The Habit: Week-4 (Keep a Journal)

This week’s challenge is to journal for at least 10-minutes every day. This one habit can alter the trajectory of your life. Keeping a journal has numerous benefits. Don’t make the common mistake of thinking a journal is a diary. It isn’t. The primary purpose of a diary is to record your feelings, while the primary purpose of a journal is to register your goals and thoughts so you can make better decisions. Keeping a journal allows you to:

  1. Reconnect with your goals
  2. Improve your attitude
  3. Detect your values
  4. Capture and organize great ideas
  5. Improve your problem solving
  6. Become more creative
  7. Learn to communicate better
  8. Cathartic Release

Jim Rohn produced a fantastic audio program explaining why and how to keep a journal. He was a master communicator, who mentored many hugely successful individuals. His audio program is well worth your time and money. You can purchase the CD version on his website for approximately $15, and the MP3 version for $9.95. He also produced an excellent, high-quality journal you can purchase for $29 separately. If you buy the Journal and audio CD program together you’ll save $5. These links are provided purely for your convenience, I don’t receive any compensation.

It is essential to select a journal that you will enjoy using and one that fits your lifestyle. Your journal needs to be able to go where you go, so you can capture great ideas as they come to you. You want to pick a journal you will enjoy holding in your hand and fits your individual preferences. For example, I like lined journals, but many people like unlined journals because it allows them to be more creative and lends itself to brainstorming. I prefer to use a separate sketchpad for brainstorming. A great place to shop for a journal is at your local Barnes and Nobel; that is where I purchased my current journal.

I read and listen to a lot of books, so I usually have plenty of material I want to capture in my journal, but if you struggle with writers’ block, you might choose to purchase the 5-Minute Journal, which provides daily writing prompts. Darren Hardy, one of the men Jim Rohn mentored, publisher and editor of Success magazine, produced a journal and accompanying audio program, Living Your Best Year Ever. The audio program echoes a lot of the advice he gives in his fantastic book, The Compound Effect.

I recommend you purchase a high-quality journal. This journal is going to be a repository of great ideas. You wouldn’t put precious gems in a cigar box, so why would you collect your best thoughts in a cheap notebook. People asked Jim why he spent so much for a book filled with blank pages. He told them because he intended to fill it up with valuable information. Your journals will become an important part of your library. Instead of re-reading one of your favorite books, you can re-read the highlights you wrote in your journal. Capture great ideas and quotes as you hear them. Even when you wait just a few hours, some of the details will escape you. Don’t let good ideas get away from you.

“The palest ink is better than the best memory.” – Chinese Proverb

Relentlessly capture great ideas and quotes in your journal as you hear them. Writing them down and re-reading them later will help you etch them into your mind and make their application in your life more natural. A journal is for the serious individual that doesn’t want to just wander through life. It is for the person that wants to chart their own course through life and blaze a trail for others to follow.

Your journal will also be part of your legacy. Just as old photographs can help tell the story of your life, so too can your journal. It can help your children and grandchildren understand your thoughts and struggles. Memories fade in our mind, but what is written is preserved in time. Let other people try to remember. Let other people wonder what happened to their dreams and aspirations. Not you. Your journal will help you from being swept up in the current of daily obligations and distractions, that rob people’s attention and steal away their dreams one day at a time.

The most important reason to maintain a journal is to reconnect with your goals. It is a great idea to set aside the first few pages of your journal for your goals. Don’t just write down your goals, ensure you write down why you want to achieve them. You might want to lose 15 pounds in the next 6-months, but that isn’t going to motivate you. Unleash the power of why. Why do you want to lose the weight? What outcome do you want to achieve? If your why isn’t big enough, your excuses will be. When you have a big enough why, you’ll jump out of bed and get after it. Your why will give you the push you need. Your why will get you to the gym. Your why will cause you to log your food relentlessly.

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Write your goals down and re-read them every day. Reconnecting with your goals every day is what gives them power. It will help direct your daily actions. As you read your goals, ask yourself, what am I going to do today to inch myself toward my goal. Take at least one step each day toward your goals. Avoid having too many significant goals at any given time. More than two will dilute your efforts too much. The other reason to review your goals daily has to do with your reticulating activation system (RAS).

Our minds are designed to ignore most of what we see and hear. It does this to avoid sensory overload. Our RAS filters out the nonessential from the essential. When you reconnect with your goals each day, you are programming your RAS to look for things in your environment that will help you achieve your goals. It is the reason why you suddenly notice how many people are driving a vehicle you are considering for purchase. Those cars were always there in your environment, but it wasn’t until you told your RAS that they were important that they were brought to your attention. The same is true of your goals. When you have a goal firmly set in your mind, you will suddenly see opportunities or tools in your environment that would have otherwise been filtered out and ignored.

After you have written your goals, you might want to fill the next few pages with a list of all the things you are thankful for in your life. So often we focus on what we are lacking; we forget to be grateful for what we already have. A great way to reconnect with the best part of ourselves and improve our happiness is to take a few moments each day to be grateful. Zig Ziglar told the story of a woman who had a case of “stinking thinking.” He was able to transform her life from one of misery to one of joy, just by having her reconnect with everything she loved about her job each day, video link. If you want to improve your attitude about learning, working hard, exercising, or eating better you could create a list of reasons why you love to do it and review it each day.

I can practically hear your inner skeptic saying that making a list and reading it each day isn’t going to improve your attitude. That is what she thought as well, but it did. It changed her attitude, and it turned her life around. Anyone can be a skeptic. It is so easy to do. It doesn’t require any effort. There is nothing to be gained by being a skeptic. Good habits like working hard, reading, and studying do not produce immediate pleasure, but they do create lasting happiness. You have to overcome your primitive programming that actively seeks instant gratification. You have to connect the positive behavior with the long-term benefits that it provides. Making a list and re-reading it helps you make the transition.

Decisions need to be made with the conscious mind, not the primitive brain which is driven by the most basic desires. When your primitive brain is guiding your actions, you will only do what provides immediate pleasure or comfort. A dog can only be a dog because animals are controlled by their primitive brain, but you can become whatever you want to become. We aren’t human beings, we are human becomings. We become what we repeatedly do. You can become an expert in your field because you can adopt the habit of learning a little each day. Every expert was once a novice.

Begin each morning reconnecting with your goals and what you are grateful for is an excellent way to begin each morning. I do this while I drink my morning coffee, then I read a few pages of the notes I have taken. I capture great ideas, mantras, and quotes on a whole host of topics. Capturing great ideas is important, but they must be organized if they are going to serve you well. You need to be able to retrieve the ideas when you need them. You don’t want to waste time searching through your journal for the information when you need it. You don’t want your journal to become a junk drawer of great ideas. I created an index on an excel spreadsheet. I keep a hard copy of it inside my journal. I wanted to be able to periodically update the index and keep it sorted in alphabetical order. When my journal is almost full, I will transfer the index to the last few pages of the journal. Besides recording information and ideas, your journal can help you overcome challenges.

When we write our trials down on a piece of paper, it helps us to look at them dispassionately. Often our ability to analyze a situation is clouded by our emotions. When we transfer the facts of the situation onto paper it helps us put things in proper perspective. Writing down the facts and events helps to create the necessary separation we need. We can more easily analyze the problem and our role in it. The key to solving a problem always resides with us. We cannot hope the other person will change. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.

Often we can see what other people need to do to resolve their situation, but we cannot do this for ourselves. It is because we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intent. When you write down events as facts, using paper and pen, you can become the observer you need to be to solve your own problems. The next time you are faced with a challenge, write down the facts and events surrounding it. Write them down as if they happened to someone else. Then write down a list of ideas and actions that might remedy the situation. Last, write down the results you achieved.

If the action worked, you might use it again in the future. Recording these small wins can also be a powerful source of motivation. Small wins are one of the most potent sources of motivation. These small wins make us feel great about ourselves, which stimulates the release of dopamine. When our dopamine system is activated, we are more positive, excited and eager to go after goals. If your actions didn’t produce the desired result, you could avoid making the same error in the future. Mistakes are a part of life, but the worst mistakes are the ones repeated. There is power in putting ideas down on pad and paper.

A journal is a great place for brainstorming. If you do a lot of creative work, you might elect to purchase an unlined journal or sketch pad. It is much easier to organize our thoughts using a piece of paper. I used a page of my sketch pad to help me organize my thoughts around keeping a journal. Brainstorming is a powerful tool. Using your journal for brainstorming can improve your creativity. You could brainstorm on a blank piece of paper, but the advantage of doing it in your journal is that you create a record. When you uncover more information on the topic, you can add to your existing document. When you capture brainstorming sessions on random pieces of paper, the ideas are going to get lost or misplaced, instead of filed away for future reference.

It is often said that the best way to improve your writing is by writing. Keeping a journal will make you a better writer. As you learn how to organize your ideas and capture them in your journal, your writing will naturally improve. You develop skills through repetition and effort. We are all capable of getting better. While I am not J.K. Rowling, my writing has gotten much better through journaling. I am an engineer by profession. Engineers are not renowned as wordsmiths. All of us can benefit from becoming better writers. In addition to all of the other benefits I have already described, journaling will help you become a better communicator.

The last benefit we will touch on is the therapeutic benefits of capturing our thoughts and feelings on paper. Journaling provides a cathartic release. Journaling helps you to better deal with your emotions by getting them out of your head and on to paper. Often feelings can eat away at us. Putting them on paper gives us some objectivity and perspective. It allows us to control our emotions instead of letting them control us. It puts us back in the driver’s seat. A study by the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment found that 15–20 minutes of journaling, performed on three to five occasions, was enough to help the study participants deal with traumatic events in their lives.[i]

Keeping a journal is one of the keystone habits for living a better life. Maintaining a journal is a sign that you are serious about achieving your goals and becoming the person, you need to be, to accomplish the things you want in life. As little as 10 minutes each morning can radically improve your life. Of course, reviewing more often is even better. Reviewing your journal as part of your bedtime routine is a fantastic idea. Your subconscious will be set to work, helping you to achieve your goals that much quicker.

Life is full of distractions. If you aren’t careful, you’ll go through your life never getting to the things that matter most to you. Keeping a journal is the best way of avoiding this pitfall. It will help you stay connected to your goals and values like nothing else will. When you keep a journal, you become the author and architect of your own life. Without a journal, it is easy to get distracted and never pursue your goals. Life has special meaning for people that are pursuing their dreams. Unfortunately, most people are living unfulfilled lives, because they are too busy making a living, instead of making a life. Don’t let that be you. Keep a journal. Stay connected to your goals. It is your best defense from distraction. Don’t let distractions rob you of your dreams.

Your goals affect everything. They affect your attitude, they affect your smile, they affect your handshake, they affect when you get up, they affect your energy, they affect every decision you make. The awful truth is that most people don’t have written goals. Most people don’t even have goals at all, or their goals have no emotional intensity. For example, if your goal is to simply get out of debt, that isn’t going to inspire you to get up early or work late. Don’t neglect your goals. For people without goals, life is a chore. These are the people that say thank God, it’s Friday. Probably the same people that reach the end of their life only to say, thank God, it’s over. A lot of people don’t have goals, I suggest you don’t let that be you. Everyone hopes things will get better, unsuccessful people hope, that should tell you something. Don’t hope. Set and achieve goals. Your journal is the best place to record those goals and all of the ideas that will help you achieve them.

“Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.” — John Wooden

Until next week, good luck, best wishes and best health!

Change your habits, change your life!

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[i] Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment Aug 2005, 11 (5) 338-346; DOI: 10.1192/apt.11.5.338.


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