For eons, man has used the power of the written word to record his most deeply held truths, thoughts and philosophies. Not only to communicate these ideas to others, but for self-reflection as well.
It’s almost as if in the act of writing, the words themselves become more powerful. In putting the pen to paper (or feather quill to parchment, depending on which century you’re living), we’re able to metabolize the meaning behind those words and let it all soak in.
Journaling is a great way to take those inner ideas and put them outside of yourself, to gain some truer perspective. The trouble is, there are so many types of journaling exercises that many don’t know where to begin. And so, I wanted to offer a few suggestions that I’ve used myself over the past several years.
These methods are all powerful and effective, so long as you’re honest with yourself and hold nothing back.
1. “Gratitude Journal”
Maintaining gratitude and appreciation for what you already have is incredibly powerful. It’s often said that one cannot be grateful and angry at the same time; almost as if they’re the antithesis to one another.
A simple way to reflect on gratitude is the following: Each morning, write out three to five things that you’re grateful for. It can start with something as simple as the shoes on your feet. With time, you’ll find that you’re likely very fortunate to have all that you do.
By performing this exercise regularly, you’ll be digging deeper and deeper to discover all the great things you really do have in your life. And by doing this each morning, you’ll be putting yourself in the mindframe to create even more things to be grateful for.
2. “Positivity Journal”
Many say that we’re evolutionarily wired to seek out negativity. This makes sense in theory because if something was perceived as “bad”, it was likely threatening to our survival or well-being. The problem is that we now live in a world which is safer than ever, yet these primitive instincts are still intact.
By regularly putting your attention on what’s “positive” in your life, you begin to shape a different relationship with reality. The world feels less threatening, less chaotic, and you start to find yourself in more situations that simply feel good.
Each evening, write down and reflect on a few positive experiences you had that day. It might be something as subtle as the friendly interaction you had with a cashier or the fact that you found a parking space less than three lightyears away from your office building.
It’s hard to keep an attitude of “everything sucks” if you have written proof of the contrary each day.
3. “Accountability Journal”
This exercise is more of a declaration to yourself rather than reflection. Write down one action you will take that particular day which will bring you closer to your goals. Once again, this can be something insanely simple. In fact, it’s often better to start that way.
Writing it down will hold you more accountable to making it happen. When the day is nearing its end, write out a brief summary of your experience underneath that day’s action; what happened, how accomplished you felt, what you learned, etc.
By keeping a written record of all the actions you’ve taken toward your goals, you’ll not only be holding yourself accountable, you’ll also be able to look back at how far you’ve come. Taking action is the answer to most (if not all) of your problems.
This exercise ensures that you make that as much a part of your routine as that ritualistic bowl of Lucky Charms every morning. Unless you’re trying to cut out sugar and take control of your health, then stop it. Yes, you. Put down the spoon.
4. “The List Exercise”
This is an exercise that you won’t necessarily take advantage of every day, but one that helps put things in perspective when performed periodically. Life can get chaotic, and often we may find ourselves spinning out of control rather than addressing the things we told ourselves we would.
Choose one thing today that you want to change in your life. Whatever comes to mind first, that’s the one. List two columns at the top of your page: “What will happen if I DON’T change this” and “What will happen if I DO change this.”
It’s important to be entirely honest during this exercise. Focus on what you truly believe will transpire in the future if you don’t change this behavior, then what will come about if you do. Write out everything you can think of in both categories and hold nothing back.
Performing this exercise regularly for your most apparent roadblocks will put into perspective the long-term ramifications of your actions, or lack thereof. Once completed, go back regularly and review it. Put more of your attention on the right-hand column when doing this. Psychologists tell us we respond more powerfully to positive reinforcement than to negative.
5. “Finding Your Why Exercise”
Having a solid “why” is really the foundation of change. Why would we do anything, especially something difficult, if we didn’t have a justified reason in hopes that it would bring added benefit down the line? Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is the fuel that success runs on.
Many of us try to make things happen against the grain, always pushing uphill. Having your “why” is the reason that pulls you toward your goals when nothing else will. If you’re reading this, you probably have things you’d like to change, improve on or accomplish, but do you really know why?
This exercise is pretty simple and self-explanatory, but so few ever do it. Write out the primary thing you want to change or accomplish, the thing with the most emotional weight attached to it. Then, simply write out all the reasons why. Go deep with this and focus on how it makes you feel.
I would suggest doing “the list exercise” prior to this for some added clarity toward this goal, but that’s up to you. When you find your reasons why, you’re going beyond the immediate and superficial motivations and getting into the real stuff. The stronger the emotional connection with your reasons, the better. Keep this list handy and refer back to it often.
A Few Final Words
I hope you’re able to take advantage of these practices and use them to make some real and lasting changes in your life. When it comes to journaling, the ideas are endless, but these are a few that I know to be powerful from personal experience.
As with any habit, consistency is the key. Journaling is called a “practice” for a reason and it will take a little time to begin seeing the subtle shifts in your state of mind. But those subtle changes can transform your life in massive ways when implemented daily.
It’s often the simplest of things that are the most impactful, so pick whichever exercise resonates the most right now, grab a pen, and get to it.