Everyone I meet talks about the virtue of keeping a journal. Only a handful of people do it. If my experience is any guideline, I understand the struggle to keep it up.
For the past year, I’ve practiced a daily journal routine. My first attempt was several years ago. Since then I tried every type of journal exercise preached by various guru’s.
First, it was an idea journal. That didn’t last.
Then I tried the gratitude journal. That lasted about a week. I tried to try the notorious bullet journal. Too complicated and impractical as a daily exercise — at least for me.
Only one journal format has stuck with me.
It’s childlike simple but effective. I use a cheap spiral notebook and a ballpoint pen.
It requires ten to fifteen minutes of my time before bed.
The contents of my journal fuel my daily writing habit. It has allowed me to write every single day for almost a year.
I never worry about writer’s block because my journal provides me an endless list of experiences to draw upon.
Here is how it works.
I use a cheap spiral bound notebook. I bought a bunch at Target for $1.99 each. A 100-page notebook will last you two to three months.
Begin your journaling each night before you go to bed. In your journal, write down ten to twelve experiences from your day. The experience could be anything. It could be something you experience yourself or something you observe.
You might overhear an interesting conversation at a coffee shop. You might spill a full cup of coffee on your pants in the middle of a meeting. Maybe you witness a bout of road rage on your commute to work. Whatever it is, write it down. Avoid any kind of filtering.
Once you complete your experiences, write down one to three thoughts you obsessed over during the day. What anxieties, worries or dreams occupied your mind? Maybe you’re angry at your spouse for taking the last piece of cake. Were you obsessing over a difficult conversation? Again, no filtering. Whatever the thought is, write it down. Do not judge the quality.
The Daily Grind
What happens when you sit down to write and your mind goes blank?
I will give you a process that helps with recall. Before I get to that, keep one thing in mind. You will improve with practice.
When I begin my journal exercise I start with whatever pops in my head first. It’s always an event or thought that holds the most meaning to me.
Next, I start chronologically. I begin from the minute I wake up. This morning I pulled out of my driveway without my coffee. I wrote that down in my journal.
Here’s how you can cheat.
Take notes whenever you experience something interesting. Yesterday, a guy stopped me on the street and asked for directions to a landmark. It turns out, he wasn’t even in the right city. Right after that experience, I jotted it down in my notes app.
By the end of the day, I usually have three to five experiences I pull from my notes.
As you do this you get better at noticing experiences for your journal.
Fuel For Writing
Each morning, I put a check mark next to three to five journal entries. Then, I forget about it for an hour. I let it stew in my subconscious. Later, I sit down to write. I pick one entry that seems most interesting that I can tie in with a lesson or learning opportunity. Then I write about it.
I always begin with a personal experience story and then segue into the meaning or lesson.
The experience drives the subject. These examples demonstrate the simplicity.
I signed a credit card bill with a crayon. The restaurant lost its pens.
I wrote a story called the “crayon effect.” How we remember bizarre or unusual experiences and forget the common, everyday experiences.
I felt envy over my neighbor’s green lawn. My lawn looked like crap.
I wrote a story called “How To Sell With Envy — Responsibly”
At a Chipotle with a colleague, the server gave her a tiny bit less chicken. She commented how guys always get a little bit more.
I wrote a story detailing how this kid in his early 20’s handled the situation. He followed the three golden rules of persuasion like a pro.
Take It To The Next Level
Pick a handful of entries in your journal. Ask yourself what it teaches you about yourself, people or life. You won’t find answers all the time. Once in awhile, you will find one of those aha moments that lead to growth.
Before You Go…
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