Journal Experiments

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Do you journal?  Here’s a post about why I do, why it works, and how I do it.

Why I journal

Back when I was working crazy hours at various jobs, I started instituting a “Golden Hour” before doing anything else.  I’d get up one hour earlier than usual to guarantee myself one hour to myself before going to work. Basically, my job and my life had taken over and I was fighting for any time to myself.  So that one hour was MINE and I had to fiercely defend it before anyone or anything else could steal it from me.

Why it works

My Golden Hour was my time to focus on me and I specifically used it to “sharpen the saw.”  (Habit #7, of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

How I journal (a history)

I’ve used a simple structured journal of answering a few key questions each day to force myself to think and grow.  At that time I called it “2 & 2” because the questions were:

  • What are 2 things that went well?
  • What are 2 things that didn’t go so well and what can I do better?

That structure helped me realize and grow through many big and small things.  Over time, I discovered a more refined wording and changed it to:

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What next?

At some point I stumbled on to “3 Grateful Things”.  Basically, name 3 things in your life that you are grateful for.

If you haven’t explored the topic of gratefulness, I highly, highly recommend it.  Being grateful leads to happiness.  Being grateful often is happiness.  Taking a moment, right now even, to list 3 things you are grateful for will make your heart lift a little.  List 3 more and lift your heart even higher.

Starting each day by listing 3 Grateful Things is an awesome way to remember who you are and why you do what you do.  (Google it, this topic’s all over the web so I won’t spend any more time on it here.)

So I upgraded to “2 & 2 + 3” and it worked really well.  It took about 15 to 20 minutes to write.  It kept me challenged and moving forward.

At some point I added another element: “3 Victories”.  Basically, name 3 Victories.

It sounds small but it’s very important to take a moment and celebrate progress (especially when working crazy hours).  I’ve heard it said a few times here and there that successful people sometimes have a problem taking a moment and celebrating their victories.  They end up being so hard on themselves because they are busy chasing the next goal and they are not getting there as fast as they expected.  However, if they would just take a moment to recognize how far they’ve come and how much they have already achieved, they would feel accomplished and that momentum will carry them into their current goal’s struggles with a “I got this” smile.

Now I was up to “2 & 2 + 3 & 3″ when I added another element and another element and ultimately it got too long to do and I stopped doing it all together.  Also, I stopped working those crazy hours so the need to fight for my time disappeared.

So I admit it, I fell victim to feature creep (aka scope creep) and I was the creep doing it to myself :)

My hiatus without the journal was, well… “easy”.  Life was “easy”.  I just floated through each day without challenging myself to improve.  Honestly, my journal put a high standard on myself and pushed me to reflect on my self and my action every day so I could force myself to take steps forward.  You’ve see this chart, right?

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My journal pushed me up against my boundaries every day.  I have to admit, it’s a little exhacusting.  …and when I told other people about it, they didn’t “get it”.  They didn’t see the benefits.  They said it seemed like a bunch of busy-work.

Regardless… I filled it up with too much stuff and it became too overwhelming to do every day, so I stopped doing it.  I returned back to a life of coasting through each day without putting too much effort into improving myself or whatever situation I happened to find myself it.

My current journal experiment

Fast forward a year and I’ve re-discovered my Golden Hour and no sooner than I did that I started discovering all sorts of other people’s morning routines.

Tony Robbin’s podcast had an episode where he talks about how he Primes his day, every day (I’ll try to find a link later… which means I probably won’t and you should google for yourself if you’re interested ;) ).

Tim Ferriss podcast often asks his guest about their morning rituals and talks about his own morning journaling.  He specifically mentions The 5 Minute Journal a few times.  I looked into it and saw a lot of overlap between The 5 Minute Journal and my technique, and I really liked the idea of splitting the journal into an AM and a PM session.

So I made an experimental journal in MS Word and printed out a few copies and started messing around with some journaling ideas.

Here’s a link if you want to download it and try it out:

danny-burbols-printable-golden-hour-v0-5

It’s MS Word for PC.  It’s 1 page.  Print it out a few times on the front and backs of a few pages.  Stack up the pages and fold them all in half.

This was my first month trying it out.  It’s about to change (of course) but I thought it would be fun to share.

