If there is one activity that has vastly improved my life in multiple ways, it’s journaling. I’ve mentioned this to many people who’ve asked me for success advice over the years and the reactions are varied. Some stare back like I’ve spoken a word in a foreign tongue while others downright wince. Maybe it’s not sexy enough for some or sounds like too much effort for others. Truth is, succeeding at anything does take effort, and whatever sex appeal any endeavor radiates is often the aftereffects of an extreme amount of hard work. But journaling is nowhere near an extreme effort, and the rewards are great. At the end of this post, I’ll tell you how to do it with minimal effort.
So why is journaling life-changing? The reasons are many but here are my top five:
1. Journaling purges your mind of negative junk - Aside from working hard, I’m a believer that to be successful you have to dream big and stay positive. Yet, negative thoughts often worm their way into the best of minds and stay put. If we don’t have a way of coping with these negative thoughts, they lurk in our minds and affect motivation. Journaling gives you a physical way to deal with negative thoughts and do something about what’s behind them. Trust me, because I’m writing from personal experience here: once you notice you have been griping about the same thing for extended periods in your journaling, you are more likely to get off your butt and do something about it. Maybe it’s taking tiny steps to pursue a better, more fulfilling career or something simpler like finally enrolling in that art class you’ve threatened to take for years.
2. It improves your writing and communication, which help in many aspects of life - Most of us communicate often through the written word. Coming across as intelligent in your written communication pays huge dividends in how people perceive you. This includes many who can affect your livelihood from customers and co-workers to current and potential bosses. I’ve owned a couple of businesses with over fifty employees each and my ability to write well, from creating content to proposals and presentations, helped grow those organizations. Journaling honed that ability to write and it will improve yours as well.
3. Journaling helps you discover what you want out of life - You may think you know what you want out of life, but do you really? It’s easy to think, “I want more money, a nicer house, a more fulfilling career,” but those are generalities. Journaling those sentences on paper is a springboard that will lead you to specifics if you journal often enough. Specifics lead to action and action moves us toward what we want. Why this works is akin to what I tell my creative writing students who believe they have great ideas for books, but can't seem to get started. Many stall in writing the books because they try to perfect the story ideas in their heads before putting the first word down. Unless you are a certifiable genius with mad memory skills, you can’t fix and perfect what’s in your head. But you can fix and perfect what’s been put on paper. Fix and perfect your life by journaling.
4. It helps you get over life's challenges faster - I’ve always said that journaling is therapeutic, but not until I discovered a book called 59 Seconds did I realize how much. The nutshell premise of 59 Seconds is most self-help regimens don’t work because they involve too much effort and people stop doing them. The entire book is devoted to implementing easy, super-short activities that have big impacts in many areas of life. One section of the book relayed studies that discovered writing about problems, both major and small, helped people resolve them much quicker than talking about them. Talking about the issues prolonged them. What this says about talk therapy with psychologists, I won't guess. Obviously there are major life and mental health issues that people should seek help for from licensed professionals. But for the everyday stresses of the “worried well,” journaling will help speed you past them.
5. Journaling is meditative - Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and other bestselling books, has made a name for himself by deconstructing world-class performers to learn what makes them successful. Tim conveys that if there is one common denominator of most highly successful people, it’s embracing and performing meditation. I believe it. Yet, meditating doesn’t come easy for me. I’ve tried often with limited success. But let’s look at one of the things successful meditation achieves: it calms while keeping you rooted in the present. There are many activities that are meditative. Journaling is one of them. Even though you may write about the past or future in your journals, the activity itself places you in a calming zone that is fully present. The benefits of this are vast.
If I’ve convinced you to try journaling, you may wonder what’s the best way to do it. Ultimately, you have to figure out what works for you, but I can recommend a place to start. The most effective way I’ve found to immerse yourself into journaling is writing morning pages. Morning pages are what Julia Cameron coined in her bestselling and deeply loved book, The Artist’s Way. The Artist’s Way helps stimulate creativity for any endeavor, and it’s one of the few books that truly changed my life. I encourage anyone who wants to be more creative to pick it up. Here are the basics on how to do the morning pages:
- Buy a blank notebook and a decent, comfortable pen. Fill three pages with whatever thoughts you have on any subject. This takes most people no more than thirty minutes or ten minutes a page.
- Keep writing, no matter what, until the three pages are full. No editing, no stopping to stare into space, no scratching out sentences… simply write. If you don’t know what to write, then keep the pen moving by writing, “I don’t know what to write,” over and over until you do. (I’ve rarely wrote that sentence more than twice before some idea pops into my brain and I take off with it.)
- Do it every day.
Cameron calls them the morning pages, because she’s found them most effective for people when they did them first thing upon waking. I agree, but you can do them anytime you have thirty minutes.
People often ask if the morning pages must be written by hand. Unless the person has physical limitations in doing so, the answer is always yes. Here’s why: while many of us in the modern era can type fast, I believe there is a stronger, more immediate connection between the brain and pen. Most of us probably started drawing with crayons as toddlers, so the activity is natural and instinctive. Learning to type well usually comes much later for most. The primal act of writing draws more ideas and epiphanies for me than typing. I do write a lot on my laptop, but it’s often refining pieces and concepts that originated in handwritten journals.
One last thing. Blank pages in a journal may scare some people because they put pressure on themselves to write something great. Journaling is about quantity, not quality. It’s about purging what’s in your head so you can deal with it, good or bad. When you first begin journaling, expect a bunch of garbage to spill onto the page. But if you keep at it, you will eventually discover raw gems in that muck. It could be a brilliant idea you can polish to a high sheen, or the jewel of motivation needed to chase a dream. Either way, journaling will pay off big.
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