My rocky start
Like many people, I’ve experimented with keeping a diary at some moments of life. My most prolific period was as a student when I had a lot on my mind. I used to write down almost every evening what was troubling me with pages of stream of consciousness. It felt therapeutic at the time. But I didn’t keep up the habit. Then 4 years ago, I tried to pick up journaling again. I used to have a lot of commuting time that I wanted put to better use. So I decided to write down a few paragraphs with what was on my mind and tried to keep up this habit for 21-day stretches (as apparently doing something for 21 days is what it takes to start a habit). But I then I stopped again.
Then last year, at the start of the pandemic, I decided to give it another try, but this time using a structure and an objective. The structure included specific questions to answer and the objective was to help alleviate stress and have a more balanced perspective about what was going on in my life.
I’ve now been journaling for over a year so thought I could share what I’ve learned. There are many diary and journal structures around. Some focus setting and tracking goals; some on developing greater mindfulness; some as part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Some of the most popular include:
- ‘bullet journal’, which is an amazing method of personal organization with a dedicated following
- gratitude journals that help gain better appreciation for the good things that happen throughout the day and thus foster a sense of happiness;
- morning pages, a stream of consciousness ‘dump’ to vent off what’s on your mind
- insight notebook to encourage brainstorming
- there is also Tim Ferriss’s endorsed Five Minute Journal that captures a mix of gratitude, affirmations, goals of the day and review how the day went
My habit today
My diary has the following headers:
A place to capture memories of my dreams when I wake up.
The following questions:
- What is my favourite moment of today or a beautiful thing I saw (I attach a picture whenever applicable)?
- What are 5 things I’m grateful for today and in my life? (This can be tiny things such as coming across a tasty croissant or seeing a beautiful sunrise)
- What is one thing I’m looking forward to in the next 7 days?
- What is one thing that gave me
- high energy
- low energy
- or made me lose my temper?
- What is in my worry bucket? (I classify between A, things I can do something about today, B, things I can plan to do something about tomorrow , C, things that are outside my control)
Lastly, I’m also experimenting with a quick write up to narrate ‘the story of my day’ and what I learnt, making an effort to use ‘positive’, ‘affirming’ language
If you’re journaling to help keep track of goals, then you can add a few more questions:
- What success do I want to achieve today (visualisation exercise)?
- At the start of the day: What are the ‘Big 3’ steps I can take today towards my week’s goals?
- At the end of the day: How far did I get to with my day’s goals?
Keeping it real
With all this, it may seem like a lot. What I learnt is it’s important to keep journaling fresh, align and fun, so do feel free to keep experimenting with different formats, tweaking and renewing the balance between structure (e.g. question), creative free flow and the various objectives (goal setting, mindfulness, etc.). Journaling has to fit within your life, because otherwise the habit won’t stick. So if the only time you have in 10min during commuting, then the journal has to fit that slot.
I combine the use of 2 applications.
Microsoft To Do helps me with recurring tasks and reminders. For example I use it to go through:
- Morning rituals like setting goals for the day
- Keep a mindful break
- Reminder to complete the evening portion of my daily journal
Day One for the diary. Day One suits me because it syncs between laptop and smart phone and is reasonably user friendly.