If you don’t journal regularly, this article is for you. How to start a journaling habit is easy! This article outlines what to write in your journal, the only question you ever need to ask yourself (the plus/delta question), how often to journal, and how you can change your life with journaling.
I started out my career in consulting: helping businesses optimize processes and drive up profits. To me it was fascinating because I got to solve a new problem in a new industry every single day: from sign manufacturing to computer programming to home care service. I got to tackle many challenges with people from various backgrounds and hone my problem solving skills. It was awesome because I was passionate about making things better than they were before. Corporate work went downhill pretty quickly, you can read more about my story, but the tools that we used to optimize businesses were not that different from the principles we lean on when improving people’s lives. After all, businesses are made of people just like you and me.
The self improvement tool that changes lives
No matter what client I was with, I would ask the same question at the very end of every day; they would ask this question to each other in weekly meetings; departments would analyze the answers to this question every month to suggest improvement opportunities.
The question I’m referring to is called the plus/delta question.
It’s simple, but it’s effective.
In business, stopping to ask this question helped identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, inconsistencies, mistakes, and failures that kept work from going smoothly. It also allowed coworkers to celebrate wins they achieved together. Plus/Delta is a regular practice in businesses that follow continuous improvement best practices.
So I started asking myself this question every single day in my personal life to see the impact it would have… and I was astounded. Asking this one question regularly allowed me to easily achieve more goals and feel happier while doing it.
Why asking this one question is important
Are you ready to hear the question?
Taking the time to ask yourself this question has amazing benefits!
Celebrating your accomplishments
How much time do you take to celebrate accomplishments in your life? A month? A week? A day?
For most people, the answer falls somewhere between a few minutes to a few hours. Shortly after we achieve a win, we move on to working toward the next one. Part of the reasoning behind this is because we are wired to pursue bigger and better things, and that’s not at all bad, unless you never stop to appreciate how far you’ve come.
If you aren’t taking the time to feel gratitude and soak in the happiness of all your successes, you will always be striving for the next big thing, and never feel happy with what you already have.
Asking yourself the plus/delta question gives you the opportunity to celebrate your wins regularly. This builds your motivation levels as you feel the hard work paying off, and inspires you to continue doing good things in order to feel proud of yourself.
And it provides you with a history of wins that you can lean on when times are tough. Our selective memory tends to blow out of proportion things that haven’t worked out. Having an arsenal of wins you’ve achieved can help you regain confidence and get back into a positive frame of mind when you’re having a bad day.
Prompting self improvement
A lot of people wade passively through life taking things one day at a time and seeing where they will end up. From my perspective, it will be your deathbed and you’ll be wondering where your life has gone, wishing you were more intentional with how you lived it…
Okay, maybe that’s a little too extreme, and maybe I could improve my ability to go with the flow, but I believe it is so important to our quality of life to continually be improving.
Taking time to identify the things in your day/week/life that could use improvement is the first step to actually creating your best life. You can’t set goals or build an action plan to make something better if you don’t accept that it isn’t ideal to begin with.
Asking yourself the plus/delta question opens up an honest conversation with yourself. Whether you completely fell off the wagon, or you did everything as planned, there is always something that could be improved.
Reflecting on this consistently allows you to make small changes often.
- I could have showed up 5 minutes earlier to my meeting today
- I could have focused more on thinking positively this week
- I could have prioritize reading more this month
The result is that the behaviors are easier to modify, making it more likely that you will make the necessary habit changes. These small tweaks provide exponential results when compounded together over time. Within a few weeks, the person in the above example is more responsible, more pleasant to be around, and more knowledgeable.
Creating a pause to spur intentional living
The final benefit of asking yourself the plus/delta question is that it creates space. In today’s day and age, we are running around, busier than ever, more overwhelmed than ever, trying to keep up with an increasing number of tasks, and we rarely ever pause to wonder whether we are living life the way we want to live it.
This simple habit spurs intentional living. It forces you to slow down and assess how you showed up. In doing that, you can decide how you’d like to show up next time, and be more proactive about becoming the best version of yourself.
