A Practical & Effective Daily Journal Routine

Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics

The morning for me has always been a special time that offers a sense of inspiration, renewal and optimism. Even if I’m exhausted, it’s always my most productive time of day, the time when I’m able to work with the most enthusiasm and clarity. It’s a time when my mind is open to possibility and unburdened by the often overwhelming pressure of responsibility and obligation. Your mind is also more receptive to suggestion first thing in the morning than it is later in the day—in other words, any mindset work you do is going to be far more effective.

A morning journal routine is meant to take advantage of this unique window of time. The following prompts and ideas rely on that timing send you into the day ready to be who you want to be and achieve what you want to achieve. It’s a chance to reflect on the previous day, make adjustments, and prepare your mind for the day now beginning.

It’s a fact that this sort of mindset remodeling and control is effective, potentially to a staggering extent. However, it’s also a fact that it only works if you actually do it, and do it sincerely, and for it to work as well as possible, it has to be done consistently over a long period of time.

Knowing this for years hasn’t magically made me do it. The question for me became, How do I get this done in a way that isn’t daunting and off-putting in its extensiveness, that is concise but maximally effective by stripping away extraneous activities but preserving the critical core, that isn’t just tolerable, but even enjoyable? If I couldn’t answer that, I knew this kind of activity would never become a habit for me, and I’d never be able to benefit from a practice I knew without any doubt would help me immensely.

None of this is original. I certainly didn’t create the idea of journaling or even the basic prompts here—you can find variations of these ideas in plenty of books, and they’re pretty obvious if you spend a bit of time considering the issue. All I’ve done is pare down the process to what I’ve found to be the most important ideas to focus on daily—what you need for this to be effective, and nothing more.

This process done precisely as written is going to be effective if you take it seriously, but you can also use it simply as a framework to expand from and create your own process. In other words, you can respond to the prompts exclusively, or you can use them as launching points for more in-depth consideration and writing. In any case, I suggest allowing yourself to go as far-afield as your mind carries you each day as you write—as long as you answer the prompts directly first. Be sure to do the basics, but once you have, don’t restrict yourself if there’s more on your mind. You may discover a new prompt that you want to include in your daily routine in the process.

In order for this to work as well as it can, you need to do it right. First, of course, you need to take it seriously. You need to put genuine thought into what you’re writing. The results will be commensurate to your effort—if you do it half-heartedly, you’re going to get minimal benefit. If you’re going to spend the time to do it at all, do it well.

Second, create a situation that allows you to relax and focus. Don’t just jot down some notes while you’re creeping through commute traffic. Get outside first thing in the morning and take a short walk if you can. Leave your phone and anything else you know will distract you inside. Before you go back inside or do anything else—especially check your phone or computer—find a quiet place to sit alone and do your thinking and writing.

You don’t need to commit a lot of time to this—10-20 minutes should be plenty, although if you’re able to commit more, take advantage of it. If you can’t get even 10 minutes to yourself to have a few clear thoughts every morning, you need to take a serious look at your lifestyle and make some changes.


The Prompts

Following are the prompts I suggest using. For each I’ve written an explanation of what’s intended and how to best use them. Remember, if you have more to say, by all means, say it. Just be sure to take care of these specific prompts first.


I am grateful for:

Write 3-5 things you’re grateful for. Do your best to come up with something new every day, but of course over time, you’re going to repeat a few things. However, don’t get lazy here. Part of the purpose of this prompt is to really make you take a look at your life to recognize and appreciate things you may neglect or take for granted that in fact are important elements of your happiness. Don’t be afraid of pointing out tiny, specific details—these things matter too. The primary purpose of this exercise is learning to find and recognize these things when they’re not immediately apparent, and in the process, realizing how much you have to be grateful for even in times of frustration, discouragement or even depression.

In addition to what you’re grateful for, try briefly explaining why. What does this thing you’re grateful for provide you? Why is it so valuable that it’s worth writing down?


What am I proud of from yesterday? Did I live up to my standards?

This is a chance to reflect on yesterday and compare your intentions with your execution. You know what you wanted to do, who you wanted to be, what you wanted to accomplish—did you do it the way you planned? What did you do well? What turned out exactly as you intended? Where did you fall short of your vision?

This is meant to be an inventory to allow you to stay on track and evaluate your daily practices and habits and continue improving your focus and mindset. It is not intended to be fodder for self-flagellation. Take an objective look rather than making a judgment of your self-worth, and use that evaluation to make adjustments and corrections today. In the next prompt, you can make reference to any shortcomings and what you intend to do differently to avoid the same problems.


What will today look like?

This is your chance to decide who you’re going to be and what your life will be like today. This isn’t a series of wishes or a vague sense of hope—these are specific things you ARE and WILL DO. In other words, write this section as if it’s a foregone conclusion—it is a fact that this is who you are and what you do.

Remember that we’re literally rewiring our brains to function in a way that makes these things true, and, believe it or not, creates changes in our genes to improve our physical health and the tendency of our natural state of being to support these traits and abilities.

Include not just actions you may intend to complete, but describe your mindset, your attitude, your energy, your outlook, your personality… everything that defines the person you want to be.


Review

Every now and then, add a review of past entries to your morning journal routine. Pick a couple days in the past and read through what you wrote, paying attention not just to what’s different about what you were focused on at that time relative to the present, but how you described yourself and your goals—how has your outlook and attitude changed over time, and how has your ability to confidently and clearly describe yourself and what you want improved?

Include these observations in that day’s entry—what are you proud of having changed and improved, and what still needs work and needs to remain a focus every day? What has worked for you, and what hasn’t? How are you going to change what isn’t working?

What is consistent over time in terms of your values? In other words, what does your writing make clear is most important for you in terms of who you are, what you do, and what you appreciate in your life? What have you moved on from after learning it wasn’t as important as you may have once believed?

Use this as part of the broader process to continually refine the daily routine and reap as much benefit as possible from the practice. And always remember, the more you put into it, the more it will deliver—you are ultimately responsible for the shape of your mind and your life.

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