Just open any given site that publishes articles on personal growth, and you will find at least one article that says: Why Keeping A Journal Will Change Your Life. A journal is truly one of the best self-improvement tools there is.
When I talk to friends, or when I coach people, I always ask: “Do you keep a journal?”
This probably won’t surprise you, but the answer is almost always “No.”
And the funny thing is that everyone knows that they should keep one. But it should is not enough. There are a lot of things that we should do—but we don’t do them.
Why? We have no idea HOW to do them. It’s just like when you were in school. Do you remember all those times you had a question on your mind but you didn’t ask? You probably thought: “Maybe the teacher thinks I’m dumb.”
Well, this is exactly the same. We all think that journaling is easy so we don’t bother asking how you do it. It’s not easy, but it’s also not rocket science.
Most people overcomplicate the act of journaling or putting your thoughts on paper. I think Ernest Hemingway put it best:
“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”
But how do you do that?
First, get clear on your why
For me, there’s only one reason to keep a journal: To manage myself.
That’s the only practical reason I can think of. Why else would you keep a journal? It’s not that my life is so interesting that I can ever sell it as a memoir. I’m no John Krakauer or Maya Angelou.
No, I see journaling as a self-improvement tool. Nothing else.
Most of us still see journaling as a hobby or something that we do for fun or to relax. Sure, those reasons might be true for some. But for most, there’s only one why: Self-improvement.
How do you expect to improve yourself if you don’t know yourself? You truly get to know the quality of your thoughts when you write them down.
- Do you know how good of a thinker you are?
- Do your decisions make sense?
- How do you even make decisions?
- Why do you do what you do?
- When are you productive?
- When are you not productive?
You can answer all these questions by reading your journal. Don’t know what to write? Here are 3 ideas.
1. Journal about your activities
Just write what you’ve been doing. You can either do it in the morning or evening.
It doesn’t matter when you do, just try to write about what you’ve done during the past 24 hours. It’s not the same as an activity log, something I wrote about recently.
When I journal about my activities, I record what time I went to bed, what time I woke up, what I worked on, who I talked to, what book I read, etc.
When I lack inspiration or motivation, I just go through my journal and see when I was inspired, felt energized, or motivated. Then, I recreate those events. Here are a few journaling prompts you can ask yourself to get started:
- What time did you wake up today?
- What was the first thing you did?
- What did you have for breakfast?
- How did you feel during the morning?
- What did you work on today? How did it go?
- What book are you reading? What do you think about it?
These are all straightforward questions we can all ask ourselves. We all woke up today, ate something, etc. Writing about these activities will get you started. And that’s one of the most important things about journaling.
“Don’t trust your memory. When you listen to something valuable, write it down. When you come across something important, write it down.” — Jim Rohn
2. Journal about what scares you
There’s no better way to address your worries than writing about them. If you worry about something, it seems way worse in your head.
When you start writing down what you’re stressed about, you can start thinking about how you’re going to solve the problem that’s causing you stress in the first place.
I’ve been journaling about my fears for a long time now. And it truly helps. If you want to read more about that process, check out this article I wrote a while back. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
- What something that’s lingering in your mind?
- Why does that thing make you feel uncomfortable?
- What did you worry about today?
- What can you do to address your worries?
The point of journaling about what scares you is to think on paper. Often, we worry about things we have no control over. When we only think about it, we don’t realize that we’re wasting our time. But when you write about what worries you, it becomes very obvious.
Ultimately, you want to create a plan to address your worries. Let’s say you’re worried about your financial situation. Think about all the ways you can generate extra income. Put all your ideas on paper and then start working on them.
“The act of writing is the act of discovering what you believe.” — David Hare
3. Journal about your decisions
Use your journal as a feedback mechanism by second-guessing your own decisions. Making decisions is hard. For example:
- “Should I quit my job?”
- “Should I take this job?”
- “Should I end my relationship?”
Those are examples of big decisions. But you can also use it for all the small decisions in life.
- “Should I go out tonight or should I work on my business?”
- “Does this UX design work or not?”
Deep down, we kind of know the answers. We just don’t look deep enough. Ask yourself a question and try to answer it by reasoning from multiple sides. What are the pros? What are the cons? What are the outcomes?
The questions you can ask yourself are endless. There you have it. Do you see? It’s not complicated stuff.
Journaling is a very versatile tool. It helps you with your self-awareness, and it also helps you to improve yourself. If you’re serious about those things, a journal is a must.
Now, all you have to do is open a new page in your physical journal, or a document in your digital journal, and start writing:
“Today is the first day of my daily journaling habit.”
There’s this weird thing—when you write things down, they become real. Start journaling and see it for yourself.