For anyone who doesn’t yet know, I started journaling since I was in 4th grade, starting in Vietnamese, French and then English. I was 8 years old back then, and I have never stopped writing ever since.
To me, journaling isn’t just the way to recall my facts and figures (which I’m obviously not good at), but also a way to connect with my emotions, or to a larger extent, my inner self. As I grow older, my notes started lending themselves to different formats, getting more structured, and highly organized. Depending on your subject, journaling can go above the productivity purpose and add much clarity to your personal development journey.
1. Look beyond the subject, into your Whys
A fact is what meets the eyes, but the underlying motivation might be more difficult to see through. E.g: It’s easy to say you’re good at Maths, Science, and numbers. It’s easy to notice that you make lightning fast mental calculation. It brings you joy, but why so? Is it because it makes you more competitive than whoever applies to the same job that you do? Is it because you like to build things, and understand the numbers allow you to do so? Or, are you fascinated by the interconnection of human being? Your answer, whatever it is, speaks to your driving force: competing, building and connecting. They are all not mutually exclusive, but by articulating your Whys, you realize that Science is a mean to an end, not an end goal itself. You choose Science to express your deeper values.
2. Get granular
Peter Drucker said: “What you can’t manage, you can’t measure”. The only way that you can measure something, is to document it. A few examples of mine:
- Fitness: It’s uncomfortable to admit we’re off track from time to time, but what’s more important is to look at the underlying cause of our delay. I have 2 weeks of slowing down on my workout progress to 3 times a week instead of 5-6 times. When I look more closely, the reason was injury. I didn’t do enough stretch, so my hamstring was very tight, and it disabled me from doing further abs exercise.
- Learning: I wanted to fast track the learning to Marketo Certificate (a Marketing Automation Certificate), so I organized my notes around the course content. Looking back, some modules end up taking me much longer than I thought, but I was able to build several templates of the subject that save me a few hours a week down the line.
- Haircare: After 1.5 years constantly taking picture of my hair and organize it into a folder, I can tell what ingredients my hair likes, and what to pay attention to (humidity, wind, hormonal changes, stress, etc.). (Disclaimer: I’m very far from a beauty addict, but I’ve actually learned a ton about chemistry and the haircare industry as a whole).
3. Build consistency
Most often we glamorize the medium-term achievement without paying enough attention to daily decision. We are so used to looking at ourselves everyday, that sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for doing “that tiny good work” day in day out. As of the writing time, I clocked in 70K steps this week, which equals a little bit less than 30 miles/a week of movement, on top of 5 days a week HIIT workout. I learned that while I love to be outdoor, I’m not a fan of running. The only way I’m sure of that is because I have done so at a substantial rate that I’m sure I’m not giving up half way just because I “don’t feel like it”.
4. Customize and optimize
I believe that your past behaviors inform your future decision. In light of COVID-19, we are all experiencing something unprecedented. However, if you “decode” each state of mind that you’re experiencing right now (stress, anxiety, sadness, depression, etc.), you might have met it somewhere along your previous journey, but probably at a different scale. By regularly journaling, I know what experience I run toward/run away from. Within that limited bandwidth we’re giving now, in terms of geography, physical and social, what experience can I reproduce? What can I optimize? Each of us cope with different changes in life under different lenses, some easy, some difficult, some painful. What do you know, is good for you, but you constantly delay? Most often, it’s a good indicator for your biggest roadblocks. For me, I handle work, financial and relationship friction (if any) pretty well, but housing stress will send me paralyzed. Therefore, I organize my life in a way that I minimize my stress the most in areas in which I’m most vulnerable.
5. View yourself holistically
Three dimensions I embrace in my well-being are: mental, physical, emotional. Everytime I introduce any change to an area of life, I check back in with myself on 3 elements above: What does my mind tell me? How does my body react? What do I feel? There was a 5 months period in the past I was cooking almost everyday. While I love to discover that I’m a decent cook, I realize that it’s not the cooking or the food itself that brings me joy, it was the experience: it was the feeling of doing something new (such as trying a new recipe). In other words, me making food for other people isn’t my way of showing my care to them, but more to serve my strong appetite for ‘adventure’, with an ‘audience’. The inference is:
- It’d be very wrong for me to date someone who expects me to cook because I love them (!!).
- My sense of adventure translates to different areas in life, it just happens to “spill over” into cooking.
The inference, by far, is way more powerful and meaningful to me than the fact itself!
How to choose a journaling medium?
My answer is simple: Find anything that works for you. I use:
- Evernote for brainstorming, thoughts dumping, I organize my notes under separate Notebooks, and tag it with relevant category.
- Google Spreadsheet for stuffs that require a bit more monitoring, like learning a new language, passing a certificate, learning a new tool.
- A physical notebook to jot down my Annual theme, and check in with myself every quarter on my progress.
- Mint.com for financial tracking
- Notion.so: Not much journaling, but more a project management tools to help me stay organized.
Out of all the work I’ve done, I think understanding myself is the most exhaustive form of research I’ve performed. Allow yourself to be seen, in full transparency, is the greatest ability on earth one can have. Journaling allows me to not only stay good, but stay kind, and even more, stay true to myself. It allows me to consciously welcome more changes in life.