Journaling for Growth Series: 4 Tips on How to Start a Journal

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In the Journaling for Growth series, we tackle the benefits of journaling, how I have used journaling to change my life, and how you can get started journaling.

You create the best book you’ll ever read.

Imagine a book that held a collection of the greatest achievements, inspirations, and lessons tailored exactly for you; enter your journal.

You write the best book you’ll ever read. There is no other tool that I know of that could ever match the power of something written by you, for you. The 4 tips I discuss will help you start a journal that is focused, personal, and most importantly, consistent.

Let’s get right into how to start journaling today.

Check out part one and two of the Journaling for Growth series here.

1. S.M.A.R.T Journaling: Choosing a topic

There are hundreds of methods for journaling. What’s most important is that you find one that fits your needs today.

You have to choose what you want to use the journal for. It may be a topic, some sections, or maybe even questions. But you have to choose.

Choosing a topic will help pinpoint what you’re trying to work on. And the best way to outline what you should address is to write down some S.M.A.R.T Goals.

The SMART acronym stands for a type of goal setting technique that focuses on creating practical goals. You can use SMART goals to hone in on the purpose of any given journal topic chosen.


Deciding exactly what you would like to achieve leaves no room for misunderstanding your intentions. If you want to start reading books, you wouldn’t write ‘read books’ as your goal. It would be more like ‘read 20 pages of Winnie and the Pooh on Sunday at noon’.


When writing SMART goals they need to have a measurement that is clear. To continue with the book example, I would not want to make it a goal to just read, how will I ever know if I am reading enough to be considered hitting my goal? But reading 20 pages? It’s clear, it’s concise, and I know for certain what is considered ‘successful’ when I put the work towards reading.


Get real with yourself for a second. Can you really read 1000 books this year if you have not read a book in three years? Consider how achievable your goal is. Are you trying to do something the world has never seen? Perhaps start a bit smaller; by editing your goals to an achievable size. Our goal here is to create a system that proliferates a behavior, not saddens us because of how challenging or farfetched it looks on the outset.


Often when people set goals they choose them based on what they have seen other people do. Stop accepting the status quo. Do what is intrinsically connected to you and your developing skillset. You need to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself questions like:

  • What am I good at?
  • How can I leverage my skills to my advantage?
  • Why does this goal matter to me?

Setting SMART goals involves a meta-analysis of where you currently are. So make them realistic or else they will never be able to lead you towards an intentionally built future.

For more information on setting SMART goals, I’d recommend you check out Charles Duhigg book, Smarter Faster, Better.


In the bestselling book Predictably Irrational, author Dan Ariely notes research he conducted at Duke University that demonstrated the power of good deadlines. He assigned three major papers and told students they had to create deadlines for each of them by the end of the first week of class. Dan found that the students who set all the deadlines for the last possible day of submission tended to do worse than students who broke up the assignments and committed to earlier deadlines.

“When resolving to reach a goal—whether it is tackling a big project at work or saving for a vacation, it might help to first commit to a hard and clear deadline, and then inform our colleagues, friends, or spouse about it with the hope that this clear and public commitment will help keep us on track and ultimately fulfill our resolutions.”

Dan Ariely

Have a timeline in mind. Deadlines awaken our inner ‘Get shit done’. Constraints of time on tasks establish a workable frame of reference for how much effort ought to be put into a task relative to the time left allotted. So when you’re choosing journaling goals think about the timeline for the journal. Is this a yearly thing? Or do you have journaling tasks you are trying to address for this month specifically? No matter the goal, without some time-based constraint you will find yourself prioritizing other things instead of the journal goal because there’s always ‘plenty of time’.

With these steps in mind, building a SMART journaling tactic is within your reach. No matter the topic, be intentional about your reason for journaling and that includes what you use to journal.

2. Pick Your Gear

Now that you have a system all worked out, gather the appropriate gear to customize a physical note-taking method. Nothing really compares to putting the good old pen to paper. So I recommend you do not use online mediums to gain the maximum amount of control over where and what you write.

This is your special place. Being proud to carry, and excited to write in your journal are two ways to promote the habit, and diminish the barriers to developing your journaling habits.

There are plenty of ways to make your journal your own. Here’s what I use.


