Journaling is one of the most powerful self-improvement tools in any person’s repertoire—it helps you remember the great things you did that deserve praise, which boosts your self-esteem, and it gives you insight on what you can improve for a better tomorrow. Pretty straightforward, right? But without a plan for making the most of each day and avoiding productivity traps, journaling is actually one of the most self-destructive things you can do.
It’s one thing to reflect on a single day, realize that you let yourself down, and plan against whatever held you back tomorrow. But when you meditate on the same negative conclusion about yourself every day (or even most days) without actually changing the way you live, you’re destroying your self-esteem, and, well, focusing on the negative….which is the opposite of self improvement. You’re better off just zombie-ing out in front of the TV at that point.
So how do you make a journaling habit actually work?
If you’ve known that journaling is the habit that’s going to make a difference in your life, as was my case, but you haven’t had any results with it—you just felt more negative and quit—then I encourage you to give it another try. But this time, you need a basic action plan for the things you’ll strive for every day this month.
These activities are called “daily non-negotiables,” and they’re more important than any major goal you have. Because self-confidence isn’t about the one or two heroic efforts you give in a month—it’s about being consistent in the small stuff. And you want a lot of those little things that attest to your improvement as you journal. That’s how you can build your self esteem and make journaling work for you.
Don’t know what your daily non-negotiables should be?
Your daily non-negotiables should include self-improvement goals, like meditating and exercise, as well as the work that advances you towards the goals for your career and education.
For me as a writer, those are things like writing an article (go figure), pitching new publications, studying my craft, building my vocab, and things like meditating and exercising to keep my mind and body happy enough to do excellent work. (Many of yours will be the same.) I also have other goals specific to self-improvement, like language learning.
When I journal about having completed these non-negotiables, I’m reminded of the effort I put into making life incredible—so no matter if I screwed up or missed out on a couple other goals, I always have a bunch of things that make me feel good about myself. That self-esteem is what helps me wake up ready to give my best effort again no matter how hard life gets. And it’ll work the same way for you! You just have to make sure that you’re sticking to a basic plan every day so that you have good things to journal about.
Breaking down your daily goals
Take ten minutes right now to reflect on your longterm goals. (If you don’t know what those goals are, spend an extra ten minutes brainstorming them!) Then figure out the small actions you can take every day to reach them in time: learning objectives, work goals, etc. Figure out the small steps you need to take every day to feel happy, healthy and balanced—like x amount of exercise, affirmations, meditation. Jounraling is also a non-negotiable! Finally, lump all those small steps together on a page and you’ve come up with your daily non-negotiables for the next month. Pretty, simple, right?
From there, all you need to do is transfer those action steps onto a blank-paged journal each morning and place a checkbox next to them—this makes a tangible goal. Then get to work! When you feel down on yourself, helpless, bored, or like things will never change, go back to your planner and figure out what you can do to take control of your life and make excellent decision.
Do your work…then Journal!
Take ten minutes each night and write about how much ass you kicked. It’s really simple. Just flow about your day from start to finish, placing emphasis on your efforts, praising them, and allowing yourself to feel good about you! Also write about where you let yourself down or where you could do better, then make a commitment to doing better tomorrow. Usually those commitments can be drafted as an action step in tomorrow’s daily plan.
Alright!!! If you’re the person who’s never been able to stick with a journaling habit, you should be feeling a ton of hope—because now you have the key to true transformation! Now you know exactly what you have to do in order to reclaim your confidence and self-esteem through a journaling habit, and it’s so easy:
Plan out the good things you’ll do every day. Do good things. Write about the good things in your journal. Feel good about yourself. And do it again tomorrow!
(*Consistency is also another factor. If you’re doing the work, and it’s helping you grow, keep doing it! Aim for a month at first.)