How to Journal
Besides being an avid reader of books on all kinds of personal development topics, keeping a journal has probably had the biggest positive influence on my life for the last twelve years.
In fact I would say that if it wasn’t for starting to keep a journal twelve years ago I probably wouldn’t be running a Blog right now. A very big part of my ability to write Blog posts comes from keeping a journal. Long before I ever wrote my first Blog post I already had half a dozen journals full of text.
English is actually not my first language. Before the age of nine, I didn’t even know a single word of English. In high school I didn’t get the highest grades in English and avoided reading/writing like the plague.
If you told me 15 years ago that over the next 15 years I would read over 1,000 books and also run multiple Blogs writing well over 400,000 words of text mostly for fun and enjoyment, I would have told you that you’re nuts. However, that’s exactly what I’ve done and I can largely trace all this back to a single event in my life.
About 12 years go I was watching a video recording of a seminar put together by a very wealthy man and in that video he talked about this tool that has helped him to be ultra successful in life. He explained that this single tool was keeping a daily journal. He had this belief that he shared in the seminar and it simply was:
“If your life is worth living, then it’s worth recording.”
He said it and it really got stuck in my head. He talked about how everywhere he travels around around the world people give him the excuse that they don’t know what to write in a journal every day and that is why they don’t keep one. They tell him that they’ve tried keeping a journal and they stick with it for a few days but then they run out of things to write about.
In response to this excuse he passionately expressed his opinion that if you wake up in the morning and live a full 12-16 hour day and at the end of the day you can’t even write down a couple of sentences about something you did that day, something you learned, something you’re grateful for or some observation you’ve made… then you need to change your life because what kind of life are you living when day in and day out nothing happens?
After watching that video I began keeping a journal. I don’t write in my journals every single day, but I would say that I probably journal daily about 80-90% of the time. Combined with my Blog posts, I would say that not a day goes by without me writing something.
What I wanted to share today is some journaling tips I’ve learned over the years.
Tip #1 – Make Your Journals Private – From the first day when I really got serious about keeping a journal I have always maintained privacy in all of my journals. What I mean by this is that I have an agreement with my wife that she is not allowed to read my journals and nor is anyone else. A long time ago when I first started keeping a journal I didn’t have this strict rule. In fact, I would sometimes show people some stuff I’ve written in my journal, but I found that to be a mistake.
I consider my journals as private as the thoughts in my head. I am completely honest with myself in my journals, so if for example I’m pissed off at someone in my life and I feel like venting I won’t hesitate to do that in my journal. Keeping my journals private allows me to be totally open and honest with my feelings. I don’t hesitate to use colorful language if the occasion calls for it either.
By knowing that my journals won’t be read by anyone else (unless of course I decide to allow that), it gives me the opportunity to be totally honest in my writing and I have found the effect of that to be very therapeutic. For example, when I used to run a business with employees and had a payroll, sometimes I would get really stressed out if we ran into tight cash-flow situations and payroll was just around the corner. In those days, being able to express my worries and stress on paper helped me to worry less. It’s almost as if by writing it down in my journal I told someone and now I wasn’t the only one carrying that on my shoulders.
I am very respectful of my wife’s journals as well. She knows not to read mine and I know not to read hers. Whatever she writes in hers is none of my business. We have agreed that our journals are our own private property and not something we share even with each-other. At least not at this time. Perhaps one day we may decide to share them with each other.
If your living arrangements put you in a position where your journals could potentially be read by a snooping room-mate, or if you don’t feel you can trust your spouse not to read your journal, I would highly recommend finding a way to make your journals private. Even if it means using a password protected software of some sort, or buying a safe to keep your journals in.
Tip #2 – Don’t Try to Force It – If you have a day where you don’t feel like writing anything, don’t try to force it. Don’t feel guilty for missing some days. I don’t even bother trying to write every single day. Some days I’ll pickup my journal and write in it five or six times in one day, while other days I won’t write anything. There’s no point trying to force something. Journaling shouldn’t be a chore. It should be a treat.
I enjoy my journaling sessions. I look forward to them. At first it wasn’t like that, but after a while you may begin to feel like writing in your journal is very similar to having a conversation with your best friend.
