The benefits of journaling are countless. People who journal every day experience better mental health, heightened productivity, lower stress, increased clarity and a greater sense of peace. Strategic journaling leads to substantial happiness and fulfillment — a frame of mind that is worth striving for daily!
As an Executive and Leadership Coach who has worked exclusively with entrepreneurs and professionals for well over a decade, I have used the process of journaling from the very beginning in order to help my clients realize personal and professional transformation and achieve dramatic improvement in their relationships, their career, their health, and their overall well being.
I have outlined 14 of the best journaling strategies below to make your journaling efforts more effective.
1. Dump, Dump then Dump the Dump
Maybe you’ve just gotten into a fight with someone important. Maybe something bad has happened at work. Or maybe you’re just stressed out over a bunch of things. Something is going on in your life and you’re feeling it on an emotional level.
This journaling assignment invites you to write about the event, what happened and how you feel about it.
Dump #1 — Express all of your thoughts and opinions.
Dump #2 — When you think you’re done, keep going.
Get it all out of your system and write even the stuff that you would never, ever share with another soul. Then, when you are completely done, write the following words: “It’s time to turn myself around” and start to think about releasing yourself from the bad, rotten, frustrated, feelings you are having. (Dumping the Dump).
To redirect yourself ask, “What do I want to do about this problem?” or “How do I want to view the world differently from this point forward?” Once you generate some answers to these questions, you’ll feel much clearer, more powerful and more at peace.
2. Ask “Why Not?”
What’s stopping you from achieving a particular goal or living the life you desire? Write down every single reason why you believe that you cannot have what you want. It could be that you don’t think you have enough time, money, energy, experience etc.
Then, write a challenge for every item on your list.
Look at each individual item and ask yourself, “Is that true?” For example, do you really not have the resources necessary to get what you want, or are you simply expending too much time, money and energy on other things? Asking yourself questions like this allows you to identify your limiting beliefs and build the muscle necessary to overcome them.
3. Blue Sky Journaling
Allow yourself to daydream.
If anything were possible, what would you want your life to look like? Dream big and stretch the boundaries that you tend to place on yourself, or eliminate them altogether if possible. Create the wildest, most crazy vision that you possibility can.
When you take the time to visualize yourself in that big, wild, expansive place, you experience a massive mood shift and begin to believe it’s possible to get there. Your dream becomes something that you can actually contemplate instead of being something that is unattainable and/or designed for someone else more capable or deserving.
4. Making Lists
Write down lists of things you want to do, people you want to network with, places you want to visit, characteristics you’d like in a partner, etc.
If you find yourself crunched for time, you can even make a list of things you would like to journal about later on. This is a great way to capture your thoughts and ideas in the moment, and you can refer back to these lists later to help guide you.
5. Gratitude Journaling
There was a time in my life when I was single and feeling down about the whole dating scene. I worked with someone who suggested that I write down a list of 10 things that I was grateful for 10 times a day for a week. That’s 100 things, per day. I thought that was mildly excessive, but I did it anyway.
This exercise changed my fundamental DNA. All of a sudden, I was only focusing on what was good and right in my world. I didn’t have any room left for what was getting me down − I flooded my system with gratitude. As a result, dating (and life) became fun again and led me to a blind date… with my husband!
So, what are you grateful for? Write what you’re grateful for each day, or write every single awesome thing that comes to mind right now.
If you’re stumped, consider this − do you have a place to sleep, clothes to wear and food to eat? Write it down!
6. Pivot Journaling
Pivot journaling is also called Contrast journaling. Whenever you experience a situation you dislike − a bad sales call, a bad date, a bad interaction − leverage the contrast. Instead of thinking “my life sucks,” journal about what you would rather have.
So that situation went south − what do you want now?
Let this negative experience increase your clarity about what you do want and then brainstorm and pivot in that direction.
For example, my first husband didn’t connect very well with my parents and siblings. When our marriage ended, I decided that having a good relationship with my family would be an important trait in my next partner. By focusing on this and journaling about it, I was able to find my current husband − a man who gets along super well with my family!
