Answering this question repeatedly helped me understand how I like to be cared for and made me more at ease with asking for help and feeling like I deserve it.

What if I already had this?

This last question comes from a practice called Core Transformation I’ve been experimenting with in the past year. It’s similar to parts therapy in that it works with parts, but the goal is to focus on one part and explore what it really, deeply wants. You start by identifying a part (i.e. a part that wants to interrupt others) and asking it What do you want? When the part answers (i.e. I want to make an important point!) I then follow up repeatedly with a question:

If you already had [this ability to make a point], what would you want that is even more important?

Answering this question in a chain is like peeling off the layers inside of you until you get to the root cause of the issue – the so-called core state of being that the part of you wants.

It’s often big and universal things like love, safety, equanimity, peace, etc. that the parts are motivated by. The key thing is then to realise that those core states are already inside of us and we don’t have to do anything or be a certain way to access them. Then checking if the part still thinks it needs to do what it was doing (i.e. interrupt people) if it knew that it can access the core state (i.e. love) directly.

When to use it? I find this particularly useful in the context of relationships – both at work and close relationships. An example could be when I recognise I am looking for some validation from the other person and then asking myself – What if I already had validation? How would I be speaking or behaving differently?

Why I like it? This question shows me places where I might be at risk of depending on others for some core states of being. This is not to say that I want to denounce all the love and safety that others can give me – those are incredible aspects of my human experience and I want them. But expecting to only get those only from others is a very risky strategy.

Just try it right now – close your eyes, (optionally) put your hand on your chest and tell yourself – I have love/safety/peace inside me right now. I can access it when I want to and it’s there for me.

How would that change things?

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