I Kept a ‘One-Line-a-Day Journal’ for 5 Years—Here Are My 10 Biggest Takeaways

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I’ve always found journaling to be both soothing and satisfying. In the past, it's helped me to process emotions, find a sense of gratitude, and create a record of memories on which to look back later. But despite these benefits of journaling, I only ever really managed to keep up the practice sporadically—until I heard about the One-Line-a-Day Journal, in 2017, and shifted my approach to journaling in the years to follow. The lessons I'd learn as a result opened my eyes not only to how I can best approach journaling as a regular ritual, but how I can better set goals, reflect, and plan for the future.

The One-Line-a-Day Journal initially caught my eye in January 2017 because I thought writing just one sentence a day would be an easier habit to keep up and a good way to remember things from everyday life that I might otherwise forget. But I only made it until April of that year before I started to lose track of my practice and ultimately drop it altogether, as I’d done in the past.

It wasn’t until I restarted the journal in January 2018 that I realized what kept me from sticking with it: I had been putting too much pressure on myself to write something profound each day. Once I committed to letting go of this pressure, I found it was much easier to make my line-a-day journaling a consistent daily habit—one that I kept for the following five years. Some days, my entry was a simple daily summary, and other days, it recounted a funny conversation. On days when I felt dreamy and inspired, I sprinkled in quotes and song lyrics, too.

Reflecting on journal entries has helped me to gain insight into how I’ve framed my thoughts and experiences at different moments in time.

After completing the first year, I also started rereading my past entries each month. Reflecting in this way has helped me to gain insight into how I’ve framed my thoughts and experiences at different moments in time, and how I’ve changed the way I think about things.

Now, in hindsight, five years and a whopping 1,825 sentences later, I can see how the journal has become a valuable resource for my personal growth, through both the experience of writing and reflecting. Below are 10 lessons I’ve learned since starting my one-line-a-day journaling practice.

1. Put "bad days" into perspective

When I first began my journal, I would focus on my “bad days”—the days on which my entry included something upsetting or frustrating, or the days that I just felt totally uninspired. But when I started to review entries in the following months, I realized that I didn’t even usually remember the “bad days” that had taken up space in my journal. These days didn’t affect my life in the long run, which was a poignant lesson that, sometimes, a bad day is just an opportunity to remind yourself that certain things are out of your control, and these events don't define you or your life.

2. Prioritize the things you’re excited about

Because many of my entries happened during the pandemic lockdown period or the months following (when it was still difficult to go out and live life), I found a common theme upon reflection: I, like so many others, really missed the activities in life that I’d long taken for granted, like going to art exhibits, concerts, and shows; taking trips; and hanging out with friends.

Pre-COVID, I spent a lot of time reveling in “busyness” and using it as a comfortable excuse to put off doing things that were just for fun. I’ve since realized that, when you can, it’s important to carve out space and time for those activities, if for no other reason than that they’ll bring you joy. In recent months, I’ve found myself making more immediate plans for the things that excite me, like buying tickets to see Six on Broadway, for example.

3. Be honest with yourself about your capacity for output

My first attempt at daily one-line journaling didn't last because I put too much pressure on myself to write something thoughtful, witty, or profound every day, eventually leading me to become exhausted by the practice, unable to keep it up.

Upon restarting, I resolved to have reasonable expectations for my own output: Instead of pushing myself to be eloquent constantly, I took a more honest, low-maintenance approach. Some days, I just didn't feel that profound, and I needed to honor that. Looking back now, there are some entries that are as simple as, “Today, I ate pizza,” or “Today, I was tired.” This honesty is what enabled me to stay consistent for five years.

4. Embrace creativity whenever it strikes

When I first began my journal, each entry started with “Today, I…” The redundant sentence starter soon inspired me to look for more creative ways to begin, which turned me into a more thoughtful observer of my surroundings. I started preserving short, meaningful conversations I had with friends, family members, and the students in my class, and including tidbits in my journal. On other days, I would write a short quote that had stuck with me and that resonated with how I felt that day. And occasionally, I even experimented with creating simple rhymes.

Finding these different ways to engage myself in the writing process didn’t just make recording my memories more exciting; it reminded me of the beauty in approaching any day more creatively or with a different outlook.

5. Reminisce with loved ones to strengthen those relationships

Several months into my journaling journey, my now nine-year-old niece began insisting that I start reading some of my entries to her on a monthly basis (especially the ones that mentioned her). Sharing entries with my friends and family allowed me to hear their perspectives of the memories I’d preserved, which often included family and community events. Reminiscing together proved an opportunity for laughter and camaraderie, which showed me the connective value in getting nostalgic with loved ones.

6. Take small steps toward a big goal

Though it might not seem like much, writing just one sentence in my journal each day had a significant impact on me over time: It reawakened my love for writing. The joy of thinking about what to write and how to express my thoughts was something I began to look forward to each day.

The joy of thinking about what to write and how to express my thoughts was something I began to look forward to each day.

Over time, I realized how much I wanted to pursue writing in my free time. I began to carve out blocks of my day to write creatively, research, and pitch ideas to editors. These steps, in turn, led to the publication of several of my articles last year. And looking back, I now know that this all started with the simple habit of writing something—again, even just a single line—each day, which is a meaningful lesson in taking small, actionable steps to achieve a goal.

7. Look for repetitive behavior as a signal to switch things up

Throughout the journaling process, I occasionally found myself stuck in a writing rut. During these periods, often taking place in winter months, my entries would read, “Today, I went to work,” or “Today, I read a new book” over and over again.

Whenever I noticed these writing redundancies, I could see they were emblematic of redundancies in my life, in general. And I began to take them as a sign to switch things up and try something new, whether by taking a barre class with my sister or going to a new restaurant with a friend. These changes gave me both new things to write about in my journal and a new sense of purpose.

8. Use reflection to identify recurring patterns

As I continued to journal and reflect, I began to notice helpful patterns in what I was writing that nodded to cycles in my life and how I was feeling. For example, in most Februarys, I reported more tiredness, which became a clue to prioritize self care and eating nourishing foods in that month. I also noticed that my mood seemed happier during the times I mentioned doing yoga, Pilates, or dance.

All of these are patterns I might not have observed without the self-reflection prompted by my journal, and by tuning in to them, I become increasingly capable of using the past to plan for the future.

9. Understand that personal change is necessary for growth

We all know, intuitively, that change is inevitable, but sometimes, it can be tough to recognize how much we’ve changed over time because we see ourselves every day. By capturing a small snapshot in my journal of who I was every day for five years, I now have a time capsule that’s allowed me to really see and appreciate how much I’ve changed.

The records in my journal let me see how my experiences have shaped me over the past five years.

My handwriting has changed, my hobbies have changed, my style of writing has changed, the language I use to express my emotions has matured, I prioritize different things, and there are new people in my life. The records in my journal let me see how my experiences have shaped me over the past five years, which reflects a powerful life lesson: If you can’t see how far you’ve come, it’s tougher to envision how far you can really go.

10. Know that endings can often bring about new beginnings

Alongside the changes of life come endings, too: Since the beginning of my journal entries in 2018, people have exited my life, relatives featured in earlier entries have passed, and relationships have ended, as have hobbies, like the embroidery hoop I began during lockdown but never finished. Rather than mourn these endings, I’ve come to look back on entries with fondness for the changing experiences of my life and the ways they can live on in my memories.

Wrapping up my five-year, one-line-a-day journal has a similarly bittersweet taste to it. While it certainly reflects the end of an era, it also poses the opportunity for me to begin a new one—and, yes, a new journal, too. It’s currently full of blank pages, and I’m eager to see what fills them in the years to come.

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