Journaling is very powerful. In recent months, it has helped me deal with some quite traumatic events in my life. It has also helped me stay focused on my business and personal goals and increase my productivity.
If you stick at it, journaling can become an important and life-enhancing part of your daily routine. So, it’s certainly a habit worth fostering.
But, it’s quite easy to drift away from your journaling habit despite the best of intentions.
In fact, that is exactly what has happened to me on a number of occasions over the last decade or so.
I’ll start journaling and keep it going for a few days or even a week or so. Then, I’ll let it slide and before long whatever journaling app I happen to be using remains unopened and largely forgotten.
Until the next time I decide to start journaling. And then the pattern repeats and I let the habit slide again.
But, this time around, I’ve managed to keep my journaling habit strong for several months. Finally, the habit has stuck and I’m very pleased that it has.
So, what was different this time? I’ve pondered this question deeply and I’ve concluded that, for me at least, keeping a journaling habit alive and well encompasses three main elements.
Tools, commitment, and, most importantly, mindset.
Choose the Right Tools
I use Day One, which is an elegant and intuitive journaling solution that currently meets all of my needs. I use it on my computer and my phone so my journal is never far away from me.
The app is easy to use so I can fire it up and start writing straight away. And, it allows me to keep multiple journals, which is an important factor for me.
But, of course, we are all different, and our journaling tools need to encompass our differences and closely fit our specific goals and requirements.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of tool choices. There are plenty of software solutions available for different platforms if you want to journal digitally. You could use an online journaling service such as Penzu or download a standalone application like Day One.
Or, you could go analogue and use any number of paper based journals from cheap and simple notebooks to elegant leather-bound tomes.
Or, you could even use a combination of digital and analogue approaches.
But, regardless of the approach you favour, it’s worth spending some time and thought collecting a good set of journaling tools that specifically fit your needs. It really doesn’t matter if you go digital or analogue so long as the tools you choose are easy to use and you have everything you need to journal close by when you need it.
If you take a software approach, make sure that you thoroughly explore how your chosen program or service works so that you don’t need to think about it at journaling time. And, make sure that it’s easily accessible from the device or devices that you want to use it on.
If you take an analogue approach, make sure that you have a good supply of your chosen paper journals ready plus a collection of good quality pens or pencils. You don’t want to miss out on a journaling session because you’ve run out of notebooks to write in or all of the pens have dried up or gone missing. And keep your notebooks and pens somewhere handy and secure.
Make a Commitment
I’ve committed myself to a five minute journaling session each day before I go to bed. Regardless of what else is happening, I’ll do my five minutes. It’s not hard to dedicate such a short amount of time to a task even if you are busy or tired. So, sticking to this little goal is not difficult.
Even if I don’t feel like journaling on a particular day, I’ll still fire up my software at my allotted time and start jotting something down. I don’t sit there thinking about what to write. I just whack out some words. Any random words will do to get me started.
I almost always find that, once I start, I write for a lot longer than five minutes.
But, if I’m having an off day, and I do only write for my scheduled five minutes, then at least I’ve kept my journaling habit alive and well.
Even if I’ve added entries to my journals during the day, I’ll still stay true to my five minute bedtime journaling session.
After several months, this habit has become entrenched, which, of course, is exactly what I wanted to happen.
So, if you want to foster your journaling habit, commit to a regular session each day and make it as simple and easy as you can to stick to this commitment.
Foster a Good Mindset
Tools and commitment are important, but approaching journaling with a good mindset is vital.
First and foremost, journaling must be a selfish endeavour.
In “On Writing”, Stephen King talks about having an Ideal Reader in mind when writing. And, subconsciously or otherwise, most of us who write material for public consumption will probably have an Ideal Reader in our thoughts as we work.
But, when journaling, your Ideal Reader must be YOU and you alone.
Don’t write for anybody else. Don’t write with the idea that friends and family might one day read it. Don’t even write for some imagined distant descendant who might retrieve your journal from a dusty box in the attic or a forgotten computer file.
Perhaps this approach might seem self evident. But, it’s easy to fall into the Ideal Reader trap when journaling without even realising it. At least it was for me.
Somehow, this rather intrusive imagined reader begins standing over your shoulder watching you write in your journal. And, as a result, the whole journaling dynamic changes. You start self-censoring a little. You start editing for clarity. You start correcting unimportant spelling and grammar mistakes. You start reading over what you’ve just written with that pesky Ideal Reader in mind.
Before long, it’s as if you are writing a blog post or a report or a fiction piece rather than pouring your thoughts and ideas and angst and joy into a private vault that nobody will see but you.
The Ideal Reader mindset robs journaling of a lot of its power and benefit. And, I think that letting Ideal Reader hang around was one of the main reasons that I drifted away from journaling in the past. Journaling became just another chore and you begin questioning its value.
So, this time around, I’ve consciously fostered the “me as the ideal reader” mindset as I journal and it’s made a big difference.
Forget totally what Ideal Reader might think of the thoughts and ideas you’ve jotted down. Don’t let him or her judge you. So long as you understand what you’ve written, it matters not one iota if there are convoluted sentences, misspellings, or dodgy grammar that might trip up Ideal Reader.
When you are journaling, banish Ideal Reader to another room and ban him or her from reading your stuff. He or she is probably quite useful when you write for the public, but otherwise, be gone!
So for me, a good journaling mindset entails ensuring that I’m writing purely for myself. Ideal Reader is not welcome here.
This mindset is liberating and can truly help you get more out of your journaling.
Of course, there are exceptions. Perhaps you do intend your journal (or at least one of your journals) to be a permanent record of your life and times. And, if you ARE writing this journal for posterity, then you may well want to spend more time editing for grammar and readability. And that is perfectly fine.
But, that is not why I journal. And, if distant descendants do happen across my journal and come to the conclusion that great-great-great grandad was more than a little strange, then so be it. They may well be right, at that!