Journaling Ideas to Make Life Better

4 simple practices that actually work

Hello friends and welcome back to Life Reimagined, a free weekly elixir designed to make you feel good and live better.

📝 I. Journaling Ideas to Make Life Better

I’ve tried dozens of journaling practices over the last 15 years. And while my favorite form of journaling is to simply open up a blank page and babble about the mundane details of my life, there are a few structured journaling practices that I’ve found helpful and wanted to share today.

1. Mistakes Journal

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve used journaling to try to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

One technique I use is to keep a running list of all the dumb things I’ve done. Whenever I mess up in a way that I want to avoid in the future, I write a short note about what I did and the context of how and why it happened.

Writing about the mistake helps me become more aware of what happened and less likely to repeat the mistake. And an unexpected benefit of this list of mistakes is that it’s fun to review once or twice a year.

Reviewing the list has surprised me in two ways. First, I’ve evolved more than I remember. And second, the mistakes that caused me so much pain and anguish when they happened no longer feel so emotionally potent. It’s a good reminder that even when you mess up, life moves on and ends up okay.

2. Anxiety and Worry Journal

In How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers what I think is the best framework for reducing worry and solving problems.

Whenever I’m worried or anxious about something and am struggling to find a productive path forward, I write the answer to four questions:

  1. What am I worrying about? (define the anxiety or worry fully)

  2. What can I do about it? (list out everything you can do to solve the problem, even if it’s a crazy idea you won’t actually do)

  3. What am I going to do about it? (decide on what path you are going to take)

  4. When am I going to start doing it? (decide when you will start working on the plan)

This exercise does three things. First, it helps me define and become more self-aware about what is actually bothering me. Second, it allows me to think of fresh ideas for solving the predicament. Third, it forces me to decide on a plan of action with a set timeline for making progress.

This exercise does not always solve my problem immediately, but it often shakes me out of a frenzied mindset and helps me find a productive path forward.

3. Habit Journal

Whenever I try to build a new habit or quit an old one, I keep a daily journal to facilitate learning and stay accountable. I ditch the journal once I no longer feel that it’s helping me. Here are a few use cases from over the years:

  • Surfing journal: When I learned how to surf as an adult, I recorded my thoughts after each session. I wrote about the quirks of a wave, my performance, and other observations that would help me in future sessions. Some of my journaling focused on the joys of surfing and desire to improve, which kept me motivated to keep going.

  • Daily food journal: When I felt unhealthy and wanted to eat better, I wrote down everything I ate for a couple of weeks. This exercise gave me an awareness of what I was eating, but it also made me think twice every time I went for an unhealthy snack because I knew I would have to record it. Keeping a food journal for even a week can be powerful.

  • Quitting alcohol journal: When I took a month off of drinking alcohol, I kept a journal to track my thoughts, temptations, and how I felt as the month went on.

  • Stomach pain journal. When I had problems with my gut, I kept a daily log to remember my symptoms and track what was helping or hurting. This journal helped me understand what was actually happening over time and allowed me to give a more precise synopsis of the situation to doctors.

4. Values Journal

On many occasions, I’ve used journaling to try to nudge myself in a new direction. For many years, I wanted to be someone who was always learning, grateful, excited about life, and helping others. To make sure I was living by those values, I answered four questions every morning.

  1. What did I learn yesterday?

  2. What am I grateful for?

  3. What am I excited about?

  4. Who did I help yesterday?

Answering these questions every day helped me stay accountable for being the person I said I wanted to be. For example, if I went a week without having helped someone, my journal entries were a good reminder that I needed to change what I was actually doing in my daily life.

The prompts you choose should be specific to your goals. If you don’t know where to start, just decide that you want to be a happier person and write three things you’re grateful for every morning.

🧠 II. Something I’m Thinking About

Be careful about the stories you tell yourself.

“Memories create our stories, but our stories also create our memories. Once we have a narrative, we shape our memories to fit into it.”

Tavris and Aronson in Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). Resurfaced using Readwise.

That's all for now. See you next Sunday.

— Cal

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