Although bullet journaling is about saving time and space, when it comes to a mood tracker, evidence suggests that slowing down may have benefits.
In this article, I explore the research supporting an update to the mood trackers currently popular in the bullet journaling community and offer an evidence-based, therapist-designed alternative.
Read on to learn how I used my training as a mental health therapist and my personal experience as a bullet journaler to reimagine a new mood tracker layout for 2021 and beyond- based on peer-reviewed research exploring the intersection of journaling and mental health.
The Problem with Bullet Journal Mood Trackers
A simple grid-style mood tracker tucked in a bullet journal can be a helpful record: Mood trackers allow us to understand trends, see the impact of therapy/medication/changes in support, and can even give us a powerful tool to help us self-advocate as we communicate with our healthcare providers. In short, they’re good for data gathering. Where many mood trackers fall short is that they don’t give us the opportunity to harness the aspects of journaling practices that researchers say have the capacity to improve our mood from day to day: mindfulness 1, emotion expression 2 3 4, and self-compassion 5.
Moods Change through a Day
I’ve always felt that traditional mood trackers limited my ability to express what I experienced during a day. For me and most of my clients, moods shift and emotions ebb and flow throughout a day – that’s normal! Experiencing a range of emotions that shifts as we move through life is a sign of a healthy and flexible brain.
So when a long and complex day ends with a bullet journal prompt asking us to reduce our day down to a single color-coded emotion, we’re faced with a choice to reduce our experience to fit the confines of our journal or break the “rules” of bullet journaling by going off-script.
When using simple color-coded grid mood trackers, instead of expressing that a day held complex, shifting, and nuanced emotional experiences, we record the day for posterity as simply one emotion. That, according to researchers², may not have the same positive mental health benefits as fully expressing our emotions in more complex ways.
Download this Printable Bullet Journal Style Mood Tracker
Each download includes instructions for use, a full-color version for digital journals, and a black and white version for easy printing.
Reimagining A Bullet Journal Mood Tracker Using Research
As I noticed this gap between the most popular bullet journal mood tracker layouts and the journaling practices that peer-reviewed research indicates can help us have fewer poor mental health days 6, I knew I wanted to create a layout that bridged the gap.
What if, I wondered, there was a bullet journal mood tracker layout that was:
- Easy to understand at a glance and,
- Provided space for emotional expression, while still being
- Faster than traditional journaling.
The result was the bullet journal layout you see here: a mood tracker redesigned by a therapist to merge evidence-based aspects of therapeutic journaling with the convenience and approachable look of a fun bullet journal.
How to Fill Out This New Mood Tracker
In the next section, I’ll show you step-by-step how to use this mood tracker layout.
The key is modifying the layout as needed to work for you, not the other way around. So, if you find that the layout works better for you with modifications, by all means, modify to your heart’s content! As I walk you through the steps to filling out this new mood tracker layout, I’ll also explain the changes and how research indicates this change might result in a more satisfying and effective mood journaling experience.
Begin by printing, tracing, or re-copying the layout into your bullet journal.
(Don’t worry, the premium download version doesn’t include my name emblazoned under the title!)
Create Your Color Spectrum
You’ll notice this mood tracker includes a spectrum and not a key – that’s intentional. A spectrum offers a wider variety of emotions and the ability to visualize that some days and some emotional experiences hold more than one emotion.
The first step to filling out this mood tracker is to populate the spectrum at the top of the page.
Use colored pencils, highlighters, or art markers to create a spectrum as wide as you need. Blend or overlay colors as needed.
Label Your Spectrum
What do colors mean for you? Although angry and sad tend to have colors assigned to them, you get to label your own spectrum.
Use lines to add as many labels as you need to.
Tracking Intensity of Emotion
For some people, tracking INTENSITY of emotion may be especially valuable for communicating with providers about how mood fluctuates through a day, week, or month. To add the intensity of a mood to this mood tracker, use colors or numbers: Add a number after each written emotion description, rating the intensity of the feeling from 1-10, or track visually by using a full-color spectrum of markers, colored pencils, or pens. Use shade and color saturation to represent, at a glance, emotion intensity. (Example, feeling a little disappointed about something minor might be a pastel blue, while a day of heavy depression symptoms could be represented by a deep royal blue)
Add 1-3 Lines of Text
Instead of simply color-coding a box for each day of the week, in this mood tracker there’s room for writing briefly about feelings. Research 7 indicates that this emotional expression is key to how traditional journaling improves well-being.