I learned this technique while doing my MBA. We were given case studies and we were asked to define the core problem that the case presented. This was challenging and we would often misdiagnose the issue. With time and training, we learned to hone in on what was actually the problem — allowing us to offer relevant and impactful solutions.
You see, we often believe that our problems come from external circumstances or other people, but they do not! Our problems really come from how we are thinking about the situation.
Outline a problem you’re experiencing and why it’s a problem. You may need to go through several iterations of asking yourself why it’s a problem before you can identify the core issue. (Hint: the problem usually starts with “I” as in “I feel terrible about this situation because I believe things need to be different from how they currently are.”)
Then, write down all of the potential solutions to this problem. When we look at all these solutions, we can decide which one feels the best and which one is aligned with our values.
8. Developing a Plan
Do you have a great idea?
Journal about it!
What’s the idea? What are the steps involved in bringing the idea to fruition? What do you need to do? Who do you need to talk to? What are the action items? This could be in regards to anything − a business project, a party theme, a move to a new city, a weight loss regimen, etc. This kind of journaling invites you to write out your plan in regards to a goal.
9. Brainstorm Journaling
Brainstorm journaling is about listing all of the possibilities for any subject. What are all the ways you could launch a business? What are all the different business ideas that you have? What are all the places you’d like to visit and why is each of them appealing? You get the idea.
This is essentially a brain dump that answers a specific question.
For example, if my son wanted to open a board game café, it would serve snacks, coffee, craft beer and wine, and would be filled with board games. Right now, he’s in the brainstorming stage. Some questions he could brainstorm would be, “What are all the snacks that this target market would enjoy?” or “What are all the different ways I could market this idea?” This would allow him to think about his business model in a way that is tangible, while opening up his range of options.
I also call this concept Ideal Conversations.
Pick someone, anyone, from your past, present or future. They can be dead or alive, they can be someone famous − just pick someone and script out an ideal conversation with them. Imagine the location, the time, and the context. What do you want to say? What would you like them to say in your ideal world?
Reread your script — is it really ideal? Or do you show up playing small?
Taking the time to really stretch your mind to an ideal place is a powerful exercise that builds critical imagination muscle.
Nothing can happen if you cannot imagine it first.
11. Capturing Important Moments
Did something important or amazing just happen? Perhaps you were offered a fantastic position at a great company. Maybe your fiancé proposed. Or maybe your daughter just won a prestigious award.
Write it down!
Capture these crucial moments, because you’re going to want to reread and relive these moments one day. Trust me.
12. Letter Writing
Pick important people in your life and write a letter to them saying what they mean to you, why they’re important, why you value them and what you love about them. Imagine that you’re on your deathbed and you’re leaving behind your deepest, most intimate and kindest thoughts for this person. This may be a little morose, but it helps to envision the assignment. Don’t hold anything back!
This exercise will immediately make you feel great, and even if you never share this letter with them, writing it actually increases your intimacy with them. It turns your attention to all the amazing characteristics of the key people in your life and leaves you with a wonderful sense of gratitude and appreciation.
13. Ask “What is my Priority Right Now?”
Sometimes we lose our way.
We get distracted.
We get pulled away from our goals, our desires and the things that are the most important to us. We fall off the wagon. Answering this question helps us get back on track.
It redirects our focus to what is most essential to us.
You can ask yourself this question in terms of your physical health, emotional health, relationships, business goals, etc., and with any given timeline. For example, you could ask yourself, “What do I want to do in terms of exercise today? What exercises would I like to do every day? How fit would I like to be in a year from now?” This journaling activity recalibrates us.
14. Evaluating Options
Let’s say you have three potential job opportunities. Evaluate them! What is the appeal of each one of them? What is the downfall of each one of them?
A crucial component to evaluating options is to have criteria against which to measure them, because pros and cons don’t automatically provide guidance.
The criteria I use is called HEAL –
Is it Healthy?
Is it Engaging?
Is it Aligned with my values?
Will it Lead me to achieving my goal(s)?
If your response is not a resounding YES to each of these questions, then something needs to change for it to be a viable option.
Journaling has no boundaries. It has no requirements and it has no rules. This is just a guideline to help point you in the right direction!