Journaling: Essential Daily Rituals #1

By Sam Makhoul

The Foundation for Identity Change

In the last article I, wrote about defining your identity clearly by asking yourself, “who do I want to become in each of the eight areas of life?”

I write to start you on the journey for identity change using the four rituals, five habits and six life-hacks, which we use in our Higher Branch workshops. Today I start with the first most important ritual – journaling.

I will share with you the simple techniques for journaling that I use in my one-on-one coaching. There are so many journals out there for sale that make it too complicated and frankly too airy-fairy. 

All you need is a simple blank journal and a system for journaling that I will teach you. So, let’s start.

Why Change is Hard:

Most people don’t realise that they spend up to 85% of their day, living in their subconscious in cruise-control, thinking, doing and feeling the same way they did yesterday and the day before that; effectively living in the past. This is fine if this 85% is filled with positive stuff that serves your growth.

After all, the subconscious is there as an automation tool for us to do things without thinking. This frees up the conscious mind to focus on high impact, high return, high reward activities like creativity, strategy, and meaningful connection with others.

But what if that 85% is filled with a lot of unwanted behaviour that just gets repeated without thinking? Stuff like procrastinating, eating too much, binge-watching TV, mindlessly scrolling through social media, shopping online for stuff you don’t need, or picking fights with your family. It is difficult to erase these behaviours, but you can replace them with better behaviours that serve the identity you want to create.

You cannot stack the habits and hacks without mastering these four rituals first. The reason will become clear.

Infusing these four4 rituals daily is difficult at first, but know this, rarely does anything good in life come easy. You will feel the need to skip them because you are just too busy.

You need to stay committed to them until you cross, what scientists call the line of automaticity. This simply means that when you repeat something enough it becomes second nature and easier.

Some scientists say it takes two lunar cycles to cross this line but in my experience, it all depends on the difficulty of the ritual and the frequency in which you repeat it. The former is subjective for all of us.

What is extremely difficult for some can be lightly challenging for others. What is difficult may take you many months.

What is easy may only take you a few weeks. Either way, I will outline a method that works for me and I trust it will work for you.

Journaling:

Image of a blank journal

Journaling is the most important ritual out of the four. It is also the most difficult to stick with because it can be confronting when done right.

Mainly because this ritual is all about self-accountability. Ignoring it or skipping it is a big mistake because it has been the single most important success factor in my life.

Most people don’t journal because they don’t know how, or they underestimate how beneficial it is. The other reason why people don’t journal is because they wake up late and hurry to get to work on time, so they skip this ritual and the three other rituals because they don’t have time.

Know this. Time is the great leveller. We all have the same 24 hours in the day so the difference between us can only be our discipline and the systems we follow (i.e. our rituals, habits and hacks).

You may have heard the phrase “win the morning, win your day”, which is so true, but the bigger truth is that winning your morning starts the night before. Getting organised the night before is the real secret to your morning success.

Getting a night of deep sleep is the second biggest secret to winning your morning. So, ask yourself, how do you spend your nights?

This is where most people (even some high performers) waste their time because they feel like they’ve earned the right to flop in front of Netflix, scroll social media and snack. When rather it should be the time to hit repeat on the four-morning rituals and get ready for the following day, by packing your workout gear, your work bag, your lunch, turning off all technology and socialising in person with your family or by phone with a friend.

Why Is Journaling So Important?

Journaling is important for many reasons:

  • It is a conscious conversation you have with yourself.
  • It helps you notice any negative self-talk.
  • It keeps you focused on your priorities.
  • It helps you take stock of your life, so you don’t drift aimlessly.
  • It helps you notice whether you are neglecting parts of your life.
  • It holds you accountable to the promises you make to yourself.
  • It helps you process and review any negative or hurt feelings.

All these reasons will become apparent when you start to journal properly.

How do You Journal Properly?

Pen sitting on paper ahead of journaling

At A Higher Branch, we developed a unique journaling technique that shows you how to become your own life architect. We do not like the idea of an accountability coach.

People need to hold themselves accountable and journaling is the ultimate accountability tool. The template below gives you a guide.

You need to devote two pages every day. Once you use this template a few times, you will remember it.

Morning Journaling – Action Page:

The left page of your journal is for your morning ritual. It is for the mind. The right page is for your heart.

In the morning you need to focus on your actions for the day. So, it is future-focused.

It is all about visualising as you write what you need to do for the day in each of the eight areas of life depicted in the diagram below.

If this is your first time journaling, I suggest you devote the first few pages of your journal to write your long term goals and dreams in each of the eight areas of life. That way, the front of your journal becomes your big picture reminder to reference from time to time.

