The quality of my relationships, the success of my business, and the progress of my day have a direct correlation with one practice: honest reflection.
But don’t take my word for it. I’m mirroring the example set by people much smarter than me. Joan Didion, Anais Nin, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Ralph Waldo Emerson all credited journaling as a way to clarify what you believe, what you care about, and what you can do or stop doing to actualize it.
Journaling is one of the best practices to improve mental wellbeing, communication, and cognitive consonance.
A study conducted by Harvard Business School, demonstrated that participants who journaled at the end of the day had a 25% increase in performance when compared with a control group who did not journal. Another study from Stanford University demonstrated the powerful relationship between speaking and writing; in other words, becoming a better communicator.
Psychologist John Dewey described: “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Whether you want to analyze your thoughts as you navigate a tough time, identify creative ways to rekindle love and desire in your relationships, or outline your goals for the year, a journaling practice has been the most effective technique for clarifying what I want and what’s holding me back.
Now, journaling can take time, which is a scarce commodity these days. As COVID-19 continues to affect our day-to-day lives and working from home makes the days blur together, it can be hard to fathom carving out time for journaling. But for those who desire to be more thoughtful in their daily lives and engage in a deeper method of self-reflection, journaling is too important not to prioritize.
Here are just a few ways I’ve been able to clear up my schedule and make room for a journaling practice that encourages self-reflection and inevitably improves the quality of my life.
1. Microdose journaling
In an age of increasing numbers of streaming services, it’s hard to let go of the fact that you can pretty much watch whatever you want whenever you want. What’s more is that practically every hot, must-watch thing is a TV show instead of a movie, which means even more time glued to a screen competing with an activity that can enrich your life.
I like a good binge as much as the next guy, but there’s a time and a place for that.
Fortunately, journaling, like high-intensity exercise, can pack a strong punch in small doses. So, on that note, start small!
Commit to writing a bad 150 words, half a page, or timebox to 14-minute writing sessions. Eliminating the expectation of having to write a poetic novel every time you put pen to paper can be the difference between a fun thing you did once and a daily habit capable of transforming your life. Simply writing down a few lines or even just a few words can work wonders and help you get your thoughts and feelings in order.
2. Schedule it in your day
Pick a time of day with the least competing priorities that you can schedule into your daily calendar, such as first thing in the morning or at the end of the day in bed. This is a meaningful first step to remind you of a priority daily practice. I’ve found this alone often isn’t sufficient to maintain the habit, but at the very least you can leave it on your calendar. Regardless of the consistency and frequency of your journaling, the constant reminder is an important nudge you’ll want.
3. Don't overthink it, keep it simple
If you’re stuck on what to write about, simply start from the morning and work your way through the day, writing down events and interactions that took place. As you do, you’ll find yourself elaborating and reflecting on the events and actions that deserve it. Whatever you do, focus time and attention on yourself, the only thing you can control.
4. Be pragmatic and maximize utility
If you’re like me, any activity without a clear value proposition feels like a waste of time. Even though I understand the value conceptually, I will always find something else with a more clearly defined return on investment to replace it. What’s been helpful to keep clear the value of journaling is to use journaling as a way to prioritize strategies and initiatives.
Here’s a template I use to ensure that happens:
- What are my goals? (These don’t change often over time)
- What did I learn today that’s useful?
- What did I do today that meaningfully moved me toward my goals?
- What did I do today that did not move me toward my goals?
- If I could complete only one thing this week, what would it be?
Bottom line: Journaling may seem like a time-consuming activity, but the truth is that taking as little as 14 minutes a day to jot down your thoughts will be worth it in the short term and the long term. It might be worth eliminating the things in your life that are keeping you from pursuing your goals. I think you’ll be amazed by what you can achieve.
1% better, every day in every way.
Founder & CEO of hiitide