To me, my journal design symbolizes that I take what I record seriously. My journal represents my ability to create freely. With no lines on the page, I am free to write, connect points, and draw an illustration in whichever way I please.

Here is a link to the type of journal I use.

Find Nice Pens

I’m a Pen snob.

Never could I consider writing in anything that was anything but a Pilot. The brand creates quality products in every color you can think of and have a professional style that I have found no other pen to replicate. It is the brand I use for all my book summaries, and will continue to use until my dying day; man I love these pens.

Here is a link to the pens I use.

3. Select a Time & Place

You have to be intentional about when and where you’re journaling. This is especially important if you have never done a self-reflection task before because habits are built, not born.

Becoming deliberate about the time and place that you’re going to write will help you to start journaling consistently. Choose a location that you can access easily and be sure remove any interruptions that may steal your attention from journaling. I’d recommend the quiet place in a library or a special corner in your house dedicated to journaling.

When selecting the best time, think about what the task entails.

Depending on your goals, the optimal time to work will vary. I find that first thing in the morning or last thing at night are optimal times for people reflecting on the day at hand. While with more task-based writing, you only need to schedule a block of time that comes after a specific cue that you outlined when setting up your journal. For example, I have a notes section that I use for writing about a moment that brought intense pleasure or pain. I use this section only after the appropriate emotional cue arises (intense pain or pleasure) and then block out 20 minutes or so to address sensations. This is more task-based writing because it revolves around a set of circumstance before it is initially blocked.

Once you choose a time and a place it is best if you time yourself. I don’t say this as a way to rush the writing process. In fact, this is to ensure that you are getting started. Set a timer for at least 25 minutes and commit your focus to working through your journaling task and only the journaling task. You will find that after 25 minutes of focus you can begin to concentrate solely on journaling for a bit longer. Choosing to stop after the initial period is fine. But if you comfortable, keep going! Take advantage of the focused state.

4. Trust your journal

This is a warning.

You will not see the results if write to your journal like you write to your friends. DON’T HOLD BACK. The best book you’ll ever read leaves no space for the fluff that usually comes with writing. Understand that your own truth is not your enemy.

Surrender to the process you outline, be genuine with yourself, and the process will yield results. Writing naturally ensures you do not hold yourself up when the bias kick from overthinking. Spelling, grammar, and structure can all go out the window; write for your advancement, not for an audience.

Bonus: Be sure to stay consistent by never skipping more than two days of scheduled journaling.

This is the trick that will make the difference between a lukewarm and spicy journaling practice.

Good habits are established not by doing them once a year, or a week, but every day. Repetition is the path to excellence, so when you’re just starting to journal, work with it as much as you can. In a way, you have to prove to your brain how important the task is to you before it eases up on the amount of stamina it takes to start the habit.

Think of journaling as the best book you’ll ever read & Journaling will change your life.

Check out some of the other things I do every day to make today the best day of my life.

Are you ready to start Journaling? Send me a picture of your journal to have it featured on the Forces of Habit Facebook page.

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Journaling for Growth Series: A Look Inside My 2017 Journal

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In the Journaling for Growth series, we tackle the benefits of journaling, how I have used journaling to change my life, and how you can get started journaling too.

When I started personal development journaling, who would have thought it would become the single most useful tool on my journey toward intentional living. Using a method developed by one of my favorite YouTubers Clark Kegley, I separated an 8.5 X 11 sketchbook into seven sections that I felt were the core of the value I was seeking in 2017. This post will cover a description of my journaling sections, as well as an inside look into the contents of my 2017 journal.

I’m going to break down my 2017 journal from front to back cover. Discussing the rationale behind the various sections I choose as my framework towards living a more intentional life.
Forces of habit Journal

NOTE: Looking for additional information about the process? I would like to highly recommend you check out the Refusing to Settle YouTube channel, as well as Clark’s Journaling class, MyBestJoruanl 2.0.

Front Cover

The front cover of my journal represents what I stand for, and insights into what I am fighting to become.  I find it invigoratingly motivational. As the beginning of the best book I’ll ever read, I hit the ground running with inspiring tidbits of wisdom gathered throughout the year.

