How to Journal for Self Growth

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Journaling can have a significant impact on your self growth, but is there a best way to do it? How can you establish a journaling habit that’s effective and consistent?
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Josh Sultan
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Mar 26, 2022
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I’ve been journaling for a decade; it’s one of my “keystone habits.” If my daily routine were a brick archway, then daily journaling is the wedge-cut piece at the pinnacle. It stops the whole thing from crumbling in on itself.
Everyone should build a habit of journaling for self-growth. Journaling is the single habit that’s had the most significant impact on my self-growth. My morning routine changes from time to time, but no matter how it changes, I always make room for journaling.
I’ve created a guide to setting up a journaling habit that sticks, full of tips, tricks, and common mistakes. Today, I’m going to share it with you.
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The Benefit of Journaling

“Benefit? Singular?” you ask.
That’s right.
The sole benefit of journaling is that it helps you do whatever you want. Daily journaling isn’t a goal. Instead, it’s a tool you can use every day to help you achieve your goals.
If your goal were to look presentable, journaling is a stiff comb through messy hair.
If your goal were to reduce anxiety, journaling is the rake that draws circles in the sand of your zen garden.
There’s plenty of research that shows the benefits of journaling. It’s a standard tool in cognitive behaviour therapy.
This 2008 study concluded, "journaling may have important psychological benefits above and beyond its expected academic and cognitive outcomes.” Done right, journaling is a springboard for your day.
Now that I've convinced you, let’s get to the details.

A Josh Sultan Original Idea: Modular Journaling

Modular Journaling (trademark pending) is what I call my journaling style. It’s a form of bullet journaling, but the key difference is that it’s designed to change.
Life is inconsistent. Your energy levels, emotions, and goals change all the time. If you want to build a journaling habit that sticks, it needs to fit you like a glove no matter what you’ve got going on.
You’ll have different “blocks” of content to write about when Modular Journaling. The blocks you use each day are interchangeable. Here are my blocks:

· Daily highlight

An idea from Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. This is the single most important thing I must do today. Get this done, and no matter what else happens, today will have been a success.

· Something I’m grateful for

It could be a friend, a good coffee, a catchy song. Anything that you’re glad to have.

· Something I’m letting go

Have you embarrassed yourself in public? Lost your temper at something silly? If a regret pops into your mind at night and stops you from sleeping, write it here and let it go.

· A positive affirmation

Something you like about yourself or other people like about you. What are you good at? Why do you like being you?

· Something I’ve noticed about myself

Not good or bad. An observation, free of self-judgement. Your opinion of yourself is entirely biased. The goal here is to create a neutral space where you can get to know yourself.
Each morning I pick three blocks, whichever I want at that moment, and that’s what makes it onto the page of my journal.
When I first started with this journaling technique, I was in a darker place. I had “Something to let go” every day. After a while, I found it harder to think of things to let go of, and to me, that’s the best sign the whole thing was working. I started writing about a different block after that.
I don’t write a daily highlight if I'm taking a day off. If something is on my mind, I’ll think about which block it fits in and write that.
That’s why modular journaling is so powerful. It adapts to you, regardless of whatever mindset you’re in.
You can add your own blocks, too. I’ve had blocks that were specific to a project. When I was trying to make more meals at home, I used "What I'm going to cook today.”

5 Examples of What to Write for Each Block

If you’ve picked a block, but you’re struggling to write, here are some real examples from my journal:

Daily highlight

  • Today I will draft a new article.
  • I’m going to spend an hour walking outside.
  • I will have completed [outstanding project] by the end of the day.
  • The most important thing for me to make progress on is updating my website.
  • My top priority today is to create whatever I want.

Something I’m grateful for

  • I’m grateful for the team I have around me and the praise they give me.
  • I’m grateful for this cup of coffee (I use this one a lot).
  • I’m grateful for my struggle; it makes me who I am.
  • I like the way this pen writes.
  • I’m lucky to have people who miss me while I’m away.