Take a moment to slow down and mindfully write a few words about how you felt through the day and, if you want, note any particularly emotional experiences.
HINT: For extra benefit, use this blank space to practice your penmanship, a hand lettering style you’ve been working on, or even to add a small doodle. These practices, which naturally slow us down and require us to be more mindful to the task at hand, may further boost the benefits of keeping a mood tracker in your bullet journal.
Finish by Color Coding
To help create the visual at-a-glance summary that bullet journal mood trackers are beloved for, revisit your written words with a highlighter, art marker, or colored pencil.
Based on the colors you labeled in your spectrum, add color – or more than one color – to highlight the words.
If you are not able to afford a personal use license, you may hand copy these layouts into your bullet journal. As with all my art, I encourage the creation of unique new art inspired by my work; however, publication or resale of the exact templates on this page, or versions similar enough to constitute copyright infringement, may be subject to DMCA claims as well as fees and penalties assessed by my post-licensing partner and legal advisors.
Releasing this Mood Tracker
I’m thrilled to release this new version of a mood tracker. While mood trackers and bullet journals have been popular for many years now, this new mood tracker that integrates emerging research on well-being and mental health may help to curate a bullet journal that’s more effective at supporting mental health and improved mood.
For more therapist-developed bullet journal templates and layouts, be sure and check out my article on bullet journal layouts to maximize the mental health benefits of bullet journaling.
Recently, I did a roundup of all of my bullet journal-friendly mental health educational resources. As I did the research for the article accompanying that collection of templates and layouts, I stumbled back into research I’d read a few years ago about the link between journaling and improved mental health. It turns out, the essential elements (which you can learn more about by checking out my article on how research indicates we can maximize the mental health benefits of bullet journaling) are taking the time, mindfulness, and space on the page to more fully express emotions.
Image Description for Screen Readers:
Pink square image with the key image in the middle. The key image has a blue background with a white overlay and the title “Mood Tracker” in a pink banner. Under this is a color spectrum inside a long rectangle. Different parts of the spectrum have emotion words written out from them: angry to red, frustrated to orange, happy to light green, calm to light blue, sad to dark blue, excited to pink. Below this are the days of the week in yellow boxes, each with blank space next to them to record the day’s emotions. The first box, Monday, has the phrases, “long hand description” (highlighted in yellow, depicting somewhere between frustrated and happy) and “but also this feeling” (highlighted in pink, depicting excitement) to demonstrate the different emotions experienced in a day and how to record those emotions. There is a transparent overlay on top of the image that reads, “Sample Entry,” and “@LindsayBraman, reproduce only with permission” written at the bottom of the image.
- Kristine Klussman, Austin Lee Nichols, Julia Langer, Nicola Curtin, Improving mindfulness through self-connection, European Review of Applied Psychology, Volume 71, Issue 6, 2021, 100626, ISSN 1162-9088, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erap.2021.100626
- Philip M. Ullrich, M.A., Susan K. Lutgendorf, Ph.D., Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 24, Issue 3, August 2002, Pages 244–250, https://doi.org/10.1207/S15324796ABM2403_10
- Eldeleklioğlu, Jale & yıldız, Meltem. (2020). Expressing Emotions, Resilience and Subjective Well-Being: An Investigation with Structural Equation Modeling. International Educational Research. 13. 48-61.
- Işık, Şerife & Erguner-Tekinalp, Bengu. (2017). The Effects of Gratitude Journaling on Turkish First Year College Students’ College Adjustment, Life Satisfaction and Positive Affect. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling. 39. 10.1007/s10447-017-9289-8.
- Beck AR, Verticchio H. Effectiveness of a Method for Teaching Self-Compassion to Communication Sciences and Disorders Graduate Students. Am J Speech Lang Pathol. 2018 Feb 6;27(1):192-206. doi: 10.1044/2017_AJSLP-17-0060. PMID: 29383372.
- Schueller SM, Neary M, Lai J, Epstein DA, Understanding People’s Use of and Perspectives on Mood-Tracking Apps: Interview Study. JMIR Ment Health 2021;8(8):e29368. doi: 10.2196/29368
- Amid Ayobi, Tobias Sonne, Paul Marshall, and Anna L. Cox. 2018. Flexible and Mindful Self-Tracking: Design Implications from Paper Bullet Journals. Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Paper 28, 1–14. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3173574.3173602