Journalling, gratitude, mindfulness, planning & productivity — all these terms may mean different things to different people. Over the past few years my journalling practice, unknowingly to me at the time, has skimmed the surface on each of these topics.
This nightly exercise works as my daily download to decompress and reflect on what has happened over the last 24 hours. I find it generally leaves me feeling positive and comfortable about my day while being prepared and open to the joys of tomorrow. Even bad days are put into context and generally seem much calmer after some nightly reflection.
The journalling process is split into 5 short parts of less than a minute each:
1 - Reflect On The Positives
The first and most important part is to reflect on the things I’m grateful for that day. A lot of things can seem routine after we’ve had them for a while, but reflecting on having good friends, family, food and shelter is something we often forget to do.
Specifically drawing out a few things from our day helps us to be more grateful to Allah for the good things he has bestowed on us. Helping us to feel more positive that things are going well and that we are loved.
"وَإِن تَعُدُّوا۟ نِعْمَةَ ٱللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَآ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ"
"And if you tried to count God’s blessings, you could never enumerate them all in. Truly he is most forgiving and most merciful." — Qur’an 16:18
The other aspect of this part is reflecting on what is important to us and if today was a day that generally helped us to get closer to our goals? Was today a day where I did something good? Am i going to look back on this day on the Day of Judgement and be thankful and happy for some of the good things I achieved today?
In short: Did i have a good day today & what am I grateful for? Tell Allah what I did today, am I proud of it?
2 - Reflect On What To Improve
Today was probably a good day (life generally is), but what would I want to change if I could go back and "redo" the day? If I noticed my shortcomings or any disappointment with myself, then step two is about reflecting on what I want to fix up for tomorrow or in the future. Is there anything I’m not happy with and want to repent or make amends for?
This may seem like a heavy task to end the day with, but off the back of the positivity of point 1, it becomes very easy to see that actually even on a "bad day" the day was probably pretty great. There’re generally only ever one or two things that sour things and it and it is helpful to reflect on those and how I can aim to rectify things and be better in future. Approaching things from a mindset of growth for the future grants us some resolution in the present.
Something weighing heavy on me in the moment often seems small when it’s written out as a simple sentence with a clear plan for the future. We can’t always fix what we’ve done in the past, but by reflecting on things honestly we can help to ensure we don’t repeat our mistakes in the future. Doing this day by day, we can help ourselves to grow into the best versions of ourselves that we want to be in the long term.
3 - What Was the Saddest Part of the Day? Say Alhumdullillah
This one helped me a lot when I was having some issues with a colleague at work. I would often come home feeling down, generally melancholy and just exhausted. This would normally only be because of one thing that had rubbed me the wrong way and put a downer on my evening.
Reflecting on things and putting them into context helped me to see that generally my day was pretty good with only one little thing that soured it. I would then try and put a positive spin on things and say alhumdulillah (praise and thanks be to God) for a positive aspect of it.
Often that would be by framing a "negative" experience as a learning opportunity, or reflecting on the bigger picture. On the flip-side however it would often just be a case of thanking God, that I wasn’t the one being obtuse in the situation, or that the only bad thing in my day was a mildly abrasive co-worker.
When we put things into context like this we can help ourselves to see a silver lining and feel more positive for the road ahead.
4 - Did I Achieve What I Wanted to Today?
Sometimes it can feel like the day flies by. When I look at my journal from the previous day I can see that my main goals were clearly laid out, and I can goto bed happy knowing that I either achieved them or at least most of them. This is a really positive feeling to end on; and if not it gives me something todo tomorrow.
Bolstered by the previous steps, this is rarely an exercise in guilt but instead one of gratefulness.
5 - What Do I Want to Achieve Tomorrow?
Finally I set some goals for the coming day, what is my plan for the day and in an ideal world what would I want to accomplish. Normally this starts with:
- What I want do when I wake up? Can be as simple as starting my day with coffee and a nice breakfast.
- How do I want to spend some time before work?
- What are my main goals for the day?
- After work do I have any plans or social-events — is there anything I want to be cognisant of there?
- What do I look forward to in the evening?
I tend not to actively think about this list much during my day, but I think subconsciously it helps a lot. On the days I don’t write this out, I’m generally left feeling a little bit discombobulated and things generally just flow a bit less smoothly.
Writing thing down and clarifying a rough plan helps to set a foundation in my head. This helps me to be on the lookout for any potential red flags before they occur; be that at work or with friends.
For example, if I’m meeting friends after work and one of them is quite introverted I’ll remind myself to make sure to give them space to talk. This saves me the confusing moment later on, when meeting friends and wondering why they’re being so quiet. Likewise if I’m meeting a friend who is always late, I’ll make a note to be patient, bring a book and be prepared to wait a bit.
Generally I think it helps me to prepare what to look forward to and what to be prepared for the next day. Even for fun activities, being mindful of potential hiccups and getting into the right frame of mind can help immensely.
My nightly journalling process takes less than five minutes. It’s straightforward but I’ve found it has really beneficial effects. To summarise:
- Did I have a good day today? — Gratitude
- Reflect on what to improve? — Development
- What was the saddest part of the day? Say alhumdullillah — Find the silver lining
- Did I achieve what I wanted to today? — Reflection
- What do I want to accomplish tomorrow? — Preparation
Let me know if this is also something that helps you, or anything else you find helpful to add to it!