The written word is unquestionably one of the most powerful ideas invented by mankind.
One of the best ways you can use the written world to improve your life is by journaling.
But keeping a journal can be a daunting task. Hard to do consistently and difficult to make time for.
Learn the easiest way to get started journaling (and succeed) below.
Many of the world’s greatest achievers have used a journal as a tool to help them be successful. And not just in one domain of human innovation.
You can find consistent journaling among many different brilliant thinkers and inventors, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein. And great leaders and politicians such as George Washington, Winston Churchill and Marcus Aurelius.
Even successful athletes such as Katie Ledecky and Serena Williams are known to keep near daily journals.
Of course science has studied this phenomenon and research shows that journaling improves self confidence and self belief (1). Without confidence and belief in yourself how can you ever hope to succeed at anything?
In fact there are many benefits to journaling, almost too many to list. Writer and entrepreneur James Clear (2) lists the following about journaling:
- Provides the opportunity to learn new lessons from old experiences
- Sharpens your memory
- Motivates you to make the most of every day
- Provides proof of your progress
Thai Nguyen, a writer for the Huffington Post, lists these (3):
- Stretches your IQ
- Helps you to evoke mindfulness
- Helps goal achievement
- Improves Emotional Intelligence
- Boosts memory and comprehension
- Strengthens self discipline
- Improves communication skills
- Helps healing
- Sparks creativity
- Improves self-confidence
With all these benefits why don’t more people journal? And why do they often fail when they decide to take up the habit?
Why don’t people journal
I believe there are just two reasons why people don’t take advantage of this great tool:
1 - Bad personal experiences
2 - Too hard to keep up consistently
Bad Personal Experiences
I was not a good student for most of my educational career(4). And writing was always the worst.
I dreaded any class that involved any writing. And as I am sure you know, our school system demands a lot of writing.
Being forced to do something you don’t enjoy is a great way to ensure you hate it even more. This is a poor long-term strategy because one day you finish school (or drop out) and then you won’t be writing anymore, no matter what the benefits of the practice might be.
If you aren't someone who naturally loves writing, you probably have a similar story. Years of being forced into journaling for a class or writing about topics that don’t interest you or that you don’t care about made writing something that you only did when you needed to.
This usually leaves us only writing for mundane functional tasks like “To-Do” lists and answering emails for work. That is the end of most adults’ writing practice.
The solution to this is to write about things that matter to you. Things that you care about.
And to make it even easier there are additional ways to minimize your resistance to the process of writing (discussed later in this article). Journaling (like many worthwhile things in life) is a process. It is about enjoying the moment instead of rushing to the end as quickly as possible.
Too hard to keep up consistently
Some people love writing and want to keep journals and often write stories or even books.
But still can’t seem to actually do it.
In general when you want to do something and enjoy doing it the only reason you aren’t doing it is it is simply too hard.
Making time to write for an hour a day while balancing work, family, hobbies and other obligations is just not realistic for many people.
When people believe that they have to do an hour or fill a page every day, what often happens is they end up doing nothing. The task is just too hard to do.
How can we make this easy enough that you can do it and do it consistently?
The easiest way to get started with journaling is something called The One Sentence Journal. (5)
Just like the name implies, instead of filling a page or writing for an hour you just write one sentence.
If you have a long history of hating writing then write about something that you care about. This could be something interesting you would like to remember, something you are passionate about, really anything you want.
Just one sentence.
If you love writing and just can’t find the time to do it consistently then just one sentence will take you all of 15-30 seconds.
You can find 15-30 seconds in your day.
And for these people often just getting started is the hardest part. Once you write your one sentence then feel free to write more. But don’t feel obligated.
All or nothing thinking usually gets you nothing.
Feeling obligated makes this task harder, and when it is harder it is easier to put it off and not get it done.
What if you don’t know what to write?
Some people may have problems figuring out what to do with their one sentence for the day.
No worries–I have a solution for that as well!
Use a prompt.
Some of my favorite recommendations are:
What happened today? (Daily Journal)
What am I grateful for today? (Gratitude Journal)
What is my most important task? (Productivity Journal)
How did I sleep last night? (Sleep Journal)
What did I dream about last night? (Dream Journal)
How do I feel today? (Mood Journal)
There are a few ways that you can use prompts to help you. You could pick a new prompt every day or stick with the same prompt for a week or a month.
I personally like using the same prompt for a month so that I don’t have to spend the mental energy to decide what my topic will be. This helps me keep the task easy enough that I can do it every day with my busy life.
The Multi-Year Journal
A slightly more complicated (but interesting) variation on this is something known as a multi-year journal.
Often these are 5 years (not for any particular reason I can find other than it is a nice number) and the concept works like this:
Write the prompt for the day (or month or year) along with the date.
Write your one sentence on the following line with the year.
Mark the next 4 lines with the next four years and leave them blank.
After the year is complete you return to the beginning and using the same prompt write your new entry on the line below the previous year’s entry.
While I have never done this version myself it sounds like an interesting way to see how you grow and mature over the years. You can also see how your life is similar or different than it was in past years.
What time is the best time to journal?
Whatever time you will do it!
But when creating a new habit it is easiest if you can use a consistent time of day and a reminder to do it.
For most people this means first thing in the morning or last thing in the day.
Pick whichever works for you, and if you can’t decide - flip a coin.
Try what the coin says first and if it doesn't work out try the other one.
If that doesn’t work then try linking it to another daily task.
I personally have made the one sentence part of my sleep ritual.
So right after I get in bed I grab the journal from the bedside table, write my one sentence and then close my eyes for a restful night’s sleep.
Always start small.
Keep things easy and simple. You can always do more later.
But the first step is doing what you can do, and doing that consistently.
The 15 to 30 seconds a day that it takes to write one sentence is a great place to start.
And many of us don’t need to do anything more and we can still receive the great benefits that journaling on a regular basis can bring into our lives.
1 - https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ888412.pdf
2 - https://jamesclear.com/journaling-one-sentence
3 - https://www.huffpost.com/entry/benefits-of-journaling-_b_6648884
4 - It’s worth noting that on my latest attempt at getting a bachelor’s degree I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA
5 - Or a “One Line Journal” same idea but different measuring tool.