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Unlock the Power of Nightly Journaling
I Improved My Life with this Simple Journaling System Used by History's Greatest Minds, and You Can Too. Here is Everything You Need to Start Your Own Journal.
"We should every night call ourselves to an account: What infirmity have I mastered today? What passions opposed? What temptation resisted? What virtue acquired? Our vices will abate of themselves if they be brought every day to the shrift." - Seneca, "Moral Letters to Lucilius," Letter 83.
"At the end of the day, you should always be able to ask yourself: What weakness did I overcome today? What virtue did I acquire?" - Marcus Aurelius, "Meditations," Book 5, Section 9 (paraphrased).
Three years ago, I started journaling everynight before bed. Inspired by renowned writer Jim Collins (Author of Good to Great & Built to Last), I developed a system that not only allows me to reflect on my day but also to objectively rate my experiences, track my progress, and sometimes preserve my memories by saving photographs.
This week, I will share my personal approach to journaling and offer you the tools to start your own journal which will foster personal growth and allow you to gain a deeper insight into your life experiences. Journaling every night has become an integral and profoundly impactful activity in my life, one that I hope to continue indefinitely. When I tell people that I journal, I’m amazed at how many friends and mentors will share with me that they journal too. There are many remarkable people throughout history that journaled, including Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, John Adams, Ludwig van Beethoven, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus.
In my three years of consistent journaling, I have experienced numerous benefits that have significantly impacted my life, both in terms of self-awareness and overall well-being. Here are the main advantages that I have discovered through this daily practice:
Enhanced reflection and gratitude: Journaling at the end of the night provides me an opportunity to reflect on the day's events and appreciate the positive experiences that might otherwise be overshadowed by our natural tendency to dwell on negative occurrences. This practice helps to cultivate gratitude and fosters a more balanced perspective on my daily life.
Greater understanding of the connection between my activities and my emotions: Journaling allows me to analyze how the choices I make throughout the day impact my mood and overall satisfaction. For example, I've noticed a clear correlation between exercising and experiencing positive emotions at the end of the day, while poor diet choices and excessive screen time often lead to negative feelings. This awareness enables me to break unproductive patterns and prioritize activities that contribute to my happiness and well-being. As a self-proclaimed data nerd, this insight is particularly valuable for making informed decisions about my daily routine.
A valuable record for future reference and reminiscing: Maintaining a running log of my experiences, thoughts, and emotions creates a treasure trove of memories and insights that can be revisited and enjoyed at any time. With my digital journal, I can easily look back to a specific date, search for moments shared with a particular person, or explore similar experiences from the past. This archive not only serves as a powerful tool for personal growth but also allows me to reconnect with cherished memories and appreciate the journey I've been on.
Here are some practical examples of how journaling helped me.
After my friend Joe passed away, I wanted to reminisce about the memories we shared together. I wondered when we had last spent time together. By searching my journal, I could relive the moments I had saved about Joe. It was a healing experience, allowing me to recall the wonderful times we had in greater detail.
One of my favorite features on Facebook is the "memories" feature, where you can look back on posts and pictures from the same day in previous years. I do the same thing with my journal. I'll look back one year from today and read about what I was doing at that time. Since it's my personal journal and not my public Facebook page, the entries are more personal and genuine compared to what I share with the world on Facebook. It helps me remember and appreciate my experiences from a year ago, which I often forget.
Most recently, this was helpful because I could look back on my beginnings as a runner. I could see my excitement from a year ago when I completed my first full run around the lake. I was able to relive the thrill of that accomplishment back then, but I also appreciated the progress I've made since. I now regularly complete that run and in much less time. It's nice to take a moment to celebrate my progress and improvement as a runner. The journal allowed me to do this.
Here’s How: A Bullet Proof System for Journaling
Google Form to Record My Journal (Shared Below)
Google Calendar Reminder: To remind me every night to journal.
Short Cut on My Phone Home Screen: Instructions below for setting it up on iPhone.
My Journaling Process:
Each night, I get a reminder from my Google Calendar at 9:30pm to remind me to journal. In the calendar reminder there is a link to the Google Form to complete my journal. I also have the link saved on the homescreen of my iPhone and in my bookmark toolbar on Google Chrome. This way I can always quickly get into the journal. It’s important to make it as easy as possible to journal. As we talked about before, I like to apply the principles from the book "Atomic Habits." I use "The Four Laws of Behavior Change" to create new habits: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. The goal is to make journaling as easy as possible.
Remembering to journal and then starting to write is probably the hardest part.