These are the insights that underlie mental models I use to address any issue that could arise in my day to day life. Let’s take a look at some of my favorites.

“Never Send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” -John Donne

This resonated with me instantly. Growing up, my grandmother was the type of figure who never turned away an opportunity to serve someone. At one point she was accommodating ten people in her home leading to a bed needing to be installed in the dining room! This quote is a sentiment to my dedication to serving others. I ought to never question ‘who will help?’ Me of course! Because that person will be me.

“Great performance is not reserved for the preordained few. It is available to you and to everyone”

When I started putting in real hard work into developing my life. My peers would ask me was ask me how or where to start and every time I would always get the same response in one form or another.

‘Well, I’m just not smart or dedicated enough of a person to do that?’

Yeah well, neither is anyone. We become smart dedicated people when we stop limiting our potential through self-limiting perceptions of what is possible. Becoming a better person is not a trait you win in the lottery or have to apply for; its something everyone can 24/7, 365 days a year.

“We ought to always be perpetual learners. Always in ALL ways”

As my motto says, every day is the best day of my life. I am dedicated to learning.  Another day is a chance to learn, and I will never stifle my progress. Who is to say that I get another moment at accepting the gift of knowledge?

“Read Less Write +”

I had a discussion with a professor that lead me to talk about my reading project. His response was simple, yet brutally enlightening.

‘That is great and all, so what have you been writing lately?’

It struck me that I was hoarding knowledge, learning constantly with no aim to share the wealth of insight I was consuming. So I wrote down this quote as a promise that I would share in due time; that was the spark for the creation of the idea now know as Forces of Habit.

Book Notes

52 in 52

Reading and journaling seem to be the power combination. That meant if I wanted to really kick start my growth I needed to find a way to take full advantage of both of them; the 52 in 52 challenge was born.

I decided that I would read one book every week for the entire year, and then condense the lessons from each book into 2-page journal entries using quotes, images, mnemonics, and thoughts.

The first thing I did when I arrived at the library in the morning was dedicate 2 hours of solitude to reading every day I could I also carried the books in my hand instead of my phone. With the book in my hand, it is a constant reminder that I had the choice to read at every free moment. It also opened me up to the opportunity to share with others what I was reading when asked.

Everyone in my personal circle knew my plan and energized me with social pressures. Even the jokingly ‘what are you reading this week Kia?’ made sure that I was not only reading for my own growth but as a representation of all that I stand for. Goals are meant to teach lessons, and I wanted to teach others that you breed your own success when you are obsessed.

I post a new 52 journal entry every Friday on Forces of Habit! Browse the 52 in 52 book summaries series here.


The default mode of thought for humans is to look at the world under the veil of danger; a negativity bias. Our brains want to make sure we are not in danger, so we are constantly scanning for sensations that may lead to an outcome that would lead to our harm. Now what is considered harm may vary, but one thing is the same, negativity plagues our thoughts. A given mood can prompt our memories to retrieve information that matches the mood. Say if we are sad, we can notice that thoughts that come to mind are colored in this sad frame.

Gratitude focuses on things in our life that are good with intention.

Rather than prime ourselves for the harm or danger in our reality, we can hijack our systems emphasize the good in our lives. Finding in the scientific community have uncovered how Gratitude has impacted our state of reality.

Research conducted by Michael McCullough, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami, has shown that deliberate focus on thoughts of gratitude has emotional and interpersonal benefits. His work has also shown the positive effects that gratitude has on our sleep, as well as evidence that reveals gratitude as a trait that can be fostered and developed through various forms of practice.

For more scientific studies on gratitude, I would highly recommend you check out the positive psychology blog Happier Human. They summarize the most prominent studies on gratitude and provide links to where readers can find the full studies.

Backed by loads of data, I wanted to be able to pinpoint opportunities to be grateful wherever available. With Gratitude journaling, I created a place where I work to clarify what I had to be grateful for and thereby predispose me to a more cheerful well-being.

I incorporated a list of 10 things I would state I am grateful for in my morning routine because the practice became so useful. The journal became a secondary method of gratitude.

On days that called for ‘extra gratefulness’ (Days of great accomplishment & happiness, or of great adversity) I wrote 5 things I was grateful for that day.

