5 Journals for Personal Growth

So I’m a big fan of the journal. I first started to use one some 10 years ago as a way to “think.” My thoughts are often a jumbled mess, and writing is a way for me to make sense of that big jumble. As E. M. Forster once said: “How do I know what I think unless I see what I say?

So the journal has been a constant companion. I write in long hand. It seems to tap into my limbic brain, the part of my psyche that is beyond thought.

Most of this 10-year period I’ve just used a traditional 8 x 5 journal, preferably spiral bound so that I can lay it flat or fold it over completely depending on my need. Many writers and artists tend to favor the blank-page journal, but I never quite got the hang of writing without lines, so my preference is for a lined page–not too narrow as I have large, sprawling handwriting. I also write with a fountain pen. Turquoise blue ink. I used to mess with barrels and ink pots, but now I just buy disposable ones. I know, I’m going to environmental hell. I have no excuses.

Lately, though, I’ve been using multiple journals–different ones for different purposes. I thought it might be interesting to share them with you. So here goes–a short review of each one, along with how I use it and who might benefit from it.

Morning Pages

What is it?
First introduced by writer, Julia Cameron, the Morning Pages journal is an accompaniment to her book (and program) entitled, The Artist’s Way. In her book, Cameron urges us to start a daily writing practice in which we complete three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing each morning. The rules are simple: Write about anything and everything that crosses your mind. Do not censor yourself. Do not overthink. Just write. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad. Morning pages can be one long venting session or a list of all of the things that are cluttering up your mind. It’s all good. It’s not about how well you can write. You will probably never show these pages to anyone else. The idea is to simply fill up 3 pages with words. That’s it.

What is it good for?
I use this as a way to clear my head in the morning–a brain dump. I find that my sleep is often disturbed and I have thoughts racing through my head when I wake up in the morning. Writing my morning pages helps me to take those thoughts out of my head and onto the page where they can no longer bother me. Sometimes, I use morning pages to record my dreams. This helps me to capture them before I forget and also to try to “make sense” of them in the clear light of day. Other times, my morning pages are just a litany of all the things that I need to get done in the day. Occasionally, there is an inspirational thought (I circle these), or a poem (I make sure nobody ever sees these!). But mostly it’s just kvetching and carrying on.

Who should use it?
If you are someone who “thinks a lot” this is probably a good journal for you. If you are someone who needs clarity, who needs to “see what you say in order to know what you think,” then this is the tool for you.

Gratitude Journal

What is it?
This is a journal you can use to record 3-5 moments in your day for which you are grateful. Research has shown that an attitude of gratitude confers several benefits to us. It helps us to sleep better, improve our mental health, enhance our relationships, and reduce aggression, to name just a few. Taking a few moments at the end of each day to remember and note the small graces in our day helps us to focus our attention on what is going right in our lives and not just on what is going wrong. Being grateful helps us to achieve more, prevent burn out, and keep us alert to opportunity and growth. Gratitude has also been shown to boost your immune system and improve your mood. Given such an overwhelming upside, keeping a gratitude journal is definitely something you should consider doing.

What is it good for?
Keeping a gratitude journal is a good way to shift your focus from “half empty” to “half full.” Human nature being what it is, we tend to focus more acutely on the losses in our lives than on the wins. But looking through the lens of gratitude can literally and figuratively shift how you “see” your day. Gratitude journals are good for perspective-taking. They’re good for your mood. And they’re good for your health.

Who should use it?
If you are someone who needs a quick hit of feel-good at the end of a long, grueling day at work, consider picking up a gratitude journal. The entries are short and to the point–just enough time to let that pinot breathe a little.

Thought for the Day – 5 Year Journal

What is it?
This is an ingenious journal that allows you track what you were doing on any given day in any given year, over a five-year period. Say what? I know, this is going to be a hard one to describe, but imagine a diary or planner like any other, where each page is dedicated to one day in the year. At the very top of each page is marked the date, like so–May 13th. There is no marking of the day (Saturday) or the year (2017). The rest of the page is dedicated to slots/spaces in which you can record your thought for that day in each of 5 consecutive years. So the first slot at the very top of the page would be to record your thought on May 13th 2017, the slot immediately below it will be to record your thought of the day (next year) on May 13th 2018, and on and on for the next five years. Okay, I give up. Take a look for yourself by clicking on the picture. The idea is that you can see at a glance, all gathered together on one page, what you were doing on May 13th for five years in a row. The journal entries are best thought of as “Headlines of the Day” rather than some prolonged, considered reflection. The thought here is to capture the essence of the day in a sentence or two. Something that you can look back on five years hence and find informative.

