Why and How to Keep a Journal

Practically no one keeps a Journal… Practically no one reads. Knowing that everyone else is avoiding these tasks… We know that these tasks will improve your life. So lets get cracking… For all of the people who hate on journals, this post should break down exactly why you should have one and how it is going to 1) increase performance and 2) force you to develop better habits.

 

Why Should You Write: The truth is that writing a single page in a word document will take less than 10 minutes. This is because all of the information is new, fresh and easily recalled. The 10 minutes you invest in tracking your own progress is going to show relative strengths, relative weaknesses and clear areas where improvements can be made immediately. All of these items are going to be difficult to track without consistency (consistency is key – day or night is not impactful).

A journal is personal compounding interest. You won’t see any noticeable gains unless you do this for at least 90+ days in a row. Why? It will be difficult to spot trends and see holes in your diet, workout, mentality and overall progress.

The benefit? Once you’ve established the habit you will be hooked as you’ll make at least one adjustment that will benefit you immediately. If you do not see at least one or two holes over the course of a year, you should stop immediately… because it simply means you’re not taking it seriously.

Enough with the over view, can you show a real life example?

1) Athletics, the Most Common Example: Training journals are extremely common for weightlifting, sprinting, distance running, swimming etc. The difference between a high end journal and a low end training journal is this:

Person 1: Simply tracks reps and weights

Person 2: Tracks reps, weights… and also tracks muscular trends and soreness.

This is the difference between good and great. You’re making a mind muscle connection and you’re actively searching for areas to take your skills to the next level. If you are properly tracking your muscles and performance, you are now in a significantly better position to break a plateau.

Anyone who has attempted to break a plateau will know one thing… It seems impossible to crack for weeks at a time. This is the difference between Person 1 and Person two from the example above.

Person 1: Training journal says “Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps at 275 lbs”.

Person 2: Training journal says “Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps at 275”, right IT band and hamstring is tighter than left.

For serious athletes, you already know the solution to this. You attempt left legged and right legged jumps to see if there is a muscle imbalance. What happens next? When you run and jump to touch an arbitrary marker (vertical jump markers, a basketball backboard, a football goal post etc.) you will notice that there is a significant difference in the height (call it 2 inches instead of the typical 0.5 inches for left foot vs. right footed jumpers). Now you’ve confirmed the muscle imbalance and turn to your training regimen and realize the following… You’ve been running 200 meter sprints for the last 4 weeks.

If this is true the answer is simple, you’re going to run the 200 meter sprint clockwise instead of counter clockwise forcing more pressure on your right leg during the bend of the turn. Your 200 meter workout suffers by a half second to a second, however your body adapts within a week or two and the next thing you know… You’re now squatting 3×8 reps of 305lbs.

 

Not Sold yet? Not an athlete? How about this…

 

2) Diet: Track your diet at a high level. While calorie counting is all the rage these days, if you’re a busy person who exercises it is best to start simple by monitoring exactly what was consumed and ignoring the total calorie count for now. If you want to go from good to great you can add the exact portion sizes, however, this routine will keep you honest about what you have actually consumed.

How is this going to help? You’re going to break bad habits.

Three years ago I personally had a bad habit of eating a chocolate glazed doughnut every single Sunday of the week (being honest sometimes two!). This was like clock work, I would rush to the bakery eat and then move on with my day, an odd habit. While it doesn’t sound like much, just like other things in life the small efforts compound and add up. I couldn’t seem to drop the last 1-2% of body fat I wanted.

After reading about the negative impacts of heavy carbohydrate consumption after lunch, I decided to track my diet in my regular journal. Things started to change. Instead of going to grab my glazed doughnut I was grabbing a banana and mixed fruit cup instead (an extra $3 no big deal). Within 6 months I noticed a slight change to my body fat which allowed me to reach my goal.

Why did this happen? This happened because I forced myself to write down what I ate and had to stare at the results every single day I double clicked the word document. Once you write down chocolate and maple glazed doughnut two times in a row… You start to shake your head. It becomes harder and harder to write down the bad decisions.

You change.

 

Still not sold yet? Believe your exercise routine is perfect? Believe your diet is impeccable? How about this…

 

3) Mental Growth: Everyone reading this blog should have lofty goals. If they are not lofty you’re not aiming high enough in the first place. With that in mind, how are you going to reach your goals if you are not learning something new? How are you going to retain the knowledge without writing it down? How are you going to debunk previous beliefs without tracking them? You simply can’t.

For this one, lets turn to the work force. We already explained the importance of politics and keeping a journal can help save your career as well. Every day you need to learn something new within your field. It can be as small as knowing your Managing Directors preferred color template or as large as knowing about a firm wide layoff.

Write it down.

Many people are going to read the Managing Director example and think this is brown nosing when in reality it is simply people skills. If you know your superior is a hard core Boston Red Sox fan it is probably smart to avoid bragging about a New York Yankees win. Even if you are a Yankees fan, a socially intelligent person is going to avoid the topic entirely. Think about the close friends you have. You certainly avoid some topics on purpose since you simply don’t see eye to eye. We all have plenty of these. This will save trouble for both of you.

