Have you set a big goal for the year? Maybe you plan to finally write a novel or start an email list or go to the gym each morning or learn a new language.
But maybe you’re also a little worried because you’ve broken New Year’s resolutions in the past.
You made significant progress towards your goals at first, but then your schedule became busier than you expected, your motivation ebbed, and those goals looked further and further out of reach.
Studies by Dr. John Norcross show that 60% of the people who make resolutions in January will no longer be following them by July.
Why are resolutions so difficult to keep?
“It’s human to slip up,” Dr. Norcross says. “Our evidence-based research shows that people who are successful at keeping their New Year’s resolutions slip as many times as people who are unsuccessful.”
It’s just that people who are unsuccessful slip up and give up. But people who are successful have systems in place that ensure they stay positive, pick themselves up, and learn from their slip-ups, tweaking their plan of action so they don’t fail again in the future.
Journaling is one of my favorite systems to use to help me stay accountable to my goals. In today’s post, I’m sharing my two journaling methods that help me track my progress on different projects, learn from my slip-ups, and motivate me to keep working towards my goals and not give up.
These journals have helped me build a successful blog and email list, learn three foreign languages, and finish many writing projects. I can’t wait to hear what they will help you achieve.
Let’s dive in.
If you prefer watching to reading, you can watch a video version of this post on YouTube.
1. The Mindset and Creativity Journal
Having a positive mindset is one of the most important factors for following through on your goals.
Let’s say, for example, you set a resolution to write a novel this year. But as you start writing, you begin to doubt that you can finish such a long project. You second-guess everything you put on paper and worry that your novel will end up being awful. You wonder why you should even continue to try to work on it.
With that much negativity, you’re probably going to talk yourself out of reaching your resolution, right?
That’s where the “mindset and creativity journal” comes in. It’s a way to get all of those worries and doubts out of your head so you can focus on taking action.
Here’s how it works:
First, you’ll need a physical journal and a pen. It’s very important to write by hand rather than keeping this journal on a computer.
Writing by hand forces you to slow down and reflect on what you’re putting on the page. This type of journaling is actually proven to be therapeutic.
Last year, I bought a simple spiral-ring notebook. It was big and thick and lasted me from February 1 to December 31. This year, I’ll be writing in this beautiful journal from Honirya (Amazon affiliate link) that was a gift from my brother. Pick a journal that fits your personality and will be comfortable for you to use.
Second, write in the journal first thing in the morning if you can (or, at least, before you turn on your computer or check social media). This journaling method is partly inspired by Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” technique in her book The Artist’s Way (Amazon affiliate link).
Cameron describes the “morning pages” as three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing that you finish before getting started on your work for the day.
She insists that the morning pages won’t be effective at clearing your mind of worries and filling it with creativity unless you write three entire pages, but I allow myself to write just a page in my journal if that’s all the words I have inside me for that day. I think it’s better to write even just a paragraph than nothing at all.
I also sometimes don’t end up writing in the morning but in the afternoon or whenever I have time and feel like I have something I need to write about by hand.
So, while the morning is best, don’t abandon the journal if that’s impossible for your schedule. Make time to write whenever you can, even if that’s only two or three times a week.
Third, then, what exactly should you write?
Well, I call this a creativity journal because it’s about boosting your creativity and positivity, not recounting the details of your day like a diary.
I might write about what’s worrying me with a project (or other worries that are sabotaging my creativity). Since my goals are usually related to my writing, I might reflect on a project I’m working on or I might jot down an idea for a new short story, personal essay, or blog post. I also often write out a prayer for the day.
Essentially, whatever is in my head, I spill onto the page.
I find the journal very useful for overcoming negative self-talk. For example, let’s say you wrote down something like: “I’ll never be able to write this novel to the end.” Pause and evaluate the statement and then contradict it: “I can write this novel to the end if I continue to work on it a little each day — I know I have the fortitude to do it.”
Ultimately, the mindset and creativity journal is a place where you can keep yourself excited about your goals and projects, reflect on what’s working and what’s not, note the things in your life that awaken your Muse or sabotage your Muse, experiment with new ideas, and give yourself pep talks when you grow discouraged.
