Franz Kafka, Andy Warhol, Charles Darwin and Kurt Cobain. What did all these people have in common? They were all avid diarists. They were all keeping track daily of the events in their lives.
To be honest with you, I had no idea that a journal was such a common denominator among highly successful and influential characters. Famous 20th-century author Anaïs Nin once wrote:
“This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice. Instead of writing a novel, I lie back with this book and a pen, and dream, and indulge in refractions and defractions.. I must relive my life in the dream.”
Well, although I love Anais’ poetic reflection on the importance of a diary, I wouldn’t take it that far.
The reason a diary is so important, and so many significant figures tend to evangelize this importance, is because it actually works as a tool to help you monitor your progress on a daily basis.
Progress monitoring is an incredibly valuable habit when it comes to your personal and professional development and consequently your self-motivation levels. Without awareness and control over your progress, you tend to lose contact with your achievements and this is probably the strongest motivational inhibitor one can experience.
Breaking big challenges down into chunks isn’t original advice, of course.
Our constant pursuit of achievements that will place us in a position of value in the eyes of others somehow disorients us from the idea of the achievement itself. Since our early childhood, our acts were incentivized by the reward we would receive from our parents. These results could be tangible or intangible in a sense that they could be manifested in the form of an appraisal or a present.
Whatever we did, we did it because we wanted to experience a degree of praise and admiration from our caretakers – a praise which would eventually give us strength and motivation to keep doing what we were doing.
The degree to which this praise and admiration was received, obviously, varies from individual to individual. The fact, however, is that the need for it was always there and will always be. Our ability to recognize its importance, however, incrementally affects our performance in our everyday endeavors.
Having big goals and aspirations is of huge importance because it gives you a vision, but monitoring your progress and celebrating small goals and victories is what will eventually materialize this vision. With all the pressures and distractions in our lives, it is all too easy to have our smaller achievements go unnoticed, even by ourselves. I have personally managed to make this idea a huge aspect of my overall emotional satisfaction and intrinsic motivation levels. More specifically I have created a small 2-step system that helps me stay motivated and engaged with my work on a daily basis and also helps me respect my progress even if it isn’t as big as I was expecting.
The 2-step system goes as follows:
1st Step – Create a task list and write in your diary every day
The first step consists of two parts, which are actually equally important.
The first part is to have a task list ready for the day where you will list all your work-related tasks. The task list needs to be well specified and it cannot exceed five tasks because you won’t be able to manage them efficiently.
I will give you an example of what a well-specified task list looks like by taking a random daily task list from my schedule:
The tasks here are quite random, but also quite usual for my daily life because they are all related to my main activity, which is blogging. Additionally, they are listed by level of importance, which suggests that I am not allowed to move to the next task if I haven’t completed the previous one. This rule helps me become more disciplined and focused.
Most of the time, I manage to complete all the tasks and that gives me extreme pleasure and fulfillment. But even if I don’t and let’s say I didn’t manage to complete two or three of the least important tasks, I can easily move them to the task list for the next day without feeling bad because I managed to complete the most important ones.
The feeling I experience whenever I manage to strike out the completed tasks is priceless. It fills me with a sense of immense pleasure and enjoyment to know that I managed to finish hard work and that is needed more than anything after a stressful day.
The second part is the journal part.
A journal for me is probably one of the most effective and impactful ways of individualistic expression. The words that you write down reflect your emotional state throughout the day and help you release your anger and pain or elevate your happiness and excitement. By logging your daily experiences and achievements, you create a sense of purpose within yourself. Even if you didn’t accomplish anything important during your day, the way you express it in your journal will reframe your whole reality.
Never assume that your life is boring. You are the hero of your own story and everything you do, even if you consider it simple or mundane, should be expressed through appreciation and grandeur. This is probably the most powerful mind hack I have ever learned.
2nd Step – Reward yourself on a monthly basis
Now, understanding and being aware of your progress is good and all but there is also something very important when it comes to lasting motivation that we shouldn’t ignore – the power of rewards.
Rewards or “treats” may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it’s not. Because forming good habits can be draining, treats can play an important role. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits. Studies show that people who got a little treat, in the form of receiving a surprise gift or watching a funny video, gained in self-control. It’s a secret of adulthood:
If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn’t selfish.
When we don’t get any treats, we begin to feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful.
Like I said before, it brings us back to our childhood when we were usually expecting gifts from our parents. Whether we got those gifts or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the need was always there and will always be. However, you can’t still expect your parents to reward you, but now you are the one who can reward yourself.
The best timeframe to reward yourself is on a monthly basis because if you do it more often the crave won’t be that strong and also you can’t invest money on something that has value and you can appreciate more.
The nature of the present is up to you. Be it something that you enjoy immensely, like a dinner in an expensive restaurant or tickets for football game, or a subscription service where you can attach the following message:
Even if you don’t reach all the milestones or don’t work as hard as you expected to, the reward will keep you in a state of constant mental arousal, helping you to keep on going. And this is probably what matters the most.
To sum up, I wrote this piece mainly to help you understand that your life will constantly be an attempt to balance between your inner child and your adult self.
Both characters are equally powerful and equally important to your emotional and social wellbeing.
Neglecting one of them or failing to understand its place in your life will only cause confusion and regret.
Don’t suppress your inner child. It was a huge part of your life and it will always be. Back then it was your caretakers who were responsible for it. Now it’s you and only you.
Featured photo credit: Will van Wingerden via unsplash.com