How to Journal to Accelerate Change and Learning
“You should journal, you should journal, you should journal.” Maybe you’re heard that from various sources, read it, etc, or maybe you say it to yourself.
I have to say journaling can be a very powerful, even life-saving process. There’s a power and relief to getting the ouroboros of thoughts OUT of your head and onto paper where you can see them outside of yourself, and be more analytical.
Journaling (even though I didn’t know to call it that at the time) was a sanity saver for me back in high school and I’ve continued to journal throughout my life. I now have different journals for different reasons. I have journals for my business pursuits, and for my personal pursuits. And while I’m a big proponent of journaling by hand to take advantage of the ideomotor connection with the subconscious mind, I must admit that much of my journaling now is done through a keyboard.
A lot of my journaling now is sorta free form. It can be lists, dreams, plans, reflections, gratitude and a combination.
Unless I’m deliberately changing something or learning something new. Then I use the process below. This is a process I share with many of my clients, too.
How to Journal When You’re Changing a Habit or Learning Something New
When I’m looking up the steep slope of a learning curve or working to create a change in my life I have a specific way of journaling that I started doing about 20 years ago during a rough patch. It was a REALLY rough patch and my memory is spotty for that time period so I don’t know if I invented this or if I should be crediting someone. Honestly, I don’t know.
Here’s the process.
Every day (or darn close to it – never beat yourself up over missing one day) – reflect and journal on the following:
- 3 things you’re proud of from that day.
- 3 things you learned that day.
- 3 things you’d like to do better in the future, and HOW.
That’s it. You can spend as little or as much time as you’d like as long as you really reflect and prioritize and are honest with yourself. So if you’re super busy you can still benefit from this process, it doesn’t need to take more than about 10 minutes. Of course you can spend much more time with it if you desire.
Some guidance from experience:
On the 3 things you’re proud of – don’t be afraid to step away from the expected. “I landed a sale!” “I ran 5K!” types of success are alll great and all to be acknowledged. But also look at the unexpected or un-sung personal victories. For example, “Today I REALLY wanted to call in sick and play hooky, but I didn’t.” Those “teachable moments” of self that build your character are worthy of reflection and acknowledgement. Any behavior you want MORE of is what you should be focusing on.
On the 3 things you learned, if you’re focusing on a specific change or learning curve, keep your focus on that. “Today I learned that I can go 5 hours without a cigarette.” “Today I learned that if I take a deep breath and use my self hypnosis, I can push off the next cigarette by 20 minutes or more.” “Today I learned that I can enjoy coffee without a cigarette.” While you may have learned things in other areas that day, if you’re working on a specific goal, keep it tight.
On the 3 things you’d like to do better, the “and how” part is the most important. Yeah, it’s the hardest. But just knowing there are things you’d like to do better doesn’t move you down the path. Spend the time to journal on other possible responses or choices. After that would be a great time to do some self hypnosis to future pace yourself and see yourself taking those new actions!
How long should you journal this way to create change?
It depends on what you’re working on. I usually find 90 days is a good average to really solidly change a habit or learn a new skill. Let your results be your guide.
Journaling this way programs your mind what to pay attention to, and speeds up the process of your mind recognizing patterns – both effective and ineffective patterns. It also programs your mind to begin to automatically think of the alternatives to behaviors that aren’t creating the results you want.
Quite a lot of mileage for a few minutes a day!
The first time I used this I was thrown into the deep end of a learning pool with no rubber duck. I had been an HR Generalist and the company I worked for needed someone to take on facilities management. I said yes and the next week they informed me that I was now in charge of a 60,000 square foot, 3 floor restack, the remodeling of leased space in Eau Claire Wisconsin (another 24,000 foot facility) and the conversion of an old school in Red Wing into an office space. Oh, and because the last person had dragged their feet (they knew they were leaving), the lease negotiation on the 60,000 s.f. space needed to be finalized in 6 weeks instead of the usual 6 – 9 months of negotiating, and we’d already committed to an architect and of course there was no time to move if it didn’t work out. No pressure. If none of this makes ANY sense to you, it didn’t to me either. I had zero background. I developed a twitch under my left eye. It was a few weeks into this that I started using this journaling process. I can tell you that ALL of these projects were completed, on time and within budget. And I learned a ton of cool stuff. Like how desperately undervalued facilities managers are! (Thank your facility manager for their invisible presence in keeping everything going smoothly where you work. Do you even know who they are? LOL!)
Anyhow, this journaling process really helped me to stay focused, make corrections, improve and succeed. I’ve used it many times since whenever I have a big change or learning curve. I sure hope it helps you in your endeavors, too.
If you use this, comment below and let me know how it’s working for you!