We’re into the third week of January, and before we dismiss our new year resolutions with indignant scorns of “who needs resolutions anyway“, here’s one habit to adopt that will get you right back on track: journaling.
Journaling differs in intention and form. Most journals begin because we want to introduce order into our lives. “Order” is quite the subjective quality – perhaps you want to remember urgent tasks, catalogue novel ideas, or record daily reflections to measure progress and personal growth. Regardless of our intentions, journaling is a key tool in capturing messy thoughts and translating them into a tangible reality. It’s not immediately obvious, but journaling is ultimately a way to set goals and cultivate discipline to implement them. Stephen R. Covey couldn’t have worded it better: “Mental creation always precedes physical creation.”
Putting a pen to paper can be hard. Starting off on a clean slate highlights the heavy expectations of the pages that follow. But let these reasons convince you to pick up this transformative, keystone habit.
Why start journaling?
1. It forces you to confront your goals and be accountable for your progress. Goal-setting doesn’t have to be a daunting task. (I’ve always thought it more unbearable to lack inspiration for personal goals, than the implications of goals on hard work and determination.) For those blessed with lucidity and eloquence, the expression of thoughts and ambitions come naturally and clearly, while for others this may require repetition for a distinct pattern to emerge.
Consistent journaling enables you to construct goals, commit to them, and review them easily.
2. It reinforces what you learn each day. A study by the WSJ showed that writing encourages our brains to learn, retain information and generate ideas. This is why novelist Robert Stone still believes in writing his manuscripts by hand when ideas become “elusive”.
“[I] write in longhand in order to be precise. On a typewriter or word processor you can rush something that shouldn’t be rushed — you can lose nuance, richness, lucidity. The pen compels lucidity.”
By taking a few minutes to pen down problems, observations, and resolutions, our mind discerns the important from the frivolous. It allows our memory to become more targeted and hence, ingrain the important things.
3. It directs your frame of mind for the rest of the day. Start on an optimistic or grateful note, so you either start or end your day positively. This habit spills over into the way you conduct life’s affairs, by offering new perspectives and sensitivities. For instance, instead of focusing on unhappiness, see yourself as a larger, whole and connected being. By consciously setting the tone for the rest of the day, it provides much-needed respite amidst conflict and stress.
So, what is the best way to journal?
Bullet journaling is a system of journaling that has been making its rounds on the internet. What does it mean exactly?
Here are its components:
– Bullet point note-taking, rather than lengthy prose
– Index: a list of important topics and corresponding page numbers so you can revisit major moments easily
– Daily log: use the symbol system as described below
– Monthly log: monthly calendar for tasks that haven’t been assigned to a specific date
– Rapid logging (brain dump!)
– Future log: a yearlong calendar for big events
– Modules: Pages for any big things to track over time, like movies, books, exercise regimes, etc. Add this page to your index
– Don’t forget to number every page!
It uses simple, but effective symbols to categorise tasks and lists.
What each symbol means:
– A bullet point: things you need to do
– X: completed tasks (don’t cross the line out entirely, so you can look back on what you’ve accomplished)
– : task that has been migrated (i.e. moved to another day/week/month because it’s incomplete)
– -: quick thoughts, notes, or small events
– O: big events
Bullet journaling basically lies at the intersection of a to-do list, planner and diary, a pretty compact way for all your daily needs. The clean interface makes these tasks actionable and easy to reassess along the way.
It’s powerful because if you find yourself constantly putting off or avoiding a certain task, it’s probably not a priority in your life, and you can probably fix a particular day/time to work on it, or de-prioritise it. Allow yourself some reflective time too: why is this task not worth completing at present? Does it hinder or disrupt your personal growth? This way, you can track your growth and evolution as the year goes by.
It’s not too late to commit to this powerful habit this new year. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”