How To Start A Journal And Why Do It?

Probably around the age of 21, I’ve started writing stuff down – inside a very tiny notebook. Back then, I didn’t knew that this was, a thing. I was simply keeping track of my expenses, how my day went by, what I’ve done, what I haven’t, who I meet, which girl I’ve kissed. Pretty standard things. This habit was formed when I was beginning to adore books more than I adored going out with girls (Ok, I lied. I abandoned going out with random girls on a later stage in my life). After a while, I started adding my goals, my desired income, weight, and stuff that I wanted to acquire. Surprisingly, pretty much all of the things that I so desperately wanted, soon became a reality. I my mind, I owe that to this simple habit.

We quickly and easily forget what happened to us on a certain day. We remember either the most terrifying or the most wonderful moments that take place in our lives: the sorrow by the event of death, the joy of a birth, the excitement when we’ve purchased a new car, the relief when we successfully ran a marathon, the pleasure of visiting a foreign country.

What happens in between though? Between all these good and bad events?

What happens, is life. All these little meaningless, at first glance, things happen. Things that might look irrelevant to you, but at the same time they form our personality, our future, our life. Exactly the little things we daily do can turn into something much bigger. Like, writing a book, for example, or, losing weight, getting that desired promotion, learning a foreign language.

Every day we learn something new. Something worth remembering, taking into account for future events. Well, there isn’t much of a point to remember your daily visits to the bathroom – except if you didn’t come up with an amazing idea while you were sitting on the toilet seat – but I believe you got my point.

If we are simply passing through life, without considering the joy of the little things, we will never be truly happy. We’ll simply wait for something big to happen. Like, the new year’s eve. The bad thing is that when it passes, we will have to wait again for something exciting to pop on our schedule. And if it doesn’t, we feel sad, alone, like no one on this planet want’s to hang out with us. This whole process turns into one big loop of waiting for something to happen, while, life quickly passes by.

 

Considering Journaling

People write stuff from the dawn of time.1 Only a couple of years ago, writing words down, in a letter, or a telegram, was the only possible way to communicate with someone living far from your location. After that, we invented mobile phones and the Internet, which resulted in a fewer people using a pen.2

Even though our writing skills have become rusty, keeping a physical journal, not an online one, is a way to explore yourself. Is a technique used by world-famous thinkers, inventors, mathematicians. I am talking about names like Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, Leonardo Da Vinci, Marcus Aurelius, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Henry David Thoreau. The list is a lot bigger. These are people we’ve all heard about. They’ve become popular in a specific field and earned the love of the human population.

So since they’ve done it, why shouldn’t we follow?

 

Why have a diary?

Why did all these people had a diary? What did they wrote inside? – Are the first two questions that came into my mind as well.

They all had their own personal reasons.

Benjamin Franklin, for instance, had a very strict mourning routine. His days began at 05:00 am with a single, yet very powerful question; “What good shall I do this day?”3 The answer to the question was recorded in his personal diary. It gave him direction throughout the whole day. His drive to constantly improve himself – mentally, professionally, and morally, wasn’t left unnoticed. Hundreds of articles are written on the topic, each revealing excerpts of his journals. Based on my research, he used his diary to keep a log of what he did, what he had to do, and probably why is he doing it, a reason, a why.4

The famous theoretical physicist who doesn’t need an introduction, Albert Einstein, regularly used a journal to articulate his thoughts. Actually, he didn’t use only one journal at a time. His writings can be categorized into four main categories:

  1. His most notable scientific writing – The Zurich Notebook.
  2. Political writings which were mainly focused towards his humanist side.
  3. Albert Einstein loved writing letters.
  4. Journals that people of his surroundings kept for him.

Mainly, he wrote to focus on deep work and organize his thoughts. Finally, all these thoughts formed the famous, as already mentioned, Zurich Notebook. This journal captures his work. The theories that build up to the discovery of general relativity.

Even though everybody has his own reasons for writing thoughts on a piece of paper, journaling mainly helps you prioritize, clarify the way you think, and accomplish your most important tasks. I am sure you’ve all heard that writing stuff down actually improves your memory, and, that writing is a magical thing that only the elders were able to practice. All this is true. Well, I am not quite a fan of exaggeration.

Yes, writing with a pen on paper helps. But it’s not a magical thing that when doing it, will summon a long beard dwarf who will obey your commands. It simply helps. Below I will explain why:

 

How Will Journaling Improve My Life?

