Journaling is one of my favorite practices to support growth and change. It’s also one that can sometimes feel strangely intimidating. Just the word journaling can conjure images of teenage girls, pink notebooks and entries that start, “Dear Diary….”
If these images haunt your ideas of what it means to journal, you might be relieved to know that some of the most successful people in history – including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Winston Churchill – kept regular journals. Journaling isn’t just for teenagers – it’s a power practice used by leaders from all walks of life.
Even so, getting started with journaling can feel daunting. The idea of staring at a blank piece of paper day after day can fill even the bravest among us with jitters. But, with a few quick tips, you may just find that journaling becomes an integral part of your routine.
Decide Why You Want to Journal
Not all journals are created equal. It is important to start by understanding the goal behind your journaling efforts. Perhaps you are going through a special experience such as a pregnancy or a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Now, you want to record your thoughts, feelings, and experiences so that you (and possibly others) can recall them later. Maybe you’re experiencing a period where you feel confused and overwhelmed. You want to use your journal to explore your thoughts, emotions, and decisions in a more deliberate way. These tend to be the more common purposes we think of when considering journaling – recording important events and self-exploration.
But, for those of you interested in professional growth and development, journals can fulfill another key purpose. They offer us the ability to track and measure our own results as we make small changes or try new behaviors. That’s why I often encourage clients to keep track of their development progress using a journal.
For example, let’s say you are interested in improving your ability to give consistent and constructive feedback to your team. You might want to reflect at the close of each day on what opportunities you had to offer feedback. Did you take advantage of those opportunities or did you avoid them, and why. You might also want to track how you provided feedback and your perception of how that feedback was received. In this way, your leadership development process becomes measurable and tangible. You are able to look back and see the growth you are experiencing. This can help fuel your motivation for further development.
Decide on a Few Key Questions to Prompt Your Journaling
Deciding on the goal for your journal can do a little to relieve blank page syndrome. However, I advise clients to go one step further and decide on a few key questions before they start journaling. My own experience and that of my clients has shown that having these questions in mind can make all the difference in the effectiveness of journaling. They keep a journal from becoming a “Dear Diary” dump of what happened in your day and push you to probe deeper into what is really driving your behavior.
Your questions should be closely tied to your reason for journaling, but do not need to be perfect before you get started. Pick a few and get started. As you work with this practice, some questions will come to mind you hadn’t thought of before. Some will become less important than you originally thought, and others will come into better focus. More than anything, a journal is a living, changing tool that you can adapt as you go.
Keep It Short and Simple
Like many other things in our lives, journaling fails most often when we try to make it too involved or complicated right out of the gate. Start small – just one or two key questions that you reflect on regularly. Writing in your journal should not take thirty minutes every day. Cut it back to five minutes instead. Give yourself permission not to journal daily – there is no real magic in writing every single day if it doesn’t feel achievable to you. Instead, pick a timeframe that feels doable and aligned with your goals.
Consider tying your journaling to other activities such as reviewing your calendar or planning the upcoming week. These are natural windows to reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and offer the chance to make new choices and changes as we move forward.
If you’re serious about making a change in your own skills or behavior, journaling can be an extremely effective tool to support your growth. If you can let go of your current ideas of what journaling is and find a way to adapt it to fit your needs, it just might become one of the most useful parts of your day.