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How Journaling Changed My Life

And How to Get Started

I was sat at my computer, on a grey November afternoon, watching the rain outside pelt against the window & the light gradually fade from the day around 4pm.

London winter.

My first business was really struggling, I had no idea what to do. I felt isolated & overwhelmed.

I’ve never been somebody to reach out to others in such a situation. I prefer to deal with things myself. To find inner-strength through adversity. Or to just avoid the problem.

But this time, I turned to writing.

I wrote about my hopes. My fears. The things keeping me up at night.

And I found catharsis in my writing.

Writing that consisted of a handful of scattered paragraphs, spread over a few days, jotted down on my MacBook’s Notes app.

I wrote nothing profound, nothing of real interest to anyone else, nothing with any immediate, tangible outcome.

Yet it helped.

It helped to make those hopes concrete. To convert them from vague, fleeting ideas into something that existed on paper. To create something tangible to confront. Something to give form to.

It helped to confront my fears. To substantiate them for what they really were. To realise those fears were far less powerful on paper — far less intimidating — when they are no longer allowed to run free through your mind at will.

So I kept at it. Every day (more like whenever I managed to remember). I stopped for a few weeks. Picked it up again. Revised my approach. Started habitualising the practice. Started seeing greater, more tangible benefits.

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” — J.M. Barrie

And 3 years later, I consider journaling the cornerstone in my pursuit of living a good life:

It has improved my quality of thought, my sense of contentment — with relationships, with work, with myself — as well as forcing me to take action to confront my hopes & fears every day.

The benefits of journaling are well documented & have been promulgated by numerous historical figures, such as Marcus Aurelius & Benjamin Franklin.

The question, therefore, is are you willing to put the work in to habitualise this practice? And do you want to learn how?

How to habitualise journaling?

I could now tell you how I got to writing 30,000 words per month. I could tell you all of the different little questions & hints I use to prompt myself to write better. About how I draw inspiration from my environment, from my experiences.

But these things would lead you towards failure.

Because, as with all habits, you need to start small.

Scientific studies invariably show that if you over-complicate it or aim too big, you will give up. 80% of people give up on their New Year Resolution before the second week because they never give themselves a fighting chance.

You lose motivation. You don’t see big, tangible results. The whims of life & old habits creep back in.

Secondly, link your habit to an existing habit to prompt yourself every day to perform the habit. If you open your laptop every morning, make journaling the first thing you do. If you check your emails first thing, send yourself an email reminder every morning to write your journal.

Whatever it is, find a way to tie your new habit to an existing one to give yourself the best chance of success.

It’s that simple:

Start small & link your new habit to an existing one.

Your first steps:

Therefore, I challenge you to simply do the following:

  1. Open a note-taking app right now
  2. Write down one single sentence about what you want to achieve today
  3. Identify an existing habit you do every morning
  4. Then create a visual reminder next to where you perform the existing habit and/or set a Calendar reminder
  5. On your laptop, make the note-taking app icon as visible as possible, to create a visual reminder

Once you’ve done that for a month, only then we can talk about the content.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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