April 16, 2023 (updated)
This post documents my habit of daily journaling. I started journaling consistently every single day in 2019, and after a year, it has become one of my core habits.
In this post, I will share how I got started, changes I’ve made to my journaling workflow along the way, as well as some thoughts and tips for journaling.
As a small kid, I’d doodle and write about my days in a small diary. This diary was a gift from my Dad— he kept a similar diary of his own which he used to track work-related stuff. I tried to imitate this, but as a kid, only ended up writing about things like the playground quibbles, the trouble I got into at school, and my preadolecscent sturggles and dreams for the future.
Fast-forward to 2019, I was doing some spring cleaning one day when I stumbled accross this diary wedged between some old textbooks. Flipping through pages of stuff I wrote as a kid was cringe at first, but as I read on, I started to reminisce warm memories from the past. It felt like I was getting to know my younger-self again— a pleasant experience remembering who I was in relation to the person I am now.
Starting to journal
I started journaling again in 2019, when I briefly relocated to Australia for an internship. It was my first time living abroad alone, and I decided to try out journaling as a fun way to document that. I’ve been journaling daily since then, and it has become one of the most rewarding habits I have cultivated over the past few years.
I listed a lot when I first started out. Treating my journal like a Todo-list, I listed down tasks that I wanted to get done in this format:
- Task (Reason why I need to get this done)
At the end of each day, I strike off each item I’ve completed and wrote a short paragraph, mainly to reflect and think about how I could’ve worked/used my time more effectively.
01/01/2019 - Task1 (Reason why I need to get this done) - Task2 (Reason why I need to get this done) - Task3 (Reason why I need to get this done) Short paragraph about day
At this point, I was merely testing any format I could think of and didn’t see much benefit from journaling apart from feeling slightly more on top of things. This prompted me to think hard about what I wanted to focus on at that particular stage of my life while I was living abroad, which catalysed my transition into a more emotional and reflective form of journaling.
I decided to abandon the initial task-oriented model for a more long-form one.
01/01/2019 [Paragraph summary of day] [Paragraph for "How are you feeling?"]
Doing this daily made me realise that I wasn’t very good at spontaneous writing. I struggled exclusively with the second “How are you feeling?” segment— I just found myself constantly blocked as to what to pen down.
Did I have no opinions about anything at all?
I don’t know why or how, but somewhere along the line, I just “forgot” how to express my own feelings. Was it school? society? Did I do this to myself? I don’t know. There was a lot of “whatever” or “anything”-ness in my attitude towards things. I found it very difficult to be honest about my feelings when journaling. I would ignore or even twist them to shelter myself from having to deal with difficult emotions— It was like… I was afraid that my feelings would “become real” once I wrote them down.
Consistent journaling has provided me with a framework for continuous introspection. I learned to remove the mental filters, to confront my issues by thinking about them in a more ‘meta’ way, and working through them slowly— one problem at a time.
The main focus of my journaling workflow is to make the habit as easy and pleasant as possible, so that it can be done consistently.
Each page in my notebook is one entry. I usually sit down for not more than 10 minutes everyday to write an entry.
I mostly use MUJI notebooks, and am not too pariticular about the kind of paper or anything. I try to use more compact books so that travelling between places won’t be so much of an issue.
I like to write with the Pilot G2 0.7mm Gel pen. Sometimes I forget to bring it along though.
Years of daily journaling means that I’ve amassed a lot of paper. I’m currently thinking of ways I could go digital, but I suspect that leaving the paper medium would be hard for me just because of how fond I am of physical paper + writing with a pen, it just feels right.
Recently, I’ve begun to decorate the covers of my journals. Not the best artist, but I want to give each journal more character, and for it to reflect where I’m currenty at in life.
Things I actively focus on:
Emotions: it’s very easy to accidentally de-humanise yourself when journaling. I try to begin each thought from observing an emotion I’m having. Put a word to your feelings, what made you upset? what are you worrying about? why? Acknowledge your emotional range.
Honesty: is that really how you feel? Why might you have conflated X with Y? What are you avoiding? There is nothing to lose by being honest with yourself. My journal entries are private and are the best place for brutal honesty.
How to do better: how can I approach issues better? What have I already tried? Why didn’t it work? What might I do next? How can we do better? Don’t create an echo chamber by constantly berating yourself, instead focus on how to do better.
Things I avoid:
Templating: you don’t want your journal entries to be too standardised because that would take the fun out of it in the long-run. Keep iterating and trying new ways to record your days. Journaling should be unpredictable and fluid. It should be an iterative process!
Writing long journal entries: restrict each entry to one page otherwise your journals will be very boring to read back on! Minimise “fluff” and “small-talk”, be concise. Journaling should be… like writing a commit message for your future-self to read. So make it clear and unmistakable. I exceed this limit occassionally, but rarely many days in a row.
Forcing it: don’t force yourself to journal! I don’t normally journal when I’m on holiday, or very busy, or when I’m feeling exhausted at the end of the day.
Taking it too seriously: journaling should be fun.
Journaling has provided with an accessible avenue for self-expression, it has given me space to lay out my thoughts/emotions in a truthful manner. I’d strongly recommend trying out journaling to friends and fellow readers, because journaling can be anything you need it to be— you just have to pick up the pen and write.