Brain Dump

A general notes section. If I wanted to create a mind map on a potential project or write down a book recommendation, this is where it went. A place for externalizing potential nuggets of brilliance. As discussed in part one, a habit for recording our thoughts, goals, and ideas was long held by many of the greatest minds in human history.

“I had, also, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favorable ones.”

Charles Darwin

Darwin understood that his mind would quickly dispose of ideas that he did not agree with. To combat this, he wrote them all down to eliminate the chance of ever leaving holes in his thoughts about any given publication. He prepared rebuttal after rebuttal to all the concerns of his colleagues.

Philosophical Meditation

It is a western philosophy take on a meditative practice; one that focuses more on self-reflection a means of providing clarity to a broad range of feelings and emotions that have recently arisen.

I highly recommend you check out this video from School of Life that explains the exercise more elegantly and british than I ever could.

School of Life has developed this exercise as one to be done alone, but I chose to use it as a tool to help foster communication in my relationship.

It acted as a reflection activity that my partner and I stared. She and I would sit down twice a week and write out things from that day that upset us, made us anxious, or got us excited. After a heated game of rock, paper, scissors, we would choose one of the categories to share with the other person.

The practice helped my relationship flourish. It forced us to learn to communicate with one another about things we didn’t even fully understand yet and gave the partner information about current challenges. Information like this allowed us to become more compassionate and integrated. I could gauge the type of week my partner was having and make a mental note to help her through that with whatever seemed most appropriate.

Back Cover

The back cover is where I outlined some general stretch goals and placed some helpful graphics that I used for reference.

My big goals list while rudimentary, was a great start on focusing my life. I found that on days where I felt aimless, it helped to refer to my list and spend the next 30 mins doing something measurable that would help me reach that goal.

The 48 laws graphics is from Robert Greene’s book, The 48 Laws of Power. To become a diligent observer of the power dynamics fluctuating around me, I posted this list as a reminder to be wary of those whom will attempt use power against me and what options I have to use my power to influence others.

The 10 Growth Mindset Statements are from Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. It encourages me to always view a challenge as an opportunity to adapt. Our mindset is what will guide how we view any given situation we are exposed to.

What Went Wrong?

You may notice that if you discount the front and back covers, only four sections are listed above.

Lifeology was designed to request people with conflicting insights to explain themselves to me to broaden how I was thinking about any given topic. The other two where extra note-taking sections that became space for the 52 in 52 book summaries because I miscalculated how much space the project would actually take up.

A Brief Note on Failure

The sections I chose not to detail above did not work out and that is okay. Failures are important in moving forward from where you are. Without them, habitual decay would leave you in a state of stagnation.

Without failure, you will never break the boundaries of what is. How could you ever discover a model of the world that differed from your current if you don’t make an attempt to shatter what you know in exchange for something better when the opportunity arises?

In short, WE NEED FAILURE. The trial and error process is what our brains use to strengthen and fragment synaptic links that make you who you are.

This was a deep (and personal)  look into my 2017 journal that I hope gives you an idea of what is possible for a self-development journal. Now that we have talked about the benefits and some lessons I have taken from journaling. In part three we will teach you how to start creating the best book you’ll ever read.

Are you ready to get started? Check out my Top 5 Habit I Do Every Day to see if you’re on the right track towards forcing your habits towards intentional living!


Journaling for Growth Series: 3 Reasons Why Journaling Breeds Success

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In the Journaling for Growth series we tackle the benefits of journaling, how I have used journaling to change my life, and how you can get started journaling too.

Ever since starting the site, I have been struggling to discern what my single most valuable habit is. All things considered, journaling is a top competitor.

Wanna see the other nominees? Check out the top 5 habits I do every day here.

Journaling has changed my life.

Journaling is by far my favorite tool for intentional living. I have found no other resource with the flexibility, reception, or straightforwardness that journaling has to offer.

And I am not alone. Success can be challenging to pin down. But when it comes to journaling, the benefits are numerous and clear. Let’s look at three pieces of evidence that demonstrate the power of journaling.

Top Performers

Timeless information has been gathered and preserved to cherish the valuable lessons we have learned from the personal accounts of the greatest minds of human history.

