I’m not a big fan of habit porn.
You know what I mean — the guides that say “you must wake up at 5 a.m. or else!”
Habits are important, though. Build the right ones and they can change your life.
If I had to pick one habit that can not only make a huge difference in your life, but is applicable to everyone, it would be journaling.
They say if you want to reach your goals, write them down.
If you want to remember something, write it down.
If you want to discover what’s really going on in your mind, write it down.
I use journaling to serve all three of those purposes.
I don’t know the science behind journaling, but there seems to be something special about the connection between your brain and your hand physically writing something down.
Also, if you’re looking for new ideas or you want to get to the bottom of something that’s bothering you, journaling helps you tap into your subconscious and discover some of the issues that were in your blindspot.
The act of journaling — having to move a part of your body — seems to signal a real effort toward the end you want it to serve. It’s a step above thinking and daydreaming.
And if you can turn it into a habit, you’re subtly telling yourself, “I have committed to doing something.” Commitments build confidence, self-esteem, and make it more likely to reach whatever goals you have. Each positive little commitment or habit you adopt, you’re saying “I trust myself.” That’s key. That’s huge. It’s pretty much what self-help boils down to.
How you journal doesn’t matter much, but here are some ideas if you’re feeling stuck.
My routine is pretty simple.
Every morning, I write down three things I’m grateful for. I do this because I’m very ambitious and have a hard time being content with my progress. I use this gratitude exercise to realize how many good things have happened in my life. It keeps me grounded — for about a day — then I have to do it all over again to refocus. It helps.
Then I use James Altucher’s idea generating technique.
Here’s how it works. You write down 10 ideas per day. These ideas can be about anything you want. You can create ideas to improve your own life. You can also create ideas for other peoples lives and businesses. James says he often uses his ideas as a networking technique. He’ll create ideas for others and send them (tactfully) as suggestions.
I usually write ideas for articles, books, and ways to reach some of the goals I have.
You can use this technique to build your “idea muscle.” Most of your ideas will be bad, but some will be good. If you do this every day for a year, you’re bound to have a great idea or two out of 3,650 tries.
The easiest way to solve your lack of journaling ideas is to buy one.
There are authors and entrepreneurs who’ve created journals with pre-defined sections you can use to improve your life.
Ryan Holiday is famous for bringing the ancient philosophy of stoicism into the modern mainstream. His book, The Daily Stoic, teaches one lesson per day from stoicism and uses examples from the real world to illustrate them.
What is stoicism? It’s the art of keeping yourself sane in an unfair and chaotic world.
The Daily Stoic comes with a companion, The Daily Stoic Journal, which has an accompanying section for each lesson where you can write down your own thoughts.
If you’re feeling stuck, anxious, or afraid and full of doubt, this is the journal for you.
The Self Journal, created by Cathryn Lavery and Allen Brouwer, helps you reach your goals and come up with cool ideas.
It provides a systematic approach for both setting goals and tackling them.
It includes items like:
You can even get a pdf version of the journal for free right here.
These are the ones I’m familiar with, but there are many more you can find online.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Within, created an extremely popular morning routine called morning pages.
Morning pages involves free-writing for three full pages about anything you want. Free-writing that number of pages usually elicits creativity. Also, many have attested to the routine leading to major emotional breakthroughs.
It makes sense. If you’re feeling a little bit down but don’t know why and free-write about it for three pages, somethings going to come up.
Try it and see if you like it. I’ve done it before, but I like my short and concise routine.
Benjamin Franklin — one of the original self help gurus — created a ‘virtues journal.’ It contained thirteen virtues charted on the page for each day.
He’d focus on one virtue per day and try to maintain the others as well. If he failed to be virtuous in one area, he marked an x on the cart.
In the beginning, the chart was filled with x’s. After time, there were less. He credits the journaling technique for making him a better person:
Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.
Certain habits and routines get promoted too much, like journaling and reading, but I don’t mind because they’re life-changing habits that I hope people adopt.
You can structure your journal any way you want. Keep a journal for six months and I bet you’ll improve your life in some shape or form.
Why is it so powerful?
Again, the commitment alone builds credibility with yourself. Also, there’s power in monitoring yourself on a daily basis.
A great example of the power of monitoring — one of the best ways to eat less is to start tracking your food. Don’t even try to change your habits at first, just track what you’re putting into your body and it might inspire you.
Same goes with your finances…
…and your goals.
If anything, journaling helps you address what’s going on in your life. That’s a start. A great start.