I know what you’re thinking: “How the hell recording my thoughts inside a notebook will improve my life?” Well, it may be difficult for you to believe, but keeping a journal helps in several areas:

Evaluation: Daily journaling will let you track your progress. If you’re doing it right, you will see what’s your progress in regards a specific project you’re currently involved with. When consistently writing about your progress, you will spot flaws, problems, and possible ways to optimize the way you’re doing things. All of this will lead to better outcomes for the things you’re doing.

Keeping a personal journal a daily in-depth analysis and evaluation of your experiences is a high-leverage activity that increases self-awareness and enhances all the endowments and the synergy among them.” — Stephen R.Covey

Creativity: Kind of a broad thing to say, still, writing a page per day will soon become a habit, then you will naturally start recording different types of ideas. Most of them will probably be stupid – or at least impossible to implement. But that’s ok though, write them down anyway. Over time they will evolve and maybe, just maybe, they will be what you’ve always wanted.

Communication: If you want to improve a certain thing, there is nothing better than talking about it. Discussing a new business opportunity with your boss, or a colleague of yours is common practice. However, if you’re one man army, and you’re looking to start your own business, journaling will be your way of talking about it.

It might sound strange at first: “Talking with myself on a piece of paper?” Yes, it does sound strange. Still, think about it for a second. If you don’t have anyone to turn to for an advice, asking questions, playing different scenarios, and writing every possible outcome will give you a better perspective. This is the best way to make sure you have everything covered and to ensure the success of your new venture.

Keeping track of things: Goals, challenges, to-do lists, grocery lists. Having a sheet of things written down will allow you to remind yourself what’s “next to be done.” You will permanently install the important things inside your brain by re-writing your goals daily. Eventually, your vision will consume your inner world and quickly become a physical reality.

Leave a trace: Let’s say that 10 full years have passed since you’ve started your first journal. Wouldn’t be cool if you open your very first dairy and read what you’ve thought back then? Or, if your children find your writings and they somehow inspire them?

 

How to Start a Journal?

why-starting-a-journal-is-importantThe requirements for this “daily duty” are fewer than becoming a taxi driver. Actually, you only need a pen and few sheets. A good idea would be if the sheets are bound and wrapped with a cover. Or, put simply, using a notebook is preferable, but not a mandatory requirement. It’s good because you won’t have to worry about constantly rearranging, or possibly losing your sheets. Don’t go too fancy, though. There are hundreds of notebooks available in corner bookstores,  Amazon, or throughout the net. Spending 50+ dollars for a notebook won’t make you smarter, or, make the words you’re thinking about right now magically appear on the pages. If you successfully adopt this habit, you will need a new notebook every second month. Meaning, at least 6 notebooks for 1 year – this is a rough number, you may need more or less depending on what you’re sharing with yourself. 6, multiplied by 50 dollars, is 300 bucks. 300$ for empty sheets? Quite a lot if you ask me.5

The science of journaling is nothing more than continuous writing things down. You need to regularly schedule a meeting with your brain and record the thoughts.

Here are few suggestions that will give you an advantage:

Get ready in advance: Buy a notebook and blow the dust from your only pen. Now, leave them where you are going to record your plans, goals, thoughts, or whatever. Whether this will be your nightstand, your office, desk, or your cabinet, it doesn’t make any difference. This is day 0 (zero), you’re simply rearranging, making the scene right for your first day of journaling. This is your assurance that you won’t quit the very first day because you got mad about not finding a working pen. When it’s all set, go to sleep, when you wake up, walk to your writing area and start executing.

Set a time: The three best possible times for filling out your journal with wisdom are: 1) Early in the morning; 2) Before you go to sleep; 3) Early in the morning and before you go to sleep. Each one has its own benefits. Starting your day with journaling will prepare you for the whole day ahead. Conversely, evening notes will give you the opportunity to review what happened. However, the third option kicks ass. The only downside of taking notes in the morning, as well as in the evening, is that you’ll need to spend a bit more time writing every day. Well, around 10 more minutes. I believe you can live with that.