Tip #3 – Don’t Try to Chronicle Everything – When I first started journaling I thought that I had to write a chronicle of my day. My journal entries all started out the same way… “Today I woke up at …” etc.
I wouldn’t recommend doing that. It’s boring and tedious. I don’t really see any benefit to doing that anyways. Instead what I do is just write down thoughts, ideas, goals, worries, concepts, projects, or just generally things I’ve learned in a given day. I don’t try to write what happened during every minute of every day.
Sometimes I might highlight major events, such as “Today I bought a new car…” or something like that, but most of the time I just dive into a concept without much structure. I might journal about an idea I just had, and then jump into something I did in the morning, and then I might write about something that happened two weeks prior. I keep the structure very open.
Tip #4 – Get a Quality Journal For Yourself - When I first started journaling I used crappy journals that I bought for $5 and I didn’t end up sticking with it. Then one day I went out and bought a custom made leather-bound journal for $160. The leather cover for it was created by a local artist and I thought it was very beautiful. The journal inside was over 300 lined pages thick so it wasn’t one of those skinny journals you sometimes see.
That was one of the first journals that I filled from cover to cover. By investing that much money into a journal I sent a message to my subconscious mind that I was serious about keeping a journal. Since then I’ve probably filled about a dozen of those journals full.
Tip # 5 – Start Each Entry with a Date and Time – Do yourself a favor and put today’s date and time before each entry. It will make it a lot easier later on when you’re trying to figure out when a journal entry was written. When I first started I didn’t do this consistently and later on I found it really hard to try to figure out what happened when. Now, before I write a single line of text I always put the date and time.
Tip # 6 – Don’t Try to Force a Length for Each Entry - I wouldn’t advise setting a “quota” or “limit” on your entries, such as for example trying to write one page per day. Some of my entries are as short as a few words, while others span for dozens of pages. Let this be a creative open-flow experience. Whatever comes, write it down. If the flow stops, perhaps that’s all there is to write for that day.
I have found that trying to write a specific length of an entry just raises feelings of guilt and frustration and makes the experience a chore rather than something that’s enjoyable.
Tip # 7 – Try Handwriting – I keep handwritten journals. I have tried software based systems but I have always found handwritten journals much more personal and authentic feeling. Writing my journal entries in my own handwriting just feels right. I’m pretty sure that I can type faster than I write, but I still stick with the handwritten system.
If you prefer using a computerized system like a word processor or a journaling software of some sort, that’s totally fine. Use whatever feels right to you. However, I would recommend that everyone try handwritten journaling at least once to see if you feel a deeper connection to your writing.
I prefer to hand write my journals, and use the digital format for writing Blogs posts, eBooks, emails etc.
Tip # 8 – Keep Your Journals Safe – Once you finish a journal, make sure you store it somewhere safe. You may want to consider buying a safe if you don’t already have one and keep your journals in there. Safes can protect your journals not only from snooping eyes, but also could shield them from fire or flooding damage. Imagine if you were given a journal from your great-great-grandfather. Would you take care of it? Treat your journals the same way.
Tip #9 – Consider Multiple Journals – Consider keeping multiple journals on different topics. I keep one general journal where I write most of my content, and then I have some specialty journals as well. For example, I have an ideas journal where I keep track of business/product/service ideas which is separate from my regular journal.
The reason for this is that if I get an idea once every month, it would be a pain in the butt to have to read through all my journal entries to find the ones that have ideas in them. By pulling my ideas out of my general journal and keeping track of them in my ideas journal, it allows me to quickly reference ideas whenever I want to look at them.
I have also started journals on other specific topics such as a martial arts training journal, a dream journal, etc. I actually want to create a new journal now for my psychic development and energy healing.
Tip #10 – Start Immediately – The biggest tip I can offer is to start right away! Even if you can’t afford a fancy journal right away, you can buy a fairly decent journal at most office supply stores for under $10. Don’t bother with the ones that have the date on each page. You want one with just blank pages where you can fill in the dates. Don’t procrastinate, start right away. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
If you have any questions about journaling, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and ask.