Be mindful of your day and become the best version of yourself.
Are you tired of the endless posts on social media about how therapeutic journalling is, and why you should do it daily?
I know, I am too. There are days I feel the sacred art of journalling has been strangled and made into a capitalist product so companies can make more significant profits while you drown yourself in stacks notebooks so pretty, you have no clue how you will ever put ink to paper and destroy how pristine they look.
I am not going to ask you to buy notebooks with quilling on the covers and scented pages made from hundred-years-old recycled paper. But as someone who has been journaling since 2005 (that’s fifteen long years), I am going to share all the ways I used my journal that helped me have a better, more fulfilling life.
Here’s a secret before you start: you can take just about any notebook you see lying around. You don’t need prompts or checklists, you can make your own. The only thing you need to remember is that you need to pen something down every day. If you are travelling or exhausted, you can make up for it the next day. But, please don’t skip for longer than two days, as there are studies that prove that if you skip a habit for more than two days, you will have to start from scratch again.
By the time you’re done reading this article, I am hopeful you will be inspired to start journaling and keep at it every day. Here are seven tips to make the most out of a journal to have a satisfying, more enriching life.
1. Get Something Positive Out of Each Day
When a bad incident happens, especially towards the end of the day, we tend to go to bed in a foul mood. But, it is technically impossible for a day to be all bad. No matter how dark the clouds on your horizon, they will have a silver lining.
Do this thing before you go to bed each day: write the most positive things that happened to you that day. It can be something you did — like walking 10,000+ steps or submitting a long-pending report — or it can be something that happened to you — like the kind stranger on the bus who complimented your shoes or the stray puppy on the streets that wanted to play with you.
There might be days when positivity flows from your pen, and there might be others you have to struggle hard. But, stick to this habit, and you will never go to sleep grumpy.
You see, there is something positive in every single day. All we need is insight enough to look for it. Sitting down to introspect and writing out the best parts at the end of the day can help you see what you otherwise would have overlooked.
2. Use It to Boost Your Productivity
When you write down your goals on paper, you can visualise them happening. Because you wrote them with your own hands, you know you can make them possible. And what better way to achieve this than journaling your way to be your productive best?
As a planner
Use your journal as a planner.
List down your monthly goals and write ideas on how you can turn those dreams to reality. Set up a realistic approach that will help you tackle your goals, and set deadlines so you can stick to them.
If your journal has dates, you can mark on the due date as a reminder. If not, you can make your own annotations with red ink so the deadlines pop out at you whenever you leaf through the pages.
Make to-do lists
Before you go to sleep each day, write a list of things you hope to accomplish on the next. Let me tell you from experience: putting checks on tiny boxes against a list of tasks gives you a different kind of satisfaction.
Look through the tasks on the next day after you wake up. This will give you a clear purpose and a reason to get out of bed and start your day with positivity.
3. Identify What Is Holding You Back
When you are using your journal to make to-do lists, it is obvious that no matter how hard you try, you are never going to be able to check off all the tasks, every single day.
Don’t let this make you feel bad. When you are unable to check a box, scribble alongside it a reason why you weren’t able to finish that and carry the task forward to the next day.
After a significant number of days has passed, look back upon the previous pages and reflect on these reasons you wrote down. These are the excuses, limiting self-beliefs, or genuine setbacks that are stopping you from achieving your full potential.
Go through these reasons and try to decipher why did they happen?
Were you setting unrealistic goals for yourself and biting off more than you can chew? In that case, take a break, and work on how you can be kind to yourself. Knowing your true abilities and not expecting too much from yourself is probably the highest form of self-love.
Is there a recurring habit or activity in your life that is continually draining your time and energy? What can you do about it so it does not take such a high toll on your mental and spiritual health?
Outsource like a pro
Have you been spending longer than necessary at certain unproductive tasks that you can easily outsource?
For example, journaling helped me understand that I was spending two hours per day on cooking — something I didn’t even enjoy. I hired a person to make my meals, and suddenly, my day was full of so much time I could get a lot of work done in.
