February 11, 2020

My daily journaling practice

One of the things I’ve found most helpful as I’ve been navigating my mental illness—and especially the relapse I had a year ago—has been the practice of journaling.

I journal a lot, several times a day. Some of my journaling is guided, some of it is free-form, but all of it together helps me be more mindful and feel more centred. My journaling is a crucial part of keeping myself healthy, and I’m glad I’ve been able to carve out time in my days to make it a robust and regular practice.

I’ve had a few people ask me about how and what I journal recently, so I thought I’d go through what I do in case it would be useful for someone else. This is what works for me; I can’t promise it will work for you anyone else, but I’m happy to chat more or answer any questions anyone may have.

Fifteen minutes after waking:

My first journaling of the day happens right at the start of the day, before I’ve really found the time to jump into the busy-ness of the day. This is my unstructured journaling: I write, by hand in my Panobook, a full page of stream-of-consciousness prose. Whatever pops into my head goes onto the page, allowing my mind to let go of the things it needs to release before the day begins. I take a photo of what I write and save it into Day One, though I rarely, if ever, revisit my stream-of-consciousness journal later on.

About an hour after waking:

Once the day has started and I’ve completed my morning routine, and before I head to the gym, I usually do a short, hand-written journal entry (again written in my Panobook, again photographed and captured in Day One) that is guided by a prompt. In the past, I’ve used the Holstee Reflection Cards as my prompt; currently, I’m using the spellbook” prompt in the Tiny Spells newsletter. I’ll probably change up the prompt again in a few months, just to keep things fresh, but the important part here is that I’m answering some kind of question and starting to exercise my reflective mind.

Around lunch time:

I use the Daylio app to check in at lunch time to see how I’m feeling, and jot down a few bullet points on how my emotional state is doing and what is affecting it. I use that reflection to guide my afternoon: depending on how my check-in goes, I do different exercises (breathing, meditation, choice of food for lunch, etc.) to set the stage for a fruitful and healthy afternoon ahead.

After the work day:

Once the work day is complete, I use a Day One template to capture the answers to the following questions:

  • What did I accomplish?
  • What did I do really well?
  • What will I do better tomorrow?

I revisit the work day journal for the entire week on Friday afternoon, and it gives me a good sense of how my work week went, and allows me to acknowledge the work I did which can so often be forgotten.

An hour before bedtime:

As the day is coming to a close, I start a deeper reflection on the day gone by. In an effort to always make sure that my every day is filled with joy, accomplishment, kindness, self-care, learning, and hope and aspiration, I use a Day One template to ask myself the following questions:

  • What did I enjoy?
  • What did I do really well?
  • How was I kind to others?
  • How was I kind to myself?
  • What did I learn?
  • What am I looking forward to tomorrow?

In most cases, I jot down 3-4 bullet points under each question. I revisit my weekly entries on Sunday evenings, so I get a good sense of how my week went, and how I can continue the habits that will help me thrive in the week to come.

Right before my bedtime routine:

I try not to stare at my phone for at least thirty minutes before I go to sleep, so before I put my phone away, I do my final journaling (again, in Day One) of the day: my gratitude journal. I spend some time thinking back at the full day gone by, at the moments that stood out in my memory, and give gratitude for all the things for which I give my thanks. I’m lucky, to have a relatively wonderful life, and so I have a lot to be grateful for. This is also a great exercise to force me to think back at the day as a whole, and to tease out threads and patterns that permeated the day—and to be grateful for the broader themes that made my day as good as it was.

Even on the worst of days, I have a lot to be grateful for, so this is my most important, and favourite, piece of journaling that I do. I revisit my gratitude journal every month, and remind myself how lucky I am to have the life I have.