The Simple Habit That Will Change Your Life
“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 all 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 growth, your reaction is going to be the same.
But 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 being meditation, exercise, and healthy diet) that I have implemented in my daily routine that has changed my life.
For me, the purpose of journaling 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; not a hack that will generate wealth and success simply by writing about it.
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
- I’ve worked through massive life-changing decisions (getting married, leaving a job, starting a business, etc.)
- I’ve discovered trends in my thinking that has lead 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 sounds so simple that you initially believe that it will not work for you.
But what I have learned from the greatest teachers is that it is often the simplest things that have the biggest impact on your life.
Journal to Build Mental Resilience
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 368 days 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 my anxiety
- 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 the 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 sweep away anxiety.
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 they are not so bad, and that helps to ground me.
3. It silences my biggest critic
The voice inside my head.
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 and stop them before they could impact my day.
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 Resilience 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 Resilience Journal. It is a hybrid of multiple journal systems that I found most useful for building mental resilience and decreasing anxiety.
The objective of Resilience 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.
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.
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.
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 everyday. Start small and pick one. Continue doing this every day. You will begin to build confidence in your ability to control you 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)
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.
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:
- Focus on doing it for one day
- Lay out your tools the night before
- Wake up 10 minutes earlier than usual
- Get up and write one sentence. Do not worry about the content. Write whatever comes to your mind
- Then, commit to doing the same thing tomorrow.
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