Here’s an article I wrote about the notebooks of famous writers and thinkers that might give you inspiration for starting your own creativity journal.
2. The Productivity Journal
Along with the creativity journal, I also keep a productivity journal.
This journal was inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule that I wrote about in this article.
At the top of Franklin’s schedule, he printed: “Morning Question, What good shall I do this day?”
Before he went to sleep at night, he would look over his list, examine his day, and ask, “What good have I done today?”
This simple practice of evaluating his day every morning and evening helped Franklin put everything into perspective.
Even if he hadn’t accomplished everything that he wanted to, he was able to spend time celebrating his victories. He could also reevaluate his schedule and see what things he needed to keep working on.
Essentially, it was a way for him to measure his progress. If his method for achieving a goal wasn’t working, he could tweak it and attempt a different approach.
I love Franklin’s process so I drew up a schedule for myself that I keep in Evernote.
Each evening, I look at my to-do lists (also drawn up in Evernote), and I tweak the schedule for the upcoming day based on what I need to accomplish.
Then, I write a brief review of my day in my “productivity journal.”
For this journal, I actually use a computer app called Day One. It has a simple and elegant interface.
You could use a physical journal like a Moleskine (Amazon affiliate link) or even a journal designed for tracking goals like Michael Hyatt’s full focus planner (Amazon affiliate link). Many people rave about the bullet journal method, but I haven’t tried it.
Personally, I’ve found it more convenient for me to use an app on my computer. Typing up my review of the day is often the very last thing I do before I turn off my computer for the evening.
What does the review look like?
Often, I just make a numbered list of what I worked on that day. I might also note down any challenges I faced or other observations. These entries motivate me to work towards my goals each day because I want to be able to write about what I accomplished when I type up my review in the evening.
On Sundays, I read through all of my entries for the week and type up a short reflection of what went well and what didn’t. Then I set goals for the coming week.
At the end of each month, I read through all of the month’s entries and I write up another review following a super-simple two-step format:
First, I jot down “highlights of the month” (I like to think back on the month positively, similar to if you were keeping a gratitude journal).
Second, I write a few paragraphs on the “Biggest Revelation of the Month” (this is the biggest lesson I learned that month). It could be something positive that happened or it could be something negative that I learned a positive lesson from. Then I’ll set a few goals for the upcoming month.
Here’s why I love the productivity journal:
Memories can be very faulty. If I asked you what you had for dinner two Wednesdays ago, you probably wouldn’t remember unless it was a memorable occasion or you’d written it down in your planner.
Similarly, by the end of the month, you can forget a lot that happened. You might think that the month went terribly as you worked towards your goals. However, when you go back and look in your productivity journal, you may end up realizing that you actually had a number of successes at the beginning of the month.
Additionally, the productivity journal can help you identify patterns and see when you are at your best creatively.
For example, I might notice that there was a day when I worked very productively, turning out a huge number of words on the page in a short time. Was there anything different about that day? Was it because I was working earlier in the morning? Or maybe because I had given myself a day to plan out my project beforehand? Is there a way that I can recreate that in the future?
Or perhaps I see that I tend to average a certain number of words or hours each day when working on a writing project. This information shows me how in the future I can break an overwhelmingly big project into bite-sized daily tasks that will be easy for me to complete.
Essentially, this journal gives you a way to evaluate the way you work, learn more about yourself and when you are most productive, understand the shape of your days, and keep yourself accountable to reaching your goals.
Every person is different when it comes to what system will best help them stay on track with their goals and resolutions. Feel free to tweak and adapt these methods to your personality and routines.
The bottom line, though, is to have a way to monitor your progress and keep your perspective positive.
This will help you keep the momentum alive as you work on your projects. Your brain will be thinking about your goals constantly and become excited and eager to achieve them.
In Joan Didion’s essay on why she keeps a notebook, she writes,
How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook…Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.
Do you keep a journal? I’d love to hear in the comments what methods work for you.
And if you enjoyed this post, please share it on social media or with a friend who you think might find it helpful too. Thanks for reading!