(Re)Learning How to Journal

My old and my new: Benjamin Franklin versus Kindle Paperwhite.

Journalling remains the most useful way to keep myself centred, and whenever I feel out of sorts, it is usually because I have let my journalling slip. But sometimes it slips because the process of journalling is no longer helping me, and I have to reset. Here is my current process of resetting my journalling habit.

I have written about my journalling process twice before. Beginning as a morning and evening routine in December 2016, my journalling habit has, since COVID-19 has allowed me to work from home more often, become a once-a-day habit.

The first thing I noticed was that the morning and evening routine I established while on long service leave was relatively easy to maintain, but it became difficult as my workload progressively increased. But the necessity of journalling has not diminished. But the process is no longer providing me with the relief from my monkey mind. Tim Ferriss says it best:
I’m just caging my monkey mind on paper so I can get on with my fucking day.
That's me.

My earlier process, documented in March 2018, included the Daily Stoic, the Daily Stoic Journal, Benjamin Franklin's Virtues Journal, and also La Rochefoucauld's Maxims and James Allen's meditations from As a Man Thinketh.

My second attempt at a major revamp of my journalling process was documented in February 2021. I had had some EMDR sessions that were extremely helpful and I wanted to try to do my own version of EMDR with some "self-tapping" to see if I could "speak" with my various parts (known as "parts therapy"). 

I also included a section where I recorded a "quote of the day". In recent times, I have drawn upon Ecclesiastes as my main source of inspiration. The final part was free-form writing to clear the monkey mind.

My idea was to leave the free-form writing until the end, so that I could get through the major exercises each day. When I was free-writing first, I ended up doing too much of this and not getting to the part where I looked to the Stoics or to my "virtues".  When I "flipped" this approach, I never got to finish my free-writing and I noticed my journal was more of a record of my Stoic and other exercises. I didn't get to clear my monkey mind, and I didn't have a record of my day.

It is clear that the Daily Stoic and the Daily Stoic Journal remain important, as does Franklin's Virtues Journal. I put the first two together in one section but now I use the Kindle version (it is much easier to carry when I travel). But I still use the hardcopy version of the Virtues Journal. It is small enough to carry around and I also like the other records I keep in the daily assessment of my behaviours.

But the free writing needs to be the first thing I do. If my journal does not keep a record of what I do nor clear my monkey mind, then what is the point of it? And I simply have to complete my daily Stoic exercises because that is essential to sticking to the logic (external events are neither good nor bad but my reactions to these are either virtuous or not).

So today I have been contemplating, among other things, how I will re-arrange my daily journalling regimen. It will look something like this:
  1. Free writing: What I did, what I thought/dreamt/contemplated, what I will do, what is bothering me and so on.
  2. Daily Stoic: Reflect on Ryan Holiday's Daily Stoic and the Daily Stoic Journal as I have done for years now.
  3. Record my behaviours and responses against the Virtues Journal as I have done for years.
  4. Ask myself a series of questions from a laminated page. The questions might include:
  • Drawing on Bryan Collins:
    • What’s on my mind?
    • How should I have reacted in hindsight?
    • How are things different now?
    • What would I say to a younger version of myself?
    • What am I grateful for?
    • What do I value?
    • Who helped me?
    • What did I do?
    • What should I stop doing?
    • What should I do less?
    • What should I continue doing?
    • What should I do more?
    • What should I start doing?
  • And drawing on Dean Bokhari:
    • Write down your goals every day.
    • Keep a daily log.
    • Journal three things you’re grateful for every day.
    • Journal your problems.
    • Journal your stresses.
    • Journal your answer to “What’s the best thing that happened today?” every night before bed.
The above reorganises the first three essential parts of my journalling and reduces the number of things I write about. The daily quote was an interesting idea but I think it is better to record quotes I find rather than go looking for one each day - although interesting, the latter approach leads to procrastination.

There is some obvious repetition in the fourth part, and I will need to clarify the approach once I have given it a go. But for now, this is my latest approach to journalling.