I first started journaling in January 2018 after I read Hal Elrod’s, Miracle Morning (or scribing as it is referred to in the book).
This was the first time in my life that I had ever attempted to log my personal thoughts. I’d never kept a diary as a kid, so initially I was struggling with things to write about in a journal.
I understood it was simply about getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, but that didn’t make the struggle any less real.
My first attempt at journaling wasn’t all that great. I was going to share my first ever entry here with you today, but my scribbles from Monday 22nd January 2018 look more like a badly worded, half-hearted attempt at a to-do list.
Plus, I’m not going to lie, I’m ever slightly embarrassed by the contents of my somewhat illegible to-do list. Yes, that’s right, it’s written in a pad, and I used a pen…remember them?
In fact, all my journal entries make use of pen and paper. There’s something quite therapeutic about returning to “old-school” ways (although I guess the actual practice of writing about your thoughts and feelings is supposed to be therapeutic anyway).
Okay, so over the last two-and-a-half plus years (at the time of writing this) I have written about many subjects in my journal, some structured, many all over the place.
However, I appear to have struck gold with a few different methods that seem to have the desired effect for me. So, without further ado I’d like to introduce you to some of my favourite things to write about in a journal.
1. The Gratitude List
I guess my preferred method of journaling (and probably most common) is writing out a gratitude list.
I’ve read many times that if we’re ever feeling down, depressed, or caught up in a vortex of negative thinking, we should remember the things we are grateful for.
I must admit I struggled with the concept initially, but now I can come up with 10, 20, 30 things on a daily basis without even having to put much thought into it.
Sometimes I remind myself of the things I have, which I take for granted, that many people around the world go without, and would view as a luxury.
I have a roof over my head, the ability to pay my bills, I can use all my limbs, I have a mind that functions (most of the time), I have food in my belly, I have people who love me, people that I love, and a whole host more.
You get my drift.
Then there are the times that I am grateful for something more specific that perhaps occurred the previous day.
A meal that I really enjoyed, a workout that was on-point, an article I had written, the fact that I got all the housework done, etc.
I have even shown gratitude for things that I’d never really considered before.
A great example is something that happened when I went for my morning walk earlier. It had been raining overnight, and was still cloudy and overcast, but it was dry when I ventured out. The temperature was warm enough to wear a t-shirt, but there was that lovely cooling breeze in the air.
I got to my local park and breathed in and was greeted by what I consider a wonderful smell – the grass had obviously been cut very recently (I’m thinking yesterday), but the rain somehow gave the grass a beautiful, cleansing and refreshing smell.
I’m not sure whether that makes me sound a little crazy, but surely some of you understand and appreciate that lovely damp smell of freshly cut grass.
Just me then is it?
Anyway, my point is, there is so much to be grateful for in our everyday lives, and the vast majority of which we take for granted.
I’m even grateful that the barista got my coffee order correct, or that I only had to wait 10 minutes in a queue rather than an hour.
My gratitude journaling can also take on a couple of different forms.
I typically set a timer for 10 minutes to complete my morning journaling.
Oh yeah, I forgot to add I generally write in my journal first thing in the morning straight after I have meditated.
Actually, I think I need to clarify something here.
Firstly, meditation is again something that I had never attempted until I read the Miracle Morning (Hal you’ve got a lot to answer for), although in the book it is referred to as “silence”. And in truth that is exactly what I do.
I am no expert when it comes to meditation, so I basically sit in silence for 10 minutes and try to concentrate on my breath without letting my thoughts consume me.
Some days are great and I feel truly wonderful afterwards. Then there are other days when my mind is constantly going off on a tangent and I feel anything but relaxed after my meditation session.
Talking about going off on a tangent – I was supposed to be talking about journaling and not meditation (don’t worry, you’ll get used to me, I often completely forget what I’m talking about and start a brand new conversation. You’re guess is as good as mine as to what’s coming out of my mouth next).
Okay, as I said, I set a timer for 10 minutes and then start my gratitude journaling.
Now depending on how I feel I can just reel off a list and usually get to about 12-15 different things that I’m grateful for (don’t forget thinking time).
A list would typically have me write something like
“I am grateful for the beautiful smell of wet and freshly cut grass that I encountered on my morning walk today”.
And nothing more.
Other days I like to go into more detail, and on these days I’ll probably only get about 3 or 4 things that I’m grateful for down on paper, but in a way this releases just as much (if not more) of the feel-good factor associated with gratitude journaling.
“I am grateful for the beautiful smell of wet and freshly cut grass that I encountered on my walk today. I don’t know what it is about that smell, but I absolutely love it. I think perhaps it reminds me of when I was a child and my dad had just cut the grass the day before. All 3 of us would be sitting in the back room with the patio doors open, it would be raining, but me, mum and dad would be staring out into the garden taking in all the sights, sounds and smells that a beautiful (but rainy) summer’s day has to offer. The flowers in full bloom, the vegetable plots looking ripe for the picking, and the 3 of us sat together in utter bliss”.
