It is said that we think somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 to 100,000 thoughts a day. Some of these thoughts might be meaningless, others might be a million dollar idea or distinction. Have you ever come up with some groundbreaking or innovative idea- maybe a business idea, an invention or some concept you thought could change the world? And maybe you thought about it for a brief moment and then you let it pass by and you failed to take the action that would set it into motion? And then one day while you’re watching tv or browsing the internet- that same idea you came up with a few years earlier is now the next big thing and is an incredible success? Undoubtedly those who take massive action have a significantly greater probability of success than those who do not. However, at a closer look, there is an intermediate step in this process of creation that probably separates the truly innovative (and successful) entrepreneurs from John Doe who comes up with the same creative idea in his head. It is their critical thinking and problem solving abilities. How does one cultivate such an ability? For starters- a burning curiosity, a devoted commitment to learning, strategic thinking and intense self reflection. An invaluable way to begin to cultivate all three invaluable skills is through journaling. You look at some highly successful people like Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Darren Hardy, etc. and they all are highly dedicated to the process of journaling. As Jim Rohn once said, “a life worth living is a life worth recording”.
What is the value of journaling?
Since our brains are being inundated with an abundance of information and other external stimuli, a journal is the very mechanism that can help us to straighten out our priorities, thoughts and emotions. It also provides an effective avenue to chart one’s progress, successes, areas of improvement and future goals. The great thing about writing (especially when it relates to ourselves) is that it tends to make us look at our lives in a more objective manner. By writing and reflecting about ourselves we can separate from our egos and look at ourselves from an independent, 3rd party’s point of view.
Writing also takes something (a thought or idea) that is intangible and make it concrete- literally, you are taking an abstract concept and through the stroke of a pen, it is physically real and tangible- engraved on a sheet of paper. When we write we are also sharpening our strategic thinking, logic and reasoning abilities. Writing can also help you let go of an unhealthy obsession, attachment or resistance to something. Yes, journaling is an incredibly therapeutic activity. Next time your frustrated, fuming or raging over something or someone- write about it or write that person a letter explaining how you feel. Then let it be and look at it the next day or a week.. You will likely see how irrational and overly emotional you were probably being in that moment. Heck, it might even give you a good laugh. Hindsight tends to have that effect. If all you did in your journal was express your most intense emotions and events in your life- the benefit would be unbelievable. Your internal communication with yourself and your inner emotional world would be completely different after 6 months of this simple activity.
Journals are great for listing your daily rituals and holding yourself accountable for living these practices. This exercise is great because instead of evaluating your progress toward a goal based on whether or not you achieved the grand plan- you are able celebrate your small successes of completing all 4 or 5 of your daily rituals in that given day. And after a year of doing that- imagine where you’ll be.
Journaling is also a great tool for breaking the habit of being yourself and gaining a greater degree of self awareness. If you log everything you do in a week (and by this I mean down to the very minute), you can see where you are spending your time. You’d be surprised how much of your time is spent in dead end activities and unnecessary endeavors that aren’t progressing you toward your ultimate vision. I know for me I haven’t turned on the tv in the past 9 months and the reward has been incredible. To take this one step further- log all your emotional states you live in during that given week. Really see where you live emotionally. This is a great indicator of how effective you are in living your life. Because our quality of life is directly determined by the quality of emotions we experience on a minute to minute and day to day basis. If you’re not spending the vast majority of your time in emotional states that empower you and move you toward your ultimate destiny then you have to make a massive change in your life (which I’ve probably detailed in past posts or will detail in the future).
So what you should you be writing in your journal?
1. Everyday outline your daily practices (musts) and other clerical and odd job tasks you need to complete for that day. Get into the habit of checking off every item from that list throughout the day when you complete it. This builds serious psychological muscle. When you do this you are teaching your brain- I GET SHIT DONE! and it also massively shifts your identity from a procrastinator to someone who takes massive action. You can list these practices the night before.
2. Finish each day with a set period of time 15-30 minutes of journaling. In this time I like to reflect on the day and answer specific questions. Here is a list of questions that are really good to not only create some closure for your day but also really highlight some key emotional states and the progress you have made (to shut up your ego who is always looking for bigger/better/more):
1.What have I given today? How have I been loving today?
2. What bad habit did I break today? How did I break the habit of being myself today?
3. How am I better? What did I do today that improved myself?
4. How can I improve in the future? Where did I not be my best self?
5. Were my intentions and actions congruent and just today? Am I living consistent with the man I want to become?
6. What did I learn today? (hopefully this is an extensive answer) What do I want to learn/study tomorrow?
7. Who did I touch today?
8. What is the life I want and demand of myself? How did I work toward that today? How did I live that life today?
9. What emotions did I live in today? What emotions must I live in tomorrow?
10. What fear did I face today and stand up to?
11. What did I do today to contribute to my happiness?
12. What detracted from my happiness today?
13. What problems did I solve today? How was I resourceful?
14. What do I want/need to work on in the future? tomorrow?
15. What was funny about today? What made me laugh today?
16. What am I truly grateful for in my life?
17. What is the one little thing that if I change/do tomorrow could transform the quality of my life and redirect me in a completely new direction?
3. Track your long term progress. Reflect back often and see the incredible progress you made over the past year or the last 6 months- really look at how far you’ve come. So many times we only focus on how far away we are from where we want to be and forget about how far we’ve come. This is a recipe for disaster because you are letting your ego win and training your brain to always be unsatisfied- so that if someday you ultimately do achieve that goal- you will be unfulfilled, looking on toward the next goal and likely ask yourself the question “Is this all there is?” This gets back to the whole gratitude piece, but if you are constantly focused on not being cool with where you are in the process, and needing results- you will never actually get the results. I know this sounds weird, but in order to get to where you want to go, you must be comfortable with where you currently are first.