Benjamin Foley
May 1, 2017 · 11 min read

“Could bitching and moaning on paper for 5 minutes each day change your life? As crazy as it may seem, I believe the answer is yes.” -Tim Ferriss

Are they crazy? How am I supposed to find the time to write out my thoughts every morning? I am not a writer. How could writing down my anxious ruminations help me overcome anxiety?

That was my initial barrage of fears when I first heard about the power of journaling. And if you are not someone who is already journaling for insight, your reaction may be the same as mine.

For whatever reason, I had this notion that journaling was a form of self-loathing. Or something that only teenaged girls did after a breakup.

However, after reading some great research on the benefits that insight journaling can have on your mind, I wanted to try it for myself.

I am happy to say that I was dead wrong

Over the past 12-months, journaling has been one of the four cornerstone habits. The other habits being meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet, which I am currently switching to a strict plant-based diet as we speak.

(Follow along here as I document my transition from carnivore to plant powered. It’s going to be quite the journey)

All of these pieces of my daily routine have been equally critical to healing my anxiety, finding more clarity in life, and feeling more alive.

However, the purpose of journaling for me is to create a vessel for clarity and resilience. A mode of transportation that takes my thoughts from anxious ruminations to empowered actions.

It is an amazing way to trap your thoughts on paper and give you a heightened view of your internal dialogue. It is not a hack. You can’t speed this process up or create a system that will provide more clarity than another.

If that is your goal, then this type of journaling won’t help you, but if you are struggling to find your purpose or dealing with anxiety and overwhelm, then you are in the right place.

Here are some of the ways it has changed my life:

  • I’ve massively reduced my daily anxiety and overwhelm
  • I’ve figured out the main triggers for my anxious thoughts via the Olivia Benson technique
  • I’ve worked through massive life-changing decisions (getting engaged, leaving a job, starting a business, etc.)
  • I’ve discovered trends in my thinking that have led to critical insights into my business and life
  • It has unhinged a lot of the anchors in my mind and has opened a space for more creativity and growth
  • It has helped me to leave situations and people that were not building me up

Journaling is one of those things that sound so simple that you initially believe that it will not work for you. If you are an anxious person, you know what I mean. The thought that journaling, meditating and switching your diet could transform your life sounds too good to be true because we have been taught that anxiety is a “disorder” that cannot be healed.

Well, I’m here to tell you that that is not true. It is a lie that we are taught in order to keep Big Pharma in business.

Did you know the typical MD only goes through ONE semester of nutrition training during medical school?

How can we learn to heal the root cause by focusing on the branches? We can’t. And journaling is the perfect way to develop insight into the root cause of what is causing your anxiety and stress, and provide you the awareness you need to eliminate it.

What I have learned from the greatest teachers is that it is often the simplest things that have the biggest impact on your life.

Insight Journaling

In an interview for Harvard Business Review, Shawn Achor, a world famous speaker and author of the Happiness Advantage, states that the key to mental resilience is not trying to tough it out, but rather, the key is to unplug and recharge daily.

“Resilience is how you recharge, not how you endure.” -Shawn Achor

Journaling is the best way I have found to build this mental resilience daily. It traps my thoughts on paper and lets me examine them from 10,000 feet. And the compound effect of over a year of consistent journaling has helped me understand myself deeper, decrease my anxiety, and made me a more centered person.

In the year or so since I started journaling, I have only missed the daily routine about 15 times. On every single one of those days, I was more anxious, my mind was foggy, and I just felt off. It may just be the placebo effect, but I doubt it.

4 main reasons journaling has helped me heal my anxiety

  1. It centers me and clears my mind

“Only when you are fully conscious of your thoughts do you have the power to change them” — Barabara Markway, Ph.D

Every morning I wake up with hundreds of ideas floating around in my mind about the things I have to do or the things I forgot to do. To remain sane, I need to channel that energy and get it out of my head. A journal is a perfect vessel.

It acts as a brain dump for all of the loose change that is bouncing around in my monkey brain. Whether my thoughts are small or large, they have the power to impact your entire day if you do not get them out of your mind and onto paper.

2. Detachment from thought

Writing helps you see your worries and anxieties objectively by getting them out of your mind and forcing them onto paper.

Anxiety, anger, fear, vulnerability, procrastination…all these emotions can be put on paper and seen for what they are. Illusory.

By getting these emotions out of my head and looking at them, I realize that the story that they inevitably bring with them is not real. And I’m able to act out of the stance of grounded intention, rather than manic neurosis.

It is vital that you learn to see the difference between thoughts and reality. You are not your thoughts. The story you tell yourself is not real.
Journaling daily will give you this insight.

3. It silences my biggest critic

The voice inside my head.

I’m my worst enemy. Self-sabotage (re self-loathing) has been the bane of my existence for most of my life. The inner critic is brutal, unhelpful and downright mean.

It has never once helped me make a good decision.

When I journal, I’m able to see this and correct my thinking before it takes control of my entire day.

The conversations you have with yourself are the most important to living a life fully alive. Make sure you are in control of those conversations and have the power to calmly tell that voice in your head to shut the f*ck up.

4. It helps me highlight specific triggers causing my overwhelm

For most of my struggle with debilitating anxiety, I had no idea what was causing it. I just believed that I was flawed and there was nothing that I could do to prevent it.

