Reflective journaling is rebellion and faith.
I have made a lot of lists in my life.
But list-making, and checking things off, in and of itself is not worth much without reflection.
When I shared about how my paper planning journey started, I had been in digital notification hell for years.
Digital notifications don’t provide much opportunity to reflect. You often get them at the wrong time, because life can change dramatically from day to day. You have to turn them off if you’re at the store, on a call, or dealing with a child’s needs (you don’t have to erase a paper task), and then they don’t come back when you need them.
I started noticing that when I wrote something down in my first paper planner (I always say it was the Passion Planner but there was a very short time where I used a Day Designer I picked up at Target before that), that I could decide when I looked at it. And as long as I made a habit of doing that every day, it put me back in the pilot’s chair.
And that habit was super easy for me, because I had hit such rock bottom, that I was carrying the 8.5×11 planner around with me JUST because it said on it, “take vitamins, stretch, make a cup of tea,” or something very similar to that that was my first defiant rebellion against the world that had decided I was mere fodder to chew up and spit out.
I was going to do those things for me.
So lists can be great like that. And that early list was made out of a kind of gut-wrenching reflection that since nobody else seem to care about me, I was going to have to be the one that did.
I eventually realized there could be self-care routines, and that I could protect them. But it took a realllllllly long time.
The first planner wasn’t very flexible, just like a list a day type thing, so I got a passion planner. This planner is a wonderful intro to designing your life kind of planner. For some people, it’s all they’ll ever need. But I and anyone like me (a writer, a parent, someone with a lot going on that needs paper almost as much as we need oxygen) would need to also carry around a notebook.
Fast forward a few years (whole story here), and I’ve created my own sort of bullet journal planner hybrid that combines reflective journaling with structured planning.
It was for the reflective journaling part that I turned to bullet journaling in the first place. The world of planners contains mostly structured planners (which feel like straight jackets to a reflective journaler), and completely blank bullet journals (which felt a little like free falling to me), and little else. There are a few hybrids, but most just strip out the structure of the daily pages, so that if you used those pages as structured daily pages, you would still have zero pages for reflective journaling. You would also have zero pages for collections of things (book lists, packing lists, mind maps, do a quick google search on bullet journaling ideas and you’ll get the idea).
Starting with reflective journaling, here are 10 reasons I bullet journal.
Reasons I bullet journal: reflection.
I mentioned before that making lists and plugging appointments into digital or paper calendar space isn’t worth much if you don’t pause to reflect. Who cares if you cross off 25 things in a day if they aren’t the right things?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or trapped in your life, the concept of choice might make you laugh. Providing for your family or caring for your family, or any other walk of life where someone depends on you, means you feel you have little choice in how you spend your time.
But almost everybody has some choice. And it was the desperate feeling of not having a choice at all that started me on my journey of choosing where I could. Whatever tiny little amount of time I could find, even if it was 5 minutes, I was going to fill that time with what I chose. Even if that choice was a nap.
But before making tiny changes to change your life, it helps, a lot, to slow down and reflect on your choices. Whether your lists are for work, home, or a combination of both, start tracking what you are doing. You can do this before or after you do it, or, like most of us, a combination of both. Ryder Carroll mentions pausing after you check an item off your list to breathe and see how accomplishing that task makes you feel and I agree. It might even help to write something like, “scroll through instagram,” after the fact and check it off. Is that something that fed your soul?
If you write your work tasks and pause to reflect after each one, you may begin to see patterns of satisfying accomplishment, frustration, or time sucks.
By reflecting on what you do in a day, you can make micro adjustments the next day.
What is reflected upon improves.
Reasons I bullet journal: gratitude.
Gratitude is closely linked with reflection for me. One of the first things I did in my bullet journaling was start a gratitude practice. It seems this has become complicated. Just jot down three things you like or enjoy at the beginning of each day.
Unfortunately, many people try to conjur up feelings of gratefulness for things they don’t like, even things that feel like tragedy or drudgery.
Only write about things you like. It’s fun.
Gratitude tracking is a sort of CBT. When you reframe an anxious perspective, even for just a few minutes, each morning, you begin to see the things there are to be grateful for in the darkest of circumstances. (Not the same thing as being thankful for the darkest of circumstances).
It becomes a habit.
Reasons I bullet journal: space.
I have lifetime PTSD from not having enough space in my planners are bujo hybrids.
One day I was sitting in an inspirational talk and was gripped with the desire to take notes. But I grabbed my 365 day tomoe river paper journal and realized there wasn’t a single page that wasn’t dedicated to a daily layout (my daily layouts are an important habit). So I turned forward a bunch of pages, wrote the notes in an erasable pen, and when I got home, transferred them to a random notebook, erased them from the planner, and felt sad and anxious.
Next time to went out with my bujo hybrid, my notes were left at home in my notebook. I couldn’t even remember which one it was in.
This memory, along with others, eventually led me to create my own humble bujo hybrid that has more blank pages per structured day than anything else on the market.
It’s like diving into a warm tropical fountain when you’ve been in a desert.
I am creative, but at the same time, I am responsible for a lot. The care of my whole family, a full-time job, a few side projects important to my family’s thriving. My heart goes out to working dads who are uber involved in their family’s care, or working moms, or homeschool moms, or teachers. These particular groups of people (among many others), seem to share something in common with me. Someone who needs blank pages like they need air.
