366 Days of Journaling: the Journey!

How I managed to write on my journal every single day of 2016

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When journaling was a thing…and then it disappeared

For years during my adult life I struggled with starting a journal. You know, simple, personal daily journaling where we sit down and write about our day. It doesn’t need to be public. It is a space that is all ours, with our own reflections and sorrows.

The weird thing is that I remember having lots of “Diaries” when I was young. I enjoyed writing on my “Diary”. It was a daily practice that soothed my pre and adolescent despair. I decorated it with drawings. I even did collages with small souvenirs of my young adventures. By the end of the year, my diary was huge!! And kept them hidden from view, of course.

What happened to this habit? It has suddenly disappeared by the time I entered the “grown-up” stage of my life. I don’t remember when it was exactly, but it just happened. Poof! One day I was journaling, the other I was more interested in, what? Internet? Sometimes I wonder if the Internet destroyed some of my habits. It probably did… See, I grew up without internet and then this new amazing technology appeared and dominated me. It was fascinating. Maybe it is Internet’s fault…I don’t know.

Anyway, when I reached my 30’s and started to worry about productivity, I found out that there is such a thing as adult journaling!

Wait, what? Adults have diaries too?

I wondered how I could start this habit. There are tons of articles online stating that journaling is good for your brain, good for stress-management, good for creativity and so on.

How I started journaling: Evernote!

First, I convinced myself that journaling was a good habit to nurture, because I felt my life was passing too fast before my eyes. Journaling would help me with that!

Then, I did a little research and decided that I wanted:

  • a private journal (only I can access, I didn’t want the world to know about my frustrations)
  • in electronic form (let’s save trees)
  • accessible on all my devices (cellphone, desktop at home/work, tablet)

So, I started simple. Since I already used Evernote, I decided that I could create a notebook called “My Journal” and go from there. My first entry was 15th November 2012.

But I didn’t keep the daily routine. My entries were sporadic. And reading back these first entries, they are kinda depressing. I only sat down to write when I was feeling bad. I wrote when something went wrong in my day, when I felt disappointed. They were a way of trying to make the bad feelings go away.

So, from 2012 to 2015 I had an average of 36 entries per year. That’s pretty low when we are talking about a “Daily” Journal. I thought that writing was too difficult. I had to find an appropriate time to sit down and “drudge through the drudgery”.

It was not a habit. I knew I was having benefits from it, but I only bothered to write when I was really needing some mental relief. It was not consistent.

The quest for consistency: Miracle Morning + Five Minute Journal

Being a morning person

In the beginning of 2016, I decided I would change. By January I was journaling every other day, usually before bed. By this time I read the book “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod. I was searching for some incentive to do more things in the morning because I enjoy mornings. I’m convinced I’m a morning person.

Actually, the first article that caught my attention on the subject was this one here. And then I naturally stumbled upon Hal Elrod’s book. Well, I will not get into the book’s details here, but I’ll say that this book convinced me of the need of consistency and structure. And for a habit to stick, you gotta keep pushing. So, I completed the “30 day Miracle Morning Challenge” on 1st March, 2016! And I was ready to include journaling into my morning daily routine.

During March 2016 I wrote 30 journal entries! That was great! The habit stuck with me!! But I was still writing about the worst part of my life, I was missing shinny, happy thoughts in my musings.

Discovering the Five Minute Journal

Everything changed for me when I heard about the “Five Minute Journal” method! This a type of daily gratitude journal, where you write during 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening. It is straightforward and it was the perfect formula to my straightforward mind.

Originally, the Five Minute Journal is a physical journal, where you have the parts already printed out and you fill them in every day. Like this:

The Five Minute Journal

As I am an adopter of a more digital life, I found out that I could set up a template on Evernote and use IFTTT to create a note everyday for me to fill in. You can find a recipe here. My sections were the following:

MORNING:

  • Three things I am Grateful for… (ideas: past relationships, opportunity you have today,something great that happened yesterday,something simple near you)
  • What Would Make Today Great?
  • Daily Affirmations, I am…

EVENING:

  • Three Amazing Things That Happened Today…
  • How Could I Have Made Today Better?
  • Other:
  • 10 ideas:

The optimized version to keep it up: “What have I learned today?”

After a while I tweaked the structure a little and created my own version of the Five Minute Journal.

First, I never used the space for the “10 ideas”. I (un)fortunately don’t have too many ideas in a day. So, I changed it to 3 daily ideas and that was more than enough.

Second, I used to have the question “How Could I Have Made Today Better?” as one of the entries of my journal. And I could never answer this question, I always skipped it. Week after week this space was left blank. Why was that?

I write on my journal in two moments of the day: early morning, after I meditate, and right before bed, when I’m usually tired.

In the evening, thinking about what I could have changed in my day tires me. It frustrates me. I prefer to go to sleep in a more positive vibe.

I don’t want to think about what might have happened. The past stays in the past and there’s nothing we can do about it. Answering this question was making me feel depressed.

As a matter of fact, I know that the purpose of this question is to make us reflect on our actions and then pursue better habits. But this question wasn’t working for me because I felt like I had failed. Maybe this question is not compatible with my introverted personality type (INTJ) with perfectionist tendencies.

Then, one day, a light came down on me while I was listening to this podcast episode about journaling: The Productivityist Podcast: Zachary Sexton. (Thanks Zachary Sexton!) His structure of journaling includes a question: “What have I learned today?”.

So, instead of asking myself “How Could I Have Made Today Better” I decided to ask “What have I learned today?”. That small change makes so much more sense to my brain! I LOVE learning! Learning is something I do constantly, I crave for it everyday. So that was decided!

My journal entries look like this:

My Journal Template on Evernote

I replaced the “pessimist” question with a more “constructive” one for my good old brain. And this reflexive final moment keeps me wanting to get back to it daily. It helped me stick with the habit.

Result: 366 days of journaling!

It turns out I wrote 366 journal entries in 2016! Achievement unlocked! The result of all these strategies is visible on the following graph:

My Journal Entries from 2012–2016

So, in a nutshell, the strategy that worked was:

  1. Finding an automated tool to create a template with inspiring sections, that compels me to write;
  2. Building a daily habit by doing a challenge and pushing through the first 30 days;
  3. Focusing on the rewards to keep it up!

I’m using The Five Minute Journal template since March 2016 and I can say it had positive effects in my life. The daily gratitude habit brings me inner peace and makes me a more generous person. I recommend it!

What about you? Do you have any journaling habits and tips? What works for you?

Thanks for reading!

References:

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Posted by

Nerdy. Minimalist in progress, swimmer, skeptic. I love reading so I don't leave without my Kindle.

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