Once I’m in the journal I begin by rating my day on a scale from -2 to 2, with 2 representing an incredible, unforgettable day and -2 signifying a particularly challenging or difficult one. While this rating is inherently subjective, I strive to maintain as much objectivity as possible in my assessment. The rating provides a quantifiable measurement of my satisfaction with the day.
Following this, I proceed to write a journal entry detailing the events of my day. Some entries are concise, consisting of just a sentence or two, while others span multiple paragraphs, delving into the nuances and emotions of my experiences. To complement my written reflections, I also have the option to upload photographs from the day, creating a visual record of my memories if I feel it would be helpful.
To facilitate this daily practice, I've created a straightforward and user-friendly Google Form, which serves as the platform for my journal entries. I like it because it's completely free and it’s very easy to use and edit. I'll share a copy that you can use to kickstart your own journaling journey.
Here are Two Examples from My Journals: A Good Day & A Bad Day
I thought it might be helpful for you to see two examples from my own journal. Here is an example of a gread day.
Friday - 5/5/2023 - Rating: 2 (Great Day)
Today was a fantastic day, even though I didn't accomplish much work. I began by taking a refreshing run around the lake before indulging in a bath, despite knowing I probably shouldn't. (Baths correlate with lazy days for me.) Later, I had a conversation with PNC bank, and Laken arrived home from work earlier than expected.
We embarked on our vacation to Grand Haven and Spring Lake, making a pitstop at the XXXXX Donuts production facility. Lane had an incredible opportunity to create his own donuts, while the owner, gave us a tour of the facility. It was really cool to learn that he can produce up to 14,000 donuts per day, with the potential to expand even further.
Our journey continued to Grand Haven, where I'm scheduled to skydive with Skydive Grand Haven at 1 pm on Saturday. We checked into the Holiday Inn in Spring Lake, which has an excellent location right by the water, both outdoor and indoor pools, a fitness center, and a good price. The hotel even has boat docks and a spacious parking lot. We should come back.
For dinner, we went to Fuel, which turned out to be great. Afterward, we visited Michael and Noella's home. They have an extensive circle of neighbor friends, all with children of their own. At one point, there must have been 20 kids playing in the yard. Lane had a blast and was the center of attention, bringing the donuts for everyone to enjoy. Lane climbed a tree for the first time with the help of some friendly girls. It was great to see him getting along with the kids so well.
I couldn't help but feel a bit of envy towards Michael and Noella for having such a close-knit group of friends as neighbors, and their children having so many playmates their age. Perhaps "jealousy" isn't the right word – it's more of a longing for Lane to have a similar network of friends, especially since he doesn't have siblings. It made me wish we could provide him with a larger community to grow up alongside.
We all gathered around a bonfire while the children played, and the adults shared some drinks, yard games, & pickleball. We returned to the hotel and settled in for the night around 10 pm, bringing an end to a great family day.
Here is an example of a bad day:
4/24/2023 - Rating -2 (A very Bad Day)
I was feeling extremely unwell today due to a stomach bug. Nausea and stomach upset all day long. The sickness lasted for about 24 hours, and I couldn't eat anything. It was brutal. Lots of time in the bathroom. Initially, I thought my poor eating habits from the previous days caused it, but it seems more like food poisoning. I must remember to eat healthy. It might not have caused this issues but it never helps. Indulging in unhealthy food may provide momentary pleasure, but I always feel like shit later. By choosing to eat healthily, I might sacrifice those brief moments of satisfaction, but I will feel much better most of the time. I am committed to improving my diet.
Historic Greats: Journal Keepers and Thinkers
Many famous people throughout history have kept journals or diaries as a way to record their thoughts, experiences, and ideas. Here are a few notable individuals who were known to write in their journals regularly, often on a nightly basis:
Leonardo da Vinci the famous Italian artist and polymath who wrote extensively in his notebooks and journals throughout his life, covering a wide range of topics including art, science, engineering, and anatomy.
Charles Darwin, the biologist, kept detailed journals and notebooks during his journey on the HMS Beagle, where he recorded his observations and ideas that would later form the foundation of his theory of evolution.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was a dedicated journal-keeper who recorded his thoughts and experiences from his time as a young naturalist and explorer to his years in the White House.
Thomas Edison, the American inventor and businessman, documented his ideas, experiments, and inventions throughout his life in numerous notebooks and journals.
Ernest Hemingway, the American author and journalist, maintained journals and notebooks during his travels and writing career, which gave insight into his creative process and personal experiences.
Winston Churchill, a British statesman and author who served as Prime Minister during World War II, kept a diary that documented his thoughts and experiences during his time in office.
John Adams, the second President of the United States, was a prolific writer who kept diaries and journals throughout his life, recording his thoughts on politics, philosophy, and personal matters.
