A habit that changed me
One of the most valuable habits I have adopted into my life was when I started keeping a regular, daily journal more than a few years ago. It is as if I found a secret to preserve the most valuable moments of my life – stuff that got lost when I was just ‘cruising along’. I have to confess that I still do not write in it every day, but I do it at least 4 to 5 days a week.
I once kept a journal of an overseas trip and was surprised when I paged through it the other day, 25 years later. Many of the incidents I couldn’t even recall. I did however pick up impressions I experienced then that I wrote about and how they influenced my life. In fact, some of the stories I still tell when I am with friends.
Obstacles in the way
I realized that some of the issues I wrote about was not relevant at all. It made me wonder what are the most relevant an meaningful stuff to write in a journal? Why would one spend the time to write a journal? In order to make journaling work for me, I had to get started. Here was my first obstacle. The second one was to know what to write about. The third obstacle was that I was always wondering what people might think when they will read this. I realized later that these are issues related to fundamental flaws in my approach to my journal. I suspect these might be some of the issues you might be struggling with in getting started or following through.
Finding an easy starting point
Here are practical things I have found that makes it easier for me to get started.
- I combine it with my morning quit time where I first just sit still and meditate / reflect for a few minutes about the previous day. I try to recall my schedule, impressions and the emotions I experienced.
- Reading a passage in the Bible (sometimes a devotional) and spending time in prayer.
- When I start writing after this time of reflection, I feel as if I know exactly what is relevant for my journal today. I write about the day before, but in a way that has meaning and relevance.
Finding a writing ‘system’
Getting started was one thing, but knowing what to write about was even more difficult. I am very structured in my thinking, so I was looking for a ‘system’. Most people I asked about this told me to ‘just go with the flow’, ‘let it all out’. My problem was to know ‘what I should let out’. It was only when I started to combine this process with my life planning that things started to make sense. This was when I realized that it is not important to write about what happened, but to write about the meaning and significance things have for me.
I have developed my own ‘system’ which I will share with you. If you are not a structured thinker, just ‘get it all out’. For those of you who needs a bit of structure, here are 8 Life issues I address in my journal – not all of it every day, but I try to touch on most / all of it in the course of a week.
8 Life issues
- Personal (development issues):
- What was new in my life?
- Have I learned something?
- What do I struggle with?
- Things to still do / learn?
- How did I mess up?
- What value did I get from the book / article I read?
Relationships (Family, friends)
- Who did I spend meaningful time with?
- Which person frustrated me (& why)?
- Who did I have a confrontation with?
- Where have I messed up?
- Whom should I have spoken to?
- Is there someone I want to spend more time with?
- Was it a positive / bad day?
- What do I waste my time with?
- Which things could I have done different / better?
- Are there things I should still handle / complete?
- What did I do that influenced my finances positively?
- I should handle these things that negatively affect my finances?
- Financial issues (emails, invoices etc) I procrastinated from / avoided.
- I feel my health is …
- What can / should I do to improve my health?
- I worry about …
Leisure / Pleasure
- What was the most enjoyable thing/s I did today?
- What were the little things that I appreciate about today?
- Have I spent enough / too much time on leisure / pleasure?
My belongings / equipment (home, stuff)
- Things (stuff) that worries me / creates stress in my life?
- What could I sort out in this area – repair, bought ..
- Things should I get rid of…
- My most valuable experiences on a spiritual level?
- Things I have learned / comprehend (new insight)?
- What am I struggling with?
A ‘planning tool’
Since I started applying this model, I can honestly say that journaling is worth every minute spent on it and adds real value to my life. It has opened new avenues to clarity and focus that never existed. I now use my journal as a reference once a month when I take a ‘time-out’ from my daily routine. It helps me to assess the past month and plan for the new month.
When I write my journal today, I write it for the value it has for ME, not for what people might expect me to say or be, but for what my life means to me. This has been both liberating and deeply satisfying.
I am developing as ‘journal writer’ and value input from others in this regard.
Do you journal? What methods do you use and what are the obstacles you encounter? You can leave a comment here.