I, like many many people who are interested in personal finances, have a money spreadsheet. It’s a very useful spreadsheet, albeit a bit ugly, showing my financial numbers and those of the past. It also contains some forward-looking elements, with projections into the future. All pretty standard in these circles and something that really helps me on the journey to financial independence.
However, money is only half the battle of FI. The other part is finding happiness and meaning. And that is where my diary comes in. it’s where my often nuanced and subjective thoughts are captured. Where ideas that are fermenting are captured mid-process and crystalised. My own behaviour and beliefs are challenged. Do I know why I act and react a certain way? And what really gives me joy and brings me lasting happiness?
What is a diary?
It’s a very good question … and one I thought I’d better check to make sure my ideas are in line with the dictionary definition.
a book in which one keeps a daily record of events and experiences.
This definition lines up with my ideas: a diary is where you write your daily perspectives on life. In particular your life, and the people and thing that matter to you. In my view a diary is highly personal and always confidential – reading someone’s diary would be a gross invasion of privacy.
My distinction between a diary and calendar
It’s probably important to state here that a diary is not a calendar to me. My calendar is another valuable tool (I use google calendar) that allows me to organise my life. It keeps a record of where I expect to be when and prevent any awkward double booking situations. If I want to know what I did on a day, I’d look at my calendar.
But my diary is something different. It is deeper and more unstructured. And way more subjective and reflective. For example, I love the theatre. My calendar tells you what play I saw on a certain date. But my diary tells you what I thought of it – did I understand the play? How did I feel afterwards? Did I agree with the playwright? Can I feel their own biases? Are they are the product of their times?
Electronic or Paper?
As with many items nowadays, we can go analogue or digital. The choice is personal, depending on what works for you and fits in with your life. As someone with terrible handwriting and a good typing speed, I go electronic.
There are many benefits of electronic, being accessible in many places and much more difficult for someone to accidentally stumble across. Moreover, an electronic diary is searchable and requires no physical storage space. And it’s free – so I am all in.
The present is the key to a good diary in my opinion. My diary is a place to write my current unfiltered thoughts on my life. These can include people, relationships, places, activities, politics and the world in general. My diary is subject and category free. It’s a blank sheet waiting to be filled with words.
Somedays these entries may resemble Bridget Jones’s. Repeatedly I vow not to overindulge in alcohol. Or chocolate. And that’s OK – these diary entries have a place and capture where I am unhappy with my level of inner resolve and addictive behaviour.
Yet other days it’s altogether deeper. How society is today compared to the past. Are we moving in the right direction? As I get older my understanding of other’s lived experiences are growing massively, and I realise just how lucky I have been. And that gets the activist in me going.
An aspect I really love about diaries is the ability to capture the past as it was then. I can capture my feelings and how an event impacted me, without any time to reflect on it. The words convey a raw unprocessed emotion which can be really stark when you look back on them.
The beauty of self-development is being able to recognise these changes. Some old entries I can bearly recognise the writer. Who is she? Why did she write like that?
Using a combination of my current thoughts and trajectory, I love daydreaming and forecasting my life. It’s fun and interesting to capture these thoughts free format in a diary. Whether they are dreams or plans I love capturing them. And truly, I’m not sure at the time if I even could distinguish dreams from plans – my writing certainly doesn’t show much self-awareness in that regard!
Letter to the Future
For years I’ve also been sending myself occasional letters to random or specific dates in the future. I use FutureMe for this – an amazing free resource that has always delivered for me in the past.
Despite writing these letters myself, it is always a pleasant surprise when the letters arrive. And I love reading previous me’s thoughts and comparing previous me’s idea of my future to my real future. And here’s the down-low: previous me is sometimes very cringe-worthy but always worth reading. She really gets me, and lately, her predictions have been getting more and accurate about my life.
I believe a financial spreadsheet is the main tool for getting control of your finances. Moreover, the spreadsheet allows you to see the present, review the past and predict your future. However, money is only part of the battle.
I believe keeping a diary is analogous to a spreadsheet, for the second part; finding your happiness and meaning. A personal diary allows you to record and organise your thoughts. Using words to capture and process those complex emotions that lead to happiness.
So if you don’t have one already, I’d recommend adding a diary to your financial independence toolkit.
Over to you
- What are your thoughts?
- Do you keep a diary?
- Paper or electronic?
- Do you find reading previous entries?