Thanksgiving is right around the corner, which means that most of us are taking time to reflect on the positives in our lives. It’s great that there’s a holiday centered around this practice, but I think that gratitude and positivity shouldn’t be forgotten for the other 364 days of the year. As a former Negative Nancy, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying different techniques to improve my mindset, especially since sooooo much research shows that a positive attitude has benefits for mental, emotional, and physical health. One of the most effective things I’ve tried is my daily journal.
I’m old school and keep my journal in a notebook, but electronic tools also totally work. Sometimes I jot things down during the day as I have time and ideas, and sometimes writing in the journal is the last thing I do before bed. It doesn’t matter when you update, as long as it becomes a consistent part of your day.
It’s possible that you’re thinking, “Come on, Amanda, do you know how busy I am? There’s no way I have time for a journal.” Trust me, I get it-sometimes I’m so busy I have to set a reminder to stop and eat. The good news is that the basics of this journal method can be covered in just a few minutes a day (and has room for expansion if you have the time or inclination). All you really need to do is make a couple of lists. So today I’m sharing my personal “must haves” for a daily record, and a way to use the journal for later reflection and maximum benefit.
1. Gratitude/Positive Experiences
There’s a ton of information out there about the benefits of gratitude journaling, and lots of ideas to help you get started. I really like this post from the Positive Psychology Program, which also contains a lot of ideas to help you get started. In a nutshell, this section of my journal helps me to reflect every day on the great things in my life, and makes sure that I don’t discount or forget about them. This is especially important on bad days, when I have to be careful not to let setbacks send me into a negativity spiral. Even on the worst days, there’s something positive, even if it’s as simple as hearing and falling in love with a new song on the radio.
This might seem a little counterintuitive (After all, aren’t we trying to feel better?), but hear me out. One of the biggest problems with worry, stress, and anxiety is the way it tends to bounce around in our brains, influencing our mood, interactions, productivity, and sleep. Well, guess what? Writing down what’s bothering us helps to stop that cycle, and often helps us to think more clearly about our concerns. You can find some more information and suggestions from Shape Magazine here. I also add “irritations”, but only when there’s something that’s really bugging me. I find that writing those down helps me to gain perspective and consider whether they’re really worth messing up my day. However, if you find that writing down frustrations is magnifying instead of minimizing them, you might want to consider leaving them out.
3. Personal Successes
This last section means I always end on a positive note. We all do something every day that should make us proud of ourselves. Maybe it’s a big thing (I got a promotion! I’ve finally saved enough for a new car!) or a small thing (I stuck to my diet. I provided a sympathetic ear. I helped a coworker complete a project.), but there’s always something. Don’t let those successes go by unnoticed and unrecorded. It’s really easy for us to focus on our failures, shortcomings, and problems, so it’s super important to reflect on what we’re doing right.
Speaking of reflection…
Once you’ve been journaling for a while, you should revisit your earlier entries. Each day, I flip back to my entries from a month ago and a year ago and think about where I was at the time. This practice is great for reminding you of the good things in your life, and helping you feel more positive about your current circumstances. One of the best things, for me, is discovering that most of my past negatives worked out fine, and that a lot of them I have totally forgotten by the time I look at them again. This helps me remember that whatever is going on today is also probably going to be ok.
For example, here are a few items from my journal one year ago today:
- Gratitude/Positive Experiences: My niece gave me a collage she made at school
- Worries/Concerns/Irritations: A particular coworker is behind on a deadline, again, and that’s stopping me from moving forward on a project
- Personal Successes: I finally finished cleaning out the guest room closet
When I reread that entry this morning, I looked at my niece’s collage again, and remembered how great it felt when she gave me something she had worked hard to create. Even though I tried really hard, I honestly couldn’t remember the details of the issue with my coworker, and I know that whatever the project was, we completed it in the end. I’ve actually been having a similar issue recently, so the reminder that these kinds of things work out came at the perfect time. The guest room closet is still in pretty good shape, and I’m feeling proud of myself all over again.
In short, rereading my journal made me happy. Oh, and for today, I’ve already listed “started my blog” under “Personal Successes”.
Do you journal or log events in your life? What techniques do you have for maintaining perspective and a positive attitude? Let me know in the comments!