“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” – Albert Einstein
A simple pen and paper can fundamentally change your life, just like it changed mine.
I’m not talking about leaving an “I like you, want to go for dinner?” or “screw you, I quit” note on someone’s desk. This article is about one of the most powerful habits I ever picked up: Journaling.
Its power lies in its simplicity.
You think a ton of thoughts every day. Work, family, friends, your future, and what you want for dinner. Some are easy to deal with, others circle the same topics again and again. This doesn’t even account for the myriads of things buried in your subconscious that influence your everyday behavior.
Journaling is an amazing tool to structure your thoughts and see clearly.
However, it can be intimidating to stare at a blank page. “What do I even write about?” According to habit expert and bestselling author James Clear, to do something regularly, you have to make it easy.
That’s why I’ve come up with six simple questions to help you reflect so you can improve your life day by day. They’re so good I’ve used them for over three years and given them to friends and clients alike. Today, I want to share them with you.
What did I learn today?
“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti
I live by a simple philosophy: Be better than yesterday.
But picking what to improve upon isn’t easy in a world of information overload.
The average American sees 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day (no, that’s not a typo.) There is no way you will remember everything you hear, read, and watch, let alone apply the lessons. That’s why you have to find some quiet time to reflect.
This question helps me remember the important things I learned that day, whether it’s from a podcast, article, or conversation with a stranger.
Repetition is crucial to learning, so get your reps in.
What made me happy?
“Happiness is not a goal…it's a by-product of a life well-lived.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
You could fill a whole library with everything that has been written on happiness, but I follow a pragmatic yet effective approach:
Find out what makes you happy and do more of it.
When you answer this question every day, you’ll find most of the things you thought make you happy often aren’t the ones that do.
I don’t want to beat the money doesn’t make you happy drum, but there’s a reason an 80-year Harvard study found relationships are the most important factor to your happiness. Also, the small things often matter more than the big ones because there are so many of them. However, I’m not going to tell you how to live your life – you’ll have to see for yourself.
Find out what makes you happy every day, then do more of it.
It’s that simple.
What made me unhappy?
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle
Almost every day, something happens that upsets you.
- A traffic jam
- Unexpected overtime at work
- An argument with your partner
The funny thing? The situation doesn’t determine your feelings – your interpretation and thoughts do. You choose to be upset.
Most of the time this choice is understandable because who wouldn’t curse when he stepped in dog poo on the way to work?
But when you understand why something upsets you, you can make better choices.
If you argue with your partner, it’s not so much the argument itself but the fact that you let yourself get loud and defensive or didn’t enforce your boundaries. The traffic jam makes you unhappy because you don’t accept that you will be late. The overtime at work drives you nuts because you’re angry that you’re not in a powerful enough position to say no.
Your ego doesn’t like these realizations because they’re tough love.
But if you want to avoid unhappiness, you have to understand its true cause.
What did I do wrong and how can I avoid it in the future?
“You can never make the same mistake twice because the second time you make it, it's not a mistake, it's a choice.” ― Steven Denn
Your mistakes don’t define you, but how you deal with them defines your future.
If you don’t take responsibility for your slip-ups, nothing will change. You can’t just outsource the learning process to your subconscious and hope for the best. Unless you change something, you will…
- Sleep in again even though you wanted to get up early
- Drank too much even though you’ve been cutting back
- Get loud again in an argument even though you wanted to stay calm
The list goes on, but you get the point.
This question forces you to improve by making you think of actions that will save you from repeating your mistakes.
You can either grow or hit the same wall again and again.
The choice is yours.
What am I grateful for?
“Gratitude is not a creativity exercise, it’s a gratitude exercise.” – Niklas Göke
Gratitude is one of the most powerful yet most misunderstood concepts.
Most people make it way harder than it has to be. They try to find new things every day or focus on big achievements only, so they run out of steam. This makes them feel like it’s too hard or they have nothing to be grateful for.
That’s why most days, I’m grateful for the same few things.
- A healthy body
- Workouts at the gym
- Techno music
- Getting to do work I love
- My friends & family
- Great food
- A roof over my head
These are basic and repetitive – so what?
Gratitude isn’t about setting records. It’s about appreciating the small things instead of letting them slip by. If you look closely, there’s always something to be grateful for.
You just have to see and appreciate it.
“What made me laugh?”
“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” – Charlie Chaplin
Humor makes even the toughest situations better.
When my grandpa got Alzheimer’s, most of my family freaked out. It’s not easy to see a once brilliant mind wither and a loved person forget who you are. At one point, his constant confusion got so bad, it became comical.
Cracking jokes was the only thing that kept my grandma and mother sane between misplaced keys, frantic phone calls, and changing adult diapers – they replaced some of the sad tears with ones shed from laughter.
This question serves as a gentle reminder to take things easy. Everything seems better after you’ve had a good, hearty laugh. Revisit the funny moments and if you didn’t have one in the last 24 hours, find something that makes you chuckle.
- Watch a short comedy clip on YouTube
- Call a friend just to talk shit
- Pull funny faces in the mirror and make weird noises
Sometimes, all you need is a good, hearty laugh.
Summary To Make Journaling Easy and Valuable
The easiest way to establish a journaling practice is to use environmental design.
Put a notebook and pen somewhere you’ll stumble upon at the end of your day, like your nightstand. This way, you’ll remind yourself and remove the friction. Then, answer these six questions.
- What did I learn today?
- What made me happy?
- What made me unhappy?
- What did I do wrong and how can I avoid it in the future?
- What am I grateful for?
- What made me laugh?
Put your thoughts into words and make your life a little better every day.