4. Plan Your Finances
I only discovered this recently, but a journal can be the best way to keep track of your expenses. Yes, you might have heard of a hundred different mobile phone apps that do the same for you, but if you are anything like me, you would probably install such an app and never open it to get a clear idea.
This is where your journal comes in. You don’t need to write everything each day, but keep track of the more extravagant expenses.
At the beginning of 2020, I had made a resolution that I am going to spend any income I make from writing to help better my craft. And so, each month, I kept a tally of how much money I made and in what ways I spent it.
This habit helped me realise how much my income had grown over the months. It also made it clear which workshops I had enrolled in and which writing courses I took. This way, I knew what tasks I was accountable to and tracking my progress became hassle-free.
5. Monthly Wrap-Ups
At the end of each month, write a detailed wrap-up that will help you analyse how far you have come. Here is what I do-
I write a list of “achievements” — all the things I managed to accomplish. This can include intangible things like getting clarity on an issue that was bothering me or more concrete subjects like going on a trip or getting funds sanctioned for a project (I am a civil engineer by profession).
I write a list of the life lessons I learned — the epiphanies and ideas that helped me get through the tough times. Writing them down is a great way not only to introspect and internalise them but also to store them down for the future when I might need to hear something similar.
6. Become an Idea Machine
This is a concept I learned from James Altucher’s Choose Yourself!: there is an “idea muscle” in your brain that needs exercise to be stronger like every other muscle in your body. You can exercise this idea muscle by writing down ten ideas daily. They don’t have to be great ideas you can execute — that is not the point. The point is to make your idea muscle work hard daily to think up ten ideas. Over time, when it becomes strong, you will get brilliant ideas regularly and most of these ideas will have the potential to turn your life around. I have also written a detailed article about this concept.
I have stuck to this habit of writing ten ideas daily since mid-May 2020. It has barely been a month, but I can already see the changes in myself.
In the first few days, I struggled hard to think of ten ideas. I used to sit for several minutes staring at a blank page, unable to come up with another word. But, I trusted Altucher and didn’t give up.
Today, I fill up page after page with ideas and most of these branch out into sister ideas and sub-ideas, usually taking up the form of full-fledged plans and life goals.
Since I am a writer, I end up writing down ideas for potential articles and sub-plots in my novel. One thing’s for sure — using my journal as an idea book has given an enormous boost to my creativity.
7. Learn to Be Thankful
Gratitude journaling is something that can help you see the best in everything. Here’s a challenge for you: the next time you take up a pen and paper, think of the worst thing that happened in recent times. Then, try to write down ten reasons why you are grateful for that.
For example, the worst thing that happened to me (and the rest of the world) was, of course, the Covid19-induced lockdown. I was restless and glum in the first few days, but writing about reasons why I was grateful for this helped me look at the whole situation from a different perspective.
That is what gratitude journaling can do: give you a fresh perspective — one that can make the humdrum of life seem less painful.
Maintaining a journal is a beautiful way to be more mindful about your day and actively take charge of the direction your life is going. Summing up, here are the seven ways you can use it to put it to the best use:
- Write down the good things that happened in the day, no matter how terrible you think it went.
- List your goals and plans and make to-do lists to keep track of your productivity.
- Understand what activities you are spending an inordinate amount of time on and see if you can quit or outsource them.
- List your monthly income and expenditure (more helpful if you are a freelancer or entrepreneur without a steady salary) and understand what percent of your earnings you are spending on self-improvement (books, courses, necessary software, etc.).
- Write monthly wrap-ups to introspect on your achievements and life lessons you learned in the past month and how you can carry these forward to be better equipped if you face similar problems again.
- Use it as an “Idea Journal” to pen down ten ideas relevant to your field of work.
- Gratitude journaling: take the worst part of your week and write down ten reasons why you are grateful for it to gain a fresh perspective.
Apart from these, you can also use a journal to keep track of your daily habits and record your fitness journey, diet plan, etc. You can ask yourself questions and write down the answers that will help you become a better person. At the start of the year, you can write down your resolutions.
Whichever way you use it, a journal is the easiest, most fulfilling way to be aware of which direction your life is heading, and how you can make the most of each day.
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