Happy New Year, kittens! How’s it been treating you so far? Fierce mild out so it is, fierce mild. Sure, I’ve seen no fewer than two red admiral butterflies in the last few weeks; out looking for some early-rising daffodils, no doubt. Sadly the only thing they found was the internal workings of a Doberman’s snout, so their early-season valour was ill-judged. Hopefully your January has been much more successful!
I’ve no doubt you are all still making valiant efforts to avoid hostile fire from all manner of New Year Resolutions snake-oil salesmen. They are pernicious at this time of year; 12 week challenge this, 20 day booty gains that. Mostly nonsense, and generally taking advantage of people’s well-intentioned (albeit aspirational) goals. So I will let the snake-oil pro’s do what they do, and instead of labouring on about setting reasonable goals or top tips to shed the Christmas pounds, I would simply like to pose a question…
What about doing some journaling in 2019?
So, recently, I uncovered a box of all my really old notebooks and it dawned on me that, subconsciously, since the age of 10 or so I have had an innate drive to document my days. Almost as though I was taking stock of my experiences, neatly storing them away; being witness to my own burgeoning awesomeness and accountable for my undeniable weaknesses. Inadvertently, I have carved out a map of my life since the age of 10 (except for for a few journals that were destroyed…but that’s a story for another day…and we might need wine…) and taking a step back now at the age of 34, it’s quite something to take stock of. These journals are the things I would save if my home was on fire (presuming Richie has the dog of course). At any moment in time I can pick up a book and jump back into the pages of my life; reaching out and touching again the intrigue of a new romance, I can re-experience the discomfort and trepidation of my very first night in Thailand. Scoot back a few pages and I am 21, travelling alone in New Zealand; doing something more brave than I ever give myself credit for now. I can even revisit and relearn from the raging hurt of an argument or the numbing pain of having just lost my Mum. All of these experiences have been painstakingly recorded through the years. Neatly stored in a box under the bed. Having an acquired brain injury, I am no longer blessed with the greatest of memories and I know that memories fading is an inevitability for me. But this fastidious documentation has offered me a shortcut back; from the most trivial to the most tremendous…and as a pass time I really could not recommend it more.
Now. This is important. Find your format
So when a lot of people think “journal” they can jump to some teenage, nightmarish “Dear Diary” format. And let’s be honest; no pearl of wisdom or nugget of genius ever followed the words “Dear Diary”. No. Unless that’s really your bag, you don’t have to use your journal in that way. There are so many different formats available now, and I would urge anyone thinking about starting out to find what works for you so you won’t be put off in the early days. Not everyone likes the same style or commitment so I suggest trying a couple and seeing what works best for you. So many factors come into play; how much time do you have? Do you want to write daily? Do you want to write freely or just small notes? Do you want to plot a journey to a goal or deadline? Do you express your thoughts better in scribbles / pictures than words? No matter what way you want to work it, there is probably an option that will work for you. To help you on your journey, I have cobbled together some options that you could consider to start you off…
1. The 5 minute journal
The 5 minute journal is a favourite of the inimitable Tim Ferris and frankly is an awesome starter block.
The benefit of this method is that it’s not a time hog. 5 minutes in the morning & evening is genuinely all you will need and without trying too hard you’ll have fostered a new habit in your daily routine where writing flows seamlessly into the schedule. I suppose you could say it is a non-intrusive way of building the habit and if you use this tool correctly, the manufacturers claim “with a simple structured format based on positive psychology research, you will start and end each day with gratitude…[With] increased happiness, better relationships, and have become more optimistic.” That’s not bad, I suppose!
You can set yourself challenges to overcome for the week, and the morning / evening writing allows you to set intentions for the day as well as forcing you to realistically reflect later on. If nothing else, the habitual thought processes created here could be genuinely influential in shifting your mindset if you need to shake things up.
By design the space dedicated to each day is restricted and simplistic, so if you were inclined towards writing more expressively in documentary style, you could find yourself frustrated by this clearly-defined structure.
2. The Happiness Planner
The Happiness Planner is something I have just started using this year after being coerced by some nifty INSTAds, and so far I am enjoying it, though I can safely say it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Imagine it like, if a 5 minute journal fell in love with a glittery, girly unicorn and they had a sugary little baby. That baby is the Happiness Planner. It’s pretty, it’s saccharine, it’s girly, it’s super schmulshy and feel-good but again, for the same reasons the 5 minute journal works; it gets you to set some intentions for the day ahead and reflect on things at the end. It’s not a huge commitment and a great tool if you need some help shifting your mindset.
