Highly accomplished people from Albert Einstein and Marie Curie to Oprah Winfrey and Arianna Huffington share in common the powerful habit of regularly putting their thoughts in writing in a private journal. The disciplined practice of journaling can decrease stress, broaden your perspective, facilitate better problem solving and inspire career insights that will help you turn obstacles into opportunities.
Capture thoughts in writing to identify more opportunities
Far from a passing passion of angsty teens, keeping a journal can be a highly effective stress reducer and an important aid to help you noodle through difficult problems, tap into your own wisdom and see complicated situations more clearly. Whether you do it with paper and pen or on a screen, consistency is key to turning a journal into a powerful personal and professional development tool.
No time like the present
The time is nearly always right to start a journal, but a high-intensity experience (such as living through a global pandemic) can certainly provide the impetus to make it happen. “Especially in times of stress, writing down how you’re feeling can help get racing, obsessive or troubling thoughts out of your head and put them in a context where you can deal with them more clearly and effectively,” explains Jane Kieber, a licensed social worker who often recommends journaling for clients struggling with anxiety and depression, as well as positive life transitions.
“In your career and personal life, the opportunity to look back on previous journal entries can provide incredible perspective on goals you’ve accomplished, challenges you’ve overcome and the many ways you’ve grown over time,” Kieber says. That point of view can be especially valuable when you feel discouraged about your pace of progress, have suffered a recent disappointment or are facing especially strong headwinds.
How to journal
There isn’t really one recipe for journaling that works for everyone but there are some time-tested practices.
Pick a medium that helps you get words on the page. From a fancy bound book and a variety pack of colored pens to a blank Word document, pick the muse that gets you writing. Then try to make the practice routine and regular.
Let loose. No one has to read what you write and there’s no grade attached to it so write freely. You can even use your journal as a sounding board and place to vent. “Writing something down can be a highly effective way of letting it go,” Kieber says. “You can even literally rip out a page once you’ve captured something that is bothering you and feel ready to release it.”
If a situation needs to be addressed with a team member, colleague or supervisor, definitely do so in person. And never simply endure harassment or mistreatment. But minor irritations can often be handled in your journal where you can watch for patterns and look for solutions.
Practice your powers of observation. The more accurately you can capture your thoughts, emotions and experiences, the more helpful your journal will become. Pay attention to your reactions to certain situations and people, as well as your observations of others and the results and reactions they generate. Careful observation will also help you identify opportunities for creative thinking that can propel your growth.
Capture great ideas. Our best ideas often come when we’re away from work and able to let our minds wander. Make sure you don’t lose those gems by journaling about them in the moment or soon after. Then you can delve into them more deeply later.
Catalog learnings. With just a few sentences jotted down to capture new learnings, you can position yourself to not only benefit from mistakes but also see what’s going well. Many “ordinary” days are made up of numerous good decisions and are built on your growing body of knowledge and expertise. When you take note of your growing skill set, you can also better articulate it to others.
Seize the praise. Criticism tends to stick like glue and compliments slide off our backs. A log of meaningful praise can help you tune into strengths and be your own morale booster at trying times.
Plan for the future. A career journal is a great place to track progress toward key milestones and gain insights that inform future goals. Being able to read in your own words what you enjoy most and least about your current position can help shape your career direction.
Because your journal is for your eyes only, it is the one place you can confront fears head on and dream really big without worrying about someone else’s judgment. A journal can provide a release valve or a pick-me-up but it can also be a powerful roadmap to accelerated personal and professional growth.