Journaling for Growth Series

Biologist Charles Darwin, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin realized the merits of a journaling practice as a tool for introspection. To them, journaling was a method of recording insights, faults, and ideas that would be reflected upon for the future.

Charles Darwin’s journal is credited with assisting him in writing his description for the ancestral linkage of all living beings. Darwin recorded numerous examples of how the happenings of family, friends, or even voyages fit into his theory of natural selection. He constantly questioned himself, nitpicking for any abnormal organism that would splinter his theory.

His private writings reflect on human evolution. During a time of religious hegemony, Darwin would ruin his reputation if he publicly contradicts creationism. With these fears in mind, he continues to write to himself, seeking clarity of mind about the Homo sapiens place in evolutionary history.

Charles Darwin's Sketch
Charles Darwin’s 1837 sketch, his first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation of Species (1837)

Marcus Aurelius was debatably the greatest Roman emperor of all time. A leader who tirelessly fought to rule his external and internal world. Marcus Aurelius would write to himself extensively in his personal notes.

He understood that fortifying his mind would prepare him for the uncertainty and mortality of his future. Although Marcus Aurelius never intended to publish these notes, after his passing, his personal writing where gathered and published.

Known as Meditations, it provides a look into the mind of someone who scrupulously reflected on themselves as a means to improve.

Benjamin Franklin disciplined himself to a strict schedule each day. In Ben’s autobiography, he reveals 13 virtues he attempted to enforce into his character by developing a tracking system he kept with him at all times. By constantly keeping tabs on himself, Ben Franklin was able to gradually transform his mannerism into what he imagined to be a man of moral perfections. No other tool in his notebook brought as much fulfillment as his journaling method.

Benjamin Franklin notebook

To take a lesson from the greats, we need to accept that top performance means keeping an accurate reflection of our lives over time.

Looking for more examples of eminent figures throughout history who used a journaling system? Check out The Art of Manliness — a blog dedicated to uncovering the lost art of being a man.

Mind & Body

The laundry list of journalers is just the beginning. We now have empirical evidence of the merits of written exercise on our emotional, physiological and psychological states.

In a study done by the University of Iowa, students were asked to journal for one month about thoughts and emotions. The researchers found that students developed greater awareness of the benefits of stress-inducing events when they were reflective during writing sessions.

Research published by Royal College of Psychiatrists found that participants who wrote about traumatic or stressful topics for 15-20 minutes on 3-5 occasions were in better physical and psychological conditions compared to those who wrote about neutral topics.

James Pennebaker, social psychologist and author of Writing to Heal, discusses the merits of written exercise on our immune system. Through writing, we are providing ourselves with a mechanism for uncovering ‘emotional blockages’ that are anatomically harming us.

Like a puzzle, known and unknown pieces are riddled through the contents of our mind. Until we take the time to flip them, we’ll never uncover what the picture is. That’s what writing does. As we write about traumatic experiences, we flip the unknown pieces. With a picture in mind, we can start putting the puzzle of our lives together piece by piece.

Puzzle Mind
Writing Helps Solve Questions about Ourselves

Goal Attainment

Financial Guru Peter Drucker said it best. What we track, outline, and write down will not be forgotten. A study conducted at Dominican University split participants into several groups and instructed them to record goals in various ways. They found that those participants who wrote down their goals had higher success rates.

Photo Credit to the Drucker Institute

“What gets measured get managed”

Peter Drucker, Businessman

The best method for recording our goals is, you guessed it, a journal.

As an organizational tool, having a single location for our personal aspirations streamlines our focus. Imagine trying to remember every time we hit a mark for our achievements. How far have I come? What patterns do I notice? Where did I write down that game plan?Working towards a goal is a lot easier when you formally record your progress, and the best method to breed your success is keeping it all in a single place; your journal.

Writing something down also has a memorizing feeling to it. When you put something to paper in a meaningful place it makes it real. It’s much harder to back out of a commitment you make with yourself especially if it is solidified in writing.

Start a commitment with yourself today

With the power of journaling clear, join me next week where I give you never before access to my 2017 journal. Find out what journaling strategies I use to contemplate intentional living.

Are you ready to get started? Check out my Top 5 Habit I Do Every Day to see if you’re on the right track towards forcing your habits towards intentional living!