As an adult, the first time I sat down to write in a journal was a strange and disorienting experience.
While I knew I was writing it just for me, I still felt judged, like my maker was watching. I felt on the spot, vulnerable, incompetent. What if I got it wrong?
Fortunately, it doesn’t actually matter.
You don’t get graded, analysed, judged, rejected or even accepted based on what you write in your journal.
You can’t get it wrong.
So that’s the first lesson. You can write whatever you like.
You could record your dreams from last night, from last week, or from childhood. You could write down your dreams for the future.
You can write about literally whatever is in your head — that’s the general idea.
Still, I had no idea where to begin. I remember the sheer scale of the blank page being utterly overwhelming. For someone who thinks they thrive being unshackled and free, all that space made me desire formality, structure. A style guide would’ve been handy.
These days I use a bullet journal for productivity, but at the very beginning — before I had heard of stream of consciousness writing, my early journals were just simple lists, tasks, action plans, and progress trackers.
It was a snapshot of what I was doing, in real time.
As I went on, I stopped recording so much of what I was doing, and began to explore what I was thinking.
Journaling works both ways here — it can be a process to let go of things, and it can be a tool to help you remember them.
My best advice for anyone wanting to let go of things though, is to actually let go of them. The trick to getting unstuck is to not keep wallowing around in the mud, repeating the worries and the doubts — analysing them.
And don’t, whatever you do, go back and look at it. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, or need to them to write your autobiography, write what you need to write, dump what you need to dump, and move forwards.
At some point I flipped the switch on the fear and the self doubt that I was churning over and over in my mind and on the page, and that happened when I started to focus on what was ahead of me instead.
That’s when I began to make progress.
This is the technique of visualisation.
When you spend time crafting and immersing yourself in a vision of the future, you can’t help but move towards it. As Walt Disney always said, “If you can Dream it, you can do it.”
The reason for journaling is that it’s so much more powerful when it’s written — you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.
Turning this into a daily practice is the fast track to achieving it. It helps you moves along the course quicker.
Whatever you focus on — whatever you measure — grows.
This is how I used journaling to change the direction of my life.
I journaled about my 5 year plan. I revisit it often, and because I immerse in it, it’s no longer a far away dream. I’m ahead of schedule for implementing it.
If you’re currently cruising along in one lane, but have the desire to switch but you don’t know how, journaling can help you navigate the way. It helps you clarify and focus to take targeted action. Where focus goes, energy flows.
If you’ve got this far, and you’re still stuck on what to write, here are some powerful journal prompts that I’ve used time and time again to get clear on what want and what I need to do:
- where would you like to be in 5 or 10 years time?
- if money were no object, what would you do?
- what do you love to do?
- what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
- List 30 of your greatest achievements
- List 3 things are you grateful for today
- what do you need to do today? (brain dump exercise)
- what “One thing” is most important? (focus exercise)
- what is your dominant emotion right now? (self awareness exercise)
- what do you need most right now? (self care exercise)
The more detail, the better.
These prompts are designed to help tap you into a higher level of awareness, above the monkey mind, the inner critic and the chronic self doubter, who conspire to stop you doing anything exciting.
Before I started journalling, my monkey mind was in complete control. Through a daily journaling practice, I’ve learned to separate from it, I’ve learned to calm the monkey mind, and I’ve learned how to operate above it — to leverage courage and take action in the face of my fears.
Journaling is such a powerful tool, I wouldn’t be without it now.
If you’re a newbie, or still not sure where to start, I always recommend starting with a gratitude practice.
Just writing down 3 things that you are grateful for in any day, in any moment, is a sure way to flip the switch from fear, hopelessness and negativity over to courage, hope, optimism and positivity.
Then you can use the rest of your journalling practice to sketch out a plan for how you’re going to change the world for the better.
And if you do choose to take note of your current circumstances, here’s a tip to guarantee that your journals have enormous value in future: keep a reference note on the price of things. Milk, bread, eggs, gas, cars, houses.
One day it’ll make a historians day.