live our best life with simple daily intentional journaling

The benefits of positive affirmations, goal setting, small steps, brain dumps, to-do lists, meal planning, habit tracking, routine creating, and schedule making are repeated and extolled by successful people and backed by research.

Who has time to do and keep track of all these things?!

After years of trying many different systems, I created a one-stop-shop that combines them all!

If you would like to give it a try you’ll just need one eco-friendly spiral notebook, one page, one pen and 30 minutes (or less, if you are focused) and the steps below.


(one) Decide on a time of day that you can spend about 30 minutes intentionally journaling. The first time you may need an hour or more. Same time each day is best (routines rock) but you may need to experiment for a while to find the time in your day that works best.

(two) Sit down with your blank notebook and a pen that feels good to write with. A cup of coffee or tea by your side is optional but oh, so lovely.

(three) Write a list of all the things that you are DOING in your ideal life.

Don’t worry if they don’t feel realistic. Brainstorm all the actions and habits that would make your life amazing! These are all the things that we know we should/want to be doing, whether we are doing them yet or not.

Your list might include getting up at a certain time/going to bed by a certain time, meditating, what you want your diet to include, what exercises you want to do, decluttering, work/career related things, expressing gratitude, reading, when/how you will connect with others, what you want to learn, etc.

What are all the things you would do, the specific actions you would take, if you were living your ideal life? The things you know are good for you and would increase the joy in your life… the real joy that comes without regrets. This means that binge eating peppermint patties and binge watching netflix were booted from my list. Sad but good.

Write everything in the positive. Things you CAN do, actions that you can take, instead of what you what you don’t want to do. I don’t want to eat sugar but I don’t write that on my list. I write that I will eat salad greens. Our brains are wired for action. When mountain biking or skiing we look at the space between the trees or the space around the hairpin turn where we want to go. Like a miracle, our bodies follow where we are looking. Looking at the trees or the drop off at the turn will take us right there. Yikes! This intentional journaling practice is all about looking for the space of where we want to be and taking small intentional steps to get there.

(four) Date a new page.

(five) Write…

Today I live with _______________________________________.

I finish this by thinking about what was difficult for you the previous day. Was I being impatient? Maybe you’ll write, “Today I live with patience and kindness.”

Sometimes we need to be aware of what we don’t want to do to come up with a plan for what we DO want to do.

Everyday is a little different. Sometimes I write a paragraph because I have a lot to process.

I live a long and loving life of ___________________________________ by taking these actions today:

To fill in this blank, think of what is important to you, your core values. Mine says: health, kinship, purpose, beauty, creativity and presence. I recently added the creativity and presence. James Clear recommends finding your five core values and sticking with those to guide your life. So, I need to figure out which of these to ditch or just live with six.

Then, looking at the master list that you made earlier of your ideal day of habits and actions, list the actions you can actually take today. Your ideal day might be running 5 miles before breakfast but today you’ll start by running around one block anytime that you can fit it in before bed.

No need for complete sentences. Write just enough:
1. up by 5a
2. weigh
3. water (I drink a tall glass of water before my coffee)
4. reflect + journal
5. meditate
6. strengthen + stretch
7. water + 1 min belly breathing before meals

I put my list in order based on when I will complete the actions. This becomes my routine. “Up by 5a” is first and “Eyes closed by 9p” is last on my list. This helps me to walk through my day, creates a routine of healthy habits and helps me to remember them. Everyday I have a different, but similar, number of items. I try to write the list from memory because I know what comes out of my brain are the most important and pressing actions. Sometimes I do look back at previous pages to jog my memory. Try not to just copy the list from yesterday. Actively recalling the items will help you remember them throughout the day. Also, a great alzheimer prevention exercise, but don’t quote me on that.

I include my basic meal plan in my daily list. Writing just enough info to remind myself. If I am trying to keep certain meal times, I include those times.
7a B: veg + beans + avocado + nutritional yeast
11a L: salad greens + beans + raw veg + apple
3:30p S: green smoothie + flax
4:30p D: cook lentils + green beans + mushrooms + onions + rice + fruit

Writing this list is often a trigger for a habit. I go to write the date and look at my wrist, which reminds me to put on on watch. I write down “B12, D3, omega” and then I get up and take them out of the fridge to remind myself and my family to take these after breakfast.

If it is a habit that you wish you didn’t have (mine is my morning cup of coffee), then don’t include that in your list. If/when I decide to replace coffee with green or herbal tea, then I will include tea on my list.Also, no need to include habits that you already do and/or are not part of your life joy, goals, dreams. Feeding and taking my dog out in the morning are not on my list. Neither is getting dressed or making my bed because I’m in the habit of doing these before I leave my room. If you want the habit of making your bed or getting dressed before leaving your room (they will improve your day!), you might have them on your list.

(six) At the top, in that big open section with the date, write bullet points of what you need to get done that day.

Dentist appt, paying the water bill, emailing the solar installer, etc.

These bulleted must-do tasks are for the non-routine items that need to get done today… not a brain dump or wish list of 1000 to-do items.

If you need to brain dump your massive everything-I-need-to-do-in-my-life list, flip to the back of your notebook and start writing. It will seriously reduce stress and free up brain space.

When you have finished your list, leave your notebook open where you can see it or where you work. This is why a spiral notebook is awesome, as it easily stays open.

When you have completed your bulleted tasks, cross them off.

(seven) The next day, before writing in your journal, review the list of actions that you created yesterday.

This is my version of habit tracking.

Circle the numbers of the items that you completed.

Notice which things you didn’t get to or forgot about doing. Do you want to keep them on your list for today? If you want to keep them, is there anything that will help you to get it done?

Only got half of your action items completed? Only 2 items? No problem! There is exactly zero guilt or shame because these are things you want to do or have realized you no longer want to do or need to revise or need to figure out how to get done. Reviewing is just to bring awareness. I wrote “floss” SO many times before I actually remembered to start flossing before bed, but now I remember and do because I know I want to circle it as complete tomorrow.

(eight) Repeat the process above:
Date the page
Today’s must-do bulleted tasks at the top
Today I live with _______________________________________.
I live a long and loving life of ___________________________________ by taking these actions today:


Everyday that we want to practice our habits (I skip this journaling on vacations), we write these lists to remind ourselves, in a positive way, the habits and actions that we want to practice today that fulfill our values, dreams and goals for an amazing life… starting today!

I used to add times for doing these action items, made it a schedule, but realized that a general routine (with a few specific times) works better for me. Add times if that works best for you. Or, try it different ways.

Your list will change, as your ideas, goals and life changes.

My list changes every single day. I add items when I learn something new. I remove items or adjust items (reducing or increasing the number of steps I’ll take, for instance).Maybe this gives you an idea to create a whole different type of intentional journaling system that works for you!

There is a part two, page two, of my intentional journaling that I will share in a future blog post.

Hello, Habits
Atomic Habits
Jon Acuff
Getting Things Done