Journaling ideas: how to keep a journal.

Journaling during the COVID19 pandemic.

These are interesting times and, therefore, dangerous. Why not use journaling to make the best use of my time – now that I have extra time to invest into my dreams?

The other day it struck me:

I always complain about not having enough time to do anything. I am always in need of more time.

Now, due to the COVID19 pandemic, I have time in abundance. But what do I do with it?

Will I, after surviving the pandemic, come out of it better? What will I have accomplished by then? How many books will I have read? How many pending projects completed? And, most importantly, how many ideas put into action?

Every crisis bears within it the seeds of chance and opportunity.

All of us, who are fortunate enough not to be gravely affected by the epidemic, we should strive to make good use of it.

If you are not seriously ill or financially destroyed, make good use of this plenty free time you were given.

Lost space I can recover. Lost time, never!

Napoléon Bonaparte

Understand the above principle now, because after the end of the pandemic and the eventual return to normality, all this time will be gone forever.

Is journaling for me?

Yes.

There is no need to know your circumstances. Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, this or that, journaling is for you and you can benefit from it.

The only prerequisite is the will to better yourself and to be consistent about it.

However there is a threat: the progress evolving into a better version of you can become overwhelmingly daunting.

Why?

Because, while change is a most wanted thing, changing is a rather challenging task.

It requires to get out of your comfort zone. And out there is where all magic happens.

Therefore, when you see on your daily journal that your habits and deeds are not what they should be, it’s only natural to become disheartened.

But progress and success is not for the faint of heart.

So, what is journaling?

Journaling is the simple act of writing down first and foremost all your daily actions, and secondarily your thoughts and ideas.

Any notebook, diary or agenda will do for that purpose. You may even your use mobile or PC.

Personally, being old-fashioned in nature and on purpose, I prefer exercising journaling with paper and pencil on a diary.

Regardless of the means used, though, journaling must become a habit. Otherwise you will not benefit from it.

The ABC of journaling.

The procedure of journaling is simple. Here I describe the method I prefer, but there are numerous variations.

1. Decide upon your call and long-term goals.

This is the most difficult thing, believe it or not.

The truth of the matter is that most people have never sat down and thing seriously what they want in life. They may have only a vague idea, which is mostly imposed by society’s standards.

Find a 9-5 job; marry; have children; take some promotions; buy expensive stuff; retire; die.

Contrary to that, all successful people that have ever lived have carefully chosen their goals. They let their call lead them.

As the poem ‘Dutiful‘ describes, the ‘common people’ just keep chasing the future, without knowing what else to do:

That’s how I run and run to future times
Away from present small and petty crimes,
A fool but wise and smart but surely mad
To chase away my life like dog a cat
—To choose my duty I must

Don’t be like that. Just don’t.

Sit down with yourself, relax, think, think harder and honestly decide upon your life goals. Try to be grandiose about it. There is no use in being modest or humble.

Just do not forget to keep all your goals S.M.A.R.T.

Here are the most common variations for the acronym’s explanation:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable)
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)

Vague or unclear goals can do more harm than good, so be smart about it.

2. Decide what actions advance your purpose.

Deep down, if you were honest about step 1, you know what you must do. As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius famously said:

Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.

Marcus Aurelius

And you know what a good a man – or woman – should be. We all do. The reasons why we do not act as one is a topic for another blog and exceed the scope of this article.

You can categorise your actions in those having to do with short or middle term goals, and those with log term goals.

Don’t be over-analytical here. One to three per category should be fine.

For example, if you want to publish a book, which can be a medium term goal, you can just note ‘Took action towards publishing ‘[enter title here]’. When the goal is achieved, there is no need to keep it in your journal.

3. Begin journaling your every day.

After completing steps 1 and 2, you should know what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it.

Now it is time to monitor your progress.

Write down all your actions. Note a plus sign ( + ) next to each beneficial one, a minus sign ( – ) next to every harmful one, and a null sign ( ø ) next to every neutral one.

You can choose any triplet of signs you like, but I like to keep it strictly mathematical. After all, it’s all about keeping score and solving my life’s equation.

Neutral results are, by definition, those that are neither good nor bad. For example, if I had to do a task and I only partially, then I may consider noting down a ( ø ). On the one hand, it is not fully completed, thus it does not deserve a ( + ). On the other hand, effort was put into it, so a ( – ) would be unfair.

It’s up to you how you will evaluate each outcome. Just set your own rules and try to keep them consistent.

The only criteria used, though, is whether the actions, deeds etc are in accordance or not with your goals.

That means that the same result can be positive or negative depending on the goal.

For example, eating 2.500 kcal can be positive if you want to gain weight/muscle, but negative if you want to loose weight.

In addition, to keep my journaling interesting I enrich it with major intentions, thoughts, ideas or quotes. Sometimes I even sketch or doodle.

Nevertheless, for keeping score, only actions matter.

You can do journaling either before going to bed the same day, or first thing in the morning of the next day. You choose. Personally, I like to do it before going to bed. That way I get the extra benefit of preparing my next day in my mind and sleeping on it.

4. Keep score.

Since our goals are measurable, or they should be, it is only natural to keep score.

Count how many ( + ) and ( – ) you have. Ignore ( ø ).

Then, write somewhere prominently, on the header or the bottom of the page, the daily equation: Number of ( +) minus number of ( – ) equals the result.

For instance, if I have done 5 good deeds and succumbed to 3 bad deeds and didn’t make it to complete 3 tasks, the equation is:

( 5 – 6 ) = -1

Which is not that brilliant.

Moreover, I also like to keep these equations in one page for each month. If you use a diary, then there should be a monthly view format in the first pages. This is ideal. If not, just dedicate some pages to that.

It is important to keep score of both the bad and the good deeds, not only of the result.

In that way you can easily keep record of your progress and how many good deeds you accomplish every day.

5. Do not forget the really important achievements.

As you will realise from the very beginning, if you are honest to yourself and your aspirations, and remain true to the essence of journaling, it is not that easy to keep a positive score.

One of the problems with journaling is that it can easily deteriorate to self-shaming.

Do not do that mistake.

Although we may try our best to achieve our goals, life happens to us all. And life is always hard, sometimes gets harder, and at times even cruel.

So, you must be prepared for the worse.

But there is a remedy to that.

Take time to reflect upon the things that are vastly important but we all foolishly take for granted and thus overlook.

For example, to make my point clear, my last three items in my journal are always these:

  • I have a nest egg and enough money to go by;
  • I am strong and healthy;
  • Ι have a true friend, my family and Maria in my life.

Needless to say that these score always a ( + ).

But, mind you: This is not a cheat in any way. It is more of a daily affirmation and encouragement, that, beside all hardships, you do have some wealth in you life.

How many times have you felt grateful and happy about just being healthy? If we think about it it is neither given nor trivial to woke up with no pain, illness or ailment.

People call these the ‘little things’ but once more – as is most often the case with ‘the people’ – people are wrong.

Of course, these are not goals. They are achievements. And you should take the credit for being able and fortunate enough to include them in your journaling.

The art of journaling in a stoic perspective.

If the prospect of journaling seems interesting to you, I recommend reading the exhaustive post by the Daily Stoic titled ‘The Art of Journaling: How To Start Journaling, Benefits of Journaling, and More‘.

There you can find many interesting ideas and different methods than the one described here.

As with everything in life, there is no unique approach.

You have to find or even invent the method that best works for you.

But one thing is for certain, journaling can help you better your life in more than one aspect.

Keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest…Only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty’s sake, and invincible determination, may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal.

Mark Twain

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