How is this going to add up? Keep light tabs on people, events and obtained knowledge. If you believe this is brown nosing, again you’re missing the point. This is akin to knowing your best friends birthday or knowing his or her favourite food when you happen to be in the same area. There is a difference between being thoughtful and a suck-up. The difference is that you’re not changing your personal beliefs to adjust for them, if you disagree with them, simply avoid the topic (see foolish people who argue about politics).

Fast forward 6 months. By this point you should know the quirks of the people within your office. You should know which groups dislike each other, which people love each other and which ones are simply apathetic. This is going to do a lot of leg work for you. Instead of worrying about prioritization and wondering what a certain person wants… you’re going to have a quick document to check and confirm your beliefs. You can laugh now but if you do, you’ll see that you have wasted your own time. Knowing that person A prefers to see Document 1 first instead of Document 2 first is going to change your entire workflow. In addition, everyone in the office will believe you are simply more efficient than others.

Do this correctly? During your performance reviews the first thing they will say is this:

“You seem to make the work environment easier for everyone around you”

If that doesn’t give you an edge, nothing will.

If you’re not sold on a Journal improving your physical and mental health then we do not know how to proceed. However… If you’re looking to add this simple exercise to your life, below is a template that has been adjusted over the years. We suggest a digital document as it is easier to search for information on a historical basis.

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Day Month, Year

Today, I realized work was going to be lighter than usual so I decided to add an extra cardio workout at the end of the weight-lifting routine. Highlights of the day were 1) finishing document X and sending to client Y, 2) improving bench press by X lbs and 3) limiting caffeine intake to 1 cup of coffee.

Meal Summary:

Breakfast: 1lb mixed berries, 1 cup coffee, 16oz water, 1 cup almonds, 4oz ham and 2 fish oil tablets

Lunch: Half chicken, side brown rice, side of mixed vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower), 16 oz water and 1 banana.

Snack: Carrots and celery sticks. 8 oz water and 2 fish oil tablets

Post Workout: 300 calorie protein shake and 16 oz juice (carrots, apples, kale and coconut water)

Dinner: Half pound of salmon, mixed vegetables (zuchinni and carrots) and a handful of olives

Workout Summary:

Bench Press: 3×10 reps X LBS… No noticeable changes

Close Grip Row: 3×10 reps X LBS… No noticeable changes

Incline Bench: 3×10 reps X LBS… Personal record by 10lbs, right side seems stronger

Wide Grip Row: 3×10 reps X LBS… No noticeable change

Decline Bench: 3×10 reps X LBS… Notice left side soreness

Rack Pulls: 3×10 reps X LBS… Notice lower back pain is gone

Run: 3 miles easy run – Felt good today due to lower effort at work

Knowledge Gained:

1) Reminder that managing director Y is going to have his second child in about a week. He seems to stress with personal issues so better to avoid this week.

2) Left chest tightness means I should probably switch to dumbbell bench press to fix the imbalance

3) Finished chapter X of X book which suggests I change my email message pattern to Y.

4) Friday is going to be a longer than expected work day as XYZ project is running a bit slow. Going to prepare for this by taking off a bit earlier on Thursday as most people are out of the office at that time

Plan for Tomorrow: Knowing the workload is likely going to be higher, I plan on reading a bit more and decreasing intensity at the gym. Will stick to weight lifting and avoid cardio giving me an extra 30 minutes to read book X on topic Y. Given the lower expectations for lifting, I plan on eating a tad less as well.

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***Bonus: Every year, you’re going to add 400+ pages of writing. This will improve your typing speed and writing abilities as well. Just remember to write the truth and you can look back and see the performance for yourself. 

Comments

      • ManosphereRadio says

        Diet – daily calories, macros, difference from target
        Workout – Sets, reps
        Improvement – 3 things I did well, 3 things I could do better

        I try to take less than 5 minutes but I realize that I haven’t been going back and looking for holes or speculating why my lifts were down on a particular week. Will add that now.

        As per our twitter conversation, things I felt could be added was (these things are more for a sit down review rather than daily journal entry, probably could be put into a separate post about goal setting):
        – How are you taking small steps towards your larger goals every day?
        – Do you have a lofty goal in each area? Have you broken it down into monthly, quarterly, yearly and 3 yearly goals?
        – How are taking care of the Daily Practice: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental (credit: James Altucher)

      • Wall Street Playboys says

        Interesting, may add the calorie counter just difficult to estimate when you’re exercising a lot.

        On a glance looks like the best thing you can takeaway from this is actually jotting down any mental/physical pain through the day and also jotting down mental/physical breakthroughs.

        This way you’ll find a trend, IE: when you don’t eat XXX you feel better/worse or if you do eat XX you feel better or worse etc.

        On the calorie topic sounds like it may be smart to jot down liquids, at least general notes as well. Being dehydrated at the gym certainly reduces lifts in a meaningful way.

  1. Diary says

    Thanks a lot for this. I’m going to start today. Would you recommend using collapsible email for this (like how Gmail collapses your emails automatically), or would keeping a desktop document be better?

