“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” —J.M. Barrie
You know exactly what you want in life. But you can’t seem to get there. You have all these resolves:
I’m going to get healthy.
I’m going to write that book.
I’m going to be more present with my loved ones.
I’m going to start that business.
I’m going to learn another language.
I’m going to be more patient and happy.
I’m going to get out of debt.
I’m going to be more organized.
I’m going to be a better friend.
I’m going to overcome bad habits.
But the problem is sticking to these goals is really hard. And it gets harder every day. Some days, it seems more realistic to just give up entirely. The whole taking one step forward and one or two steps backward pattern is getting old.
For a long time, you’ve been telling yourself, Today is the day!—only to fall into old ways before the day, or if you’re lucky, the week, is spent.
When there’s a gap between who you are and who you intend to be, you are incongruent and unhappy. You’re torn, mentally exhausted and regretful. You always slightly feel like a fraud to yourself, and probably to those around you.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.” —Gandhi
If you try to tackle everything wrong in your life, you’ll quickly burn out and quit. It’s happened many times before.
Life is busy. You don’t have time to simultaneously focus on a thousand different areas of your life. That’s exhausting and, frankly, not helpful.
More effective than microscopically analyzing your sabotaging behaviors is nailing down a “keystone” habit, which tightly locks all your other habits in place. Without the keystone, everything falls apart.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes keystone habits as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”
A person might start exercising once per week, and unknowingly begins eating better and being more productive at work. She begins smoking less and showing more patience with colleagues and loved ones. She uses her credit card less, feels less stressed and has increased motivation toward her goals. The ingrained patterns in her brain reform, and eventually, she becomes an entirely different person. All because she started exercising once per week.
You acquire one of these habits and everything in your life can change. Keystone habits spark a chain reaction of other good habits and can rapidly alter every aspect of your life.
Journaling daily is the most potent and powerful keystone habit you can acquire. When done correctly, you will show up better in every area of your life. Every area! Without question, journaling has by far been the No. 1 factor to everything I’ve done well in my life.
The problem is, most people have tried and failed at journaling several times. It’s something you know you should do, but can never seem to pin down.
After you read this post, you’ll never want to miss another day of journaling again.
Related: Why You Should Keep a Journal
1. Journaling optimizes your creative potential: The 10-minute routine.
“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” —Thomas Edison
10 minutes before going to sleep:
It’s common practice for many of the world’s most successful people to intentionally direct the workings of their subconscious mind while they’re sleeping.
Take a few moments before you go to bed to meditate on and write down the things you’re trying to accomplish.
Ask yourself loads of questions related to that thing. In Edison’s words, make some “requests.” Write those questions and thoughts down on paper. The more specific the questions, the clearer your answers will be.
While you’re sleeping, your subconscious mind will get to work on those things.
10 minutes after waking up:
Research confirms the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is most active and readily creative immediately following sleep. Your subconscious mind has been loosely mind-wandering while you slept, making contextual and temporal connections. Creativity, after all, is making connections between different parts of the brain.
In a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, Josh Waitzkin, former chess prodigy and tai chi world champion, explains his morning routine to tap into the subconscious breakthroughs and connections experienced while he was sleeping.
Unlike 80 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 44 who check their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up, Waitzkin goes to a quiet place, does some meditation and grabs his journal.
In his journal, he thought-dumps for several minutes. Thus, rather than focusing on input like most people who check their notifications, Waitzkin’s focus is on output. This is how he taps into his higher realms of clarity, learning and creativity—what he calls, “crystallized intelligence.”
If you’re not an experienced journal writer, the idea of thought-dumping might be hard to implement. In my experience, it’s good to loosely direct your thought-dumping toward your goals.
Consider the requests you made of your subconscious just before going to bed. You asked yourself loads of questions. You thought about and wrote down the things you’re trying to accomplish.
Now first thing in the morning, when your creative brain is most attuned after its subconscious workout, start writing down whatever comes to mind about those things.
I often get ideas for articles I’m going to write while doing these thought-dumps. I get ideas about how I can be a better husband and father to my three foster children. I get clarity about the goals I believe I should be pursuing. I get insight about people I need to connect with, or how I can improve my current relationships.
