Journaling as a Form of Review and Reflection

Last week I wrote that I’m going to be discussing how to make changes that last. If you haven’t read the post, I’d recommend that you go back and read it, but the general idea is that there is a temptation to try and make massive changes at the start of the calendar year…and often we’re trying to change a whole bunch of things at the same time. In effect, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. I’m talking from experience here, so I’ve got some credibility.

But I’m willing to bet that you’ve also had a similar experience. You start off the year going great guns…and in a couple of weeks you’re right back in the old rut. And if you’re anything like me, you’re stuck in that rut until the end of the year. Only to repeat the same cycle, often with the same habits, the next year.

For me, it got really old and tiresome!

hands-1373363_640So back in 2014 I started something new. I started journaling. I had heard several folks talk about it on their podcasts and the idea seemed interesting. I was looking for some way to capture what I was thinking about and doing during my days. Far too often I reached the end of the day and I couldn’t figure out where the time had gone. More importantly, I would have these amazing thoughts throughout the day…and I would lose them forever because I didn’t capture them. Later in this series I’m going to talk about tracking and capturing…but those are more advanced topics that took me much longer to develop. With journaling, you can start today!

The point of keeping a journal is to stop for a moment and reflect on what you did that day. How you felt. What your successes were and what challenges you faced. Most importantly, when you write things down you’ve got them stored. And they’re stored in a form that you can use for a regular review. Through that review you can see how far you’ve come, spot patterns of successes and challenges, and actually learn from past you.

There are numerous journaling systems and methods out there. There are all sorts of apps that can help you too. But I’ll be honest here…I write my journal on paper. Since I started my journaling just before the school year began, I bought a $0.25 one-subject notebook. It was fairly skinny at 80-sheets and was college ruled. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. It was a utilitarian notebook designed to do one thing, and one thing only: Help me capture what was important to me that day.

I set a rule for myself that no entry would be longer than one single-side of a page. I also set the goal of writing in the journal every day. The first rule was hard for me…I’m pretty loquacious, so keeping my thoughts of the day to one page was a real struggle. Eventually I got into the habit of thinking about what I was going to write, but at first it was just stream of consciousness. When I got to the end of the page I just stopped. Some of my early entries are a bit funny since I would try to squeeze more onto the page than it was designed for. There are some pages where the last three ruled lines have six lines of writing crammed into them.

Initially I had a really hard time carving out time to journal every day. On days when I didn’t journal, I’d write the date on the top of the page and leave it blank. Initially I would go back and fill those days in. Sometimes it was easy to remember what I had done and what my thoughts were. On other days I would stare at the blank page and have no idea what I’d done.

After a few weeks I figured out that my best time to journal was at the end of the day. As part of my nightly shutdown recipe (think ritual or routine if you prefer) I try to stay off of technology for the last 30 minutes of my night. So writing in my journal is an ideal activity that doesn’t require my tech. One of the last things that I do is turn off my tech and write a page in my journal.

adult-1850177_640I don’t really have any rules for what I write in my entries. I write what comes to mind. Things that were important that defined my day. Things that challenged me…or pissed me off. Sometimes I write about successes, and often about my failures. Now I write a lot about the things that I want to do in the future. Sometimes it’s things I want to accomplish tomorrow. Other times it’s things that I want to accomplish on a longer timeframe.

I write about the kids. The house. The business. Even the stupid lawnmower. Pretty much anything that comes to mind. There is definitely no structure to my entries. I write about what’s on my mind…often with the goal of just getting it down on paper so I don’t have to fret about forgetting it.

Sometimes what I write is put there so I do forget about it. Things that bothered me that I can’t really resolve. Things that would eat at me…but nobody really wants to hear about. It’s oddly cathartic to write those things down in my journal and then let them go.

Most importantly, I write the journal entries for a one-person audience: Me. Nobody else is going to read these entries, so I don’t worry about what I write. I don’t try to make anybody happy. Or sad. I just write what comes out, knowing that the only person who will read them…and judge me…will be me.

Right now you’re probably asking yourself; what does this have to do with making changes that last?

Honestly, my journaling has been one of the most important pieces of that process. It’s given me a place to air my concerns and hopes. It’s provided me with a way to not only put things on paper, but then go back and read over the entries to see the patterns in my life. It’s forced me to admit that some things are just stuff I’m going to gripe about. Things I’m never going to address. But there are other themes that arise that are worth exploring.

So I’ve got a task for you. Go out and buy a cheap notebook. It doesn’t have to be pretty, fancy, or expensive. If any of those qualities will help you journal more regularly, go ahead and get a nicer notebook. I’ve finally upgraded to a Blueline Davinci Notebook for my journal entries. But you don’t have to start there or make the investment. I also bought some pens to help make the process more fun. I use the Pilot G2 Gel Roller Ball Pens pens, but they do have a tendency to smear if you’re not careful. When I started I used a supermarket pen, so you can start with whatever pen you have handy.

The important thing is to keep the barrier to entry low. A free pen and cheap notebook are all you need. And a commitment to writing regularly. Maybe for you it’s not every night. Maybe it’s once a week. But carve out a dedicated time and write about what’s going on. You can make it a letter to future you. Or just a list of crap from the day. It doesn’t really matter how you start as long as you write.

So what do you think? Are you willing to give it a try? Just grab a notebook and pen and write an entry tonight. Nothing fancy, nothing special. Just write something and see if it helps.