Before we get there let’s look at why starting the day with a journaling exercise is a tool that is worth considering. There is increasing evidence to show that starting your day with some of these simple writing tasks can lead to a more positive and purposeful day. It enables you to cultivate gratitude for your life, develop clarity of thought, reflect on what is important for you, identify aims, reflect on experiences and reinforce learning. If you were offered all of these things for free and in only 5 minutes a day I’m sure you would be tempted.
Below I will discuss each section of my journal recipe and why I’ve included it but please be aware that this is my personal recipe, yours may be different, so if you do start this exercise pause and reflect after a couple of weeks to see how well it is working for you and don’t be afraid to make changes if needed.
My journal consists of the following sections, under which I typically scribble a couple of points each day:
- Grateful: Here I write anything that I am grateful for in my life. This may sound a bit hippy but is a fantastic exercise for drawing your attention to the positive things you have around you and helping to hone a more positive mindset. These things could be big picture such as a supportive family or very simple such as a bed to sleep in. Avoid repeating the same things each day and look for specific examples.
- Goals: This is where I define the goals I have for the day. This is a macro look at what I want to achieve or in other words, what would make the day a success for me. This part of the exercise focuses my attention on what is actually important and prevents me being pulled into reactivity when the emails get turned on a little later.
- Process: Based on the goals I’ve outlined above I then put the meat on the bones in regard the processes I am going to use to achieve them. Typically this involves a commitment to write to do lists and avoid daily distractions. Essentially you are defining the steps you will take to ensure the goals are achieved and you win the day.
- Remember: I added this element after reading the diaries of Marcus Aurelius. In these he writes several reminders for himself on a daily basis that will help him becoming angered or frustrated as he sets about achieving his goals. For me these reminders may just be that other people will see the world differently and that is ok or that other people may be working to different time scales. Essentially it is just pre-empting any sticking points in your day so you are prepared and don’t experience negative emotions because of them.
And that is as complex as it needs to be. 4 simple sections to start your day on the front foot.
I have then gone a step further and started adding some evening entries using a similar system. This evening component aims to celebrate successes and reinforce learning, driving continuous improvement. This contains the following sections:
- Amazing: What happened today that was amazing? This forces me to consider the good stuff that happens every day, no matter how small, and celebrate it. Again this helps to focus attention to the positive things in life.
- Learning: What did I learn today? Here I am helping to record and thus reinforce the little developments I make each day to help commit these to memory and therefore accelerate overall development. This section may be a specific fact or figure or something more general that I’ve learned about myself.
- Improvements: if I had the day again what would I have done differently? This final piece of troubleshooting is essentially giving myself feedback on my performance that day and highlighting areas that I can optimise going forward. This helps to prevent me making the same mistake day after day and again contributes to speed of improvement.
I hope you can see the benefit of using this simple journaling exercise on a daily basis and are tempted to try it yourself. If you do please let me know your feedback and whether you are using any different structures or questions in your version.