Everybody is into personal growth these days. And into storytelling or writing. And rightfully so. At the same time, everybody’s on the cusp of a digital burnout due to digital information overload.
But we want to write more. Get more done. Often online. Funny, right?
What if I told you there’s one very simple hack that can help you grow in all of these areas at the same time, and then some?
The hack I’m talking about is daily journaling. In this article, I’m gonna give you:
- The reasons to do it (backed by psychological research);
- How to do it effectively in five minutes (personal growth journal prompts);
- How to build the habit of journaling everyday.
The logic of journaling for personal growth
In my upcoming book, “Growth Storytelling: How to Find, Communicate and Live your Purpose”, I help you to do… well, what the title says, basically. One of the underlying ideas in my book is that in order to grow to become the best possible version of yourself that you might ever become, it helps to find your Purpose.
But in order to do that, I believe — and have found through experimentation — that it’s imperative to train your self-reflection muscles. Your thinking muscles, your mindfulness muscles. Gratitude. Self-direction. And focus.
Journaling gets you all of these, as you will see in a minute.
Here’s another way of looking at this: instead of looking at your phone to wake up in the morning, while sipping coffee — instead of having your head filled with (mostly) negative news, the latest hype on social media or people looking for your attention, do this:
Journal for five minutes each day at the start of the day. It will change your life. As it has mine.
Why invest five minutes of your time into yourself each day
Self-reflection, self-direction, and Mindfulness are key tools for humans and organizations willing to not only stay healthy and sane, but even to thrive in the 21st century. Although their use is not limited to our time.
Monks, kings, stoics, buddhists, scholars, artists, writers all the way down to the successful businessmen of Silicon Valley, have used these philosophies and the practices of Self-reflection, mindfulness meditation, and journaling to their advantage. Why shouldn’t you and I?
How do we find time to fit self-reflection and mindfulness into our busy daily schedule? We’ll get to that in a minute.
But first, is that investment of our most precious resource — time — really worth it?
The contra-intuitive benefits of journaling: 5 minutes to increase your output by 42%
Here are the main benefits of taking notes and more so of journaling:
- What you write, you learn.
- What you write, you remember.
- What you write, you (are more likely to) achieve.
That last one is clearly most important within the space that we’re talking about here: journaling for personal growth. What you write, you achieve. Here’s the proof:
An elegant study at the Dominican University of California looked at 149 participants from six countries, who worked in various fields. The participants were divided into five groups, and each group was asked to go through a different process in setting their goals and working towards them:
- Simply thinking about their goals.
- Writing their goals down.
- Writing their goals down and forming action commitments.
- Writing their goals down, forming action commitments, and sending both to a supportive friend.
- Same as #4, as well as sending weekly progress reports to a friend.
After four weeks the participants rated their progress towards their goals. What would you expect the outcomes to be? Group 5 achieved significantly more than the rest of the groups, with group 4 not far behind. But, surprisingly, group 2 came in third. In fact, simply writing down their goals improved their chances of achieving them by 42%.
So: goal-directed bullet journaling can help you reach your goals.
Awesome — but that’s not even half of the benefits you can get from journaling. Journaling can be therapeutic. It can help increase your general mindfulness and your understanding of yourself.
Another important aspect of journaling is that it helps you train your writing muscles and keep them loose and warm — all the while experimenting with and finding your voice as a writer. But that’s a story for another day.
OK, great. But… how do you even get started with journaling? Well, there’s two general ways of journaling I advise:
- Extensive journaling:
This is essentially just taking the time to write a letter to yourself or a close friend, about any and all things that are occupying your mind and body at the time. You could do this every week, every other week, or once a month, as kind of a self-therapy session.
- 5-Minute, Daily Growth journaling
To keep you happy, in tune with your Purpose and Growth Story, and more strategically productive all day, every day. How to get all that in five minutes? Check out the next section.
Daily Growth Journaling
“Gratitude is an expression of courage. It’s a choice, to say: despite of all this, it’s good. Gratitude is opening yourself up to the possibility of being disappointed. That’s courage.”
-Jordan B. Peterson.
The Daily Growth Journaling method is designed to help create focus, improve your happiness and create a sense of mastery over your own day and your own life, first and foremost. The end of the daily journaling exercise in my Growth Storytelling framework is to align daily priorities and timeslots in your actual calendar, with your defined Purpose and Next Step.
Daily journaling will already help you create focus and a sense of self-direction in your life, at work and outside of it. It will also train your self-reflection muscles. It will help start off your day with gratitude, mindfulness, self-love and self-direction.
