Journal for Your Life
Many of the men I come across scoff or cringe when I suggest they keep a journal. Either they do not know how to start a journal, or they have attached unmanly images of someone laying on a flowery comforter jotting down the words, “Dear Diary.” Some are hindered thinking they need to write with perfect grammar and in a voice like someone from the early 1800s chronicling adventures at sea.
If you still think that you’re too tough to write in a journal, consider this. General Patton kept one. If you haven’t heard of him, watch the movie “Patton”. This was the man who went to combat wearing a pearl-handled six-shooter during World War II. The Axis Powers feared him so much that he was sometimes more effective as a distraction than actually being on the battlefield. You don’t get much tougher than that. Other noteworthy men who kept a journal include the following: Thomas Jefferson, George Lucas, Thomas Edison, and another U.S. General George C. Marshall! (from The Art of Manliness podcast)
The truth is that journal writing does not have to be anything difficult. The grammar does not need to be perfect. You do not need to be worried about preparing entries that are publish-ready. Here are four benefits of journaling, and how to start a journal.
4 Benefits of Journaling
1. A Journal Acts as Your External Brain
I’m not going to take a gander at how many thoughts per day our brains process. Some say conservatively 12,000 a day and others send a meme across social media claiming 70,000 a day. How the heck do you measure that anyway? I have no idea.
What I can say is that the world demands our attention just about every moment of every day. In just the process of getting out of bed in the morning to go into my morning routine, I know I am battling thoughts on whether or not I will work out, do I want coffee this morning, what is for lunch today, what do I need to do at work? That’s all while rolling out of bed to turn off my alarm!
Throughout the workday, I’m bombarded by emails asking for information. That requires thinking through where to find that information and producing a response. Social media brings multiple conversations and different trains of thought. Commercials and advertising tell me I need to buy their stuff. My kids tell me I need to buy them stuff!
That great idea I had at 5 a.m. is long gone by the time the day is done and I’m able to revisit it. All the details that would have made that idea work, gone. Why the idea was a good idea in the first place, gone. Has this happened to you?
Writing in a journal every day, and even keeping a pocketbook of some kind, provides us with a place to jot down our most important, inspiring, world-changing ah-ha moments for later retrieval. Whether you review that entry later that day, next week, or next year, the ideas and details can be recalled more easily. It’s like having a brain, or recording system, outside of your zombie-cuisine appetizer that sits on top of your neck.
2. Keeping a Journal Daily Helps You Achieve Your Goals
To measure is to know. If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.Lord Kelvin, Sir William Thomson
Journals help us see where we have been and also give us a place to write out where we are going. Writing for the present state of things whether it is measuring how we feel about a situation, the number of miles we have run, or the number of inches measured on our waistline gives us a picture of the progress we are making…or not making.
Brandon and I have a friend named Dave who keeps a handwritten journal, a separate book for each year. During his quiet time each morning, Dave takes out a journal from a previous year and reads that day’s journal entry. On some days, he is surprised to see what progress he made, and how life changed because of something he wrote about years ago. Other times, he finds he is still struggling with the same obstacle years later. Reviewing these entries with a new perspective gives him the opportunity to apply some future-focus on what he will do differently for the next day, week, month, or year.
In episode 144 of Beyond the Rut, we discussed how we have used Evernote to do something similar to what Dave does. Here is an image of what that looks like for my own Evernote journal since that episode inspired me to return to that process.
3. Gain Clarity and Focus with a Daily Habit of Journaling
Whether it is a situation at work that is driving you mad, a rough patch in life, or articulating goals, keeping a daily journal helps you gain clarity and focus on your thoughts.
My preference is to write in my journal daily for 5 to 15 minutes in the morning. The focus is on three things that I am grateful for from the previous day or for the current day. It helps me create the positive mindset and focus I desire to have throughout the rest of the day.
I have also used my journal to clarify goals as far out as five years from now and what it would take this week to move one step closer to them. I keep those goals in Evernote as well in a separate folder, however, my daily journal entries give me insight over the course of time to show me how I am doing.
There have even been times when writing in my journal about a work situation led me to a real solution I could implement. Journal writing can help you gain clarity as you express your own thoughts and even contemplate other perspectives. I lost count of how many times I realized a hole in my own thought process simply by writing out what I was thinking about a situation at that time.
Kary Oberbrunner often states that clarity comes with action. Well, the action of writing every day in your journal can bring that clarity! From that clarity, you can prioritize your life.
4. A Journal Allows You to Leave a Trace
Your thoughts are written down to become a testament you leave behind for your children, grandchildren, and other people. While your journals may not garner the sales of a President’s memoirs or The Diary of Anne Frank, you can share your experiences with future generations.
You don’t have to be on your deathbed like in Tuesdays with Morrie or The Last Lecture, but you can start writing today, every day, and have something that will speak to your children after you are gone…or at least when they are old enough to understand where you were coming from all these years.
How to Start a Journal as a Daily Habit
If you scrolled down to this point of the article, then you must be asking, “Great! So, what tips do you have on how to start a journal?” The important two things you need to do for a daily habit of writing in a journal are to make it easy for you and to just get it done.
1. Make It Easy – the 20-Second Rule
The trickier part is to make it as easy as possible for you to write every day. Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage describes the “20-second rule” where if something takes more than 20 seconds to accomplish we often choose to do something else instead. Where do you need to place your journal platform of choice so that it is within reach and takes less than 20 seconds to get started? Set that up every day, or every night.
I use Evernote right now with a Notebook titled “Journal”. Evernote is easy for me, because I have it on my iPad, my smartphone, and can access it on my computer. It’s web-based, so it is always with me as long as I have an Internet connection. Since I journal in the morning as part of my daily morning routine, I make sure the night before that my iPad is fully charged and waiting at the table where I write. There is no search in the dark for a charging cable or waiting for a computer or laptop to boot up.
You may prefer to write in a paper journal. That is perfectly fine, and maybe better in terms of you don’t need to worry about the wifi router crapping out on you. Same concept. Choose what you want to write in, and make sure that is placed where you plan to journal and include a pen or pencil so you don’t have to fish for one.
2. Write Whatever Comes to Mind
Just do it! Give it a go, and stick with it. If you are traveling for work, plan so that your journal comes with you.
Additional Journaling Tips
- There are no hard and fast rules on keeping a journal. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
- Be consistent and give it a priority. It’s like exercise. You need to do it regularly over time to see its real impact.
- Let creativity reign in your journal with photos, sketches, VIN diagrams, or whatever else helps you get thoughts on paper or screen.
Resources and Links
Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal by Alexandra Johnson
Evernote.com – note taking across multiple devices
Drafts – the app used by Brandon to dictate his notes
Journaling Benefits by University of Rochester Medical Center
10 Surprising Benefits You’ll Get from Keeping a Journal – Huffington Post
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