I'm a huge fan of taking time to sit down and write how my day went every single day. It helps me in so many ways. It allows me to dump my thoughts and clear them from my head, providing instant therapy on days when things aren't going so well. It lets me organize my days so that I don't drive myself crazy wondering what I'll do next. It helps me flesh out new ideas and see if something is worth pursuing or not. Writing is one of my highest-value tools in my toolbox.
As you might expect, I'm a huge advocate of the written word. I try to explain its benefits to others as much as I can. I've seen some people take the time to write things down and gain plenty of the benefits I've mentioned. But one thing I have observed frequently is that when someone has a habit of writing things down almost every day, they rarely go back to review their older writing. They're missing out on the true power of writing.
The true power of writing
There are immediate gains to be had upon writing, and that by itself should be enough to make writing a great habit to have. But over the years I have found how regularly reviewing what's been written down enhances those gains much more than just merely writing words and forgetting about their existence. Just schedule a few minutes at the end of your week to go back and read the things you've written down.
Here are just a couple of bonuses that I've stumbled upon by taking the time to review my writing:
Spot patterns that are holding you back
It's not uncommon to be doing detrimental to our well-being without noticing it for days, months, or even years. It's not that we're self-sabotaging ourselves on purpose. It's just that it's difficult to spot small moments that occur repeatedly and hurt our lives. We can discard something as an insignificant, "one-off" event without realizing that it happens very frequently.
As an example, a few years ago I was in a job where at the end of each day I would feel mentally and physically exhausted despite not doing much throughout the day, and it was affecting my mood. At first, I chalked it up to poor sleep, or the less-than-ideal diet I had back then. I never attributed the exhaustion to my work. Like everyone, I had terrible days at work, but I discarded those as minor issues.
But when I started to read my journals, I noticed that this only happened during days when I went to work. During weekends and holidays, I slept the same amount of time and ate the same types of food. The pattern was that my work was affecting my mood. It led me to let that job go eventually, and it instantly solved the issues I was having. If I hadn't reviewed what I wrote about how I was feeling during most days, it would have taken me a much longer time - if ever - to realize the damaging effects my job had on me.
Pinpoint areas where you can improve
Along the same lines as spotting patterns that hold you back, reviewing your writing can also let you target areas of improvement. Many times, we go through our lives without giving much thought to the things that we do on a regular basis. Sometimes it's pure habit, other times it's just being content with what we're doing. But there can be small tweaks that you can do that can drastically improve your life.
One example that comes to mind for me is how I've modified by wake-up time to help me get the most out of my mornings. In the past, I would usually wake up anywhere between 7:00 AM and 7:30 AM. Waking up around those times would allow me to get some breakfast and start working, so I never gave that routine much thought since it got me through my morning.
As I reviewed my writing, I kept on seeing moments where I would have been better offer tackling something in my personal life early in the day as opposed to my lunch break or after work. For example, I would state that I didn't get a chance to plan my day or spend some time researching for a side project. That made me reassess at what time I woke up, so I started to go to bed earlier and wake up with extra time in the morning. The boost in my productivity skyrocketed by waking up just 30 minutes earlier. I probably wouldn't have thought about giving myself more time in the morning had I not noticed a few things I could improve.
Motivate yourself by seeing how far you've gone
Can you remember all of the awesome things you've done in the past day or week? If you're like me, you probably don't remember much. You'll most likely recognize huge victories, moments like the birth of your child, or getting that new job you wanted. But we also accumulate small wins throughout our days. These small wins can be anything from waking up without hitting the snooze button or avoiding eating a donut and eating an apple instead. Typically, we discard these small wins as insignificant, but they can be incredible motivators and show how much we've improved in our lives.
I've written previously about how I got motivated to improve my swimming habit when reading my previous journal entries. Currently, I also spend a few minutes every day writing down all of my victories of the day and regularly look back on them. They serve me extremely well when I'm having a bad day, and remind me that I am becoming better and better every single day.
Sometimes, you should write to forget
While I strongly suggest reviewing most of what you write down at regular intervals, there are times where not reviewing your journals would be preferred. For example, if you're going through a very rough time in your life, writing down your feelings is therapeutic and can help you get through those moments. That kind of writing is best to keep in the past, as it might bring up painful memories, defeating the purpose of the writing process.
Another example would be when you just want to clear your head. One great tool that I use every day is 750 Words. The purpose of the site is to give you a private space to write down anything in your head with the intention of clearing up stray thoughts floating around in your head. Every morning, I spend 10-15 minutes just writing whatever is on my mind before doing anything in the morning, and it works wonderfully. If I have any anger, anxiety, nervousness, or other harmful emotions, it's usually gone by the time I finish my writing. I never go back to read what I've written, because the site served its purpose.
Boost your life by regular evaluations
Regularly reviewing your work won't take much time. You don't have to sit and analyze everything that you wrote in excruciating detail. All you need is a few minutes, at least every week, to briefly read the things that you wrote in the last few days. Sometimes you won't notice anything out of the ordinary, but when you do, it'll pop straight out in your writing, and you can't avoid seeing it. The first time it happens to you, I'm sure you'll be amazed at how easy you noticed something that would have otherwise flown under the radar.
Like most things, you'll get the most benefit if you make it a regular habit. That's the key here. If you do this every week, I assure you will begin to find areas that will transform your life for the better.
Tips for your Practical Good
If you want to start finding areas where you're holding yourself back, can improve upon, or just want to be motivated with how well you've been doing, here are a couple of tips to get you moving:
- If you're not currently journaling, find a pen and notebook and block off 10-15 minutes every day to write. I highly recommend using pen and paper to write to make the process feel more personal to you. If you don't want to use pen and paper, it's okay to use a computer, tablet or smartphone as long as you can organize your writing to have it easily accessible in the future. Also, you don't have to write anything specific or have a certain number of pages to fill - just write whatever you're feeling in that moment, and however short/long it needs to be.
- When you have a week's worth of writing, spend a few minutes reading your past entries. The reason for reading your recent entries is to find things that can help you down the road. You don't have to take notes or spend too much time analyzing your writing. If you do spot something interesting, you can write it down separately or highlight it for future reference. Depending on how much you write, this should just take a short time so that it won't be a huge task.
- Every week, schedule time to review the previous week's entries. Consistency is key. You'll get the most out of this routine if you do it often. I find that once a week is best, but you can experiment to see if another timeframe works best for you. Try not to make the gap too short or too long. If it's too soon, you won't gain much insight from your review. If it's too far away, you'll miss opportunities to improve sooner.