Ludwig van Beethoven, the composer and pianist, documented his thoughts on music, art, and life in a series of conversation books and personal journals.
The Science of Journaling every night and the benefits
You know I love data. So here it is… Research has consistently shown that regular journaling offers a range of significant benefits for individuals, including enhanced emotional well-being, stress reduction, improved immune function, better cognitive performance, and improved sleep quality. By expressing thoughts and emotions through writing, individuals can process traumatic experiences, better manage stress, and even boost their immune system. Journaling also helps to organize thoughts, clarify ideas, and facilitate problem-solving, leading to improved cognitive processing and working memory capacity. Furthermore, engaging in journaling before bedtime has been linked to reduced worry and stress, resulting in better sleep quality. Overall, nightly journaling can contribute to a healthier, more balanced lifestyle with numerous physical and psychological benefits.
Emotional well-being: A study conducted by Pennebaker and Beall (1986) demonstrated that expressive writing or journaling about emotional experiences can lead to improvements in mental health. Participants who wrote about traumatic experiences showed significant decreases in distress and better overall well-being compared to those who wrote about neutral topics.
Source: Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274-281.
Stress reduction: A study by Smyth et al. (1998) found that writing about emotional experiences helped to reduce stress and improve health outcomes for participants with chronic illnesses.
Source: Smyth, J. M., Stone, A. A., Hurewitz, A., & Kaell, A. (1998). Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis: a randomized trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281(14), 1304-1309.
Improved immune function: A study by Pennebaker et al. (1988) found that writing about emotional experiences can boost immune function. Participants who engaged in expressive writing exhibited increased T-lymphocyte production, an essential component of the immune system.
Source: Pennebaker, J. W., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., & Glaser, R. (1988). Disclosure of traumas and immune function: health implications for psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56(2), 239-245.
Enhanced cognitive function: Journaling can help improve cognitive function by organizing thoughts, clarifying ideas, and facilitating problem-solving. A study by Klein and Boals (2001) found that participants who engaged in expressive writing showed improved working memory capacity, which is crucial for cognitive processing.
Source: Klein, K., & Boals, A. (2001). Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130(3), 520-533.
Improved sleep: Journaling before bedtime can help reduce bedtime worry and stress, making it easier to fall asleep. A study by Harvey et al. (2002) found that participants who engaged in journaling before bedtime reported improvements in sleep quality.
Source: Harvey, A. G., & Farrell, C. (2003). The efficacy of a Pennebaker-like writing intervention for poor sleepers. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 41(2), 227-236.
These studies provide evidence of the potential benefits of regular journaling, particularly when focusing on emotional experiences or engaging in expressive writing. Journaling every night may help individuals process emotions, reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and enhance overall well-being. I know it has for me personally.
In conclusion, my three-year experiment with nightly journaling has profoundly impacted my life positively. I has fostered self-awareness, personal growth, and overall well-being. By sharing my approach, I encourage you to start your own journaling practice and join the ranks of remarkable individuals who have experienced the countless benefits of this powerful tool. Journaling can offer you enhanced reflection, gratitude, and valuable insights into your life, ultimately enriching your experiences and promoting personal growth. I encourage you to give it a try. Grab a pen or set up a digital journal and start recording your journey today. Who knows? You might just discover the transformative power of journaling for yourself.
Please let me know what you think about this post. Do you journal? Do you want to start? I’d love to hear from you.
To get a copy of my journaling tool, just email me or leave a comment below.
Make it Easy: Here is How To Add A Shortcut To Your Journal On Your iPhone or Android
iPhone or iPad
Open Safari. Other browsers, such as Chrome, won't work for this.
Navigate to the website you want to save to your home screen by entering the URL of the website you want to create a shortcut to. Make sure you visit the exact page you want to open through the shortcut. Tap “Go.”
Tap the Share button on the bottom of the page. It looks like a square with an arrow pointing out of the top.
In the list of options that appear, scroll down until you see Add to Home Screen. Tap this. The Add to Home Screen dialog box will appear.
Choose a name for the website shortcut on your home screen. You'll see the link so you can confirm it, as well as the site's favicon that will appear as the "app" icon on your home screen. Click Add when you're done. Safari will close automatically and you will be taken to where the icon is located on your iPhone’s or iPad's home screen.
Now just tap the new "app" or shortcut on your home screen, and it will open the website in its own navigation window, independent of what you have open in Safari.
Navigate to the website or web page you want to pin to your home screen.
Tap the menu icon (3 dots in upper right-hand corner) and tap Add to homescreen.
Choose a name for the website shortcut, then Chrome will add it to your home screen.