What is it good for?
Joanna Penn, author and host of the popular podcast The Creative Penn, tells us about how she likes to set not just one-year or two-year goals, but also what she calls “Olympic Goals,” in other words, long-term (4-year) goals. She says that we forget how far we have come when all we see are our everyday struggles and disappointments. Looking back at our long-term goals, or in this case looking back at where we were 5 years ago, can give us some real perspective on how much progress we have actually made. This journal can help us to lift our heads up from all the toiling and see the forest not the trees.

Who is it good for?
This is for the journaler who doesn’t have time to brood and reflect and ponder and angst. It’s for the journaler who likes just the facts ma’am, but who, nevertheless is purposeful and curious about how his/her life is unfolding. This journal is for the archivist, for the scientist, for the man.

Freedom Journal

What is it?
I’ve never seen a journal quite like this. In fact, “journal” might be a misnomer. This is more a planner than a journal in the conventional sense of the word, in as much as it has a very well defined purpose–to help you to set and achieve one goal (yes, ONE) over a period of 100 days. This is a planning and monitoring tool. When you set out to use the Freedom Journal you should have a goal in mind, a mid- to long-term goal that will take you several months or even a year to accomplish. People who have used the Freedom Journal have done so to write a novel, create a business, or even to lose 30 pounds.

Once you have set your goal, the journal can be used to create daily, mini-goals, 10-day sprints, and to track your progress over time. The journal shows you how to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, & Time-bound) and objectives that will, in short bites, help you to achieve your over-arching goal. The journal also integrates a short gratitude piece into your daily planning as well as a short area in which to mark any observations or musings.

Each day’s entry is divided into two parts (across two pages)–a Day entry (that is forward-looking) and Night entry (that is reflective). This bookended approach fosters a sense of completion each day, which is important as it can inform your next day’s planning. In fact, since I am an early-to-bedder who practically collapses onto my mattress each night, I complete the “night” entry the following morning, before I set the agenda for the new day. This helps me to use my reflections on the previous day to plan the new one. So all you anal people, don’t fear if you don’t “do it right.” You have my permission to complete the night entry during the day!

What is it good for?
This is a great tool to help you to isolate one single goal and go after it with intention and purpose. If you are like me (scattered . . . oh, and by the way, don’t you just love how they’ve invented a fancy word for it now? – Polymath. “James Franco is a polymath!”), a girl with many and lofty goals, then your head is full of white noise (and good intentions), so selecting one (just one) goal to focus on in a very deliberate way can be quite useful. And let’s face it–there usually is one goal that is more important; the others are just diversion.

Who should use it?
Anyone who is serious about setting and achieving a goal. This is really a great tool for that. I am in the middle of one, myself, and having quite a bit of success (will report on it when I’m done). Oh, and people who like to use lots of pretty, colored pens.

Mastery Journal

What is it?
Younger sibling to the Freedom Journal, the Mastery Journal was published by the same folks, this time to help you to master productivity and discipline. Yeah, YOU! Fun though it may be to dream and doodle, and easy though it may be to let the sands of time trickle through your wine-glass-holding fingers, you are going to have to shift into serious gear if this journal is to be of any use to you.

This journal will help you to get shit done. If you are already getting shit done, then you may skip this section, scroll down to the bottom of the page and leave a comment, sign up for my newsletter, or generally make yourself useful.

The set up of this journal is similar to the Freedom Journal, a few pages of instruction on how to use it, some sample entries, and the same two-page daily entry style, except this time you don’t have a day and night entry, rather you have 5 main sections to the journal: a morning routine section and four session sections. The morning routine section is where you set your daily morning rituals–tea, morning pages, call mum, walk, shower. The idea behind setting your morning ritual is that having one (especially a good and regular one) sets up the rest of your day right. Ace your morning; ace your day!

The remaining four session sections are where you record the work you will complete over the course of the day. This is based on the premise of the Pomodoro Method, which is that we work best in short chunks of time interspersed with short periods of rest and recovery. So for each session section, you decide how long you’re going to work and on what specific task. At the end of each session, you then record (on a scale of 1-10) how productive you were and how focused you were during that session. Then at the end of the day you do some math (and reflection) and call it good.

What is it good for?
I am not kidding. I have gotten sooo much done using this journal (and I already have a black belt in Git’erdone!). The whole model of breaking up your workday into sessions is quite ingenious. Here’s why: It prevents fatigue, it allows you to switch tasks (if you choose) or stick with the same task (if you like)–which helps you to be flexible, your day doesn’t have to start at 9:00 and end at 5:00–you can complete these sessions at any time of the day or night, you can scale up or back the duration of each session–they do not all have to be 60 minutes, and finally, the whole concept of building in breaks, enforcing them, really does refresh you and help you to sustain a level of creativity that you would not be able to if you just went whole hog for four hours at a stretch. If you use this journal, you WILL be productive. I have no doubt about it.

Who should use it?
Anyone who is serious about 10x-ing their productivity.

So there you have it! Five of my favorite journals/tools for personal growth and development. Try one. And if you do, let me know how it goes.












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