A Beginner's Guide To Effective Journaling: The What's, The Why's and The How's

Written by Abhinit Modi




Of all the tools, books, hacks which have helped me in personal growth, goal achievement, and self-awareness, journaling is by far the best recourse. It is a glue that holds everything together.


And I want to be honest. It did not just happen. I tried, I gave up. Tens of times. I was lazy, it felt an effort to “write”, I did not know what to write about, how to write. After perusing hundreds of formats and routines, I realized journaling is very subjective. It needs to be customized based on why you are journaling, your routine, and how much you like to write.


Let us start by identifying the right kind of journal by pinning your WHY first.

“Happiness (+satisfaction) is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

-M.K Gandhi


One of the best quotes I have read. The three represent a convolution of causality and correlation. When there’s a gap between who I am and who I intend to be, I am incongruent and unhappy.


We are driven by results. We always want to jump on to the next thing! Next adventure, next holiday, promotion, investment, idea! Which is great. We indeed are achievers!


But, what differentiates achievers and “high-performers” is the first reason for journaling -


#1. Clarity


How much do you know about yourself? Do these 2 activities.

  1. Fill this up.

  2. It is 2050. Describe your day - Who do you live with, where? What are you working on? Who are the people you serve? How do you feel?


Many achievers lack clarity. Clarity in


  1. self (what matters to me?)

  2. elations (what kind of a friend/husband/mom/dad/son/daughter/brother/sister do I want to be remembered as?)

  3. skill (what am I good at, what should I be getting good at?)

  4. service (whom did I/my work make a difference to?).


Clarity aka Self-awareness comes hard to many people. It needs to be practiced, like any skill.

When you have the zeal to grow but are finding it hard to find what you want to grow in, you need a compass. “Listen to your heart” is the most incomplete and hence useless advice. A framework is required which we are never taught. This is the single biggest missing piece in a system like India. Lack of knowledge, lack of opportunity, are logistically solvable reasons for many. With the growth of platforms for self-expression, people are moving away from being risk-averse. But what about people who can get the knowledge, have the platforms, but are finding it hard to self-express because they do not know the “self” part.


Because


There are things you are not “seeing”, “listening” and “feeling”, even though you are “seeing”, “listening” and “feeling” them. There is so much happening that we cannot see throughlines and patterns.


Template


Evening

  1. Did I forget the sense of time, had undivided attention, felt pumped up while doing something, with someone?

  2. Did I feel like I want to invest more time in this?

  3. Was I praised for anything? Did I feel I did a good job at something today?

  4. Did I feel mattered today? At work, for someone (customer, kinship)? Who for, what for?

  5. Was there a challenge I enjoyed today?

  6. Did I feel like I want to be like that person or have something he/she has?


Weekends

  1. For every answer, I wrote above, answer a chain of 3-5 whys.

  2. Do I find myself recurrently gravitating towards that same thing? What was it?

  3. Did something improve in my picture of an ideal day 3 years from now? [monthly]


What will change?

“Make better macro-decisions!”


  1. Know what’s meaningful to you, form better connections with people, things, events, work, etc.

  2. Live with intent. You tend to act voluntarily and not like “Oh it’s Wednesday, I need to go to work.” The Law of attraction works only when there is intent.

  3. Self-secure and confident. It is hard for an Instagram post to give you FOMO.

  4. Lesser tendency to wander off whimsically. Get better and quicker at decision making!

“The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity.”

- Josh Waitzkin


Sometimes even when we know what we want, we struggle hard to execute our role. You’re going to get healthy, reach your goals, be more present with loved ones, but it feels harder!


Have you not been feeling very contended lately and want to increase your life quality? Do you digress/procrastinate from your goals often? Do you fail to see opportunities that might be present every day? Do you find yourself attracted in all directions, get FOMOed? Are you craving for validation?


The next kind of journaling is for you -


#2. Sanity


Humans are forgetful by nature. When we err, we forget to learn. When we win something we yearned, we find a new thing to whine about. This is very natural, and in a way perceivably good.

But it is only fair to our older self that we remember.


We measure our worth in units of output instead of progress. Sheepherding is still very voluminous. Corporate rat-race being its biggest manifestation.


This journaling type works by.

  1. Ensuring a healthy psychological and physiological routine for greater life quality.

  2. Making you more accountable for your choices.


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Family, Work, Friends, Hobbies, Fitness are the 5 pivots of our life. Looking into them opens many doors.


Evenings


Note down

  1. Time spent

  2. Hours you sleep, exercise.

  3. What form of creativity did you indulge in (can be part of a job or hobby)? Hours?

  4. Practice Emotional Intent

  5. For all the pivots, rate happiness and satisfaction from -2 to +2.

  6. Maximize takeaways. Enlist one (at least) person/thing/act,

  7. You achieved - praise, challenging task, long-pending task, progress, Impacted someone's life, learned something?

  8. You sucked at. Why? What would success have looked like?

  9. You were grateful for.


Weekend


I always have a monthly goals-list handy for each pivot.


  1. Glean statistics over the weekends. Celebrate those wins, be thankful, convert learnings to tasks (Ex: What should I do more/less?). Align your target (clarity), progress, and direction. Update the goal list.

  2. Develop “intent” for next week, i.e. establish what emotion I want to be ticking in the upcoming week. Get inside that character, live it every day!


What will change?

“Make better micro-decisions!”


I cannot stress enough how much “intent” got fueled by this. I became so much more accountable for my actions, thoughts, and emotions. I never feel that life is just “happening”, I am the one driving it.


PS: Journaling is NOT a todo tracker. It can improve productivity implicitly, but it is NOT a productivity tool per se. Use a calendar, todo-app.

When you are going through an emotional turmoil, you need a friend with a pair of non-judgemental ears. Whom you can rant to. Or when you are elated, share your deepest happiness with. The third kind of journaling is a goto -


#3. Flow.


There is no steadfast template. Ask yourselves many “why” questions, do a lot of stimuli back-tracking, and document memories. Write at length. Answers will be found. Declutter. Cleanse.

Brownie Points


The returns of evening journaling peak when augmented with two-morning rituals.


  1. Meditation.

  2. Developing intent.


The intent is more important to me than meditation. I see through what is coming during the day and develop the kind of emotions I want (for most situations) before jumping into my day.

Whatever I said sounds great,

But I was still lazy! Daunted by books! No prompts!


So I got myself THIS goldmine.


Spending 5-10 minutes on my phone, checking off a few boxes and writing 3 sentences every day, for a month, I feel like a brand new person. The knowledge about self I could unearth (clarity), the intent with which I showed up every day was mind-boggling. Make a copy of this form (your submissions are private) and submit an entry every evening. Ask yourself THESE questions on weekends. Look for patterns to know thyself more, reaffirm your wins, learnings and gratitude. Add goals.


You WILL connect better with your people, your work, most importantly YOURSELF. It is easy to be happy (pleasure). Satisfaction (purpose) comes hard. Strive for satisfaction, journaling is your virtue. Start TODAY. Reinvent yourself.


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