To be sure, you’ll need to practice this skill. It might take several attempts before you become proficient. But with consistency, you can become fluent and automatic at achieving creative and intuitive bursts.
2. Journaling accelerates your ability to manifest your goals.
As part of your morning creative burst, use your journal to review and hone your daily to-do list. Review and hone your life vision and big-picture goals.
As you read and rewrite your goals daily, they’ll become forged into your subconscious mind. Eventually, your dreams and vision will consume your inner world and quickly become your physical reality.
3. Journaling creates a springboard for daily recovery.
People struggle drastically to detach from work. More now than ever, we fail to live presently. Our loved ones are lucky to experience a small percentage of our attention while they’re with us.
But utilizing your journal can curb this mismanagement. At the end of your workday, reopen your journal and review your to-do list from that day. If your morning journal session was excellent, you’ll have likely gotten everything done you intended to do. Private victories always precede public victories.
Journal sessions are your post-work reflection time. Account to yourself what you got done that day and what needs to be moved to tomorrow. Write the things you learned and experienced.
Lastly, direct your subconscious by writing about things you want to focus on tomorrow. As you put work behind you for the evening, your subconscious will be preparing a feast for you to consume during your next morning’s creative and planning session.
This end-of-day journal session doesn’t need to be as long as the morning session. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, recommends writing far less than you want to—only a few sentences or paragraphs at most. This will help you avoid burnout.
A primary objective of this session is to mentally turn off work mode. Just as in physical training, you need to rest and recover between workdays to get stronger.
Use this session to completely unplug and detach from work. This is your time to recover and be present with your loved ones—because there is more to life than work. The higher quality your recovery, the more potent and powerful your creative sessions will be.
4. Journaling generates clarity and congruence.
This keystone habit has so much power. By journaling in the morning and evening, you’ll quickly see what is incongruent in your life.
You’ll clearly see what needs to be removed and what should be included in your life. Journaling is a beautiful and powerful facilitator of self-discovery. My own journaling is how I’ve come to form my sense of identity and path in life.
Not only will you have more clarity about your path in life, but journaling improves your ability to make small and large decisions along the way.
On the pages of your journal will be the future world you are creating for yourself. You are the author of your life’s story. You deserve to be happy. You have the power to create whatever life you want. As the designer of your world, get as detailed as you desire.
5. Journaling clears your emotions.
- Reducing scatter in your life
- Increased focus
- Greater stability
- Deeper level of learning, order, action and release
- Holding thoughts still so they can be changed and integrated
- Releasing pent-up thoughts and emotions
- Bridging inner thinking with outer events
- Detaching and letting go of the past
- Allowing you to re-experience the past with today’s adult mind
When you are in an intensely emotional mood, journaling can help you more fully experience and understand those emotions.
After you’ve vented on the pages of your journal, you’ll quickly find a release. Objectivity will return and you’ll be able to move forward.
Without a journal, intense emotional experiences can be crippling for hours, days and even years. But an honest and inspired journal session can be the best form of therapy—quickly returning you better and smarter than you were before.
6. Journaling ingrains your learning.
Humans are bad at retaining information. We forget most of what we read and hear. However, when you write down the things you’ve learned, you retain them far better. Even if you never reread what you’ve written, the simple act of writing something down increases brain development and memory.
Neurologically, when you listen to something, a different part of your brain is engaged than when you write it down. Memory recorded by listening does not discriminate important from unimportant information. Writing creates spatial regions between important and unimportant pieces of information, which allows your memory to target and engrain the important stuff you want to remember.
Furthermore, the act of writing allows your subconscious mind to work out problems in unique ways, intensifying the learning process. You’ll be able to work out problems and get insight while you ponder and write about the things you’re learning.
Even if you start a journal session in a bad mood, the insight writing brings has a subtle way of shifting your mind toward gratitude.
When you start writing what you’re grateful for, new chambers of thought open in the palace of your mind. You’ll often need to put your pen down and take a few breaths. You’ll be captivated not only by the amazing things in your life, but by the awe and brilliance of life in general.
