Keeping track of your days
Building a daily journal habit
I’d dabbled with daily journals for decades but had never used them long enough to actually make an impact on my life. I started to change that this year.
The first journal I had was given to me as a kid by my mom to keep notes of my first trip to London. I ended up getting sick en route and having to return home having seen nothing but Piccadilly Circus – notebook unused. Over time I became more of a notebook fiend but mostly based on idealized visions of using the notebook vs. any real need: I’d buy a gorgeous Moleskin, have the occasional reflections for a week or two, then leave it unloved coming back to it months or years later to give it another go.
This past year that’s changed; I now have a journal where I keep track of my moods & reflections every day. What I love about this habit is that I find it to be an objective record of my state of mind over time. I can notice trends and patterns in my behaviors: Am I starting to have more days where I’m sleepy? Am I meditating enough? Am I upset by something in particular and how long has that been the case?
Without a notebook I have a biased view of myself - I think I’ve been in state X for a long time or a short time when in reality it’s the opposite. By writing these things down, I can look at myself with a bit more objectiveness: If my handwriting is getting sloppy it’s a sign that I’m more unfocused; If I’m sick, I notice the lethargy lasts longer into the week than I would have thought; If I think I’ve had a bad day, writing down more details can help me see that it was actually only a few hours of funk but most of the day was actually great.
Two main changes allowed me to adopt make this a daily habit: first, I lowered my expectations; and second, I kept track of sequential completions.
I used to aspire to do more than a full page of journaling a day. This turns out to be unrealistic for me. Most nights I’m tired by the time I get to my journal - I’ve just put the kids to bed and I’m ready to unwind and not in the mood for a 30 minute bout of writing. So instead I now usually only fill out just a third of a page of a Moleskine notebook (I like landscape mode personally). Just 1/3 - that’s it. It takes a few minutes – a much more achievable goal! Occasionally I can do more (e.g., when I’m a trip or have a night off and feel in the mood) but it’s the exception rather than the rule.
I’ve standardized my daily format to be much simpler with just a few “must have” components:
Below in big letters I add whether it was a “Great /Good / Bad Day” and
Below that, I add a bunch of bullets for what I did. They can be longer description or simple words: “RUN” “BEACH” “DINNER” “Ate too much!”. Things that gave me energy I underline. Things that were the opposite I spend a minute or two reflecting on why that was the case.
I do this every day. Right now I’m on day 249 uninterrupted. My prior best was probably a few weeks…
At the end of each month, I go back through my journal and find patterns. These patterns become plans and things I try to work on. When I first started the journals I had many “Bad days” and “Tired days” interspersed with “Good”. Over the last few months after identifying patterns of activities that drained my energy and trying to be more mindful, I’ve moved into much longer streaks of “Great Days.”
I’ve tried a few other types of activity tracking over the past few years and this is the type that has stuck best. I offer this to you more as inspiration rather than an exact thing to copy. The trick is more to just set a small goal you can do every day (it could even be 30 seconds!) - aim for s daily habit and start identifying patterns. I now really look forward to this activity and I hope you can find joy in it too. 🙏🏼