The art of journaling is a bit of a lost art to some. The idea of taking out a pen (gasp) and actually writing (wut!) seems like a waste of time. Why not just dictate to Siri or just think about it all.
The act (and art) of journaling is extremely beneficial for athletes. Especially today’s modern athlete in sports and life.
When we journal, we are actually helping our brain achieve the goals we want, and even the goals we haven’t even thought of, yet. Which is pretty cool.
Reinforcing New Goals With Journaling
First, let’s say you’ve got something you want to accomplish in the future. That “something” is going to require you to become someone else. A new version of you. The Future You.
That Future You is obviously going to have different habits than you have currently. Otherwise, if you had those habits now you’d probably have that result you wanted now, too. (Stay with me here)
But adopting new habits can prove difficult. Sure, you might be good for a couple of days but then those new habits tend to fall away and you don’t even realize you’re not doing them anywhere.
This is where journaling helps. By reinforcing your new goals and your new habits in your journal, daily…you keep yourself on track.
When new habits aren’t, well, habits you need triggers to remind yourself to do them. Your journal becomes your daily trigger.
After you get up in the morning your brain is very receptive to programming. You’ve just come out of a sleep state and your analytical mind is still waking up. It’s the perfect time to write down in your journal the Future You that you want to become.
This daily trigger then becomes a reminder to your subconscious who the heck you want to be before you get involved in a typical day who just keeps you being the person you’ve always been.
Reviewing Your Daily Do’s With Some Quick Journaling
One of the things we know about the human brain is that when we are actually in the “doing” of our thing we can only focus on a limited amount of information. We are focused. Concentrated. Immersed. Oblivious to the outside world and time.
This is actually a great trait to have when we are in a flow state, but it means we probably aren’t aware of subtle, and not so subtle cues that could help us reach our goal.
Recent advancement in artificial intelligence allows a massive computer to pull in data that a normal human can’t see with their limited concentration abilities. This technology is used to identify causes of cancer in hospitals and to solve complex problems in supercomputers.
For my athletes in sports and life I recommend taking a moment after you “do” to write down some quick notes in your journal. How did you feel? What was the outcome? What affected your outcome?
Anything you can think of is an opportunity to capture some subtle, and not-so-subtle, inputs that can put you on a faster track to success.
Later on in my athletic career I used journals to help me not beat myself up so much after bad results. I used a technique called self-distancing to look at my performance in the third-person.
When we are “in it” and then we think about it again in the first person our brains start to relive the situation just as if it was happening right…now!
All the same neuro-chemicals start to course through your body and it’s really hard to think clearly especially if you’ve been triggered at all. The heart rate goes up. The palms sweat. You know what I’m talking about.
Journaling can allow you to self-distance and look at yourself as if someone else was looking at you.
Journaling Helps Your Brain Reinforce New Connections
While our brain can take things a bit too far when we look back on past experiences, we can use this time to actually help reinforce new neural connections.
Let’s say you go out and try something new and you do it successfully. That’s a new set of connections in the brain.
Well, we know from neuroscience that when we keep repeating that new skill successfully then we can make those connections stronger and stronger.
Journaling can help us do that.
Taking a moment and writing down just went well and why will relive that experience in your brain and then help you reinforce what just happened.
Without taking the journaling step you’re just shutting down and going home and that’s a missed opportunity to reinforce those neural connections.
Journaling Is a Great Place to “Brain Dump”
Many of my athlete’s in sports and life suffer from insomnia.
No matter how hard they try they can’t seem to turn their mind off at the end of the day.
One of the main reasons for this is that the brain is trying to keep track of a lot of loose ends. Unfinished business.
By taking a moment to jot down your thoughts and ideas before you fall asleep you’re basically unloading your brain. Instead of your brain trying to keep track of all these ideas in your head, you captured them in a safe space that you’ll then be able to review them the next day.
David Allen writes in his great book “ Getting Things Done” that your mind is a great place for having ideas, it’s a terrible place to keep them.
So when you have great ideas during the day your brain doesn’t want to lose them. So it tries to relive them over and over again and it’s really hard to sleep that way.
Get them out of your head into a safe “bucket” and your mind can relax knowing that those loose ends aren’t loose anymore.
Journaling Is a Great Place To Review Your Day
While you can look at journaling as a great place to brain dump before you go to sleep, it’s also a great place to review the day.
When you got up in the morning and you journaled about your future self and the future you and the new you with the new habits you set forth and gaveyour brain a new vision of yourself. This is all in an effort to create what is called cognitive dissonance. Your brain and body start to work together keeping you on track to that new vision of yourself.
A great question to ask yourself at the end of the day is,” Well, how’d it go?”
Journaling at the end of the day can help you review the day and you can even give it a little grade like a 7 out of 10 . (Somedays it might be a 2 out of 10, and that’s ok)
The idea is that you are reinforcing that new vision of you. Perhaps you want to lose some weight but you had a candybar after lunch. Write it down. Tomorrow, you won’t do it again because you’re reminding yourself of that new you.
Don’t Go To Bed Without Giving Your Subconscious Something To Work On
When we sleep, our brain is still working. It doesn’t shut off like a car engine. In fact, it works a little harder than it did during the day.
This doesn’t affect your sleep by the way.
The key here is to give your brain something to work on while you’re sleeping.
By journaling just before you go to bed you can brain dump, but then you can spend a little bit of time reinforcing that Future You you wish to become.
Be reviewing that new vision of yourself in your journal, your subconscious mind will go to work while you sleep. Up to seven times a night!
Albert Einstein talked about falling asleep with a complex mathematical problem in his head and waking up with the answer.
Your subconscious is there to help you and we can give it a task to work on while we sleep.
Journaling Makes Connections We Can’t Make By Ourselves
The act of journaling doesn’t have to be strict. In fact, the act of journaling can be a bit haphazard. If your mind wanders, let it.
Over time, your journal will reveal connections that can now help you reach your goals faster than you thought possible. You will start to see trends that are only apparent when you keep track of what is happening daily.
There is no right or wrong way to journal. You can write. Doodle Draw. Think. React.
Whatever comes to mind can go in your journal. But like a supercomputer, over time it will start to reveal abstract connections you couldn’t see in the moment.
I’ve had athletes in sports and life uncover dietary issues. Problems with lovers or coworkers. Music choices. All things that were affecting their performance but they couldn’t figure it out in the moment.
I even had one athlete finally identify a vision problem that even their own Doctor had misdiagnosed.
Journaling is a powerful way to keep you on track to reaching the new goals you have set for yourself. By journaling daily you give yourself the triggers to adopt new habits until they actually become…habitual. (Which means you don’t have to think about them anymore)
I’ve seen journaling help my athletes in sports and life uncover some of the craziest things. Things that they couldn’t identify in the moment of being that athlete, but with time and the more relaxed mental state that someone is in when they are journaling.
The act of journaling with pen and paper doesn’t have to seem difficult. Get one notebook. Fill it up by date. Then get another one. That’s it.
Richard Branson, who created the Virgin brand of, well…everything…is an incredible journaler. You too can use journaling to unleash incredible results in your life.
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