In a previous blog post, I explored the major benefits of daily journaling. As I mentioned, keeping a journal can help increase your productivity, creativity and well being. Studies show that writing in a journal every day can remove mental blocks and therefore help uncover insight.
But sticking to a journaling habit isn’t easy. For one, many people may not consider it cool. If you tell your friends about it, you’ll likely get a lot of “Dear Diary” jokes.
Another problem: this habit can be excruciating. When I first started journaling, I spent a lot of time sitting in front of a blank page unsure what to write about. And if I wrote something, I worried that what I had there was junk, perhaps even embarrassing.
And unlike many habits, journaling isn’t particularly technologically advanced, new or sexy. Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius kept a journal back in the day, putting down his thoughts on Stoicism. Similarly, the artist Leonardo da Vinci kept notebooks where he wrote everything down.
Journaling isn’t a shiny, new life hack.
“When I first started journaling, I spent a lot of time sitting in front of a blank page unsure what to write about.”
While journaling isn’t new though, it is a useful habit to pick up. And as I mentioned in a previous blog post, journaling is one of two new habits that I found most useful this year. (In case you’re wondering, the other one is meditation.)
So if you’re having a hard time making this habit stick, here are a few tactics that worked for me—and they might work for you as well.
Pick a time
Many people, like The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron, write in their journals in the morning. Others do it in the evening. The hardcore people—like Tribe of Mentors and Tools of Titans author Tim Ferriss—do it in both morning and night.
The best time to journal is the time that consistently works for you. If that happens to be on your commute to work, then so be it. If it’s just after dinner, that’s also great. The key is to pick a time you can always stick to—a time of day when you always have a few minutes for reflection.
Do it the old-school way
If you’re a tech-savvy person, you might be tempted to do your journaling through your computer or your phone. Don’t do it. The good ol’ pen and paper will do.
Why? For one, less distractions. Most people, when in front of the computer, automatically go to social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. It’s a habit so embedded for most of us. But checking out what your friends are up to on social media is a sure-fire way of failing at journaling.
Many studies also suggest that writing by hand can increase your creativity in a way that typing can’t. You’d be a lot slower, but often, that slowness is actually the point. It allows you to think more critically and more consciously than if you were simply typing your thoughts in a Word document.
If journaling is new to you, I would highly recommend avoiding freeform-writing. Starting with a blank page is intimidating. It’s discouraging. You wouldn’t be able to pick this up as a habit if you have to get over the fear of writing on a blank page every time.
My suggestion: introduce some structure to your journaling by answering the same questions everyday. Your questions could change over time, but I suggest starting with a handful ones, including:
- What am I thankful for today?
- What’s something new that I learned today?
- What are some of my proudest achievements today?
Just a word of caution: the quality of your questions will determine the quality of your journaling habit. So I’d steer away from negative questions unless you’re using them to plan a better strategy. The question “what could I improve on?” is much better than “what went wrong today?”
Don’t edit or read
In my job, I get paid to write. I get paid to look for the right phrasing, to uncover the right words to communicate the right message. So as I was trying to pick up journaling as a habit, I found myself editing as I wrote. I’d stop and think of the right word—the more accurate and articulate word. But then I’d get frustrated with the process and I’d stop and do something else. Editing was inhibiting my journaling.
The habit of journaling became more fluid and easy for me when I stopped editing myself. I didn’t worry about spelling. I didn’t worry about tenses. I didn’t even worry if I was writing sentences or just random words.
The idea of journaling isn’t to write beautiful prose. The idea is to get things out of your head to make space for better ideas. No teacher or boss will check your journal for grammatical issues, so don’t worry about them. Just write.
Don’t sweat it
If you miss a day, don’t worry about it too much. Just try to do it again the next day. Eventually, it will feel weird not to do it. Eventually, it will become a habit. Faltering once in a while is fine—the point is to pick up again as soon as you can.
Perhaps most importantly, have fun with it. Journaling is a good way to reflect, to keep your random thoughts ideas somewhere. But journaling isn’t supposed to be for public consumption. So don’t worry about your journal being too silly. Don’t worry about doing it “right” because there isn’t a right way of doing it. Do it your own way. Eventually you’ll find journaling a reinvigorating—and natural—part of your daily routine.
P.S. In a future blog post, I’ll share the questions I answer in my own journal. Subscribe to get that article first!