Journaling: The Best Habit I Picked Up in 2021

Writing Sketch

2021 was a challenging year in many ways. Other than the global pandemic, many things changed in my life (some good, some bad), and it was a somewhat stressful year.

In March of 2021, I almost died due to a gastrointestinal bleed (a freak accident caused by a routine procedure). Luckily, I survived the incident due to my amazing wife calling 911 at the right time and the fantastic paramedics and doctors at my local hospital, but it was a terrifying ordeal.

While I was in recovery, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do when feeling better. How I wanted to spend the limited time I have left. There are lots of things I want to spend my time doing: working on meaningful projects, having fun experiences with family and friends, going on camping and hiking trips, writing, etc.

The process of thinking through everything I wanted to do was, in and of itself, incredibly cathartic. The more time I spent reflecting on my thoughts and life, the better I felt. There’s something magical about taking dedicated time out of your day to write about your thoughts and consider the big questions seriously.

Without thinking much about it, I found myself journaling every day.

It’s been just about a year since I first started journaling, and since then, I’ve written almost every day with few exceptions. In this time, journaling has made a tremendous impact on my life, mood, and relationships. Journaling has quickly become the most impactful of all the habits I’ve developed over the years.

Benefits of Journaling

There are numerous reasons to journal, but these are the primary benefits I’ve personally noticed after a year of journaling.

Journaling helps clear your mind.

I have a noisy inner monologue, and throughout the day, I’m constantly being interrupted by ideas, questions, and concerns. When I take a few minutes each day to write these thoughts down and think through them, it puts my brain at ease and allows me to relax and get them off my mind.

Journaling helps put things in perspective.

I’ve often found myself upset or frustrated about something, only to realize later in the day while writing about how insignificant the problem is. The practice of writing things down brings a certain level of rationality to your thoughts that aren’t always immediately apparent.

I often discover that even the “big” problems in my life have obvious solutions I would never have noticed had I not journaled about them.

Journaling preserves memories.

My memory is terrible. If you asked me what I did last month, I’d have absolutely no idea.

Before starting a journal, the only way I could reflect on memories was to look through photos. The only problem with this is that often, while I can remember bits and pieces of what was going on at the time, I can’t remember everything.

As I’m writing my daily journal entry, I’ll include any relevant photos and jot down some context around them – I’ve found that by looking back through these entries with both pictures and stories, it allows me to recall everything.

And… As vain as it is, I hope that someday I’ll be able to pass these journals along to family members so that, if they’re interested, they can get an idea of what sort of person I was, what I did, and the types of things I thought about.

Journaling helps keep your goals on track.

It’s really easy to set a personal goal and forget about it – I’ve done it hundreds of times. But, by writing every day, I’ve found myself sticking to my goals more than ever.

I think this boils down to focus. It would be hard for me to journal every day without writing about my goals and how I’m doing, and that little bit of extra focus and attention goes a long way towards helping me keep myself honest.

It’s fun!

When I started journaling last year, I didn’t intend to do it every day. It just sort of happened.

Each day I found myself wanting to write down some thought or idea, and the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. Over time, I noticed that I found myself missing it on the few occasions I didn’t journal.

Now, a year in, I look forward to writing a small journal entry every day. It’s part of my wind-down routine at night, and I love it.

Keeping a Digital and Physical Journal

Initially, when I started keeping a journal, I had a few simple goals:

  • I wanted to be able to quickly write (and ideally include photos) in my journal
  • I wanted it to be easy to write on any device (phone, laptop, iPad, etc.)
  • I wanted some way to physically print my journal each year so that I could have a physical book to look back at any time I want – as well as to preserve the memories as digital stuff tends to disappear eventually

With these requirements in mind, I did a lot of research, looking for a suitable solution. I looked at various journaling services and simple alternatives (physical journals, Google Docs, Apple Notes, etc.).

In the end, I decided to start using the Day One Mac app (works on all Apple devices). I cannot recommend it highly enough if you’re an Apple user.

NOTE: I have no affiliation whatsoever with the Day One app. But it’s incredible.

The Day One app looks beautiful, syncs your journals privately using iCloud, lets you embed photos (and metadata) into entries in a stylish and simple way, makes it incredibly easy to have multiple journals (by topic), track down any entries you’ve previously created, and a whole lot more.

Day One App

For me, the ultimate feature is the ability to easily create a beautiful looking physical journal whenever I want. Here’s a picture of my journal from 2021.

My Journal

It’s a bound book with high-quality photos, layouts, etc. It looks astounding. You can customize the book’s cover, include select entries, and make a ton of other customizations I won’t expand on here.

So, my recommendation is that if you’re going to start a journal and want to print it out eventually, use the Day One app – it’s been absolutely 1010 incredible.