Nothing is too trivial or too small to write. Once it is written, it can be reviewed throughout the day to see how you are tracking.

I always keep my journal in my bag and check-in throughout the day to see if I have forgotten to action anything. I do one final check before I leave work and do a brain dump at the end of the day.

If I have missed anything I write it on the next day’s action page to get it out of my head and onto paper so I can shut down when I get home. As a guide, see below a few examples of daily action items I have written in my journal in the last week.

You will notice that nothing is too trivial to write. You will also notice that there is an action item for each of the eight elements of my life. We often make the mistake of thinking that our wellbeing is fuelled solely by diet and exercise.

In truth, it is all eight elements that make us whole and complete us mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And so we cannot neglect them.

Health:

  • Do F45 today at 12 noon.
  • Stretch for 10 minutes afterwards.
  • Book a massage for Saturday.
  • Use the stand-up desk between 8:30 am – 11:30 am.
  • Buy blue-light blocking glasses.
  • Fast till 1 pm today. Have a no-protein day today.
  • Order more turmeric & ashwagandha.
  • Go to bed at 10 pm.
  • Rest day, do brisk walk after work.
  • Go out in the sunshine at lunch.

Love:

  • Book a surprise dinner date for Saturday night.
  • Light candles tonight and read together.
  • Go for a hike together.
  • Go home early today and cook her favourite pasta.

Family:

  • Play backgammon with my daughter.
  • Share chapter eight of David Goggins with my oldest son.
  • Book lunch at a Lebanese restaurant on Sunday for the whole family.
  • Check-in on my nephew who is studying for HSC.
  • Call mum.

Work:

  • Keep a separate diary for your work to do.

Friendship:

  • Organise tickets to the footy this Sunday with mates.
  • Call mates to organise run on Saturday around the bay.
  • Have breakfast after.
  • Help a mate with his wedding prep.

Learning:

  • Listen to latest episodes of Dr Rhonda Patrick and Jim Kwik.
  • Research whether autophagy accelerates with exercise.
  • Research whether coffee breaks a fast.
  • Re-listen to chapter 11 in David Goggins book, You Can’t Hurt Me.

Wealth:

  • Assess the UBER IPO.
  • Look into solar panels and going off the grid.

Charity:

  • Help son with setting up his new website.
  • Spend 9 am-12-noon training new recruits.
  • Write the next article for A Higher Branch community.
  • Write cards to my World Vision sponsored children.
  • Give legal advice and business strategy to a friend who is starting a new business.

Journaling in this way helps you keep track of your commitment to each of the eight areas of life otherwise you will end up focusing all of your time on work. I do a stock-take on Sunday night for the week in review to see if I have neglected any area.

This helps me pivot for the next week. There is so much more I can write about morning journaling.

Evening Journaling – Reflection Page:

Man sitting on the side walk journaling

The right page is for your heart. It is to review and reflect on what happened during the day.

So it is best done in the last hour of the day before bed. This nightly journaling is extremely powerful and useful for three reasons:

  1. To heal any hurt feelings, rejections, failures, disappointments that you had during the day.
  2. To list everything that happened in the day you are grateful for.
  3. To list all your achievements for the day.

Processing Feelings:

Processing your feelings is all about acknowledging them. The worst thing you can do with hurt feelings is to deny them and sweep them under the metaphorical carpet of your subconscious, only to manifest itself in headaches, poor sleep and irritability.

You cannot hide from your feelings. If you do they will haunt you. If you confront them head-on you will neutralise them. You need to feel to heal.

  • Did someone reject you today?
  • How did that make you feel?

You need to process it by stepping into their shoes and forgiving them. Did you make a mistake that made you feel like a failure? You need to process it by writing down what you learned from that mistake.

Gratitude:

If this is your first time journaling then I want you to go to the front of your journal and just like you listed your goals and dreams in each of the eight areas of life. I want you to devote some of those first few pages to list everything you are for in the eight areas of life to date.

Then every night you should write down what you should be grateful for that happened to you on that day. Simple, powerful and effective.

Achievements:

You may have heard of the power of gratitude but heard little about the equally powerful task of listing your achievements in the eight areas of your life. It will surprise how much you have achieved.

We live in an era of over-achievement and most of us can be too hard on ourselves and fall into the trap of feeling like we are, that we do not have enough, do enough. The reality is that we have achieved a lot and continue to achieve so much daily.

Listing your achievements daily reminds you of your self-worth, builds your confidence and neutralises the anxiety that lives in the gap between where you are now in life and where you want to be.

Want to read the rest of this series? You can find them here: