How to start journaling

The other day I found myself in a conversation where I was recommending journaling to improve self-awareness and the capacity to analyze issues small and large. Then as I thought about that conversation later, I realized that for someone who didn’t journal for at least some time, it may sound too grandiose and unapproachable, and so I thought that I should have suggested an easier way to begin. After that, this idea was bubbling again and again in my mind, and so here I am explaining it here.

So, how does one start journaling?

What’s been the easiest for me was to just have a reminder at 8:30 pm to “register” what happened during the day. This is relatively mechanical and makes for a nice and easy way to start forming the habit. This may look similar to this:

Woke up at 7, somewhat tired. After the workout, shower, and breakfast I’ve answered the email from Sandra, and then read a couple of articles from Feedly. Looked at other online materials from GeePaw Hill.

After the standup worked alright at the day job. Got stuck on the task, but then talked to Victor and got unstuck. […more short snippets here…] Made tea for Robert. Went to bed a bit before midnight.

I moved the reminder back and forth a few times as I was looking for a good time to do this, but the time doesn’t matter that much for me, nor keeping it fixed. These days I have it at 9 pm, but the actual writing can happen before or after depending on what’s happening on a particular day.

As I tried this, I realized that on some days I can’t remember everything that happened during the day, and then I started making quick small notes during the day. Besides the improved accuracy of the event description, this brought the additional benefit of self-awareness: I was paying more attention to how I was spending more time, and, in little ways, I began to steer myself towards activities that I considered more valuable.

One other thing that happened as I went on, was that some events were more interesting in some ways and I wanted to describe them in more detail. Sometimes I as stumbling upon some emotional nuances which lead to pretty interesting rabbit holes.

At a higher level, there is another benefit: the weekly review. I take half an hour during the weekend and review the journal for that week. In the beginning, although it will seem mechanical and not that valuable, doing this is more for forming the habit of reviewing it than the actual result of the review. Later on, as the content becomes more substantial, it became valuable input for making some plans about changing one thing or the other.

As to any study, there are levels and direction you can take it. I’m doing it since mid-2018, and it’s been quite a journey and is nowhere near to getting boring.

Give it a try: I can guarantee you’ll be surprised at how deep it can take you.