How to Keep a Journal for Yourself
Have you ever started keeping a journal – perhaps starting on a particular milestone like your birthday, or January 1st – only to give up after a few days or weeks? Like many projects which we’re initially enthusiastic about, writing daily or even weekly in a journal can all too quickly become a chore. After all, what difference can it make to write down words that no-one but you will see?
There are several ways for keeping a journal to change your life, and I’ll show you how to achieve each in just ten minutes a day. Still think it’s not worth it?
1. Your Journal Offers Self-Insight
Do you ever wonder who you really are? Do you have problems which occur again and again – patterns of behaviour that you just can’t break out of? Keeping a journal for an extended period of time lets you learn the truth about yourself: how your motivation waxes and wanes, how many projects you let fizzle out after a brief burst of excitement; what topics you return to again, and again, and again…
If you’ve been keeping a journal for a while (even if it’s fallen by the wayside recently), read through some old entries. Do you spot any patterns? Look for strong emotions that occur frequently, such as anger, misery, excitement. You might also take note of recurring problems or difficulties. For example, do entries about lack of sleep coincide with stressful periods such as exams or project deadlines at work?
2. Your Journal Builds the Writing Habit
Are you an aspiring blogger, author, poet, journalist or writer of any description? If you’re making serious attempts at writing, you need to be disciplined about it – no professional writer works just when they’re “in the mood” or when “the muse descends.” Developing the habit of writing regularly (ideally every day) will be a bigger factor in your success than your raw level of writing skill. You will get better if you practice, and your journal is an ideal place to do so – no-one will laugh at clumsy phrases or failed experimental pieces, and you can write about whatever topics inspire you the most.
You can even write about your writing; building the ability to think about how you write will give you insight into your strengths and weaknesses. Being able to explain how and why a piece of your writing worked will let you replicate that achievement in the future.
Set aside a period of ten minutes to write a journal entry every day. Even when you don’t think you have anything interesting to say, honour that commitment and write something. Some people are inspired by writing prompts, famous quotations, or simply picking a topic (work, family, health, goals). Even the busiest of us can find ten minutes in the day – set your alarm earlier, if you have to. It’s worth the effort: a hundred and fifty words a day – easily possible in ten minutes – adds up to over fifty thousand words in a year. Once you’ve built up your journaling like this, you’ll find it much easier to work on your other pieces
3. Your Journal is a Gift to Your Future Self
Did you keep a journal at any point as a child or teenager? If so, and if you still have it, go back and re-read some entries: I guarantee that you’ll have a few great laughs and smiles in doing so. There might be references to incidents you’d previously forgotten, or particularly telling phrases or observations. Keeping a journal today means you can look back in five years, ten years or in old age at what you were thinking about, dreaming of, hoping for … it’s the closest you can get to time-travelling back to meet a past version of yourself.
EITHER: Pick up one of your old journals and flick through it. What stands out? Are there incidents described that you’d forgotten? Have your views on a particular issue or topic changed radically?
OR: If you’ve never kept a journal in the past, use a page of your current one to write a letter to yourself in the future. Jot down some thoughts about the main strands of your life – are you happy with your job, your relationships, your health and fitness? Write down where you see yourself in a year, and in five years.
4. Your Journal Holds You Accountable
Many people like to record facts and figures in their journal, especially ones which relate to an important life change. Calories consumed, exercise done, cigarettes not smoked, alcohol units drunk … whatever the nature of your change, your journal can help you to achieve it. Seeing your progress in black and white helps you to carry on when your motivation is at rock-bottom, and for some people, the knowledge that they’ll have to record their failures is enough to keep them on the straight-and-narrow.
Pick an area of your life where you want to improve: perhaps you want to get up early every day. For the next week, write down how you did each day – it’ll only take a minute or two, and you’ll be able to see if you progress as the week goes on – or if your enthusiasm quickly peters out.
5. Your Journal Encourages Positive Thinking
When you write in your journal, don’t dwell on things that went wrong. Focus on the positive aspects of your day or week – even when you have to dig hard to find something. It might take a while for you to notice the effect, but you’ll soon be seeing faster change in your life: we tend to move towards what we’re focusing on. Time coach Mark Forsteradvocates writing a daily “What’s better” list, recording the things which were not just good but better – this is a powerful way to focus on growth.
If you’re reading this in the evening, how do you feel your day went? (Morning readers – use yesterday.) Chances are, you can think of lots of frustrations, things that went wrong, things that didn’t get done. Get your journal and write “Things which were good today”. List at least five. They don’t have to be big things – something as simple as “I saw a beautiful sunset” or “I left work on time” are fine. Now how do you feel about your day?