Just Right: The Theme System Journal

“Mary dislikes regimentation,” Mrs. Gold, my teacher, noted on one of my first-grade report cards (in perfect Palmer Method cursive, I recall). She was right. I do. I tend to rebel when too much structure is imposed on me, but I also flounder when there’s not enough. It’s all very “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The amount of structure needs to be “JUST RIGHT.”


That’s why the Theme System Journal appealed to me. There’s just enough framework, balanced by just enough freedom. Nothing is set in stone. I don’t feel hemmed in by an overly prescribed system, but I’m also not flailing around in a blank notebook.

Truth be told, I bought my Theme System Journal the first time it was offered—quite some time ago—then stored it in a box, still wrapped in its protective plastic. You could accuse me of procrastinating—heck, I’ve repeatedly accused myself of that over the past few months—but I think I just wasn’t ready to do the work necessary to use the Theme System Journal in a meaningful way. I didn’t want to go into it all willy-nilly, but I also knew that a journal wrapped in plastic wasn’t doing me any good.

There’s nothing like a new year to jumpstart your self-reflection. 2020, I decided, was to be the year of the Theme System Journal. Which meant that I needed A THEME.

I mulled over all kinds of words and wishes and goals and emotions, but nothing felt quite right. I frequently take lunchtime walks with a good friend where we have these meandering and wonderful conversations about nothing and everything. I was jabbering on about my need for a theme and how I was grinding trying to come up with one. She quietly and wisely said, “Maybe your theme will find you.”

As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

One of the “Take Note” podcast hosts noted, on Twitter, how reading The Daily Stoic has helped him immensely. This tweet reminded me that I bought the book last January but didn’t read it for more than a few days. Then I stumbled onto SBREBrown’s YouTube series on Stoicism, and I fell right down that rabbit hole. A switch flipped in my brain and I knew that I’d found my theme.

2020: The Year of Stoicism


It was finally time to take the plastic off of that Theme System Journal. I unwrapped it and then my perfectionism kicked in. I needed to do a little more work. What were my ideal outcomes? What goals would I track on a daily basis? I grabbed a pen and a pad and wrote and rewrote all of the possibilities until I distilled everything down to eight desired outcomes and ten daily actions/goals. Time to actually write in the book.

I recorded my theme and my desired outcomes.


I recorded the specific actions I’d be tracking on a daily basis.


I began the practice of evening reflection.


Though I’m only five days in, I already feel mentally lighter because of the Stoicism practices and because of this journal. I’ve had themes in the past, but didn’t record them anywhere so they were abstract and out-of-reach most of the time, especially when I was under duress and needed them the most. Because I’m looking at, and writing about, my theme and goals and actions every day, I’m able to call on them in times of stress, duress, and overwhelm. The positive practices are right at my fingertips. This feels, honestly, like a miracle.


Nothing is perfect, of course, so I have just a couple of suggestions for future iterations of the Theme System Journal. I’d love to have at least a few lined pages simply for notes. I’ve been using the Index pages at the back of the book for this, but that means that I can’t use them for their intended purpose. I’d also like a way to find each section without flipping through the pages. I’ve been using book darts to mark my current pages, and those work fine, but integrated bookmarks would be really handy. Those are two very minor wishes for something that is overwhelming well thought out and solidly constructed.


My second Theme System Journal arrived yesterday and is waiting in the wings. I’m in this for the long haul.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Myke and Grey.