There are many people who are writing and speaking these days about the benefits of keeping a daily gratitude journal. If you are not familiar with this habit, it is very simple. You take a few minutes each day to write down a few things that you are thankful for.
Expressing gratitude can certainly improve your life in many ways. It can reduce your stress, lift your spirits, and enhance your sleep quality. However, is a gratitude journal really a sufficient way to reflect on each day?
My Experience with a Gratitude Journal
I started a daily gratitude journal over a decade ago. Soon after starting this habit, I became much more aware of how much I had to be thankful for.
However, there was an unexpected side effect for me that advocates of keeping a gratitude journal have never mentioned (as far as I know). As I became more mindful of my reasons to be thankful, I actually started to feel guilty. “The world is giving me so much, but what am I giving the world?” I wondered to myself one night before bed.
After some self-reflection, I realized that I was adding a lot of value to society. However, I was not recognizing my contributions.
So, I tweaked my nightly journaling routine. In addition to recording at least three things that I was grateful for each day, I also started writing at least three things each day that I was proud of doing.
This new-and-improved journal is what I now refer to as a Power Journal. Years later, this habit has become one of my most cherished daily rituals.
Note: More recently, I have also started writing down at least one thing each day that I learned.
Long-Term Impact and Benefits
Give thanks for three things a day, and you will take time to appreciate more than 1,000 positive elements each year. Record three actions a day that you are proud of, and you will take and acknowledge over 1,000 confidence-building, progress-making steps each year. Identify one thing each day that you learned, and you will identify 365 insightful observations each year.
By becoming more mindful of everything good in your life, you will start to notice and search for things to be grateful for each day, many of which you might currently be missing or taking for granted.
By recognizing what you are proud of each day, you will start to notice and search for opportunities to move toward your goals, to step out of your comfort zone, and to add value to the world. You will also take time to acknowledge your effort, much of which you might currently be ignoring and not celebrating.
By reflecting on what you learn each day, you will start to notice and search for ways that you can take your life to an even higher level- without repeating the same mistakes as often.
Keeping a Power Journal serves as a daily accountability check to celebrate, contribute, and maximize each day. There are numerous times every day now when I do something, or when something happens to me, and I think to myself, “I’m going to write about that tonight.”
How to Get Started
Begin by purchasing a journal. Then, store it in a location where you will see it every day, like your night stand next to your bed (what I do). Right before you go to sleep each night, turn to a new page, write the date, and write the following:
- At least 1 thing that you learned that day to keep in mind in the future
- At least 3 things that you did that day that you are proud of
- At least 3 things that you experienced that day that you are grateful for
What should you write each day? All that matters is that each entry is unique to that day and meaningful to you, no matter how small it might seem on the surface. Follow these three steps:
Step 1: What did you learn today?
Walk through your day quickly in your head and try to identify any lessons that you learned that day. Your lessons could be any of the following:
- An activity from that day that you want to start doing more (or less) often
- A person you spent time with that day who you want to start spending more (or less) time with
- A way that you behaved that day that you want to start being more (or less) like in the future
Step 2: What are you proud of doing today?
Walk through your day again in your head and write down everything that you are proud of doing that day. Your reasons to be proud could include any of the following:
- Random acts of kindness that you performed for someone else
- Commitments that you kept to yourself or someone else
- Actions that you took to move closer to achieving your goals
Step 3: What are you grateful for experiencing today?
Walk through your day one final time in your head, and write down everything that you are grateful for from that day. Your reasons to be grateful could include any of the following:
- Random acts of kindness that someone else performed for you
- Commitments that others kept to you
- Simple pleasures that you experienced by yourself or with another person
As you become more mindful about your behavior, you will find that you can complete this ritual more quickly and more easily. These days, it usually takes me less than five minutes to walk through these three steps before bed each night. It’s well worth the small time commitment. I’m usually in a deep, peaceful sleep just a few minutes later, which is a significant improvement from earlier in my life, when it usually took me at least 30-60 minutes each night to fall asleep.
A gratitude journal is not a sufficient way to reflect on each day.
Don’t just ask yourself what the world is giving you. Ask yourself what you are giving the world, and ask yourself what the world is teaching you. Start a Power Journal. This simple, daily habit could provide a greater ROI for your mindset, well-being, and performance than anything else that you could do in such a short amount of time.
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About the author: Pete Leibman is the creator of StrongerHabits.com and he’s the bestselling author of Work Stronger; Habits for More Energy, Less Stress, and Higher Performance at Work. Before writing Work Stronger, Pete worked as an executive recruiter for Heidrick & Struggles, a leadership advisory firm who serves the majority of the Fortune 500. In his free time, he teaches one of the largest group exercise classes in the Washington, D.C. area, and he has competed in the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) World Championships.