I have been writing my thoughts since I learned how to write. I have several boxes where I keep my journal since my teen years. I don’t journal every day then, but about seven years ago, I have discovered the practice of writing every day as something I have really liked. It has helped me be more present in my own life.
More recently, I have learned another practice that I have fallen in love with – keeping track of the sacred, the silly, the serious, or the just plain useful. I have learned to practice looking back before I move forward. I used to do it yearly. Then it became monthly. For a year now, I have been keeping track weekly. I call it my Saturday reflections.
The practice of paying attention to what I am learning makes me more grounded, helps me become discerning, and be fully present in my life. When I am present in my own life, I am also present in my relationships with the people who matter to me the most.
The practice of tracking and reflecting makes me slow myself down to pay attention to my inner world, helps me notice what’s around and allows me to name what I see. I don’t wait for the world to stop so I can catch up, I purposely slow down.
In this post, I am sharing my handy guide to help you know what to track and how to track. If you’re not a journaler, hang with me. This post is still for you if you like making lists, value thoughtful reflection, or need a little extra help to keep track of what you’re learning and be more present in your own life.
How Tracking Can Help You
One of the push back I receive whenever I would talk about journaling is that it is not really their personality-type or that they can’t think of one thing they have learned.
First, journaling is not for one personality type. I would recommend it to anybody who wants to be present in their own lives and in their own relationships. Journaling is a spiritual practice. It is the antidote to a life in motion.
Poet Max Ehrmann who wrote “Desiderata”, said this
“Go out amidst the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” This kind of silence isn’t the one of “keeping quiet.” It’s the place where we find our voices and it’s the sacred space where journaling takes place.
Second, the problem is not that they are not learning, but that they are not keeping track. Personally, journaling is how I know what I think about. Tracking what I am learning and how I am feeling helps me understand who I am becoming.
One way to decide what you should keep track of is to go back in your mind to the end of each year.
What do you tend to think about right before the turn of a new year?
- think ahead into the next year to make goals and cast vision?
- reflect about family or relationships?
- wish you could remember insights from books you read, podcasts you listened to, or conversations you’ve had with people who matter to you?
- feel discouraged about your lack of progress on certain projects?
- like to collect interesting news and historical tidbits to discuss with your sphere of influence?
When you think about the way you reflect at the end of the year, this will help to inform the types of things you may want to track as the year goes by.
This will be a useful tool for you — instead of trying to reflect on an entire year at once by pouring over long-form journals or trying to remember where to find that quote from that book you read last July, you can simply pull out your simple lists of what you were learning as you learned it rather than trying to remember after the fact.
What to Track
The beauty of this practice is you can tailor it to your own life. There’s no wrong! But if you need a little extra clarity on what to keep track of, here are some examples of things I write down on my own lists:
- When I learn something new or interesting about a family member ex: My sister had the same thought as I had when we surpassed Mama’s age when she died.
- My niece and nephew say or do something surprising, funny, or thoughtful that I don’t want to forget ex: Lorenz is the family’s math wizard. He can multiply so quickly when he was about 9 years old. Eunice is the family’s artist. She has already finished three thick sketchbooks.
- What’s life-giving and what’s energy-draining when it comes to my work. ex: I love to teach about the Bible and about mental health. Who knew?
- Insights I have about the work I’m doing. ex: Creative work no one knows about is very hard work to finish.
- When I learn how to do something new that I’ve never done before. ex: Present in zoom class using advanced sharing. I can see myself and my slides on the screen!
- A moment worth celebrating ex: My Passover paper received “the best by far I read” compliment from my professor
- Something I want to get better at. ex: I’m learning how to be still and it’s ironically making me antsy.
- Relational interactions I realize I want to change or improve. ex: I don’t like talking to people when I walk or run.
- Favorite shows, movies, books, podcasts, etc. ex: An Invitation to Love by Father Thomas Keating makes me draw closer to God.
- Recent discoveries about things I actually like to do. ex: Outdoor Pilates, under the shade of a big tree, by the bench on a subdivision park makes me so happy.
Life Hacks //
- Stuff a glue gun can do that I never knew was possible ex: It can hold wood frames on the wall more than a 3M permanent wall frame tape can. What?!
- A new I, me, and myself favorite. ex: Coffee ice cubes – Aeropressed coffee poured on ice tray cubes and shoved to the freezer makes for coffee ice cubes – is saving my early afternoon slump. Make these more often!
Things that make you go hmmm //
- I am not a fan of packaged noodles!
- My grad school classmate is personal friends with a famous singer celebrity but I have never heard of this singer until he mentioned her. True story! Guess, I am not updated with show business.
- Fun celebrity facts ex: Bea Alonzo has a big farm in Zambales
- Interesting tidbits about history or public figures. ex: Hayden Kho’s mentor was Ravi Zacharias!
- Things I learn about myself ex: The most difficult person to be kind to is – me.
- Things I learn about God ex: Instead of a map, God offers me his hand.
And on it goes. Our lives are lived in our everyday moments and this is the best way I’ve found to hold those moments, learn what they have to teach, move forward with a lighter heart, and a better perspective.
Some of these things are more serious or important than others, but keeping them all in one list helps to remind me how life has many colors and varying depths. I want to hold them all together.
Those are some examples of what to track. Now here’s some tips on how to track.
How I Keep Track of What I’m Learning
When it comes to keeping track of what I’m learning, simple is good and right and just my style.
For many years now I’ve been using Leuchtturm 1917 blank notebooks in Red, Berry, or Pink. I order them online and I finish two notebooks per year. I don’t like writing on dotted, gridded, or lined notebooks. Blank is best suited for me.
The way I keep track of what I’m learning is simple.
Each new month, on the next page after my last journal entry, I make two spreads in my notebook – Highlights and Hallelujahs, Learnings and Observations, Mission/Goal Check, and Becoming Steps.
Highlights and Hallelujahs is where I write one-liners next to the day of the month.
Learnings and Observations is where I write all the things I am learning.
Mission/Goal Check is where I write my goals for the month.
Becoming Steps is where I outline my monthly actions, weekly rituals, and daily diligence. Each has checkboxes I can go back to and check off when done.
This is how I kept track for years in my journal. Sometimes they might not make sense to someone else reading them, but typing them up for the blog is a great way to elaborate and explain them.
Months to Seasons
This is why I will start sharing my “Things I’ve Learned Lists” here starting at the end of quarter 1 this year. Each quarter, I will start sharing some meaningful things I am learning. It’s just enough time to sum up some things including deeper thoughts and reflections that take longer than 30 days to sink in.
I also know I could not wait until the end of the year to consider what I have learned. Lumping 365/366 days in one is too long for me. By the time I sit down to think over the past year in December, it’s hard to remember September, much less what happened way back in February.
I have long realized the sweet spot for me is 90 days with monthly reset reflections, weekly reflections, and almost daily entries.
I thought about how often times the more serious things I’m learning tend to go along with the quarterly seasons. I also try to name my quarter based on my current season.
If it’s good enough for nature, it’s good enough for me. The three-month span of time has become one of my favorite ways to deeply reflect.
Around the end of each season, I gather up my list and share it with you here, always happy to invite you to share yours as well.