Around 18 months ago I started journaling, something I’d often thought about but never fully committed to. My strange love affair with stationery meant I’d collected a stack of journals over the years but struggled to put pen to paper. Each New Year I’d make it my resolution to keep my journal only to find my musings drifting within a week or two.
Yet life was super busy, my job was becoming increasingly complex with quicker response times, changing priorities and unfamiliar situations. As a deep thinker my brain was becoming overwhelmed with thoughts and ideas that I didn’t have the time to focus on.
This is when my coach and I discussed the idea of journaling to support my professional growth and self-care. Journaling daily has made a significant difference to my life and is, without question, one of the best tools I have ever used to achieve calm and focus.
Journaling provides clarity, as there is strong evidence that replaying events in your brain is essential to learning
The many benefits of journaling to reduce stress, boost your mood and keep your brain active have been widely documented. Most of us tend to live our lives on autopilot, achieving the goals and agendas of others, yet a key part of our own growth is the ability to choose and control our own destiny. Journaling provides clarity, as there is strong evidence that replaying events in your brain is essential to learning.
So whilst I knew that journaling was good for me, I kept getting blocked. So how did I get started, particularly when I’d struggled for so long and most importantly how have I kept it going all this time?
The key was to create a new habit. A common mistake is to rely on willpower or think you’ve got to instantly write like a professional author with perfect handwriting, punctuation and grammar.
The secret, inspired by habit experts BJ Fogg and Charles Duhigg, is to start small and attach the action to some other habit you already have. In his book ‘The Power of Habit’, Charles Duhigg describes keystone habits as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives”.
Ditch the guilt of worrying about making a mistake or trying to sound eloquent. It doesn’t matter, as journaling is just for you
First of all it needs to suit you and your lifestyle. Many people prefer to journal in the evening but for me it made more sense in the morning. I prefer when all is peaceful before everyone wakes up, which also also then sets me up for the day. Once I’m dressed and have made a cup of tea I sit down and write for around 10 minutes, documenting whatever is in my head.
It’s important to not get hung up about what you are going to write. If you write about what you had for dinner the night before or what the weather’s like, that’s ok.
Ditch the guilt of worrying about making a mistake or trying to sound eloquent. It doesn’t matter, as journaling is just for you.
In the book, ‘The Artist’s Way’, Julia Cameron uses a technique called the Morning Pages where she writes 3 pages of whatever is in her mind. I didn’t want to pressure myself with that commitment – not to start with anyway – it was important to let it flow so some days I write 2 or 3 pages and other days only a paragraph.
Over time my thoughts and ideas have got deeper and I let my thoughts go where they need to. What has been particularly interesting during these last few months and the experience of COVID-19 is being able to express my thoughts and emotions. My journal entries provide a record of what has happened but also how I’m reacting emotionally.
Often I find if I start off feeling emotional. This changes as I write because I begin to rationalize my thoughts and put things into perspective. It also allows me to consider my focus for the day, what’s important and what isn’t. We can’t avoid the current uncertainty and pace of change but we can control how we react to it.
…this has to be my top development tool and I recommend everyone tries it to see the benefits for themselves
I will often browse journal entries from the past to see how I’ve progressed and it’s interesting how the things I worried about a year ago are not so important now, just as I am sure most of the worries today may not be so significant in another twelve months (although in the current circumstances this may be more of a challenge!).
In all of the personal growth across my career, all the more striking as I am a learning and development professional, this has to be my top development tool and I recommend everyone tries it to see the benefits for themselves.
My best advice is to just write, don’t censor it and see where it takes you.
The philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “all of humanity’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. Learning to find an effective way to structure our thinking is critical and the best way to do that, in my opinion, is keeping a journal.