As with the 5 minute planner, this won’t take up too much of your time. The design is absolutely gorgeous, the format is easy to follow and generally I am finding this a pleasure to use. I look forward to opening the pages in the morning and have found that forcing myself to think about gratitude on those ohhh-fuck-the-whole-world days is an extremely powerful habit. At its very core, this planner tries to break the “motivational” speak by adjusting your thought patterns gradually.
Without any doubt, this format is not for everyone. There are cutesy stickers to highlight days or prompt positive thinking and some of the “life mapping” inserts can feel juvenile to an old fart like me. The design just won’t suit some of you.
3. I Get Sh*t Done: My F*cking Awesome Planner (Dan Meredith)
If you need an antidote to the Happiness Planner, then this is the book for you. Strictly speaking; this is more of a planner than a journal. The Get Shit Done format provides a really clean 90 day plan with an intelligent methodology bringing structure and focus when you’re working towards a specific goal. The book is littered with profanity and words of wisdom from the F*cking Awesome Dan Meredith. It is aimed at people who are in need of a simple system that will clear your mind, allow you to focus on what’s really important and help you achieve more than you thought you ever could.
It’s simple, it’s effective and it won’t take up a hell of a lot of time in your life. The format forces you to think strategically about what you’re trying to reach by breaking down the journey into more manageable achievements. You use this journal to assess your process, take stock of progress and keeps you on track.
Yeah, the profanity isn’t going to be for everyone!
4. The Bullet Journal
The Bullet Journal is not a method I have used so I can’t really break out the pro’s & con’s; but it’s quickly moving up my to do list. I am really drawn to this format and I believe it’s is where budding scribblers, scrawlers, doodlers and listers are going to shine; there is no holding you back with this journal. Created by a New Yorkian, Ryder Carroll, who was diagnosed with learning disabilities early in life, this journal was born from a need to figure out alternate ways to be focused and productive. Through years of trial and error, he developed a methodology that went beyond simple organisation. There is a system to this journal, which has become an obsessive way of life for people who have learned to rely on the nesting bullets, signifiers and rapid logging methodologies. It might be fair to say that this is an advanced option but I really think that with the right commitment it could fit in with every iteration and detail of your daily life; from intention-setting in the morning, logging your workout in the afternoon or verbose reflections in the evening. You could capture every facet of your day without having to switch notebooks.
It looks like a really interesting one and definitely something I will be checking out…
5. The humble Moleskine
Now this is where you get me. I am powerless to resist a Moleskine and for me, it’s adulting at an extremely rewarding level. One of my most visceral memories in New York was stumbling unwittingly into the Moleskine store in the Rockefeller Centre and being surrounded on all sides by the blank pages of creative opportunity. Here I was, overwhelmed and shrieking internally at the prospect of a whole Moleskine store?! Who knew? As a marketer I have obsessed over the Moleskine brand evolution; everything is executed with intentionality; the emotional connection has been captured perfectly. Every notebook is pristine and luxurious. For the most part this is where my journaling resides; in the trusty pages of my Moleskine. I have a large A5 notebook that I use in the evenings, and I have a smaller notebook that travels with me in my handbag should the mood to scrawl ever strike.
There is a huge range of styles and sizes to suit your own needs. Whether you like blank pages for sketching, lined pages or squares. You can opt for the extra-large (A4-ish) or pocket size. There are diaries in daily, weekly, monthly format and even limited editions. I snapped up a Peter Pan edition while in New York…gush!
Really? You want me to think of a con?! Betrayal! Ok. I suppose I could say that if you are someone who needs a little prompting or guidance, this format may not be for you. The pages are yours to fill, so starting out you may not be confident with your writing just yet and something with a bit of a prompt or direction could work better to build up the habit.
It’s never too late to start
It’s sad when I hear people say that they are too old to begin, or they don’t know where to start. One of the great benefits of a journal is that, unless you plan on dying in the next 15 minutes or so (please don’t…), it is literally never too late to start. Everything you record now will be “the past” at some stage, so your experiences now are as valid as anything you’ve already gone through. The shit that goes on in your days now is likely to be just as poignant or just as pallid as anything that may have happened when you were younger. The struggles you are working through now could be something that you look back at in awe. Your own internal strength, perseverance or creativity can provide moments of strength and reminders of fortitude for the future you. You’re only going to get more awesome from here, so why not document the process?
If you really aren’t sure where to start; it’s simple. Just start at the start. Tell yourself a story, ask yourself some questions. Open the page and let the answers unfold some inspiration.
Here are some questions I like to answer on 1st January every year, or on my birthday so I can see how my values and priorities shift as I get older:
- What are my biggest fears today?
- Where do I see myself in 6 months / 2 years / 10 years?
- How do I plan to get there?
- Who are my biggest supporters?
- What changes should I make today?
- Describe yourself in 3 words.
There are so many ways to kick things off, and so many different format options.
Give it a go!