Content: People often stop taking daily notes because they run out of ideas. Others, don’t even start for the above reason. Most people are deathly afraid of writing and having their thoughts read, even from themselves. Accept that it will suck. That’s ok. Just start writing. Write anything. “I don’t know how to start, but I’m just starting now.” Literally, write that. Here are few suggestions that will give you an idea of what to write in your personal journal:

  • Daily duties and goals: What are your priorities? What you need to do, today? Who you need to call, meet, have lunch with?
  • What you’re grateful for: Quite common practice among the people who keep a diary. The reason for this is pretty obvious: to remind ourselves of the things we currently have, instead of constantly focusing our mind towards the stuff we don’t have, but want.
  • Monthly goals and to-do lists: The one, most important task for this month: loosing 5 kilograms, saving 200$, write 10 pages of your first book, or something else. Set a monthly goal and do everything possible to accomplish it.
  • Book recommendation: Or any type of recommendations: sites, movies, stores. Better have them written down than banging your head against the wall trying to remember. I actually leave few empty sheets at the beginning of my every notebook so I can quickly add new suggestions.
  • Stuff you’ve learned today: Something important that you have learned today. Something worth remembering for months and years to come.
  • Ideas: Keeping an exclusive journal for your ideas is actually a common practice. Thomas Edison keep a notebook titled “Private Idea Book.” Not that you can’t use your daily journal to write down an inspiring thought, but having a separate journal for this activity is much better. I often record a possible project, intentionally leave a few sheets so that I can later add additional details.
  • Logs: Simplicity is the key to brilliance. Often, you don’t need premade templates, you can simply log your daily activities – list of things that have occurred today. At what time did you wake up, who did you meet, how much money you’ve spent and for what.
  • Answer some tough questions: Above all, taking notes should also answer some serious questions: “Should I get married?”; “Do I love what I do?”; “What should I do with my life?”; “Why I am so lazy and how I can change that?”. This daily exercise isn’t a personal platform for bragging. The main idea is to become a better person.

Consistency: once we know what we’re going to write about, we just need to ensure that we will actually do it for more than a day. This one is hard, AF. The answer is simple. Just keep on doing it. Set an alarm. Tell someone to remind you if needed. Put a sticky note on your mirror with the word “write” on it. Soon you will build momentum and it will naturally become a habit. Your hand will desire the meeting with the paper.

Your way: Typing the word journal on YouTube, will trigger a search and load thousands of videos about how to journal. Big bold letters, different type, and color of stickers, markers, highlighters, rulers, pens, but above all, fancy notebooks. Their journals look more like a painting than a personal diary. Personally, I don’t even know when they have the time to actually write words inside.6

Do it your way. Write what YOU want. Not what others are saying. Different people have different needs and blindly following people online won’t transform your life. Yes, it’s a good idea to “steal” things that will work for you, but other than that, you are on your own and you decide what stuff will be present in your daily journal. Forget what’s the “best way”.”My way or the highway”. That’s the best way.7

 

To Recap

Remember, you don’t have to spend your whole morning writing. The only rule is to write continuously. That’s the only way to make the most of this exercise.

Doodle, mind-map, sketch, list your favorite things, the names of your friends, vacation spots, make funny drawings on each page. Do everything you want. Unlock your personality and let your thoughts fill the pages without any restrictions. What you ultimately want is an honest, intimate conversation with yourself, about yourself. That’s the only way to connect your inner self, your body, your dreams and your purpose in life.

If after reading every-single-word in this article, you’re still not convinced that this practice is actually good for your, I failed. Failed with making my case strong and convincing enough. There is nothing more than I can say than, simple try. Seriously, give it a week. It’s enough to see the results.

Do you keep a personal journal? – share in the comments section below.

 


Footnotes:

  1. Writing has been invented independently in the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. The cuneiform script, created in Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq, ca. 3200 BC, was first. You can read the full story here – LINK
  2. Since we’re rarely writing, I thought that fewer trees are cut down with each passing year. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you want to help to keep our forests, do your part and plant a tree.
  3. You can see the full daily schedule of Ben Franklin by pressing on this link here – LINK.
  4. He also kept a list of 13 virtues which reminded him what’s important. Each week he would specifically focus on one virtue while also keeping track of the others – LINK.
  5. I love the site artofmanliness.com, the journal they offer also looks great, still, the price is quite high. I doesn’t make sense to spend so much money for something this basic. The journal is simply a journal. You can check the one here – LINK. Clean and affordable.
  6.  Sorry, youtubers, I over exaggerated a bit. Still, the well-designed videos about creating the “perfect” personal journal are only a facade. In the real world, you will rarely have two perfectly aligned lines.
  7. Like Fred Durst sings in the song My Way by Limp Bizkit – LINK

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