I like studying successful people. And as I’ve written a bunch of times on this blog, there are two daily habits that many successful people have in common. One is meditation (which I’ve written about previously) and the other, the focus of today’s topic, is journaling.
I used to think that keeping a journal or diary is a girly / sissy thing. And it is. 🙂
At least it is, if you write down crap like what you had for breakfast and random touchy feely thoughts…
But, I’ve found that journaling the RIGHT way has been IMMENSELY beneficial for me.
Below you can read all about the techniques I use for my own journal writing including examples taken from my actual journal entries (excuse the handwriting, I am a doctor after all!)
What have been some of the benefits?
(1) It keeps me in a positive frame of mind.
(2) It makes me feel good.
(3) It focusses my life towards achieving the things that are important to me.
(4) Instead of letting the days roll by, I take the opportunity to grow, learn, improve and repeat the cycle so that I get 1% better each day.
How I got started with journaling
From listening to loads of podcasts, especially the Tim Ferriss Podcast, it was quite apparent that many top performers keep a journal. Tim does, so does Josh Waitzkin (Chess Prodigy), Robert Rodriguez (the Producer / Director), the list goes on.
My business partner, who like me is quite fascinated by the stock market, used to follow a bloke by the name of Alexander Elder who teaches trading and I remember one of the key things he mentioned was that ALL successful traders keep detailed records of their trades.
These data points kind of converged for me and I figured that I better give it a go. Besides, I really like the written medium and I know it can help clarify my thoughts better.
So I had started journaling somewhat haphazardly and inconsistently.
At the time I was visiting in Australia, and I was chatting with a good friend of mine Daniel Dobos about journaling and he mentioned that he had been doing this for quite a long time himself. He revealed to me the system that he uses for journaling and challenged me to use his system for 7 days and to judge the benefits for myself…
As a side note, this system of creating mini “experiments” is immensely helpful at ingraining new habit.
My Journaling Technique
The journaling format that I’m using at the moment is a bit of a hodge podge of ideas that I’ve taken from various places, including from Daniel Dobos, Muoyo Okome and the concepts presented in the book “The Slight Edge” and insights from reading Martin Seligman’s books and studies on the effect of gratitude on wellbeing.
How often and when should you journal?
I recommend making this a daily habit. Firstly, at least for me, it is extremely beneficial.
This is the type of thing that I feel for myself is either all or none.
You either make this a habit in your life or it won’t really happen.
For me personally I normally journal before I go to bed as a summary of the day. Tim Ferriss on the other hand likes to journal as part of his morning routine. Josh Waitzkin updates his journal throughout the day, for example recording insights following meditation, working with clients, etc.
Choose whatever time fits best with your daily routine.
How long does it take?
I’d recommend time-boxing about 10 minutes for journaling.
I sometimes write less if I have a late night, sometimes more if I’m inspired and in the mood or have some idea or exercise I’m working on.
But I find 10 minutes is a good time, because it is hard to say that you don’t have 10 minutes in the day to do this…
What should you actually write in the journal?
One over-riding principle for me is to always keep the journal POSITIVE.
Don’t write about how sad you feel or how crap your day was. This is exactly the WRONG way to go about it. Because then you will shift your focus to the negative.
So here are the actual sections that I use in the journal:
1) What Went Well Today and Why?
This is based off Martin Seligman’s and others’ research into well being which has found that writing down things that you are grateful for can have a positive impact on well being.
The above wording is exactly the wording that Martin Seligman used in his studies and I quite like how instead of just writing what went well you go into a bit more depth as to why.
At the very minimum, write down 3 things that went well during the day in this section.
2) Insights & Ideas
In this section I write about any interesting insights or ideas that I have had during the day.
This is an area I sometimes neglect in my journaling, but it IS important.
