Lauren and I listened to Matthew McConaughey on Tim Ferriss’ podcast on the drive north from Charleston last weekend. McConaughey talks about the reasons he started keeping a diary, a practice that he views as a positive one and one which has persisted in his life for decades. I realized then that, while I have written about things as inconsequential as the correct way to eat nigiri, I have never written explicitly about why I write a double-spaced page in a journal every weekday morning and have done so for the majority of the last few years since I graduated college.
The purpose is pretty simple really. I believe that in starting my day by putting positive words to paper, my perspective throughout the day becomes that much more positive. My journaling practice is intentionally short and sweet. Some say the best workout is the one you will do everyday. I believe the same is as true with most habits. My morning journal takes me between two and a few minutes and consists of filling 15 lines (each with an empty line in between) in a 5 by 8 Moleskine, plus usually one more line in the bottom margin as I always have something more to be grateful for by the time I get to the bottom.
In terms of logistics, I always top the page with the date written out like, “October 27, 2020”. In the top right corner, as of this year, I have started writing the number of the day of my life. This gets tricky sometimes after not writing over weekends or missing a day here and again but I believe today is my 9,623rd day (I just write “9623”). As a matter of fact, I just double checked that here for the first time since I started and it’s still exactly right. I suppose the math is actually not that hard…
The average life expectancy for a man in the USA is roughly 30,000 days. Perhaps because our ages in years carry with them certain associations of what it means to be in one’s twenties or forties or sixties, I find that the day count puts the length of one’s life into better perspective. It becomes clear in writing that I am on my 9,623rd day that I am a third through the average life, and though I am optimistic that healthspans are poised to increase substantially in the coming decades, I also believe in the benefits of keeping one’s mortality in mind. The best way to live today is to remember that you could die tomorrow. In the words of the Ancient Romans, “Memento mori.” In the words of Don Draper, “I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” In the words of Steve Jobs:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.Steve Jobs
Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
Once I date and day my journal, I always start it almost the same. “Today is going to be a _____ day.” The word above the line can change but I would be hard-pressed to go through my hundreds or thousands of entries and find a word any less positive than “good”. After that first line, I fill the rest of the page with positive thoughts, expressions of gratitude, hopes and intentions for the day, thanks for the highlights of yesterday, and whatever else comes to mind. Not every sentence is always positive but most are and almost none are negative though they may be neutral. Rarely do I take the pen off the paper in between the first sentence and the last. This forces a stream of positive consciousness.
Sometimes, I write things that are not necessarily true in an effort to make them true. For instance, if my back hurts, I might write, “my back feels good today”. If it actually feels good, I would probably write that it feels great. Pain is in large part mental anyway. When it comes to my journal, negatives become positives and positives are pushed as far as possible. There may be something to be said for a journal that spends more time writing about struggles and such but if someone were to look back and read all of my journals they would not find any of that. When it comes to my morning journal, I write like I am the luckiest man in the world. The more I write it, the more it seems to be true.
I will end this post the way I often start my morning journal. Today is going to be a great day.