Journaling 101: How I Got Started and What Can You Journal About


 Photo credit: Kaizen Journaling

You either journal or you don’t. And if you don’t, it is likely you would very much like to develop the habit. There is something very attractive about the idea of putting down our innermost thoughts, feelings and desires to paper. It somehow leaves us more enriched and gives our busy day a neat conclusion.
Journaling impacted me early on. Adventurous and resourceful characters like Doogie Howser, the teenage physician and the inimitable Mr. Belvedere ended their day with their musings. Sometimes profound, sometimes witty, their entries always brought a smile to my lips.
And who can forget the ‘Captain Log’ maintained by Starfleet officer Jean Luc Picard. The truth is, from Benjamin Franklin to the solitary genius Leornardo Di Caprio; great men and women have frequently maintained journals (or diaries) to self-reflect.

The allure of a journal

Journaling is sacred time. Something about the idea of distancing oneself from hustle and bustle to write about the day gone by is romantic to say the least. It makes one feel spiritually sophisticated.

I am no different. I have repeatedly tried to establish some sort of ‘me’ time routine. I have used physical diaries and digital notepads. I have written heaps and I have practised brevity. But something has always thrown a wrench in the works. I have started strong and then lost my momentum bringing my grand journaling plans to a grinding halt. Until recently that is…

Thankfully stepping into this brand new year I have been a good little journaling boy scout for more than 40 days. And you know what they say about forming a new habit. All it takes is 3-4 weeks. : )
So I understand it may be easy to just ‘let it slip’. After all no one is likely to pay you for your efforts or have a life changing epiphany thanks to your musings. But the steady habit of journaling matters. And you will see why.

What took me so long?

Now that I realize the benefits of maintaining a regular journal, I do wish I could have started much earlier. I believe that the trio of these pitfalls held me back:

– No fixed ‘journaling’ routine. It had always been an ‘as and when I get time’ affair.
– No guidelines as to what I should write about. I thought journaling stands for keeping a log of monumental events. What if there was nothing significant to commit to paper? Then what?
– No nagging feeling of loss if I didn’t journal. It was a ‘cool’ thing to do with some vague rewards attached. I didn’t really have the genuine impetus to do it.

From erratic to consistent

Consistency came when I understood the true importance of maintaining a diary as it pertains to my life. And the potential losses if I didn’t stick to the routine! It was quite a self-revelation. Incidentally a little plugin had a lot to do with it.

• I gave myself the gift of time when I installed the Gmail Pause plugin! If you do not know what it is capable of doing, you need to read this post by Ali. Trust me it will completely get rid of your wasteful email obsession.

• Naturally without ‘mail addiction’ I could think straight. I focused on my life and my habits in particular. I have always been an advocate of being productive. So I am no stranger to the importance of a morning ritual. Well considering our lifestyle of stress and competition, I think it is equally important to ‘calm’ and ‘relax’ oneself with a familiar ritual before winding down for the night. Leo Babuta talks about it in his book ‘The Power of Less’.

The philosophy hit home! I was so used to dancing to the tune of my inbox. Checking mails and surfing the web incessantly and then scrambling to get a pending ‘to-do’ task done! Needless to say, I would be utterly exhausted by the time my head hit the pillow. And that isn’t a nice feeling. However thanks to the trusty Gmail Pause application, my day now closes with the simple three step ritual:

– Checking my ‘To-Do’ list for the last few pending tasks I can attend.
– Either completing them or deferring them for the date I can attend to them.
– Then settling in with my journaling

With a definite ‘when’ one part of the trifecta that kept derailing me was eliminated.

• The next two also disappeared when I stumbled upon this beautiful quote from ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned while editing my life’ by Donald Miller.

“THE SADDEST THING about life is you don’t remember half of it. You don’t even remember half of half of it. Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth. I have this friend Bob who writes down everything he remembers. If he remembers dropping an ice cream cone on his lap when he was seven, he’ll write it down. The last time I talked to Bob, he had written more than five hundred pages of memories. He’s the only guy I know who remembers his life. He said he captures memories, because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen; it’s as though he hadn’t lived the parts he doesn’t remember.”

It is painfully true. I remember only a handful of high tension, high emotion highlights of my life. The hundreds of tiny incidents which have shaped me as a man have been rubbed clean from my mental slate. I decided then and there that I wanted to retain more of what I was doing and the impact I was creating on my family and society. And before I knew it, the desire to journal had crystallized into determination.

What to journal about?

The things that make you happy and grateful! Journaling is giving your memories a permanent home. It is a ‘vehicle for mindfulness’. It doesn’t matter how bland or eventful the day was, write down anything and everything you want to recall. The big and the small. What did you learn today? Did you have a moment of bliss? Who made you smile? Journal randomly!
Or if that seems to go against your nature, you can rely on Michael Hyatt’s template.

Journal for yourself and yourself only:

Written by Todd Henry, The Accidental Creative is the handbook for being brilliant. And you can borrow from it to grow the much needed journalling confidence. Many of us shrink away from this great tool just because we feel we can’t create ‘publish’ worthy work. Guess what? You aren’t going to share your journal with the world. Because if you do, you may start moderating your own feelings and experiences! Journaling is the mask of anonymity you wear to shout out the truth. Keep it that way.
Following The Accidental Creative principles, I tend to:
• Write fast and without too much preparation to allow my natural style to shine through.
• Work against a time limit! Don’t sit with a blank page for hours. Urgency is important. At least when you are forming your habit. As you evolve into a journaling pro, you can break the rules.
• Write the way I think. I do not try and channel my favourite author. It’s just my voice walking me through another precious day I may like to remember 5 years down the line.

What you write isn’t important. Simply writing is!

Charles Duhigg, author of ‘The Power of Habit‘ says something really powerful. He tells us that writing a thought, is far more important than the actual words used. The mere fact that you take time out to put your words down, even if they are just partially relevant, strengthens recall of feelings and memories at a later date.
So if have had an emotional and stressful day and in your journal you simply jot “emotional and stressful” and nothing else,  those three words can still help you remember the details that would otherwise be lost forever.

Journalling is an act of closure. It gives you a sense of peace and some beautiful moments to look back upon. So when are you going to start? The best time was 20 years ago. The next best is right now!



  1. Thank You Arif for such a lucid piece. It has strengthened my dilly dallying thought into a determination :)

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