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The Power of the One-Sentence Journal

journal entriesLast year someone bought me a 5-year journal. I hadn’t seen one of those since my great-grandfather passed away years ago. Back then I thought it was more of an agenda than a diary because there’s just one or two lines for each day. One sentence — surely it’s not for people who like to write, right? But it is easy to keep it up. I mean, everyone has time for one sentence.

Melissa Dahl of Science of Us blog says the one-sentence journal was something her grandmother always did:

… just a couple of lines jotting down what she did that day and whom she was with. Often, when the family is together, she’ll dig out one of her old journals and tell us what she and various other family members were doing on a random day, in, say, 1994. I’ve always been amazed at how interesting these little moments are in retrospect.

While I thought it was a cute idea, I didn’t realize how much more powerful it was to sum up the day in one sentence, whether that’s a quote, a mantra, an adventure or even just a really good home-cooked meal. When I put my whole day through a sieve to get just one sentence, I was shocked at what I was writing down. For someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I was usually harping on the positive. It’s turning out to be a 5-year journal of silver linings. That certainly doesn’t sound like me.

I’ve kept journals for as long as I can remember. At first it was a place to write down the truth. It was important to me to record what went on behind closed doors. The stuff no one talks about.

Therapists instructed me to use that outlet and continue to write throughout therapy. Journaling was always a part of my treatment plan. It’s a place to dump feelings that surface during recovery, a way to release trauma and validate emotions, and a good way to track progress too. One of my favorite journal exercises is from Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride, PhD. She asks you to label the top of a page in your journal “If I Were Good Enough,” then write about all the things you’d do right now if you felt “good enough.”

I’d never give up long-form journal writing, but a lot of my old journals are too hard to read again. I don’t want to crack them open. Usually when I finish writing a whole journal, I feel relieved to be done with it. It feels like a lifetime’s work that isn’t meant to be revisited. Some journals I won’t even put on a shelf, even in a room I never go in.

Some things I don’t want to relive. Other things I don’t even relate to in the present moment (which seems to be every entry I wrote during a depressive episode). Sometimes I don’t recognize the words, although I definitely wrote it.

They’re books full of suffering. While I know I’m supposed to grieve for the childhood I didn’t have, and for the girl and the woman I might have been, rereading the journals feels like rubbing my face in it. There are some very old journals, my handwriting is still young and big and curly. I just don’t like to think about a 12-year-old being suicidal, and I don’t want to notice the same old behaviors and emotions playing out all these years later.

But a one-sentence journal proved something to me. I can look back without being afraid. I can trust myself not to log only negative, painful moments. I don’t have to be critical of myself to grow. Most of all, it seems I am actually the woman I hope to be.

  • 4/10/2014 – Everything must pass.
  • 6/2/2014 – “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • 6/12/2014 – Brilliant fiancé made us the best spaghetti meatballs I’ve ever tasted in my life.
  • 7/20/2014 – Officially lost 10 pounds!
  • 9/24/2014 – I need to remember that my moods are contagious.
  • 11/4/2014 – It’s been a month since we got married and my feet haven’t touched the ground.
  • 12/27/2014 – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
  • 1/10/2015 – I’m so lucky to have married into the kind of family I always wanted. And deserved.

I finally feel like a journal might reflect me as a person and not just the things that have happened to me. I’m actually looking forward to rereading it and comparing what I said each year.

Image from The Thinking Closet blog.

The Power of the One-Sentence Journal


Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review. She is also the cohost of the podcast Excuse Me, I Have Concerns where she discusses personal boundaries, personality and other psychology topics.


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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). The Power of the One-Sentence Journal. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 25, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-power-of-the-one-sentence-journal/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.