In this iteration I…

  • purposely excluded my “2 & 2″ to give myself room to experiment with other ideas
  • Think about priming my day or getting my day off to a great start every day.
  • tried taking advantage of the morning vs evening sections to break it the time spent writing and to take advantage of those times of day
    • am: to prime the day
    • pm: to put the day down and sleep soundly
  • there are spots to write the start and end times while journaling.  That’s just so I can track the amount of time this current version of the journal experiment is taking. (you can skip it, it serves no real daily purpose)
  • incorporated something to target The Ego and something to target the umm… “anti-Ego?” (more below)
  • and the “I will always remember today as the day…” box (more below).

I recently read The Rock Warrior’s Way.  Wow, what an incredibly thoughtful book.  Chapter 1 takes a deep dive into the mind and talks a lot about The Ego, using 100% of your Power (Power = 100% of your time, attention, focus, and mindpower all at in the same moment in time), and getting around The Ego’s limiting narratives (that’s narratives with and “S” because, wow, there are a lot of ways The Ego will sabotage us and hold us back AND make us happy about it).

So anyway, I read the book, then I started the book over and started literally taking notes.  Lately, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about The Ego and The Ego’s opposite, which is really hard concept to find a name for.  My google searches have uncovered words like “Sacred Self” and “The Spirit”, but really I think those are BS.  Aside from The rock Warrior’s Way, everyone seems to make The Ego out as “bad” and the other thing as “good”.  Therefore you end up with labels that sound mystical and “good” like The Spirit and the Sacred Self.    That’s BS.  The Ego has advantages and drawbacks, just like The Mental Construct That Will Not Be Named has advantages and drawbacks, so making one out to be good and the other out to be bad is quite literally The Ego getting people to justify that their way is better while turning a blind eye to anything that doesn’t support their case.

Actually, I’m going to do it, I’m going to give this concept a fair name, right here, right now, October 1st, 2016.  The Ego is your inner narration that wants to classify, rate, and compare everything your senses discover, then it creates a narration that will justify, for better or worse, any decisions or conclusions it comes to.  The opposite of that is Breathe.  Breathe is the part of you without all the narrative, the judging, or the justification.  Breathe is you when you are 100% experiencing this moment for the sake of experiencing this moment or you are observing this moment for the sake of observing this moment.  You might call this a state of “Flow”, being “In The Zone”, or “a meditative state”.  To Breathe, everything simply is what it is.  Breathe simply breathes it all in without judgement and appreciates it as it is.  Appreciate the sweet for being sweet just as much as we appreciate the sour for being sour.

EX: Hamlet: “…there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Breathe takes something in without judgement a fraction of a moment before The Ego grabs it for processing.  The Ego is the thinker that decides it is good or bad.  Now that the decision has been made, it’s hard to recall what Breathe observed in the first place.

With that tangent behind us, with my current journal, I was trying to encourage both the good sides of The Ego and Breathe.

For The Ego, there are two boxes:

  • 3 Victories
  • Today I will Achieve

For Breathe, there are two boxes:

  • 3 Grateful Things
  • Today I will Savor

The Ego gets to decided to chase happiness, conquer the day, and be proud of it.  Breathe gets to be happy now and savor everything as it happens, even the struggles.

This iteration also has a box labeled “I will always remember today as the day…“.  This addition has been neat.  I find that I can read the text in that box and really recall what made that day unique.  As a fun experiment, I started writing that same text on a calendar and it’s a fun way to relive a month.  It reminds me of the movie, About Time, where the guy can travel back in time and learns to savor his days by living them twice.

“so he [the main character’s dad] told me his secret formula for happiness.  Part 1 of the 2 part plan was that I should just get on with ordinary life; living it day by day like anyone else…. but then came part 2 of dad’s plan.  He told me to live every day again, almost exactly the same.  The first time with all the tensions and worries that stop us noticing how sweet the world can be, but the second time, noticing.”  ~from the movie: About Time

My Next Journal Experiment

Next I plan to bring back the 2 & 2.  The journal has been a great morning primer but it’s lacking the “reflect and grow” element.

I’m also going to start dropping in more goal setting and pushing for intentions that are bigger than a day.

Actually, the morning section is all about Setting Intentions.  That’s another great topic I could get lost in discussing (but I won’t!  I will end this post asap!)

Update: here’s the next version if you’d like to try it:

danny-burbols-printable-golden-hour-v0-7

I’ll drop off any useful results in a month or two.

Anyone who actually read all this, Thanks for your time and attention, best wishes with your own journal experiments!

~Danny

Update #2: here’s my next post on this topic with my latest Winpower Weekly Journal