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This is a bonus post for you all because I really firmly believe in the power of journaling. Yesterday’s post talked about the basics of journaling and how I got into it, this post is going to talk about some very straight forward steps you can take to help you start using your journal effectively.
First off, in order to move forward, you’ll need to have a journal. That can be a spiral bound notebook from Walmart or this nice Moleskin Hard backed Notebook. The important thing is just to have a place that you can write.
Again, I want to emphasize that I feel it is important to actually put pen to paper. Writing a journal on the computer has less permanence to it because you can’t actually hold your words and ideas and they’re easy to erase. At least with a physical notebook you can carry the weight of it around with you and it is much more difficult to fix mistakes so you have to consider what you’re writing.
So now you’re sitting there with an empty notebook and your favorite pen and….you don’t know what to write.
Well, here are some things you should not write because there is no point in focusing on them:
- Gossip about other people – Just please do yourself a favor and don’t turn your journal into a source of personal drama.
- Lies – Because you’re writing this for you and you’re only lying to yourself. Use your journal as a place to be completely, 100% honest so that you can see things that you need to improve.
- Negative Thoughts About Yourself – Why would you even introduce such things into the world? Saying things like, “I don’t think I can do this” or “There’s no way I’ll be able to” or “I really want to but I can’t” or “I wish I could” are just excuses you tell yourself so that you don’t have to do something new. Maybe it’s because you’re scared or you don’t know where to start. That’s normal and perfectly alright but don’t use excuses to prevent yourself from even trying.
What you should write:
- Goals – Start with just a few. Sit down and really, really consider some things you’d like to change about yourself. For me, my first three goals were to lose weight, learn how to take good photos and keep my house clean. I chose these three things because they would improve my life and help me be creative. You can use those if you’d like (be prepared to purchase a camera if you don’t already have one!) or come up with three entirely different goals. Or maybe just two! I wouldn’t go beyond four to start with. You’re trying to build a habit and if you start too big you’re going to get overwhelmed and stop out of frustration. We’ll talk more about this later.
- Lists – Things you need to get done. Things you’d like to try. Things you’re afraid of and you’d like to get over. Food you’d like to try. Places you’d like to go. Books you’d like to read. Documentaries you’d like to watch. Literally any positive list you can think of. Don’t write lists of people you hate or mean things people have said to you. Don’t dwell on those things.
- Trackers – Trackers come from the Bullet Journaling (or BuJo) world and are basically images or graphs that you draw and color in with specific colors meaning different things. These can be complicated or simple depending on your artistic skills. Here’s one I did from January of this year.I’ve seen trackers used for moods, bills, workouts, habits, chores, savings, weight, anything you can think of you can track with a tracker and you can do it in whatever method works best for you. Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration for trackers.
- Inspirational Quotes – There are some really smart people out there who have said some really motivational things. If you have a favorite quote (or several) go ahead and write them in your journal so that you can look at them whenever you need a little boost!
And of course, if it is going to help you become a better person, feel free to put it in your notebook in any way that is beneficial for you. You can put things in whatever order, too. This is your personal notebook, make it however you like. Use as many different color pens (or pencils or crayons) that you want. There are also fancy markers and some incredible artists have used watercolors in impressive ways.
Once you’ve sat down and figured out your first couple of goals, take an hour or so to figure out why those are your goals. If your goal is to become a millionaire (fair enough), really ask yourself why. If it’s so that people will be jealous of you, please reconsider. You should not create a life that is based on how other people feel. Other people don’t generally care or think about you as much as you think (or wish) they do. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you base your happiness/life/activities on someone else’s emotions, you are going to be jerked around like a puppet on someone else’s string your entire life. If your goal is to become a millionaire because you want to prove to yourself that you can or so that you can provide for your children or family, then that is a better goal. (Disclaimer: I’m cannot guarantee that you will become a millionaire just because you start writing a journal.)
Once you’ve figured out good reasons for these goals, spend awhile writing down how you will know when you’ve reached these goals. With the become a millionaire goal, for example, you’d know you’ve reached the goal when you have $1,000,000 in your bank account. For me, with my take good photos goals, I would know I’ve reached that goal when I win an award at my county fair. (I’ll find out about that in September!!)
The reason you want to know when you’ve reached your goal is so that you have something to work towards. If you sat down in your car and turned it on but didn’t have a destination, would you ever get anywhere? Nope. Same thing with goals. It’s great to say you’d like to lose weight or stop smoking or take better care of your skin, but without a destination (an end result) you’ll never get there.
So now you should have at least three things written in your journal:
- Your goals.
- Why those are your goals.
- How you’ll know once you’ve reached those goals.
You’ve done a lot of thinking! Hopefully you’ve found some things that you’re excited to work on. The next step is to figure out…your next step.
It’s good to have a start (goal) and finish (end result) but without a road map (a process) you’re never going to get anywhere. Don’t go super crazy with this part. Don’t write out your plans for the next two years or whatever. Just start with what you plan on doing tomorrow. What is the logical first step towards your goal?
If your goal is to read more books, the logical first step would be to buy (or rent) a book you’re interested in reading.
If your goal is to start running, a logical first step would be to go outside and go running.
If your goal is to write a book, a logical first step would be to start writing 1,000 words.
If your goal is to start doing Yoga, the logical first step would be to sign up for a Yoga class.
Write out the next logical step and then do it. Writing everything down is great but without actually putting feet to your words, you’re still no closer to achieving your goals.
Then, once you’ve done that first step, figure out the next step and then do that next step.
I know that sounds ridiculously simple and almost naive, but how else does anything big get done? By taking small steps one at a time.
Now you can see why I suggest you only have three or four goals to start out with.
At some point, as you get further along the road with your goals, you’ll start discovering milestones that you’ll work towards. For example, you might sign up for a 5k and need to be able to run 3.1 miles by a certain date. If you’re trying to organize your house, it might prove beneficial to have a deadline that you want to have a particular room organized by. This gives you a definite timeline for when things need to be done by.
Sometimes you’ll discover that one goal is getting in the way of another goal. An example of this is my weight loss goal and my running goal. I’m trying to get down to 120 pounds (and I’m super close!!!) and I’d also like to start running a mile every day. So, I started losing weight and running. But an interesting thing about running – it causes water retention. And water retention means you don’t see any movement on the scale for weeks at a time.
There is nothing wrong with running and losing weight at the same time. It is 100% possible and even good, but I was tired of not seeing the scale change. One day I sat down and figured out that my weight loss goal was more important to me than my running goal. So I stopped running until I’ve completed my weight loss goal and then I’ll pick the running goal back up.
That’s fine! Only you can decide the proper goals for yourself! You are your own person, you get to create whatever sort of life you want! I’m not here to tell you that you have crappy goals or that it would be better to have these goals over those goals.
And then, finally, you have to stick with it. The frustrating thing about long term projects is that it takes awhile to see any results. But if you have goals for the right reasons (for yourself, not other people) and you have a logical process (the next step) and a clearly defined destination (final result), the only remaining thing to do is keep going.
Things will get hard. Keep going.
You’ll definitely mess up. Keep going.
You’ll need to change something. Keep going.
Problems will come up. Keep going.
People will tell you it doesn’t matter. Keep going.
You’ll feel like quitting. Keep going.
Just keep going!