Many of you are either starting out with maintaining a journal/diary or are at various stages of progression in your journey to maintain a journal/diary. This article will hopefully help you approach this journey pragmatically and equip you with the right tools and structure.
For the purposes of brevity, I will just refer to journal and diary generically as journal in this article. This is going to be a bit of a lengthy entry (over 1600 words), but I know you are up for the task. Plus there is a reward at the end if you finish reading it.
Benefits of Journal Writing
Regardless of where you are in your journey, it is important to remember (and keep reminding yourself of) the amazing value and many benefits of maintaining a journal:
- The expression of gratitude – recognizing it, documenting it and communicating it – is known to help lead a happier, healthier and “richer” life. A great resource to read on this is: The 31 benefits of Gratitude (Happier Human). If you are more scientifically inclined, you can also explore the science behind it at The Science of Gratitude (Happier Human) and Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier (Harvard Medical School). If that just doesn’t satiate your curiosity, here’s another resource.
- Maintaining a journal helps with structuring your thinking and is known to be a tool used by many folks in various walks of life. Many celebrated writers also maintained a diary.
- Writing in your journal allows you to express your inner self via an unfettered stream of consciousness. The key word here is unfettered – which means you are not so much tied down by the grammar, spelling or structure as to getting your thoughts written. Sometimes this works out great, and other times perhaps not so much. But then – you can always go back and edit (if you want).
- Most people also like to maintain a journal to express themselves. They truly and honestly don’t care what anyone else thinks, and they write with unrestrained verbalization of thoughts and feelings. This kind of writing is often incredibly therapeutic and provides an amazing outlet to explore your thoughts and feelings without being judged, needing to be politically correct, or being fearful of hurting anyone’s sensibilities.
Critical Aspects Of Journaling
As with everything that becomes a worthwhile habit, I think that there are a few things that one should be prepared with when trying to inculcate a regular journal writing habit:
- Bring your honest self (always) and your best self to the writing.
- Be prepared to write when you feel like it. You may be moved by a painting at the museum, on first seeing the Taj Mahal, on seeing a dear friend, on having an amazing meal, or any other thing or experience. Being prepared will help you capture your thoughts and feelings and catalog that memory if you have the right tools, and if those tools are always available.
- Whatever system you use, be sure that you can trust it. Aspects such as the security of your journal information, it’s privacy and its continued and ongoing availability (via regular backups, etc.) are important things to consider when thinking of the tools that constitute your journal writing system.
- Finally, go easy on yourself. Building and maintaining a habit is not easy. Sometimes you may not be able to write, for whatever reason. But recognize your reluctance to write – and try to overcome/address it. Most importantly, use tools that help you write more regularly, including leveraging writing prompts, reminders, etc.)
Tools I Use
With the above practices in mind, here some tools I use to maintain my journal:
- I keep a small notebook and pen – for those times when I just want to “think visually”. I often like to visually to represent my ideas on paper using diagrams and the like.
- I strongly believe in the value of maintaining a digital journal. There are several benefits to doing so, including the ability to tag and categorize entries, maintain multiple journals (without the constraints of maintaining multiple physical journals), the ability to search entries for words or phrases, the ease with which these journals can be stored, backed up and ported, and the ease of mixing up text and visual content, etc. To that extent, I use predominantly two tools:
- Day One: this is a beautiful app for iOS/Mac users that allows you to maintain a journal. I started using this some years ago when it was Day One (v1) – or Day One Classic. I still continue to use Day One Classic (and have not yet made the jump to the new Day One v2) – primarily because like a lot of other people I am worried about aspects such as data security, lack of Dropbox sync and platform lock-in. Day One Classic (on my iPhone) continues to meet my needs admirably well, and I see no real reason to change at the moment.
- DO Journal – Day One only has apps for iOS and Mac. If you want to use Day One on your desktop Windows PC, you are essentially out of luck. I spend a lot of time in front of a Windows PC and wanted to have a tool to maintain my journal – especially when creating verbose entries (which is hard to do on the phone). DO Journal is a journal app for Windows that allows me to do that – and it can both read and create entries that are fully compatible with Day One. It lets me maintain continuity of my Day One journal on my PC (via Dropbox sync for Day One Classic). There is also a Day One v2 Data Import tool in DO Journal that allows you to import your Day One v2 data to DO Journal and keep it local on your PC (and then view/edit/search using DO Journal). It is a simple, beautiful, yet powerful application – and it allows me to maintain multiple journals as well. Best of all, I get to control what happens with my data. [UPDATE: Our new version – Life Journal – is now available]
What Should You Write About?
People often wonder what to write about in their journals. The short answer is, of course, is whatever grabs your fancy! But here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Write a gratitude entry. DO Journal, for instance, comes with the Five Minute Journal template that allows you to quickly capture some thoughts and provides a good structure to write in the morning and evening. The challenge is to think hard and dig deep about what you are grateful for (you can only write so often that you are grateful for your family or health). One thing that I find useful is to focus on the things you take for granted but would sorely miss if you did not have them.
- Create an entry that captures your thoughts and feelings. Again, this is most beneficial if you dig deep and capture this information honestly.
- Write a routine entry that tracks the day’s events (what happened, ups and downs, meetings, what you could have done differently, etc.)
- Capture memories (lunch with a friend, playtime with children, etc.). Whenever possible, add a picture – this will help bring back the memory when you review the entry in the future.
- Be creative – pick a random subject or quote and express yourself. Write a short essay or perhaps a small poem. Writing creatively wires your brain differently and enhances your ability to express yourself. If you get stuck, use writing prompts (DO Journal comes with over 600 prompts).
- I could keep going – the list is endless: Travel related entries, entries around faith/spiritual well being, entries that document your entrepreneurial or creative endeavors, etc.
Maintaining A Journaling Habit
Here are a few thoughts I will leave you with about some practices that will help you build and maintain a regular writing habit:
- Try writing first thing in the morning (use the Five Minute Journal Template). This not only sets up and kicks off the day on the right note, it also is the best time of the day for most people when distractions are at the lowest and creative juices at their peak.
- Always have your journal writing tool available. For instance, I have DO Journal always running on my desktop, and I always have my phone / notebook with me when I am not in front of the PC.
- Make journal writing an appointment on your calendar. As with any other endeavors in your life, make every effort to keep the appointment with yourself. DO Journal & Day One allow you to set up reminders to write.
- Do periodic reviews and revisit old entries – this will hopefully help you reflect on how you have changed. (DO Journal helps with this using the powerful search capabilities that can show you random entries from the past, or entries on the same day in past years, etc.)
- Take the time to celebrate milestones: One week of writing, 1 month, 3 months, 100 entries, etc. Contrary to popular belief around habit forming (the 21 day myth), it takes over 2 months to form a habit. Stick with it. It’s worth it. You are worth it.
- Share your creative work (when possible). Put out something for others to be inspired by. Be vulnerable, help others realize the value of journaling.
I Am Grateful To You!
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I wanted to thank Bakari for this opportunity to write a guest post on his blog. And I want to thank you, dear reader, for patiently reading through to here. I hope you found this useful. I wish you the very best with your journal / diary writing habit and indeed with all that you endeavor to do!