The morning I got my cousin’s email, my heart clunked into my mud-spattered sneakers.
Hey Sarah, I’ve got some great news — I’m getting MARRIED!…will you be one of my bridesmaids?
My younger cousin Adeline* was a Pre-Law student at MIT, and a really happy, sweet, optimistic person, to boot.
And me? Well, I was nursing a hand injury and fending off blood-sucking mosquitoes in a backwoods West Virginian summer camp, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
So I have to admit, my first reaction to Adeline’s news was not one of immediate felicitations.
First, there was shock:
(Wait. What? Addie’s only 19. Also, she’s never dated anyone before. Where did she pick up a fiance?)
(Hold on. Adeline is younger than me, but she’s already gotten her future career and future husband and future, well, life all picked out and ready to go? What have I been DOING with myself all these years?)
Now, if you’ve read up to here, you’re probably wondering:
- Gosh, that’s quite young to get married. Did Adeline’s parents try to talk her out of it?**
- How much blood can a West Virginian mosquito extract from a human being in one summer?***
- What the heck does all this have to do with journaling?
Well, aside from me holing myself up in my cabin and scribbling my feelings into my trusty journal as warm tears of self-disappointment drip onto its pages****, not a whole lot…
(Okay, alright, I’m gonna be serious now.)
Escaping the Hamster Wheel of Doom
The moral of the story above is:
We’ve all been there before.
We’ve all had times when we look around us at our more successful, more sure-footed, more supercalifragilisticexpialidocious***** friends who have their entire lives running smooth as melted butter on cornbread, and we wonder what in the heck we’ve been doing with our own lives.
At least, I have. Multiple times.
(Please tell me you have, too, or else I will have to go back and sacrifice myself to the West Virginian Mosquitoes of Doom)
You look around you, and you see the classmates you went to school with, the cousins you baby-sat, the neighbors you grew up besides starting businesses, buying houses, publishing books, running for office, and you?
You’re still scrambling like a guinea pig in a hamster wheel — going nowhere, with your butt stuck in a knickknack that wasn’t made for you anyway.
But the problem is: you don’t know what to do to get yourself OUT.
Like, sure, you have some general IDEAS, but you’re not sure how to execute them. And besides, they float away as soon as you try to pin them down.
Moreover: You don’t have time. You don’t have energy. You don’t have courage. You don’t have a plan.
You don’t know where to start.
That’s why you need to journal.
Is Journaling for You?
The short answer is yes, if you want a better life.
Journaling is for everyone. Why? Well, take a look at its track record:
Leonardo da Vinci kept a journal.
So did Albert Einstein. Frida Kahlo. Ernest Hemingway. Louisa May Alcott. Thomas Jefferson. LM Montgomery. Bruce Lee.
You get the picture.
And it isn’t only famous writers, inventors, and actors who kept journals.
Scores of businessmen, teachers, parents, artists, people of all types of stripes have found the benefits of writing down their thoughts and creating a record of their lives, loves, challenges, and dreams.
You may think that life is too busy, too crazy, too plain difficult for you to try journaling.
But the truth is, life is too busy, too crazy, too plain difficult for you NOT to.
Benefits of Journaling
Depending on HOW you do your journaling, the practice can help you:
- Inspire yourself to work happily and efficiently
- Clarify your dreams and goals
- Become a stronger writer
- Increase your productivity
- Overcome emotional trauma
- Mitigate symptoms of chronic diseases
- …And so much more
You see, success is not a finish line. It’s more like a winding road that requires effort to stay on.
Journaling can help make that effort less…effort-ful, and also help you get into the right mindset, day after day, to accomplish more than even you thought possible.
The Wrong Way to Journal
Journaling is one of the most powerful, flexible methods for keeping you motivated and on track to a fulfilling life.
(Especially if you want to be a writer.)
But if you want to see results like the ones described above, you must avoid journaling the WRONG way.
And yes, there is a wrong way to journal.
(It’s called: scribbling random thoughts on random pieces of paper only when you “feel like it”)
Too many people give up on journaling because they think there’s something wrong with them, or something wrong with journaling itself.
There’s nothing wrong with them. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with journaling. They’ve just used the wrong method (or no method). That’s all.
If you want to learn how to journal for success, you need to:
- Get clear on your underlying motivations
- Measure progress toward the goals you are aiming for
- Free yourself from the fear of judgment in order to tap into your intrinsic creativity
- Mine your experiences to realize your potential
- De-stress by using your journal to focus on one task at a time
- Discover your true talents by bringing out the thoughts and ideas you never knew you had
But how exactly do you do all this?
How to Journal for Success: The Brilliant Writer’s Journal Genius System
After decades of journaling and experimentation with different journaling methods and techniques, I’ve honed my own journaling practice into a razor sharp system that has helped me:
- Bring order to my chaotic life
- Write hundreds of articles, a novel, a musical, and dozens of original songs
- Learn 2 languages
- Start my own business
- Improve a chronic illness
- Become a paid, professional freelance writer
But I don’t want to hoard all this knowledge for myself.
That’s why I created a journaling system, pulling together everything I’ve learned over the past 10 years.
