20 years now—that’s how long I’ve been keeping a journal. I can tell you what I did on this day (or close to it) 20 years ago. Some of this stuff is nonsense. But some of it is incredibly instructive.

A journal lets you utter some of the thoughts you can’t say to other people. It lets you talk freely about the things you’re struggling with. It lets you document stuff. What workouts you did, what you were thinking, who you saw, how you felt, and more.

For example I was reading some stuff I wrote five years ago and became disgusted at my lack of progress in a particular area. Without the journal, I probably would have felt that I was making good progress. The journal kept me honest.

It’s easy to delude yourself, especially on mental matters—am I treating people well? Well, of course I am! Then you go back and read about some of your interactions and you come off as a class A jerk.

We all like to think well of ourselves, and we should for the most part, but chances are there is a lot of growing to do. And it never stops. So a journal is a good way to keep track of this kind of thing.

Tips for keeping a journal:

  • Handwritten is nice, but it’s weird to have personal thoughts lying around in a notebook. I prefer a password protected computer.
  • Online is nice, but it’s weird to have your thoughts stored in the cloud. I use Day One and it’s great, but I’m a little more reserved than I was when I was using Word.
  • Don’t feel compelled to write everyday. But if you clearly have some things on your mind, or feel that you might want to remember something write it out.
  • To get in the habit, you might start by writing everyday and discover when journaling works best for you.
  • Occasionally review the things you’ve written. I typically do this around New Year’s and my birthday.
  • Ask yourself: am I making progress? Am I becoming a better person?
  • For physical goals, like weight loss, take pictures of yourself and stick them in your journal.
  • To create a particular focus towards objectives, describe the behaviors that will be required to meet those objectives and make that a journal entry you refer to often, then check to see how your other entries align with those behaviors.

There have been a few lines over the years in my journals that have really kicked me in the butt and prompted action. All in the name of progress.