Your Journal Can Be a Great Vehicle for Change
The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) wrote daily in a book he called his “Journal of Daily Occupations.”
It was a notebook with blank pages and on each page, he drew a line down the middle to create two identical columns.
The book was a time log of his work and his life, and the two columns represented both the past and the future.
In the first column, he would mark his agenda for the next day; in the second column he would go back and describe whether those plans worked out and what happened.
In that sense, he opened each morning by looking at the previous day, evaluating it and assessing his performance. He was rarely kind to himself. Instead it became more a record of what he did not do and how what he wanted to do did not happen.
Tolstoy, who was often deeply troubled and struggled with issues of self-defeat, left no column for the present. Instead he lived troubled by what he should do in the future compared to what he had actually done in the past. Regardless of which world captured his attention in the moment, he felt inadequate in it.
Yet he still created War and Peace, which many critics deem the greatest novel ever written. His output was prolific including many more masterpieces such as Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Tolstoy was not the only person of great accomplishment to keep an unusual journal. Benjamin Franklin record an entire journal that was essentially an agenda of virtues and Sir Isaac Newton kept a journal that was a litany of the sins he felt he committed.
I became interested in the idea of journaling when I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way a few years ago. As a busy entrepreneur and motivational speaker, I was also starting my career as an author and I was seeking inspiration to stay focused and continue with my writing. Cameron’s idea of “morning pages” was intriguing and I found it started me on the road to making writing a regular part of my life.
And that brings me back to journaling. A few months ago, I started thinking about how so many journals focus on tomorrow or yesterday, when what we really need to do more of is focus on the present.
So like all busy people I keep my calendar full to remind me of my daily commitments. But at the end of each day, I keep a little journal dedicated entirely to one theme.
Across the top of each page I write: “What I did today that was worthwhile.”
I do not focus on what task wasn’t completed. I do not anticipate what has to be done tomorrow. I just spend a few minutes thinking about what happened on the day I am in and whether what I did created value for anyone, including myself.
The results have been quite amazing in terms of helping me focus on the present and aligning my agenda with my goals. And rather than being a journal of despair or defeat or uncompleted tasks, it is a journal of affirmation that into each day, a little light does fall.
Sometimes what was worthwhile has to do with setting up the scene for an exciting new work project. Sometimes it is a simple act of kindness to a stranger, or a heart-warming visit with an old friend. Sometimes it is as simple as making the decision to stay calm in a crisis or avoiding self-recriminations if things didn’t go my way.
One day I could think of nothing to write. I did not beat myself up about it. I just wrote: “I got lost in my tasks today; tomorrow I will raise my head above my agenda and see the broader world.”
The next day I had lots of things to include. I seemed inspired to spread a little good will each place I went.
This is a kinder, gentler journal than Tolstoy’s.
But it is also a journal that is good for my heart and soul. Instead of ending each day feeling I should have done more, it gives me peace of mind to go into a pleasant sleep and more energy to start the new day with increased courage and confidence.
Try it and let me know how it works for you!
Paula Morand, CSP is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and bold impact. 24 years, 25,000+ clients, 34 countries, 14 books, former radio personality, 10x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.
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