As part of your morning and post-work journaling sessions, be sure to include some gratitude in your writing. It will change your life orientation from scarcity to abundance. The world will increasingly “become your oyster.”
Gratitude journaling is a scientifically proven way to overcome several psychological challenges. The benefits are seemingly endless. Here are just a few:
- Gratitude makes you happier.
- Gratitude makes other people like you.
- Gratitude makes you healthier.
- Gratitude boosts your career.
- Gratitude strengthens your emotions.
- Gratitude develops your personality.
- Gratitude makes you more optimistic.
- Gratitude reduces materialism.
- Gratitude increases spirituality.
- Gratitude makes you less self-centered.
- Gratitude increases your self-esteem.
- Gratitude improves your sleep.
- Gratitude keeps you away from the doctor by strengthening physiological functioning.
- Gratitude lets you live longer.
- Gratitude increases your energy levels.
- Gratitude makes you more likely to exercise.
- Gratitude helps you bounce back from challenges.
- Gratitude makes you feel good.
- Gratitude makes your memories happier (think of Pixar’s Inside Out).
- Gratitude reduces feelings of envy.
- Gratitude helps you relax.
- Gratitude makes you friendlier.
- Gratitude helps your marriage.
- Gratitude makes you look good.
- Gratitude deepens your friendships.
- Gratitude makes you a more effective manager.
- Gratitude helps you network.
- Gratitude increases your goal achievement.
- Gratitude improves your decision making.
- Gratitude increases your productivity.
8. Journaling unfolds the writer in you.
I became a writer through journaling. While I was on a mission-trip, I wrote in my journal for one to two hours per day. I got lost in flow and fell in love with the writing process.
If you want to become a writer one day, start by journaling. Journaling can help you:
- Develop strong writing habits.
- Help you discover your voice.
- Clear your mind and crystalizes your ideas.
- Get closer to the 10,000 hours Malcom Gladwell says are required to become world-class at what you do.
- Produce gems you could use in your other writing.
9. Journaling records your life history.
I started journaling in 2008 after reading an article about the importance of journal writing. In the article, the author described how much journaling had changed her life. She said after all these years, she now has 38 recorded volumes of personal and family history.
After finishing that article, I have never stopped writing in my journal. In my family room on a bookshelf are 20-plus journals filled with my thoughts and experiences. I’m certain they will be cherished by my ancestors as I’ve cherished the writing of my loved ones who have passed on.
Other benefits of journaling include…
10. Journaling heals relationships.
11. Journaling heals the past.
12. Journaling dignifies all events.
13. Journaling is honest, trusting, nonjudgmental.
15. Journaling balances and harmonizes.
16. Journaling recalls and reconstructs past events.
17. Journaling acts as your own counselor.
18. Journaling integrates peaks and valleys in life.
19. Journaling soothes troubled memories.
21. Journaling reveals and tracks patterns and cycles.
22. Journaling improves self-trust.
23. Journaling directs intention and discernment.
24. Journaling improves sensitivity.
25. Journaling interprets your symbols and dreams.
26. Journaling offers new perspectives.
27. Journaling brings things together.
Strategies to Enhance the Experience:
- Pray for inspiration before you begin.
- If prayer is not your thing, meditate for 5 to 10 minutes to heighten your mental state.
- Listen to music (I listen to either classical or dubstep depending on the output I’m trying to get).
- Write about the people in your life. You’ll get breakthroughs about how to improve those relationships.
- Write with confidence and power; use this to strengthen your resolves.
- Write Today is going to be the best day of my life. Read that over and over until you begin to believe it.
- If you can’t think of what to write, try writing about minute details of your day or recent history or start with gratitude.
- There are no rules.
- Figure out the system that works for you; it takes time.
I dare say that journaling is one of the most important things to do in your life. If done effectively, it will change everything in your life for the better.
You’ll become the person you want to be.
You’ll design the life you want to live.
Your relationships will be healthier and happier.
You’ll be more productive and powerful.
This post originally appeared on BenjaminHardy.com.