However, once I started journaling, I was able to locate the main triggers causing my stress by repeatedly asking myself to analyze when I was anxious the day before and what caused my to feel that way.

Cultivating a sense of curiosity into your condition is a great way to reframe anxiety as being a guide rather than an enemy.

Take the time to figure out what is causing you to be so stressed out by religiously analyzing the causes.

Yes, you should use a real pen and paper!

If you are anything like me, digital tools and services control your every waking moment. From my electronic key fob to my communication channels to my meditation app, my life is control by things that are meant to optimize my time. Although these tools can be very efficient, when used exclusively, I tend to lose touch with myself.

Writing by computer is more emotionally detached. It helps keep our inner critic alive because it is a more passive exercise than its analog cousin. Its objective is speed and volume, not introspection and clarity.

Think of journaling on the computer as flying in a plane. You get to where you are going faster (certain # of words), but you fail to see the streets, houses, and towns (thoughts, ideas, and creation) in-between.

That is why I find that when I am journaling, I get the most benefit from actually taking the time to write out my thoughts with a pen and paper versus typing them out on the computer.

Sure, I will not be able to write as many words, and it will take longer, but my objective is clarity, not volume. Velocity is the enemy of effective journaling.

Paradoxically, however, you will find more efficiency throughout the day when writing by hand because you took the time to dive deep into your thoughts and discovered more clarity.

Do what works for you

The most important advice to remember when starting out is to find the right journaling system that works for you. There are hundreds of different strategies and journals that all promise the world, but if that system does not function for you, then you will never get the benefits out of it because you will quit it long before the payoff comes.

The system that has worked for me to cultivate mental resilience and decrease my anxiety may not be the right one for you. And that is fine. Be open to experimenting and keeping what works for you and ignoring the rest.

Okay, let’s get started.

The Insight journaling system

When I first started journaling, I used the 5-minute journal. It is a great gateway drug into the world of journaling. It has some great cognitive science nestled into some prompts that are tremendously helpful to starting your day off on a good foot.

However, after a couple of months using the 5-minute journal, I needed something more. I consistently found myself including additional prompts and narratives on the pages, so I went out in search of a new system that would holistically satisfy my journaling itch.

I came across Morning Pages after reading an excellent article by Tim Ferris, but immediately I was put off by the idea that I needed to write three full pages each morning. I had no time and did not want to add another 20–30 minutes on to my morning routine. However, I loved the “stream of consciousness” writing idea, so I decided to adopt that portion and ignore the necessary three pages.

After months of testing, I developed my own journaling system that I call my Insight Journal. It is a hybrid of multiple journal systems that I found most useful for building mental resilience and decreasing anxiety.

The objective of Insight journaling, for me, is threefold:
1. To map out my thought processes and fears to find trends that will help me further alleviate my anxiety.
2. To trap my mind on paper to prevent them from rattling around in my head all day.
3. To develop a daily system that builds mental resilience through repetition and introspection.

The Structure

  1. Three things that I am grateful for

In my opinion, gratitude is the super power we all possess. It can make you happier, less anxious, and lead to greater success in business and life. Developing a sense of compassion and present state awareness of all of the amazing things in your life every single morning will not only ground you, it just may change your life.

2. One daily power affirmation
Although affirmations can tend to sway to the esoteric, I believe in their power to develop a stronger mental resilience. When I talk about writing out affirmations, I mean consciously choosing words that will either help eliminate something from your life or help create something new in your life.

3. One daily fear that I will overcome
To combat anxiety and live above it, you must take action to lean into your fears on a daily basis. I am not suggested you jump out of a plane or quit your job every day, but I guarantee there are hundreds of small concerns that you keep hidden that you could overcome every day. Start small and pick one. Continue doing this every day. You will begin to build confidence in your ability to control your fear and channel it for growth. It will take an enormous amount of your daily anxiety away.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…” — Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love)

4. One daily prompt
My answers to these prompts are brain dumps or stream of consciousness writing that follow no set structure. I do not care about the answers, just that I can write at least 200-word responses.

Examples from my own journal:

What would I do today if I had to reach my 5-year goal in 6-months?

Why do I feel the need to tell everyone I am busy?

Who do I most want to emulate and business and in life? What are there main values?

I wrote out 43 prompts here to get you started.

Take Action

As we discussed above, there is no perfect way to start journaling for growth. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to fail. Do not try to commit to 7 days of journaling.

Start small. Start with a single sentence. Or simply writing out three things you are grateful for.

Here are some practical steps to start the journaling habit:

  1. Focus on doing it for one day
  2. Lay out your tools the night before
  3. Wake up 10 minutes earlier than usual
  4. Get up and write one sentence. Do not worry about the content. Write whatever comes to your mind
  5. Then, commit to doing the same thing tomorrow.

Go Deeper

Are you ready to wake up to the present moment, heal your anxiety, and find more happiness in your life?

If so, sign up for my free 5 Day Mindfulness Email Course. I’ll be sending you an email every day that will help you reduce stress, increase focus, and find more happiness!

If you are ready to take back control of your life and start living above stress and overwhelm…

Sign Up Here!

One last thing…

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Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Benjamin Foley

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Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

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