If I told you that if you smoked you were 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer, would you stop or never pick up smoking?
Let’s ask a question with similar outcomes – if Eminem, Bill Gates, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, Oprah, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, Peyton Manning, Einstein and a majority of successful people have one habit in common. One habit that doesn’t produce any negative results – shouldn’t we follow that Habit of Success?
Every single one of the above individuals has admitted to keeping a regular journal or diary. Top performers track their progress, set goals, reflect and learn from their mistakes. And we know that, what gets measured, gets improved.
When you write, you can clearly lay out your ideas. Not writing about what you do is like running in circles – it’s hard to figure out what’s wrong and what’s right so you keep making the same mistakes. Writing helps you grow and progress as an individual.
How does a journal help you get what you want? As it turns out, Eureka moments, or times when creativity hits you like a lightning bolt, don’t exist – creativity comes one a sentence at a time. It was found that successful people develop their thoughts through lots of writing, thinking and revision. Eventually, a great idea comes into being.
Writing helps you to know yourself and it helps you deal with stress. Your immune system is boosted by writing and you can improve your happiness by writing once a week about something you’re grateful for. Interestingly, writing often (2-3 times/week) or being forced to write when you don’t feel like it, doesn’t have a positive effect on well-being. An additional benefit of writing is that getting thoughts off your mind improves your sleep.
So how do we use a journal? A journal isn’t a book where every day you write ‘dear diary’. Journaling isn’t a cure all – it’s just the act of keeping a book where you write down your ideas. Workout journals, diaries and commonplace books are all journals.
The first rule of having a journal is just that – get ONE book. Not ten books. Just one where you keep all of your ideas. This makes it easier to find and add to.
When do you write? Whenever something is on your mind. When there’s something you feel really happy about that you need to share or when there’s something on your mind that’s getting you down.
What do you write? That’s up to you. I usually write down what’s on my mind and how I feel about it. It doesn’t have to have perfect grammar or penmanship – this book is for you to help yourself. Often I use point form notes or words connected with arrows.
Sometimes, I don’t even write. I draw pictures – dreams of what I want my house to be like when I rebuild it or of furniture I want to build. Other times I record audio on my phone or use Dragon Naturally speaking to turn spoken words into text.
The important thing isn’t a hard system – it’s recording what you think so you can get it off your mind and view it in a different way.
So? Pick up an empty book, put the word “Journal” on the cover and start writing.
Notes and References:
- Lifetime probability of developing lung cancer, by smoking status, Can J Public Health. 1994 Nov-Dec;85(6):385-8.Villeneuve PJ1, Mao Y. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7895211
- Writing to Heal – Dr. James Pennebaker. https://www.utexas.edu/features/2005/writing/
- Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal – http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal
- Sleep Benefits – http://mainstreetmix.com/successful-people-keep-journals/
- Eureka Moments don’t exist – creativity comes a sentence at a time. http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2013/07/strokes-of-genius/
- Time Magazine on what successful people do http://time.com/59658/8-things-the-most-successful-people-do-that-make-them-great/
- This quote has been attributed to many people. http://athinkingperson.com/2012/12/02/who-said-what-gets-measured-gets-managed/
Excellent Article on Keeping a Journal
Journaling and Buffet’s, Gates’ and Branson’s’ thoughts on writing
*I rounded the smoking numbers. The increase in probability of lung cancer when smoking is closer to 15 fold not 20.
*As of 2015, everyone in the list is worth > 100 million dollars. The figures is really irrelevant as sense of success and happiness don’t directly correlate with money but I hope they give some people the motivation to act on the ideas given. The word successful is also open to interpretation.
*If anyone has exact, reputable statistics on income vs. keeping a journal (e.g. a survey of people worth over 10 million dollars and whether or not they keep a journal or diary) please feel free to comment and I will add them.
Justin Bieber’s diary
Demi Lovato has released her own stories as a book for adults
Black Eyed Peas front woman Fergie kept a journal to overcome her addiction to crystal meth
Taylor Swift has said that she writes songs that are “…like diary entries. I have to do it to feel sane.”
Mahatma Gandhi communicated and let others know his views through writing in academic journals.
Mother Teresa wrote many letters to her spiritual advisors
*If we extend the ideas espoused above, any method of routine data collection is technically a journal. For instance, ALL successful athletes track their performance and some track their mood and other metrics in order to improve their game. In this way, a “workout journal”, a “diary”, and a “commonplace book” are all types of journals.