If I don’t exercise in the morning, I feel more irritated than ever and I take it out on my kids. But asking myself “what went well and what could have gone better?” gives me the time and space to realize that I could have been more patient with my kids, and the key driver of my patience levels is whether I exercise in the morning and meditate at lunch. This conscious realization increases the likelihood that I will perform those activities the next day. Without the plus/delta question, I would just show up the same way tomorrow.
The amount of time you spend in reflection is a leading indicator of how intentionally you will live your life.
If you reflect, you can set your intention and proactively shape your decisions. If you do not, you live in a reactive state and show up as less than your best self.
How To Establish Plus/Delta In Your Routine
What I love about this tool is that it can be used in so many different ways. You can use it one time to get feedback on a meeting you led at work, or a date night you took your partner out on. But the real benefits of this plus/delta tool come from incorporating it into your regular routine. This can look differently for different people, but here are a few of the ways that I use the plus/delta question in my own life.
How To Journal Daily
I like to ask myself the plus/delta question at the end of each day.
I’ll grab my journal as I crawl into bed and write a bullet point list of the things worth celebrating, and the things worth improving. I don’t bother free form journaling about it for a long time and I don’t worry about creating any sort of action plan from it.
The big win comes from simply taking the time to ask myself the question and think through the answers so that I can tweak my performance the next day.
It takes me 2-5 minutes and is a really nice way to finish off the evening.
How To Journal Weekly
Every Sunday evening, I spend about an hour journaling.
Related post: A Sunday Routine For An Amazingly Productive Week
I take the time to free form write whatever I need to get out of my head and use this reflection process as a tool to create a plan for the following week.
This journaling session starts with the plus/delta question: what went well this week and what could have gone better? I reflect on the intentions I had set the Sunday before and determine whether I fully stepped into the best version of myself. I take the time to celebrate all of the things I achieved that week, and to think about whether I’m happy with the progress I am making on my goals.
It takes me 20-30 minutes to really think through the plus/delta question and then 15-20 minutes to create a plan for the week.
It helps me process everything that happened or didn’t happen that week and set an intention with how I want to show up in the coming week.
The best part is how calm and centered I feel when I wrap up this weekly journaling session. If you haven’t yet built up a daily journaling habit, you should definitely start with a weekly one.
How To Journal Monthly
Monthly, the plus/delta question allows you to reflect on the bigger picture. Which big things stand out this month as worth celebrating? Which big things didn’t feel quite right and need improvement?
What went well this month?
- I was consistent in writing and publishing a blog post every week
- I meditated at least twice every week
- The family got out for a snowshoe adventure
What could have gone better this month?
- I didn’t stick with my workout program on the weekends
- I would like to meditate 3-5 times a week
- I would like to incorporate more healthy fats into our meal rotation
Asking this question monthly sets the stage for the goals that I set for the following month. In the above example, exercise, meditation, and healthy eating would frame the goals I focus on.
How To Journal Annually
At the end of the year, it’s nice to recap the wins you’ve had and the opportunities you have to improve. Daily, weekly, (maybe even monthly) changes aren’t all that noticeable, but in a year you can become a completely different person.
Taking the time to reflect on where you were and where you are today is a powerful exercise.
It also allows you to set your intentions for the following year.
Related post: Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work
The plus/delta question is an easy self improvement tool to incorporate into your routine if you are striving to become a better version of yourself.
The reason it is so powerful is because of its simplicity.
The fact that you can complete the whole process in 2 minutes every day makes it much more likely that you’ll stick with this new habit, and that sustainability factor is the key to habit change.
Once you feel the benefits of looking for and celebrating wins regularly, and start to see small changes from reflecting on what could be improved, you’ll finally feel in control of how your life develops.
It starts with asking yourself what’s working well, and what could be improved?
Then consistently taking small steps in the right direction. In no time at all, you will be impressed at the changes you are able to create for yourself.
- How To Break Down Big Goals and Actually Achieve Them
- The 4 Biggest Things Holding You Back In Life
- How To Practice Mindfulness
Let me know in the comments below if you try this simple approach to journaling!