I would suggest taking onboard Jame Altucher’s suggestion to write AT LEAST 10 ideas on a particular topic each day, to get your “idea muscle” working. For example: 10 business ideas; 10 ways to improve your relationships; 10 ways to improve a particular skill.
3) One Thing
Here I write the ONE thing that will significantly move me towards my goals.
This is a strategic task or activity. The concept is taken from the book of the same name, “The One Thing”, by Gary Keller. In his book, Gary Keller suggest to use the following framework when thinking about your “One Thing”:
What is the ONE THING, that if accomplished will make everything else EASIER or UNNECESSARY.
I usually try and accomplish my “One Thing” first thing or at least early in the day. If I’ve done that then I know the day is already a “success”.
In this section I’ll write out my major goals in life at the moment (at the moment I break this down into the following sections: Romantic, Social, Business).
I write each goal in the present tense as if I have already achieved it and I put a date to it.
Each goal should ideally be broken up into an Outcome Goal and a Process Goal.
This is a fairly recent addition to my journaling habit, but I find that writing down my goals each and every day is extremely powerful.
Normally we drift through life somewhat aimlessly, responding to event rather than creating our own futures.
By writing down my goals each day, I am focussing myself on the things that really matter to me.
I think also writing the goals in the present tense helps to make the goal feel real and helps give me a feeling of certainty about it, which in turn will actually help me accomplish the goal.
Another interesting benefit of writing down the goals each day is that I am constantly refining and honing my goals until it sits “just right” with me.
You can probably relate that sometimes what you want isn’t fully clear. “Goals? How do I decide my goals, I’m not even sure what I want?!” I hear you say…
Well when writing down your goals each day, start with your best “guesstimate”. Each day change the wording slightly, add different phrases and see how it feels. When you find a goal that resonates well with you keep that as the base and either leave as is, or keep honing it.
Setting goals is such a KEY part of success – without goals you are just drifting aimlessly. Once you have a clear goal then you can make a plan to achieve it. If you don’t have a goal, you can’t formulate a plan and you can’t succeed.
5) The Weekly Review
This is something that I haven’t fully stuck to, but I DO find this useful. This is part of Daniel’s technique that he taught me.
At the end of each week, go sit down at a cafe (it helps to get out of your normal environment) and review all your journal entries from the past week. (Sometimes I will look back much further than the past week).
Use the same headings that I outlined above and make a summary of all the most important points in each section and perhaps add some new ones.
This weekly review gives you another opportunity to really highlight the most important achievements, insights and ideas so that you can appreciate what you have accomplished and make sure that you implement the most important points.
6) Thought Exercises
You shouldn’t limit your journaling to just the headings I’ve mentioned above.
I don’t do this as a regular exercise, because these can take more time, but these exercises can be immensely beneficial.
Take a particular topic and focus in on it. For example: “What are the qualities that I’m looking for in my life partner?”.
I’ll write a post later with lots of ideas for these “thought exercises” that you and I both could find useful.
Final Thoughts On Journaling
As I wrote above, journaling is a relatively new habit that I’ve taken on, but the effects have been TREMENDOUS for me.
I feel better as a result of the journaling and especially as a result of keeping the journal focussed on the positive (I have a tendency to be quite “negative” thinking and this helps pull my thoughts towards a positive and more helpful direction). This is backed up by plenty of studies on gratitude (I’ll make a summary of these studies in future).
Keeping a journal is key to making life a process of learning. It ensure that I take some time each day to pause, think what went well, brainstorm ideas and actually LEARN from my day, rather than letting time slip through my fingers without growing in some way. It is SO important.
It helps me work out what is important to me in life, helps me understand what my goals are and then keep these goals top of mind so that I can actually achieve them and fully realize my potential. That’s pretty big. 🙂
And making sure that each day I write down the ONE KEY THING to accomplish for the next day helps make each day count, knowing that I have done something, even something small, that somehow moves me towards my ultimate life goals.
So – journaling ain’t for sissies. Give it a go! I dare you!