And here’s the basic gist of how the system works:
1. Review Your Past
Until you better understand where you came from, it can be hard to move on.
Journaling helps you not only to hash through your past but also create a record of your present (which will soon become your past) so that future you can see how far you’ve come.
Some people don’t like thinking about the past. And diving into the endless black pool of rumination is not good for anyone.
But there are ways to journal about your past that can help you take stock, separate the wheat from the chaff, and bring the precious lessons you’ve learned with you as you move forward.
It’s why historians study history, and it’s why you need to be a historian of your own life, at least to some degree.
Looking at the events of your past can help you understand how you got to where you are, and how you developed the worldview that determines how you act in this world.
And, armed with that knowledge, you can choose a different, better future for yourself.
2. Take Stock of Your Present
You can’t change something if you aren’t aware of it.
A lot of what’s holding you back are the habits, thoughts, and behaviors that you are engaging in RIGHT NOW. But do you even know what they are?
Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are? Do you know how you are really spending your time? Have you consciously decided on the habits that make up more than 50% of your life, or are you being blindly swept along by their awesome force?
As the famous quote says:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
If you’ve ever felt like you were going insane, or that your life has been disappointing or out-of-control, it may be that you are doing something (or somethingS) over and over again that aren’t helping you.
Journaling can help you find out, objectively, what you are doing with your life, at this point in time. You can use it to assess your unique abilities and design
3. Design Your Future
Contrary to popular opinion, a successful future doesn’t just HAPPEN to people.
Yes, there is always an element of luck when it comes to success, but luck is like the Loch Ness Monster:
If you don’t have your camera prepared when it pops up, you can’t snag that million-dollar picture to sell on ebay.
In other words, if you want to succeed — at business, at life, at breaking your town’s speed record for the next Thanksgiving Turkey Trot — you need a plan.
And before you start planning, you need to know your goal.
For example: Do you REALLY want to break the record for the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot? Or is that actually your grandpa’s secret unfulfilled dream that he pressed into into your impressionable soul when he babysat you in your pre-K years?
There’s only one way to find out: You got it, by journaling!
After all, you don’t want to, as they say, get to the top of the ladder of success only to find that it’s been leaning against the wrong wall.
That’s why you need to journal your hopes and dreams and goals. Not just once, but regularly, so that over time you can see patterns and changes and sift out the unworthy goals so that only the best ones remain.
4. Create Your Plan
Having a goal, or even several goals, is not enough. Once you have your goal in place, you need a way to keep track of how you’re progressing as you work toward it.
How else are you going to adjust your strategy so that you make it in the end?
Journaling helps you to keep all of your ideas and behaviors and results in one easy-to-reference place so that you can see, at a glance, how you are doing, and what needs to be added, removed, or kept the same so that you get to where you’re going.
It’s a bit like having your own Life GPS, only you’re creating it as you go.
- When you come up with a new goal, you can use your journal to break it down into its requisite parts and keep track of the steps needed to achieve that goal.
- When you learn something new, writing about it in your journal can help you internalize and apply the lessons you’ve absorbed.
- When you need to upgrade your health, you can use your journal as a habit tracker to remind yourself to drink more water, exercise, or be grateful for every day.
Those are just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to what you can do with your journal.
There is so, so much more to journaling, as I’ve learned over the 20+ years I’ve been doing this. More than I can fit into this one article. So if you’re interested in learning more, stay tuned…
Become a Journal Genius
I’d like to say that the day I had that shocking revelatory look into the uselessness of my life path, triggered by my cousin Addie’s email, I immediately changed course and turned my life around 180 degrees.
But nope, it took several more years, an awful illness, and plenty of false starts before I finally began to find my way…back to the first love I had nearly forgotten — writing.
And yes, journaling played an enormous role in that process.
Journaling helped me clarify what went wrong, what was keeping me down, what I really wanted, and how to get there.
And journaling still helping me, today. It helps me de-stress when my brain is too full, course correct when I’m getting off track, plan ahead so I don’t forget what I need to do and when.
And it can help you do the same.
Everything you truly want to accomplish is within your reach.
You just need a plan to help you get there.
Keeping a journal is one of the best ways to create, enact, and keep track of that plan.
It isn’t always easy, especially when you get started, but the payoff is more than worth it. And if you use the Journal Genius system, you can shave years of frustration off the learning curve.
So go ahead: Get started now.
You’ll never know unless you try!
*Some names and details have been changed to protect the innocent
**Nope. They absolutely loved Addie’s fiance, Brian, and actually encouraged them to get married even sooner. And in case you think Addie’s an airhead to marry someone she’d just met before she came of legal drinking age, wrong again! Brian and Addie have been married for several years now, have two dogs and a baby, and are still going strong.
***Okay, you’re probably not wondering this. The answer is: I don’t know, but a lot. I have the scars to prove it.
****JK, that didn’t really happen. Or did it…?
*****I know, I know, I promised to be serious, but I needed another synonym that started with an S, and Mary Poppins came to mind. Also, fun fact: only misspelled ONE letter in that monstrous word. Score!
For more details on Journal Genius, and to take part in the Journal Writing Challenge, check this out!