Journalling & feedback loops

Journalling & feedback loops

‘We have to live our lives forwards but can only understand it backwards.’

Danish philosopher Kierkegaard


Like many people I’ve kept a journal periodically throughout my life.  I’ve kept them all, even those embarrassing teenage ones.  I have reread many of them and found myself laughing, despairing and empathising at the outpouring of my 13-year-old self.

A journal holds a record of various stories and emotions and I have written stuff that I wouldn’t want or need to share with others.  Parts of me that I choose to remain hidden because they are mine alone.  My words are often misspelt, unreadable or non- sensical to anyone else. Imperfect, just like me.

Reading old journals, I’m often surprised with my words and the way I express myself. Some entries seem so distant and unimportant to me now. Or the opposite is true and I notice patterns of thoughts that repeatedly emerge.  Other times I wonder where on earth some of my writing has come from – did I really think that then?  Was that really me!?

So how can we use journals to help develop deeper self awareness? What can we observe as changes in ourselves and the world around us?

The Feedback loop

A feedback loop is essentially taking time to re-read old entries and reflecting on what has been written. By re-visiting your journals you may notice patterns of thoughts, common themes that you write about or just recognise how far you have come.

Introducing a feedback loop to your journal can turn it into a form of self-therapy.  By doing this we can build on our own internal counsellor and reveal new insights and self understanding.  It can provide perspective that only time has enabled you to process. It can also provide more material to reflect and write about.

I find the feedback loop can be particularly useful when I realise my writing is following a familiar theme and I feel stuck, like a broken record.  I might step away and feel less connected so the feedback loop can help to re-connect with what is happening and why I feel stuck again. Or it can enable me to revisit themes that were written during different times and reflect on this.

Using a feedback loop brings a new curiosity about what has been written.  Asking myself some questions about my writing has been really helpful in making a few small shifts or recognising some patterns that have been with me forever and I would really like to do something about other than just write about them again and again.

Useful prompts

So, how can we be curious and develop our internal counsellor? What are useful feedback loop questions to ask yourself?  Here are some useful prompts to use when reading back through some of your journal entries.

  • I notice that….
  • I am surprised at…
  • I remember ….
  • I feel….
  • I recognise….
  • My reaction is ….
  • What can I learn from this reaction?
  • Do I still feel the same now?  What has changed?


How far back you go or when you choose to review your journals is very personal and different for everyone. It can be useful to step away and allow some time to process before re-reading. For example, you may pick a particular time frame to review, or pick some entries that you wrote a year ago and see how you feel about this now.

My experience

My experience of the feedback loop is about recognising patterns and reflecting on what I have learnt and what I would like to change, or not change. This recognition of having a choice is sometimes feedback in itself. I find it most useful to revisit journals from 6 months+ ago. This includes those from childhood or at times when life has been difficult. How often do we write when things are ok, and life has been calm?

Journals are the archives of our lives, our stories lived and the development of our self. Sometimes fragmented or of a moment. The feedback loop can add another dimension to how we use it to move forward.