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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: -1°C
live a better life

Use your phone to journal - and improve your day

Let’s find out how to remember what on earth we did last week.

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DO YOU REMEMBER what you did yesterday? What about last Thursday? It can be really tricky sometimes to recall just what you’ve been up to.

Our lives can be frenetic and busy, each day seeming like it’s melding into the next. This week, we’re trying to cultivate positivity with our phones.

So on the first day of the final week of Live A Better Life, we’re going to look at how recording our day and journalling on our phones can benefit us.

(And if writing down how your day went feels a bit too much, we’ll give you a very quick way of using your phone to record what you’ve been up to.)

Research shows that journalling can have some positive effects. In one study, college students had to write for 15 minutes on four consecutive days about the most traumatic or upsetting experiences of their lives (the controls wrote about superficial topics).

The outcome? The authors said that: “…writing about earlier traumatic experience was associated with both short-term increases in physiological arousal and long-term decreases in health problems”.

On the flipside, a sample of 90 undergraduates were assigned to write about either an intensely positive experience or a control topic for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days. The study found that writing about intensely positive experiences “was associated with enhanced positive mood”.

There are a number of ways you can journal on your phone.

  • For starters, you can use your notes or memo function to record your thoughts during the day.
  • You could use your voice memos function to record voice versions of your journal.

Or, you could use an app.

Daylio is a diary that allows you to select your mood and what you have been up to, and keep track of your moods and activities in a calendar. It’s one for people who don’t want to actually write a lot, but still want to track their day.

Perspective, bills itself as a daily journal, mood and habit diary. So far, it’s only available for iPhone. You can write as much – or as little – as you like into it; you can rate your day; and you can review your journal and then add insights that you have gleaned from journalling.

HappyFeed is a gratitude journal and diary where you record the positive things that are happening in your life.

Another one is LifeCharge, which encourages you to record the positive and negative moments of the day, and then rate your day.

Using your calendar

Alternatively, there’s a way of using your calendar to record what you’ve been up to.

Psychologist Mark Smyth told us how it works.

“A really good thing I use is the Google calendar. So I have five or six different calendars – one for work, one for personal life, ones for social life and different things,” he said.

What I get young people to do is use Google [or other] calendars and [track things using] different colours, and look over the week and see if you have a balance with work and sleep. If work is blue and your entire week is blue, you don’t have balance.

“When we see things visually we are much more likely to focus and pay attention to them,” Smyth pointed out.

“If we want to teach people to have balanced lives because phones are omnipresent, we have to use phones to educate them. We need to radically accept they are so much part of people’s lives now and use them as a tool.”

He finds that before he gets his clients to track their days, they will tell him that they get “loads of sleep”.

But when he gets them to record it, they suddenly realise how much they actually get. He also pointed out that when you use your calendar, you get to schedule in good things – so it’s not all work and responsibilities. This can have a powerful effect on our mindset.

“If you schedule something positive and know it’s coming up, then you are more likely to keep your motivation and stay positive because you have something to look forward to,” he said.

‘It helps you realise what’s important’

02 - Weekly Review Summary

Horea Burca and Elliott Dobbs are in two different countries – Romania and the USA – but they work together on the aforementioned app, Perspective.

I asked Burca more about why they developed this journalling app. ”Everything in the app is meant to help people realise what’s important to them over time, what things they should be focusing on to live a happier, more meaningful, and less stressful life,” explained Burca.

He infrequently kept a journal while growing up and said that his personal motivation to create Perspective was realising how great it would have been to write more content in those teenage diaries.

“Often times it’s the little things that matter a lot, things that go by unnoticed but that actually have a pretty big impact on us,” he said.

I really wish now, at 34, that I would be able to understand how I perceived things at 20, what I wanted to do and why. Life took over since then, all the responsibilities, rational decisions, social pressure, stress, etc. made me move further and further away from dreams I had that I don’t even remember now. I want people to be able to remember.

The idea for the app was sparked by Tim Urban’s TED talk about procrastination where he explained the concept of the Life Calendar, a calendar in which each week in your life is represented by a square.

TED / YouTube

The pair behind perspective liked that idea, and began to expand on it.

“First came the mood tracking part, which made a lot of sense on top of the grid calendar – a way to see how your mood evolves and how happy you were over time. But we wanted to give it more context, so when looking back you know why you were happy or sad. So we added the journalling part, which we made in a messaging style, like having a conversation with your future self. And lastly, we added interests/habits, things that really matter to you at a given point.”

Perspective started out “as a pure passion project”, said Burca.

He continued: “We want Perspective to help people out and, as its name implies, give them perspective over their lives and especially over the present. Unlike other journalling experiences (digital or not), we focus a lot on the value of looking back and learning from past experiences.”

Often times, things look much worse as they happen than they actually are. It’s when we look back that we realise that our perception might have been wrong or exaggerated. Figuring this out by ourselves is the best way to learn how to react to the present, to whatever happens in our lives, because we already have the experience of seeing things from a different perspective.

He said that the app is “for anyone that feels that they have too much going on in their lives and/or for people that often have trouble handling their emotions. And, of course, it’s definitely for people that understand the value of journalling”.

“Journaling can be very intimidating, especially for someone who’s starting out, and Perspective doesn’t necessarily need to be used as a journalling app. The more details you add to it, of course, the more value and insight you’ll have further down the road. However, there is no pressure on the user to write too much and we now know that users really appreciate that.”

shutterstock_551427910 Shutterstock / YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV Journalling is all about reflecting on your day. Shutterstock / YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV

Burca said that while there are entire articles and research papers written about the benefits of journalling, for him and Dobbs “the most important [benefit] is that it forces you to slow down and put some order in your thoughts”.

So many of people’s problems can be traced down to stress nowadays and a lot of that stress comes from too many things on our heads and too many distractions. Very similar to meditation, taking even 5 minutes to write something down puts some order into things and reduces stress. On top of that, journaling improves mindfulness and emotional intelligence, helps you know yourself better, be more efficient, and much more.

He said that the pair have even received emails/feedback from therapists and psychologists praising the app.

“The main thing about Perspective is that it uses some techniques therapists use as well, like associating feelings with the things that happened over a day/week, finding patterns of emotions and their connection to certain events,” he said, “prompting users to rate their days and weeks with a limited number of options which forces users to actually think twice before dismissing a day or week as being bad.”

Feedback about how Perspective has helped people is the “important metric” for the Perspective team, said Burca.

“The hope that Perspective would help people is why we made it completely free in the first place, it was definitely not because we don’t need the money”.

Read the rest of our Live A Better Life series here>

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