I guess it’s all about how I feel on the day, as to how much detail I go into with my gratitude list, but hopefully you get my meaning.
2. The Brain Dump
The next type of entry I like to write about in a journal is what I affectionately refer to as a “brain dump”.
It’s pretty much as it sounds and I am attempting to dump all my thoughts and feelings onto paper in 10 minutes flat.
I tend to veer towards this form of journaling when there’s something on my mind.
In fact, you could say that there is typically a lot of pent-up emotion swirling around in my mind and I just have to get it out of me.
Whereas gratitude journaling focuses on the positive, I find that the brain dump can often be extremely negative.
I am often in somewhat of a quandary to have a brain dump, but we are also told that we shouldn’t hold onto negative thoughts and it’s best to get them out in the open.
Just in the same way that you may discuss things that are bothering you with your partner or a friend, the brain dump is a great way to have this conversation with yourself.
So, in reality it’s no-holds barred. You can say whatever you want, because no-one’s ever going to read this (did I mention that your journal is a way of getting your innermost thoughts down on paper, never to be shared with anyone else ever, unless of course you choose to do so?)
As I say, the brain dump does leave me with mixed feelings, as I sometimes think that by being negative first thing in the morning may perhaps set the tone for the rest of my day.
You know, I’ve just spent 10 minutes writing about things that are bothering me and it can almost turn into a “moan session”, which in turn can potentially affect my mood.
But, then again, surely it’s good to get these things off my chest.
3. The Happy Memory
The final method of journaling I use, and probably the most infrequent, is to write about a positive experience from my past.
Or to be more precise, a happy memory.
In a way you could say that this is the complete opposite of a brain dump, and a far more detailed version of gratitude journaling.
I would also say (as I write this) that I’m at a loss as to why I don’t use this method of journaling more often.
In fact, I’ve just decided that tomorrow morning is “happy memory journaling day”.
This is the ideal opportunity to think of something great that has happened in your life and write in as much detail about everything you can remember.
It could be the day you got married, the birth of a child, a specific holiday, etc.
To be honest, I like to go a little deeper. I often write about a very specific moment in time. How I felt. What I saw. What I heard. Even what I could smell (I seem to have a lot of happy times that involved smelling stuff, who knew?)
The most common happy memories (that I tend to write about) are when I’ve been on holiday.
However, I focus on a very specific event.
I recall one such trip – I visit Kolkata, India quite often. It’s the place of my late mother’s birth.
While both my mother and father were alive, they spent their retirement living the winter months in Kolkata and returned to London in the Summer.
So, whenever I could I would go and visit them.
Anyway, back to this trip.
I remember being with my favourite Uncle (we all have “favourite” Uncle) and we were taking a 3-day boat trip along the Sundarbans in the Bay of Bengal, just the two of us, families left at home (sorry guys).
When I say boat, it was a large vessel, but I wouldn’t call it a ship, although in truth I wouldn’t know the difference anyway.
I wish I’d taken a video at the time (although this was pre-smartphone days, or actually I should say, “pre me having a smartphone days”, as that didn’t happen until 2012), however here’s a video of a similar (but MUCH smaller) boat taking a trip across the Sundarbans.
The living quarters were downstairs, and I guess there were about 50+ people on the boat.
Upstairs was the restaurant area. We’d spend many hours upstairs, as it also doubled as a cafe/bar/chill out zone.
I recall sitting there one afternoon. The temperature must have been 35C or above, so very near to 100F. We were sipping ice-cold beers, sitting in silence, looking across the Bay of Bengal as the boat slowly chugged along.
I felt this cooling breeze as the sun was beating down on me and I remember thinking to myself that this felt like absolute paradise.
For the small matter of a few minutes I didn’t think about anything or anyone else. I had no worries, none of life’s stresses were on my shoulders. I just sat there, took a deep breath in, and surveyed my surroundings.
Even just remembering that moment in time and writing briefly about it now I feel a smile spreading across my face and a warm glow in my heart.
There must be something to this “Happy Memory” journaling.
So, there you have it – Things to write about in a journal.
Obviously there are many other things that you could write about in your journal.
A simple Google search or even a visit to Pinterest will reveal a whole host of writing opportunities.
I’m sure there will be times that I will look up other things to journal about, but for now I have my 3 favourites.
- Brain dump
- Happy Memory
What about you?
Do you keep a journal?
Do you put your thoughts down on paper on a regular basis?
Are there any specific topics you like to journal about?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.
So, go ahead, drop me a line in the comments section below.
I’ll be waiting.