The Journaling Habit (Part 2)

My gratitude Journals from the past years.

Part 2: Your guide to Journaling

Why journal?

I write to stop thinking, I write to think, I write to look at my emotions and understand them, I write to feel better, I write to complain,  I write to pray, I write to remember and I write to forget. I write to focus on problems, I write to come up with solutions, I write to plan the future and I write to honor my past. I write nonsense and I write gems. Most importantly, I write every day.

Writing in a journal helps you clean your mind’s slate, so your mind is better used for creativity and solving interesting problems not storing trivial matters which our brains are not so good at already, this way you put your mind at ease instead of having it nagging you to remember. Writing freezes your thoughts on paper so that you can, detach from them, examine them as an outsider and see which of them is true and what’s obsessive repetitive thinking that is simply not serving you. You can tell paper what you cannot tell people. As Anne Frank said in her famous diaries Paper Has More Patience Than People. Keeping a journal helps you connect the daily events into meaningful conclusions. You understand your patterns, your triggers, what makes you thrive and what shuts you down, improving your self-awareness. Writing helps you put your heart’s baggage on paper instead of carrying it around. You feel lighter afterwards.

In Essentialism Greg McKeown reminds us: “The words journal and journalist come from the same root word.”  Instead of writing meaningful stories to an audience of a newspaper, covering the who, what, when, where, why andhow of a story; keeping a journal is about being a journalist of your own life.  

Journaling is a mix of keeping a diary and introspection for me, and the difference is that diaries are for logging what happens in your day while introspection could include reflecting about the meaning of events and your responses to them and planning for the future.  Naming this habit as keeping a diary is more helpful to people who are about to start it. Why? Because when I tell beginners to journal by reflecting on their emotions and thoughts many would get too overwhelmed to start.

Accordingly, I divided journaling into 3 styles. Writing any of the below on consistent basis is journaling, start where you feel most comfortable.

Journaling Type 1: Keeping a diary

Why

  • It marks your days because they are not the same and we humans are forgetful by nature, so we need something to remind us, better in our own handwriting. It’s like writing your own personal history book.
  • It helps you catch your patterns in terms of (good) days vs. (bad) days so you identify people and activities that make you feel alive the most. For example, you start noticing that when you eat a certain type of food you feel bad few hours later. Or when you talk to someone your heart beats faster than normal.

How

  • Write down about your past day and how you spent your time. What happened? Who did you meet with? What did you do? Where did you go? What did you read or listen to? What did you eat? What did you buy? What is something you want to remember about your day?  Your mood from 1-5? Your energy level?

Journaling Type 2: Reflection

  • You may practice gratitude by aiming to list 3 to 5 things as an answer to What and who am I thankful for right now?
  • You may scan your body for emotions. What am I feeling right now? It is important to name your emotions to defuse their power over you, which helps you watch them as an observer with acceptance and understand the events and thoughts that caused them. For example, you examine yourself and find you’re not feeling great, journaling about it may lead you to learn you’re feeling lonely, so you acknowledge the emotion and take action if possible to change it, by seeking companionship for instance.
  • You may practice what is called expressive writing, by describing important past events, and your deepest thoughts and feelings by asking what am I feeling? What am I thinking?  Privately exploring past negative experiences in expressive writing for few days scientifically proved to help long term recovery from high stress levels caused by them.  It is not recommended, however, to do it for too long for one event, neither to overthink positive events to keep their magic.
  • You may write about a situation from someone else’s point of view to understand their behavior and reactions. Attempting to see what they see and feel their fears increases your compassion and empathy.
  • You may talk to God in writing prayers about your most pressing issues. You may try writing God’s answer too which is always loving and all-understanding.
  • You review your day by what is called daily check-in by asking What went well? What didn’t work? What did I learn from this? How will I be smarter tomorrow or next time I face this? This helps you derive insights about yourself and people around you that improve your life steadily.

In practicing reflection, it is recommended to avoid asking why questions as your mind will come up with answers upon demand that may not be accurate and will not always support your growth. For example, why questions may lead you to act like a victim, example: why me? Replace why with what. What is going? What does this remind me of? And so on.

Journaling Type 3: Planning

  • You use your journal to set your intentions and organize your thoughts about upcoming events or your future goals by asking What kind of person do I want to be today? What am I going to do next to move forward with my goals? What can I be excited about today? If I get stressed today, what will I do or who will I contact to feel better? What is my most important task for the day?

One of many examples when journaling solved a problem for me was a couple of years ago. While I am a positive person and complaining is not a habit I like to indulge in with colleagues, I confided to paper how I felt every day about my workday. I logged the events. I reflected on them noticing how I could learn from them for next time. Reading my journal entries, however, I found a consistent negative pattern in my feelings about my job. Then, with time, I felt I was not learning as the lessons were just reruns. I realized it was time to move on, especially that my feelings were not improving. As a result, there in those journals, I decided it was time for change. I came up with a plan that started with updating my CV and pursuing certificates I was putting on hold, until I successfully managed to change my job one year later.

Are you ready to start journaling? Keep reading.

Tips to Activate the habit of Journaling:

  • Start with keeping a diary and gratitude practice then expand to other journaling suggestions.
  • Start small. Just one page every day, no matter how tempted you are to write more. Still too much? Use or create a one-sentence-a-day journal.
  • You can start with journals that have built in prompts to answer everyday so get your habit going. Such as (what are you grateful for? How do you feel today? What is the important task of the day)? Check bookshops for beautiful notebooks to use.
  • Place your journal on your pillow if you want to write at night or by your coffee mug if you want to write in the morning. If I had not done this I would have simply forgotten or ignored my new routine because the notebook is out of sight.
  • Some of my friends worry about their privacy and tear up their negative journals. I say that’s perfectly fine. The act of writing itself is therapeutic. The act of keeping paper, not so much.
  • Some of my friends choose drawing instead of writing in their journals to express themselves and track their days. I believe this is a form of journaling. Go for it if it gets you excited and committed.

Finally, increase your self-awareness by reading your older journals. I usually read my journal at the end of each month or quarter. This always reveals something about myself and my happiness, especially my gratitude journal. I recommend planning a time to read yours. Maybe you would find something interesting that you wrote casually the other day or remember some past dreams and ancient heart songs that ignite your passion for life. Who knows?

Note: I’m in gratitude to Michael Hyatt, Ryan Holiday, Austin Kleon, Greg McKeown, Brendon Burchard, Tim Ferriss and Tasha Eurich whose valuable work and advice I included in this post. Thank you.

Find the above journaling guide in Arabic by listening to my podcast here:

The Journaling Habit (Part 2)

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