How do you get all of that in five to ten minutes?
Daily Growth Journaling: six elements in five minutes
(personal growth journal prompts)
The Daily Growth Journaling method should take up no longer than five to ten minutes, preferably near or at the beginning of your workday. It is made up out of six very short, simple elements. It is designed to fit on one page of an average (A5) notebook.
I advise you to use pen and paper, as it will probably be a good psychological and physical break from your digital workday. Use a Bambook or MOYU book, save a tree and do your part for the environment.
Write the date of the day at the top of the page. Then continue with these six steps:
1. Gratitude and Self-affirmation — 1 or 2 minutes.
Write down three things, persons, or aspects of things or persons — including yourself — that you are grateful for. Use three to five lines of text for this. If you feel like sharing your gratitude with others, please do.
Oftentimes, for me, this has been my wife, children, parents or close friends. Sometimes it’s been the fact that I am alive or my job or my capacity to feel; my capacity for love. Sometimes, this has been a certain coworker. Other times it has been a song I’d be listening to, or a specific artist or even genre of music. Or the cup of green tea or coffee that I’d be drinking. You can be grateful for anything, big or small.
After your three gratitude expressions, write the following three short sentences: “I am enough. I love myself and care for myself. I believe in myself and my ability to reach my goals.” — or, a variation of these that works for you but carries the same basic meaning. Practice really feeling it when you write it. [You could add: “Look at me, doing this thing I planned to do today.”].
Gratitude and Self-affirmations, really? Yes, really. Research indicates that practicing gratitude regularly can make you more energetic, happier, — and thereby more productive — more succesful, and less stressed over time — among other (health) benefits.
Self-love, self-care and self-belief have been shown to improve happiness, health and life success. We can even find scientific logic, research and proof for the usefulness of self-affirmations. These effects build up over time, like compound interest.
2. Mindfulness — 1 or 2 minutes.
What are you looking at right now? What is occupying your thoughts? And your feelings? Write down in one short sentence how you are feeling, or what you are thinking about, this morning. Or both. Mindfulness, practiced daily, can bring the same kind of benefits to your mind and body as gratitude can.
3. Redefine or re-state your Purpose or Next step — 1 or 2 minutes. [Or: Legend summary statement]
In one short sentence (max. three lines of text, preferably shorter), write down your Purpose or Next Step as you view it today. Is it the same as you defined yesterday? And a month ago? Write it down as best you can for how you feel about it today. Include one KPI number in the sentence to make it more SMART.
What if you don’t know your Purpose yet? Or exactly what your Next Step should be? No worries. Just write down what you really want to and could realistically achieve in one year. Challenge yourself a little bit, but not too much.
4. Realistic Daily Achievements — 1 or 2 minutes.
In three bullet points, write down three major — or minor, but important and/or scary things that you can realistically achieve during your workday. Things that will make a difference toward achieving your Purpose or Next Step. Slightly stretch yourself for this as well, but never too thin. Be kind to yourself, and challenge yourself a little bit.
In my case sometimes one of these bullets can be making serious progress on an article or a workshop. Or having a key conversation with a key co-worker or other stakeholder. Or my wife. If it’s things like e-mail, or small administrative tasks, batch these into one bullet point — but be sure to name the ones that matter on paper.
The real game-changer here is to compare your bullet list to your actual schedule [calendar], and make aligned choices. ‘What is actually the most important thing that I can do today?’
5. Off-time Accomplishments — 1 or 2 minutes.
In three or less bullet points, write down three major — or minor, etc. — things that you can realistically do on your off-time today. In my personal case, “Cuddle & Care” — which stands for spending some dedicated time being a good husband to my wife and a father to my children, is on there almost every day.
Sometimes it’s writing something that I need to write. Other times it’s Netflix and chill, or self-care in the form of sleeping early or doing a workout. Seek balance, here. I do advise you to make sure you add one goal that relates to self-love and/or self-care, and one that regards your (close) relationships.
6. Daily recap — 1 or 2 minutes.
At the end of the page, write down “This has been today, [date of the day]”. Underneath that line, write down how your day went, in (a) summarizing phrase(s). The main goal here is to reflect on your own behavior, learning and Growth in relation to embodying whatever it is your Next Step and/or Purpose is.
You can do this at the actual end of your day, for instance when you lie down to go to sleep, this will help you sleep better. It will also help you plan for the next day. Alternately, you can also just fill in the daily recap for the former day every next morning. If you want the biggest bang, check your journal at the end of your workday and at bedtime.
What might that look like? Here’s an example from my journal today: