Learning how to journal is a must-have practice to acquire if you want to enjoy a successfully-managed career. It’s also an excellent way to explore ideas, solve problems, and plan strategies. In times of uncertainty, when it’s hard to know whom to trust or what prescriptions to follow, keeping a journal also develops your inner voice and connects you to your inner knowledge.
When we learn how to journal, we are able to access the state of “flow” — the feeling that we are fully immersed, focused, and connected to our most inspired and productive abilities. It’s a sense of quiet exhilaration.
Studies show that people who experience flow often report feeling more in control, having a clear sense of direction, and being more motivated and less stressed. The more regularly you journal, the more often you can achieve this flow state. It’s a great way to maintain your connection to your highest-level priorities and to your overall career goals and plans.
Knowing how to journal can also serve as a healthy outlet for self-expression, allowing you to explore your creativity and express yourself in a safe and private space. If you are in growth mode or in transition in your career and looking to get a promotion or add to your responsibilities, your journal can be your workshop to figure things out.
Common Challenges to Journaling Regularly
Journaling regularly is challenging, and you may have previously tried and failed to figure out how to journal regularly. Our mind often puts up roadblocks and gives us plenty of reasons not to engage in this practice. Here are some of our most common fears:
#1. “I don’t know what to write about”
This is a common complaint from people who are new to journaling or haven’t journaled for a while. Keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong thing to write about. The objective in this kind of journaling practice is to focus on what’s coming up for you in the present moment and write anything that comes to mind.
You can start by writing about things you did during the day, how you felt, your day-to-day experiences, goals, feelings, or your plans for the future, and write them down. You can also try to assign yourself daily journaling prompts or freeform writing exercises to get your ideas flowing.
#2. I’m not a “words” person
You don’t need to be a writer with an English degree to express yourself. If you’re not a pen-and-paper person, try using different mediums. Consider using the dictation feature on your phone to simply speak your thoughts and capture them into a digital note.
#3. I don’t have the time
Figuring out how to journal doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Even a few minutes of journal writing each day can gradually improve your ability to fit it into your schedule so that you can build a habit out of it.
Set aside a specific time of day to journal, such as first thing in the morning or before bed. You can also try to integrate journaling into your daily routine, carving out a few minutes at the beginning or the end of another standing ritual (e.g. a staff meeting) that you already have on your calendar..
#4. I’m just going to write stupid, superficial stuff
If you are feeling self-conscious about your writing and worry that what you have to say is not important or boring, remember that keeping a journal is something private, just for you. You don’t even need to read what you write! The important part of the process is to experience those thoughts and ideas as they come up. I always reassure clients that it’s fine to make it “meta” and write about how they hate writing in their journal and curse at me for encouraging them to keep the journal in the first place.
Give Yourself Permission
There is no failure in journaling. Everyone’s experience is unique, and it’s okay if journaling doesn’t come naturally to you. Give yourself permission to be imperfect, to be irregular, or to show up in whatever way you show up. Your intention and your willingness to keep at it is what’s most important.
If you are concerned about being judged, remember what I said above: no one has to read your journal. Because the idea is to encourage the flow of thoughts and ideas, it’s not even important for you to read or re-read what you’ve written. Whatever your experience with each journal entry, it’s important to simply file that experience away and move on.
This is the way to develop a journaling practice that is meaningful, supportive, and fulfilling.
Julia Cameron’s Idea of “Morning Pages”
Morning Pages is a process to unblock your creativity that I first discovered through the writer Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way.
Morning Pages approaches how to journal by having you write three pages by hand about literally anything that crosses your mind — a morning raving, as she calls it. She developed this technique to address her own feeling of “writer’s block” that paralyzed her when she sat down to work every day. Writer’s block is something that everyone experiences – not just writers. It is that blankness and lack of energy (even fear) that comes up when we have a big project or deadline we’re working on, and we have no idea where to begin or what to do.
Morning Pages serves as a “brain drain,” says Cameron, “that allows you to release the worries, fears, and distractions standing between you and your day.” The goal is to help you break through writer’s block: distract the conscious mind, so that the unconscious mind can “come out to play.”
So no matter what you have on your agenda to do on any given day, spending some alone time with you and your journal can prime the pump and give you the momentum you need to carry on and take that next step. It can help you:
- Identify your first/next action
- Prioritize the tasks that all seem to be vying for your attention
- Resolve nagging questions that are distracting you or creating doubt
- Reconfirm or recapture your “why” and your sense of purpose around your work.
There’s Nothing Magical About Three Pages
While Cameron’s process encourages you to write three hand-written pages, that can be intimidating. It may not seem like a lot to a professional writer, but for the rest of us, I recommend dialing back on our ambition – while still getting the intended result.
For most people, I recommend starting with a single hand-written page in a medium-sized lined notebook (like the Moleskine Classic 5”x8.25” Notebook). The format is compact and friendlier than a regular letter-sized notebook, especially when you are first learning how to journal.
And if the idea of having a paper notebook feels like too much additional friction in your life, try the dictation approach I mention above. But make sure to capture each entry into a dedicated note-taking app like Apple Notes, Evernote, or OneNote
Overcoming the “I Hate Journaling” Response
Rather than viewing journaling as a chore, try to look at it from a different perspective: reframe it as a self-care practice. Think of it as an opportunity for personal growth, or at the very least, your own sacred venting session.
Consider making a deal with yourself. Start small by making micro-commitments, such as journaling for a finite period — say, 10 minutes at a time, once a day. Or maybe you agree to 3 times per week for two weeks. If you create finite time-based commitments, once you’re complete with that commitment, you’ll be able to evaluate how well you did and renegotiate a new deal to keep going. Maybe you dial it back so that you can fulfill the deal. Maybe you’re ready to increase the commitment to something more challenging.
Turn the process into a game and see if you can keep taking yourself to the next level.
Choose an approach that is challenging enough to push you out of your comfort zone, but not so challenging that you’ll get discouraged and drop out. When you succeed, you will feel proud of yourself and encouraged to continue.
Make It Mind-Numbingly Simple
Here are three ways to make journaling mind-numbingly simple:
- The simplest way: transform journaling into a daily checklist of ten items that you want to think about or do something about. Namely: current issues, projects, networking, and so forth. Spend a few minutes thinking about each item and see what comes to mind. Write down your quick answers or updates. Done? Check it off!
- Simple: Come up with 3–5 questions you want to ask yourself or topics you think would be good prompts for journal entries.
Create a form with the top questions and topics that are current for you in your life and work, allowing enough space for each to fill in the answers. Print out a stack of these forms and place them on your desk, bed table, or any visible spot in your home, so they’re available when inspiration hits, and make you ask yourself: “why not write an entry?” Collect your completed forms in a folder or staple them together and Voila!
- A little less simple: Make each entry in your notebook incredibly brief and easy. It could be as little as one sentence per day for a week just to get into it, then gradually make your entries longer by challenging yourself to write two-three sentences or a paragraph more next time.
Again, turn this into a game. Don’t worry about what you write about. Remember Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages advice: vent about anything that fills your mind that day. For now, it’s all about getting over your aversion to journaling.
After, say, a month of going basic, two things should start to happen:
- You realize that it’s not so hard to build a regular journal practice, and you actually start to maybe even look forward to your journal entry (whatever your cadence) and mark it as complete.
- You realize that there are things you want to write about. Maybe they’re starting to bubble up in your mind as you’re writing. You may not be quite ready to devote a whole entry to any one of them, but they’re starting to manifest themselves and become more obvioius in your awareness.
If you’re feeling that this process is starting to cook, and your feeling more confident about how to journal, take it to the next step. Consider using one of your journaling sessions to really address that idea in depth. Take more time to think through your ideas, and/or use more space if the ideas are flowing. Don’t over-commit if you’re not ready! It’s OK to keep to your Simple strategy for a while and let the process grow organically.
Give It Time!
Like any habit you’re trying to develop, it has to take hold naturally. You can set yourself up for success by going slow and almost teasing yourself into it. Be patient and do not expect immediate results.
A great way to learn how to journal consistently and transform it into a routine you enjoy is to follow the rewarding technique James Clear suggests in his book Atomic Habits. More specifically, Clear recommends using rewards to incentivize yourself to build positive habits.
For example, you can treat yourself with something you enjoy after every time you have journaled for a certain amount of time. This way, you will associate the journaling process with a positive experience, and it will be more likely that you will stick to it.
Reaping the Rewards of Learning How to Journal
Once you get past the hesitation or aversion stage, and you start seeing: a) the value and b) that you can actually do it, you can begin to apply it to work and your career.
Now that you’ve started to bridge the communication gap between your conscious mind and your intuition, ask for answers. You can gain insight into your professional goals and challenges and even identify patterns and habits that may be hindering your life or career progress and come up with strategies to overcome them.
To access that knowledge, set clear intentions for the answers you’re seeking and the problems or opportunities you want to clarify. Be as specific as possible and refine your ideas, intentions, and questions repeatedly if necessary, until you’re clear on what you’re looking for.
The Universe Is Listening
Amazingly, the more you keep at this, you will likely start getting answers. They may come as you’re journaling — or in the shower, or while you’re at the gym, or in a meeting.
Sometimes they may not be what you want to hear. Maybe your intuition has a better handle on what’s best for you. But it’s your choice as to what you do with those answers or whether you act on them. The key is to not be afraid to negotiate with them! Keep the dialog going. Again, this is a process of getting to know yourself on more levels. When you learn how to journal effectively, you’re creating a forum for all the parts of you to come together and learn from one another..
Bottom Line: You Are Amazing on the Inside. Take Advantage of It!
We are multidimensional beings. As we grow older and gain more life experience, those dimensions become more accessible.
Learning how to journal plays a crucial role in this process by bringing to the surface that inner insight that also helps us think more strategically and with greater perspective. This ability is invaluable in today’s fast-paced and competitive world if we want to stand out and find success.
We no longer can compete on skills alone. So, we need that insight as well as the curiosity to navigate the unknown and pursue the questions to that we have no immediate (conscious) answers. Learning how to journal efficiently can be a powerful way to help you in this process and unlock your full potential.
Do You Have 5 Minutes?
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- Write about what comes to mind from reading this article.
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