Journaling to Improve Past, Present and Future

Over the past two years, I’ve been reading and asking how to develop better habits and, more importantly, how to make them consistent. “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” This Archilochus quote has been on my mind a lot and I found it via Mr. Tim Ferriss. He’s been my main source, especially through his book Tools of Titans. It covers topics across health, wealth and wisdom. I especially like that it provides original sources and references, and readers can binge on the ones they gravitate most towards.

I tried a bunch of things from his books: fasting, the Wim Hof method, meditation – among other stranger ones. Some were more successful than others, both in consistency and value, but for me, journaling has really stuck and has had the most impact. I use the 5 Minute Journal app: it has a morning entry (for gratitude and setting the day’s priorities) and an evening entry (for record-keeping and positive thinking) – with an option to upload a daily photo. The format really doesn’t matter that much, what does matter is consistently doing your version of it.

For The Past

Recently, while feeling sad and bored, my brain started thinking that I apparently never do fun or impactful things. I went down that rabbit hole and stayed in my head, like many times before. What made this time different was that I had kept a journal for the past year. After reviewing it, it proved me very wrong – I looked at one day and thought “yeah, that was a pretty good day…” followed by “that weekend was pretty amazing…” It has helped in getting out of unjustified gloomy moods.

Go to the source:

For The Present

My memory is usually foggy. At least that’s what I used to think. Being very future-oriented, I find myself thinking “how can this be better/more fun next time? I have to do run this errand before Monday…” It’s easy to see why I “forget” certain things. How can you even remember something when you were distracted and not present? When this happens, my brain sometimes gets silly and fills those spaces in the past using a darker lens than reality.

The journal I use lets you upload a photo a day, just a visual reminder of what made today special or memorable. I find myself more aware, searching for special moments during the day – no matter how big or small – to take my journal photo.

Last couple of days (oldest to most recent): a beautiful walk; delicious lunch; where I had the conversation that inspired the content of this post; a fun bar with friends; a big milestone meditating and trying/failing to find the one true Henley shirt.

5 Minute Journal Photos Example

For The Future

The morning entry part of the journal is used to define what will make a good day. If there is no goal for the day, my brain starts thinking that I should have done more of a never-ending to-do list, and I find myself ending the day on a funky note. The limited space for daily goals forces you to focus on the important things. One could make the argument of only writing one goal for the day: the most uncomfortable task is the one you need to do but also the most likely to procrastinate and carryover for days or weeks.

With the help of loved ones, I’ve found that my current definition of a good day usually includes: doing my morning/evening habits, completing a big useful task (errand, writing or good work) and having one-on-one time with family or friends – in person or text, video or voice note for those far away. Ever since I’ve been aware of this, it has been easier to do it consistently, as I find myself fishing for those opportunities during the day.

5 Minute Journal Morning, Evening Example

An example of a day with morning entry (left) and evening entry (right). Missed the cold shower again but was a great day

Invert, always invert” – Jacobi (via Charlie Munger)

Businesses have weekly sales reports and quarterly reviews. We can adapt those concepts to ourselves for improving. Instead of doing new year’s resolutions, try a review as Mr. Tim Ferriss, Mr. Steve Kerr and many people do. Going through your writing and photos, it’s not hard to identify the 20% of activities/things/people that gave you 80% of the best and worst times (Pareto’s Principle). Schedule in advance more of what makes you happy. Avoid the few things responsible for most of your unhappiness.

Go to the source:

Final thoughts

I’ve read a lot of benefits of journaling. For me, it’s a daily training in positive thinking, a record to be consulted (especially when those silly thoughts creep in) and a habit that triggers a pre-sleeping routine. I use the “5 Minute Journal” app: it’s quick, it’s simple, and you can upload a daily picture which makes it easy and fun to identify a special day. Other alternatives are the physical 5 Minute Journal, the free Momento app, or use a blank notebook where you can fill out as you please:

Morning entry: gratitude and priorities

  • 1 line for 3 things I am grateful for…
  • 1 line for 3 things of what would make today great?
  • 1 line for daily affirmation

Evening entry: record keeping and positive thinking (start out doing only this)

  • 1 line for 3 amazing things that happened today
  • 1 line for how could I have made today even better

Go to the source:

5 thoughts on “Journaling to Improve Past, Present and Future

  1. Pingback: Morning Rituals: Seed & Scale To Make Yourself Stronger and Wiser | I Am Francisco

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  3. Pingback: 004 Podcast Andres, Panky y Patricia Perez Muskus – Psicoterapia y el Impacto de los Prejuicios | What I've Learned

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