Something I’m letting go

  • People who don’t wear facemasks in public make me angry.
  • I didn’t get enough done last week, and I’m annoyed.
  • My voice cracked when I yelled at that lady on the plane three years ago.
  • That presentation would have gone so much better if I had prepared more.
  • I procrastinated all day yesterday. I’m a useless piece of garbage.

A positive affirmation

  • I am confident and can make friends with strangers.
  • I come alive under pressure.
  • I am kind when it counts.
  • I’m focused and efficient.
  • I can find the strength to succeed.

Something I’ve noticed about myself recently

  • I get annoyed when people tell me they miss me.
  • I don’t like most of the Thai food I’ve tried.
  • My elbows have been hurting.
  • I enjoy long journeys on the subway.
  • I’m a bit bored with all the music I usually listen to.

Tips from a veteran

You might be having some trouble getting started or being consistent. Here are a few tips from me that will help you turn journaling into a "keystone self-growth habit" of your own.

· Tie the habit to a location

When I finish working for the day, I close the lid of my laptop and place my journal on top. That way, when I sit at my desk in the morning, I have to go through my journal to get to my laptop. A journal stuffed in the back of a drawer collects dust, not thoughts.

· Make it enjoyable

Use a journal and a pen that you like. Sit out on the balcony and get your daily dose of vitamin D while you write. Go to a local café and write while you enjoy a coffee. Doodle in your journal, draw giant calligraphy letters to start sentences. Do whatever you want and have fun with it.
I use a journal from Vent for Change because I value sustainability. Not affiliated, just a fan.

· Keep it private

You must be able to be uncensored in your journal. I don’t care how close you are with your siblings, parents, partner, dog, whatever. Keep your journal to yourself and ask those close to you to respect that. Be firm. Nobody disrespects boundaries more than parents or dogs.

· Be conscious of what you want or need

Sometimes it’s best not to pick your blocks first, but to think about what you want to write, then find a block that fits it. If something is pushing itself to the front of your mind, let it do so, then get it on the page. Your subconscious is telling you that you need to process something. Listen to it.

· Be flexible

The core philosophy of Modular Journaling is that there’s no right way to do it. Want to write two blocks in the morning and one at night? Sure. Want to write 100 words instead of 10 under each block? It’s your ink, pal.
Rigidity in your journaling will only make it a chore. The journal should serve you, not the other way around.

Common Mistakes

For the first few years, I didn’t write every day.
I used my journal as a place to vent my teenage angst. I would write pages of whatever was on my mind when I felt the need.
The result?
The worst book you’ve ever read.
After a couple of years, reading my journal back was miserable. It was page after page of whining, moping, and (I wish I were lying) terrible poetry.
Don’t get me wrong; it was helpful at the time. I used my journal as an outlet for feelings that I didn’t want to share with anyone else—and I still do that. The difference is that’s not all I use it for now.
Looking back on my journals after I started Modular Journaling gives me a snapshot of my life. What did I like? What was I working on? Was I in a good place?
Journaling can be a powerful tool for self-growth, but don’t stop because it’s working. It's a common mistake. Do you stop hitting the gym because you start liking who you see in the mirror?
Continue to journal when you’re happy and satisfied. Trust me; you’ll love to look back on it in a few years.
A study in 2002 found that “Writers focusing on cognitions and emotions developed a greater awareness of the positive benefits of the stressful event […] Writers focusing on emotions alone reported more severe illness symptoms …”
In other words, the study found that journaling your emotions only can make things worse. You ruminate, and negative emotions grow potent. That’s why it’s essential to journal what you’re thinking about, not just what you’re feeling. Doing so helps you see the silver lining. You’ll be happier and healthier for it.

If you enjoyed this article, you should connect with me.
I create content that helps you live a free, joyful, and sustainable life.
If you have thoughts on this article, email me, I’d love to hear from you.

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