    • Wall Street Playboys says

      Desktop should work fine. You can work on the formatting at the same time. The idea to to improve the structure over time.

      Example: if you’re starting just use paragraphs. Then you will notice that certain sections are better organized as bullets instead of paragraphs etc. The athletic example is helpful because after each rep you take a mental note of what happened what was weaker and stronger. You’re forcing a mind muscle connection.

      Example 2: How your overall results went. This is usually better as a paragraph, this is because it is a stream of thoughts. End with something positive to again help create positive mental muscle reactions.

  2. David from Tokyo says

    Since 2006 I’ve been keeping a handwritten journal. Great insight into my own psychological development and how my priorities have changed over time.

    Should I switch to electronic journaling?

    • Wall Street Playboys says

      That is a tough one because you have established a great routine.

      That said, we would go ahead and recommend the switch. The reason why? You can use the search function if you have a hard time remembering a particular day and only remember a certain sequence of events.

      This works well for training, work and your goals in general.

      Up to you though, ~8 years is no joke!

      Side note be sure to back up the document in two spots every week to avoid large data losses. Dropbox or an external hard drive are great.

      • David from Tokyo says

        Just wanted to give you guys an update:

        Switched to journaling in Word and saving it on Dropbox. Was awkward at first but I like it more than pen and paper method. Downside to traditional journaling was that as the number of notebooks increased storage, space, and security were becoming issues. Due to work I move a lot and live with roommates to save money for investing and the risk of losing my journals or inadvertently leaving it out were worrisome for me. No more with ejournaling.

        Portability is another advantage. While I am dependent on Dropbox I can journal from pretty much anywhere. Maybe I should switch to Google docs. I’m also concerned about security when using public computers.

        Just wanted to say thanks again for this journaling post. You’re right 8 years is decent time and I’m surprised I’ve kept it up. Definitely agree with you, journaling has allowed me stay focused and also document my own development.

        Cheers.

  3. Jack Charge says

    Great advice. I started one this morning after reading this post, and it’s already gold. Produced four different actionable ideas for tomorrow that would not have occurred to me without reviewing a summary of the day. It’s essentially a lab notebook (my background’s in STEM) for every aspect of life. And the time cost was only about 10 minutes.

    • Wall Street Playboys says

      Great to hear, the key is being consistent. This way you can look back a month or two when an issue arose and trouble shoot faster in the future.

      No need to go overboard as 10-15 minutes is more than enough time.

  4. Jude says

    Here are some other ideas

    1. Books/Plays/Musicals – Document things you are consuming i.e creative content. Write out explicitly why these things are good/bad/interesting to you. Look critically at what you are finding interesting. You do not need to just look at books, also include film, video, photos, musicals, plays etc. All of these things are important and influence how you see the world.

    2. Dating – post-date analysis. Figure out what has gone well/badly over time. You will start spotting patterns. Start thinking about where you’re meeting women, where you’re taking them, how much you are spending on them, what results you are getting. This will tell you many many things

    3. Finances – write out what you’re spending money on at a high level. Important to spot bad habits emerging i.e alcohol consumption, gambling, splurging on dining out too often

    4. Evernote – Add the “clipper” plug-in and just clip entire web pages of things you find interesting to read later. Sync with iPad or iPhone and you’ll have mountains of high quality things to read over the course of a commute/plan flight. This is what I do to remain on trend with my industry (technology).

  5. SJ says

    Couldn’t agree with this post more boys.
    Reading over your successes and shortcomings for the day is essential for learning and improving for the following day.
    I personally log all of my workouts (as my diet/macros are the same day in day out I don’t record them) which is a great way to track progress, especially when you’re losing motivation you can flick through the last few weeks of your log to see just how far you’ve come.

    SJ
    [Mode note we do not allow unapproved links]

  6. Callan Clarke says

    Great post guys, I’ve been slacking in the effort that I’ve been putting into journalling recently. This reminded me how important it is!

    An extra point that I think is helpful would be to not try to change/keep track of too many things at once, at least in the beginning. Instead, focus on the big wins one thing at a time until they become habit then work your way down. I wasted months trying to track and change everything at once when I started journalling and made little progress.

  7. phil says

    Just did my first journal entry. When I was a kid I did a journal for school but it was not worthwhile as most everything I did as a kid was follow direction from adults who even controlled what I age. Really the value I can already feel for adults who have options about how they spend their time. About I’m in shock at what I wrote. While keeping a journal may be a good idea for productive people it is a game changer for the mediocre losers (for now me). It amazes me how much I have deluded myself about how I live.
    Really if you suck you either have to quit writing in your journal or make changes. Looking at the words “Watched 3 hours of House of Cards on Netflix, ate Whopper combo meal for dinner and for desert Twizzlers and m&m’s” is a punch in the gut. Seen this advice so many times and ignored it. Don’t know why I decided to write anything. I may never be a jet setting millionaire pimp, but I have no choice but to change for the better after looking at how I really live. Thanks for being straight shooters.

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