Why people don’t journal
Journaling is one of the most neglected practices I see in my clients when it comes to building confidence and generally developing yourself.
One of the main reasons is that they don’t feel any immediate benefits from doing it. Usually, this is because either they’re doing it in a way that does not benefit them (e.g. just writing aimlessly about what happened in their day), or they’re attached to instant gratification and cannot see the long term effects of journaling.
Another big reason that’s harder to see is that journaling requires you to be honest with yourself and face your demons head-on. Subconsciously, we’d rather not do this, as the brain prefers to keep things familiar. Facing our faults eventually provokes change, so our brain would rather we didn’t know about our controllable failings.
And the third biggest reason is that people trust what their mind says, and rely on this to track how they’re doing. They don’t feel a need to try and measure their life objectively, because they believe their thoughts and feelings about what’s happening are accurate.
The benefits of journaling
How do you know if your new diet is helping you lose weight? You regularly step on a scale.
How do you know if your investment is making money? You check in each month to see how much is in your account.
How do you know if your staff are happy? You send them an anonymous survey about workplace satisfaction.
If you want to know what’s working and what isn’t, so that you can more effectively and efficiently achieve your goals, you must measure what’s happening as accurately and objectively as possible.
When it comes to personal confidence growth, integrity, and self-development of any kind, if you’re not measuring correctly, progress will be slow, painful and confusing. Journaling is about stepping back and looking at what you’re trying to do, and why you’re doing it, to see if your quality of life is improving and progress is being made on your goals.
You simply cannot trust your mind to do this spontaneously.
For a start, the human brain is skewed toward pessimism. It seeks out threats and risks, and ignores your achievements for the most part, because it’s wired for protection rather than satisfaction. If you don’t step outside of your head, you will probably have an unfairly negative view of yourself, which reduces confidence and undermines your abilities.
Some of you will be the opposite – grandiose or too positive – which is equally as harmful because you overlook genuine opportunities, threats and weaknesses.
Journaling helps you view your life as if it’s someone else’s, giving you that more detached and objective viewpoint. This will allow you to accurately praise your wins and condemn your failures, without judgment or penalty.
Journaling is like having an unfair advantage. It’s like being able to get feedback on yourself from the most knowledgeable possible source – yourself – and therefore have the best chance at capitalizing on your strengths while minimizing the impact of your weaknesses.
What effective journaling should achieve
There is no one perfect way to measure yourself, however there are some principles that I’d recommend you keep in mind to ensure that your journaling is effective, accurate, and easy to stick with.
Remember, journaling is not the same as keeping a “diary”. You’re not a young teen dramatizing the struggles of puberty here.
Your journal should be a rigorous, objective measuring tool, similar to a temperature gauge or an MRI. Its main purpose should be to provide feedback that maximizes your chances to achieve your goals and live by your core values.
Focus on measuring what you did and why you did it, and prioritize these metrics over less controllable factors like how well you did and what other people thought of it. There will be times where outside reactions are important to note, but ultimately a journal is more about your attempt to live with integrity than it is about results you can’t fully control.
Try to quantify your efforts. Create a rating measurement of some kind that gives you a clear sense of how “on track” you are, according to your own principles. Eliminate the need to feel as a measurement.
Note down the key events that occurred that day, and then analyse them for integrity and effectiveness in achieving your goals.
A basic structure I’d recommend you start with is:
- a basic concise statement about what happened, focused on your actions more than anything else
- a quantitative rating of how your behaviour aligns with either your values, your goals, or your long term wellbeing
- commentary about the rating that gives you insights into further behaviour in the future
Generally, you want to discover when you’ve been doing well, by your own standards, and when you’ve let yourself down. You want to detach this from the judgments and expectations of others, including those that only occurred in your imagination. You want to know what you should keep doing, and what you should change or stop.
Note, that sometimes you lived with integrity but got “bad” results or reactions from others. This is still a win! And other times, everyone applauded you but deep down you know that you breached your principles, or neglected your goals. That’s a loss.
Focus on long term quality of life. Think of the person you want to be. Think of what you hope will be written on your tombstone. Then measure today’s behaviour as to whether it contributed to that future, or harmed it.
Here are some examples of what a journal entry could look like:
“Today I yelled at my daughter for having a tantrum. This breached my value of Patience. I should not take out my anger on my loved ones like that”.
“My boss was mean to the new guy. I took my boss out for coffee and diplomatically told him that he was being unfair. He was defensive but I did the right thing. 10/10 for assertiveness”.
“About 80% of the food I ate today was aligned with my diet plan. This is good enough, but I should be wary of excusing snacking every day.”
“I keep eating chocolate compulsively even though I know it’s not good for me. I’m at high risk of heart failure with my genetics. How much longer will I roll the dice with my future for the sake of mediocre pleasure?”
“I took the leap and officially started my company today. It was a 7/10 for anxiety, but I did it anyway. Major courage points for me!”
“My investment account has had an average of 8% returns in the last 24 months. This meets the criteria I had originally set for my financial goals. So I won’t change anything in my portfolio right now, even though I occasionally feel an impulse to gamble with higher risk stuff.”
Journaling tips: practical techniques for growth
Here are some tips that might help your journaling process, and general self measurement.
Try to find the most unemotional and objective measurement tools you can find. Avoid using thoughts and feelings as units of measurement.
Aim for frequency rather than quantity. Quick entries every single day are probably more effective than waiting until you’ve got an hour free to write a massive thesis about everything. Short, sharp bullet point feedback is enough to keep you on track, and you’ll be less inclined to procrastinate (e.g. you could have a one line minimum required each day). You might want to save longer rants for a different format (e.g. blogging).
The journal is just for you. Make yourself feel safe to be completely honest by committing to keeping in private if you have shame about what you’re writing. Make sure it’s locked up or protected digitally in some way.
When you get feedback from other people, try journaling about it from the perspective of first assessing how reliable the person is. Before you take what someone else says as a unit of measurement, ensure first that they a) have your best interests at heart, b) are an expert on the topic they’re giving you feedback on, and c) have a long history of being honest, helpful and accurate. Ignore anyone who doesn’t meet all of these criteria.
Take notes throughout the day on key events that happened, then unpack them later. Do not rely on memory, because your biases will cause you to forget things that were unemotional or unrelated to your preferred self-image.
If you find yourself repeating bad behaviours, try journaling about the long term consequences. Keep reminding yourself of the trade-off that you’re making, and the cost, until you start feeling guilty as you’re doing it rather than after.
Track narratives your mind uses to excuse poor behaviour. Build up knowledge of how your mind manipulates you into failing. Get to the point where you can identify them easily, e.g. “Ah, that’s the old I’m a victim story coming up there”.
Make sure to correct for your bias towards either negative or positive. If you tend to lean one way, force yourself to make an equal number of journal entries in the other column. You’re always doing well enough to survive, and you’re also always making mistakes, so a balanced measurement should include both positive and negative feedback.
Ensure any goals or expectations you set for yourself are reasonable, based on your skills, knowledge, constraints, and general human nature. If you keep failing to achieve a goal, the goal itself is unreasonable and should be changed. Shaming yourself for failing something that’s clearly impossible is pointless.
No matter what, do not lie to yourself in your journal. This must be the one place where you tell the truth, if nowhere else.
On occasion, share select entries with trusted partners and friends to see if they think you’re being fair to yourself. Get a reliable outside perspective to avoid developing an inaccurate skew in your measurements.
Review your old journal entries on a regular basis to measure longer term changes. You could, for example, read last year’s journal once per week to see how far you’ve come in 12 months.
How you can make massive progress in just a few months!
You can do all this on your own.
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