For the month of October, I began an experiment of daily journaling. Journaling comes up over and over again in podcasts with high-performing people and in blog posts on productivity.

You might think a writer would naturally gravitate to journaling, but I’ve never felt the urge to pick up that habit. Then I listened to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Phil Keoghan and decided I had to start journaling and see what happened.

In my mid-point check-in, I was happy with the progress. I had stuck with my writing schedule — right before bed or first thing in the morning while the previous day was still fresh — and I documented some interesting events that I wanted to remember with some clarity. What happened after that?

The great/ugly/great sandwich

I actually started my journaling a few days before October because my family was going to Moab, Utah, for a weekend trip to meet up with my wife’s siblings, mom and a cousin from New York. My mother-in-law has been fighting cancer, and it seemed important to be present and remember more details of this trip. (I’m happy to say she just completed her last round of chemo and things are looking good!)

It was a really special gathering. Between the several pages of journaling and a bunch of pictures, it will be much easier to recall things from that trip even years later.

The Moab trip just happened to be one of several I had planned in October. The following weekend my wife and I took our daughter to Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, where we visit about 3-4 times a year. In addition to the natural hot springs and relaxing small-town vibe we love about Lava, that Saturday was also Oktoberfest.

A whole bunch of factors (not drinking enough water, not eating enough food, not spacing out my drinks, general stupidity) came together and by dinner time I went from having a great time to … not.

Here’s the interesting thing: Even with the room spinning and my stomach protesting, I grabbed my journal and started writing.

This was by far the most unguarded writing of the month. I chastised myself for being an idiot, for allowing the situation to get out of hand. The handwriting is legible, but I can clearly see a drastic difference between that entry and all the others. I wanted to have something lasting that I could look back at after my body returned to normal. Something I couldn’t rationalize or forget so easily.

It worked.

The last few days of October I went to FinCon in Dallas. I knew from reading reviews of past years that drinks would be flowing and nights would be long. I also knew I did not want to find myself in the same place I was when I wrote that entry in Lava.

The first day at FinCon was a long one, and I hadn’t really eaten more than a bowl of cereal and a bag of Chex Mix all day. When a group of us headed to an Irish pub for dinner and drinks, I thought back to my journal entry. I ordered a beer, but I also got an appetizer and nursed that beer until after I had at least half my dinner in me.

All conference long, before I ordered anything to drink, I visualized that scribbly block of text and did a mental systems check: How much have I had to eat? How much have I had to drink, and how much of it has hit my system? How much water have I had? Will I be in bed by the time this drink takes effect?

I can’t say I wouldn’t have done this without the journal entry as a cue, but it sure made it that much easier to break the “sure, I’ll have another” habit.

Plus, I kept a very detailed journal of all the amazingness that is FinCon. I wrote about the people I met and the things we did. Every night ended the same way, with me sitting down thinking “I can’t believe all of that just happened today.” Then I wrote until it was all on paper.

Final result

I feel like I’m in a rhythm with my journaling. Only once did I forget to write on schedule and had to recall two days in a session. It helps that this was a particularly eventful month, chock full of things I was looking forward to and wanted to remember.

I’ll continue to write on the same schedule and see where it goes. This is an easy habit to keep.

Next 30-day experiment: Creating