Another group of people I’ve connected with in my bullet journal journey are those who are using reflective journaling to unlearn toxic messaging, or who are healing from trauma pasts, or who are waking up to their potential for the first time, or all three.
All these people need space in their planners. A lot of space. The endless pages and “buy a new notebook whenever you want” method of planning is what draws me and others in to journaling, bullet journaling, and dot grid or graph journaling.
(I have to mention here that after years of carrying both a planner and a journal, or migrating my bullet journal every six weeks and more startling memories of running out of pages five minutes before I needed to write down another doctor’s appointment, I created my own dot grid journal that was portable and combined structured planning with the freedom and space of dot grid journaling).
Reasons I bullet journal: CBT
I took an online free course on CBT and realized I struggled with almost every single one of the 25 types of self-sabotaging, incorrect thinking.
I used the online free CBT journal for awhile, which was really helpful. But after awhile, I realized I could incorporate the gratitude, thought-rewiring exercises, affirmations, planning, and reflection in my own journal. Using my planner journal daily was already a habit, so this was easy. One less reason to reach for my computer, which was always running low on battery anyway.
Reasons I bullet journal: the importance of writing.
Science shows that writing connects with your brain differently than typing. You are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. That’s a really easy way to make a really big difference in your life. I want those odds, so I write things down.
Reasons I bullet journal: my own daily writing habit
I’m a writer, so I was amazed how much more daily writing I did as my journal habit grew. If you’re a writer, you’ll like this one.
Let’s say you’re working on a book, and have heard you should write every day. Like me, you misunderstand this to mean you should work on your book every day.
This might be necessary some times out of your life, but cross-discipline learning is actually more valuable than single discipline learning.
There is no study that shows that you must work on one project every day for your writing muscle to grow.
By doing things like CBT, gratitude, recording the memories of life, and reflective journaling, you’re actually growing your writing muscle.
Muscle that will be stronger when you pick up your main writing project.
Reasons I bullet journal: developing my own rapid log and iconography.
It’s empowering to create iconography that helps me quickly notate prayers, tasks, events, ideas, etc.
This allows me to organize the chaos that is sometimes the inside of my mind. Okay, it’s more than sometimes. But planners more often than not require you to have organized thoughts. Rapid logging things as they come, adding the icons, and organizing them later feels so good. I don’t have to worry about forgetting things, and I have all that beautiful space that journaling affords to organize it into plans and lists later.
(I mentioned routines before, a weekly routine is a good rule of thumb for looking over your ideas and notes and either cross them off or migrate them to realistic spaces in your life).
Reasons I bullet journal: It’s flexible.
You can read a book about habits and order the custom habit-tracking book, and three months later read about CBT, or take a CBT course, and buy a CBT journal, and then hear an inspirational speaker about finances and buy a contentment journal. Then you can read about George Mueller and really want a prayer journal. Then you can buy 3-4 planners.
Or you can learn journaling and incorporate the most useful tools you come across when you want to incorporate them.
My own method includes a combination of all of the above: CBT, gratitude, contentment, reflection, prayer requests and answers, habit-tracking, and more. And if I read another amazing book or attend an amazing TED talk about something I haven’t thought of yet, the many empty pages in my journal will be more than enough to flex to incorporating that into my system, too.
Reasons I bullet journal: a record of life.
It’s typical of western society to separate things. The study of the heart from the study of the lungs. The study of the brain from the study of the gut. A record of things we need to do with a record of things we did and that happened to us.
(That’s what separating planning from journaling is).
Classic journaling was a beautiful record of life, where people recorded what they had for breakfast, what they need to get from the market, and who passed away that day.
I think it’s the illusion of western productivity that encourages people to make lists, increase productivity, and not record how they feel, important personal moments, and memories on the same page. If what you do is purely a productivity experiment, if you are merely a cog in a corporate machine, then it makes perfect sense to plan in one book and journal in another, as if you can move from being a robot to being a human.
In a world of digital notifications, productivity tools, and the hustle spirit, it takes courage to believe in your own significance. Not of what you do, but YOU. To record the moments of your life and to track your mental and physical health is a bold move towards faith in the importance of the human spirit, the importance of one small life that only you can life.
In the west, even our religions have emphasized productivity. Having long quiet times that show how spiritual we are, doing things that show how good we are, not doing bad things that show how holy we are.
But reflective journaling rebels against societal and religious productivity and empasizes the overal value of a life well lived. It takes faith to believe that focusing on your health and personal goals will have a total greater impact than working hard to accomplish what’s expected of you by some other system, corporate or religious.
Reflective journaling which combines planning and reflection in one portable book is one of the best ways to overcome the false dichotomy of productivity and soul, self, and life-care.
It’s a way to say, “this is who I am, everything else can adjust accordingly.”
(If you were raised in a very conservative religious setting, you might bristle at the words, “this is who I am,” as if “this is who I’m created to be” is somehow different than “this is who I am. I make no apology for these words, not to agnostics, and not to the religious).
And now I see I moved from reasons I bullet journal: record life to the last reason: faith.
I journal because of my faith.
Reasons I bullet journal: faith.
In the triumph of good over evil.
In the beauty of the human spirit.
In the redemption of everything currently affected by selfishness and darkness.
In the fact that each human was made for a reason, and no one else can replace them or live their purpose.