Journaling with Purpose

Journaling with Purpose

I mostly write nonsense in my journal. In fact a lot of the time I use my pens to write to myself about pens. If, in a hundred years, my papers should be discovered by some eager historians, they are going to come to some very strange conclusions about life in the 2010s.

I do, however, have a couple of journaling habits that have some purpose: one old, one new.

The old is my three plus one habit. Mary Collis recently wrote about doing something similar (and this is in fact what prompted me to write this). Each day, currently (like Mary) in my Hobonichi Techo, I write down three good things about my day: just a sentence. Then I spend some time writing about one more good thing in some depth. (I also make a pictorial note about the weather. I’m British.)

No matter how bad the day might have been it’s always possible to find some good in it. In almost three years I’ve never missed a day.

My new habit was prompted by some thoughts about New Year’s resolutions. I’m 45 and I’m pretty sure I’ve never once kept a New Year’s resolution for more than a day. This year I decided that rather than pick more habits to fail to keep I would instead make some resolutions about how I would like to live my life. To keep these in my mind every day in my Traveler’s Notebook I ask myself these three questions:

How was I creative today?

How did I make the world a better place?

How did I show those I love that they are loved?

I’d better be very clear that these are aspirations and I’m far from being the person I’d like to be. Asking myself these questions every day is helping me, slowly, to become that person.

What are your purposeful journaling habits?


  1. Love the post Ian. Most of my 4 year journaling habit has been about me, my pens and generally positive aspects of my life that happened that day. I’m not as disciplined as you are but I hit a consistent 5 days a week. My Hobo is new this year and so far I’m at 100% putting in the quick one liners as to what happened that day. Again trying to keep everything positive as I see no value for the historians, when they put your literary masterpieces down in 100 years and pick mine up they shouldn’t have to read about my hang nails and flat tires. I really do like the 3 question approach and may start thinking of ways for those to work for me.

  2. Great post Ian. I too am trying to be more consistent about journaling and am using the Hobonichi Techo. I am currently trying to write a summary of the day, at least 3 accomplishments for the day, and something I’m grateful for in the day. I’m also looking at some level of monthly “review” to continue to see where I am heading at a bigger scale and attempt to keep alignment and momentum towards my goals.

    Interestingly enough, I just started a new weekly series on my blog yesterday talking about habits and diving into examining pragmatism and sustainability. Journaling is the first one I’m looking at. If you are interested in checking it out the post is at:

    Best of luck to you in continuing your journaling habit.

  3. Ian, I greatly enjoyed this post. I attempted to keep a personal journal for a few months and stopped because I felt my daily routine was either too boring, or the entries were sometimes too negative after a tough day. I like the idea of sitting down and asking yourself about the good things that happened each day. I try to do something similar for my kids (“what was the best part of your day?”); no reason I shouldn’t apply it to myself as well.

    I also think that keeping the entries fairly short would be helpful for me; otherwise journaling seems too much like work (where I take many notes).

    1. “…and stopped because I felt my daily routine was either too boring…”

      I suffer a bit from that too, but I think the important thing for me is that I spend some of the day writing in a long-ish form (I fill a page, each day), even if my observations are pedestrian and quotidian.

  4. I find these ideas really interesting, but end up too self conscious about them to actually put them into practice – as a result, my diaries are mostly records of the day, to greater or lesser degrees.

    I really like the idea of “A Drawing a Day” but have always struggled to stick to that. (See also “Paint Every Day”).

    One thing I will do this year is name the productions that Mrs Monkey & the younger Monkeys are in at their amateur dramatics society. Looking back, all my old diaries refer to “the play” or “the panto”…

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