Today I want to talk about a very practical daily habit you can develop to make miracles happen in 2018.
That practice is journaling, six times a day.
"That's crazy," you're think. "Nobody has time for that!"
My reply: not only do you have time if you decide to make time, but this practice will actually save you time if you do it right.
In last week's article we talked about how a miracle is a device for collapsing time. If you could collapse the time it took you to learn something, would you do it?
Journaling six times a day allows you to do that, by drastically reducing your "cycle time" for learning from self-observation and self-reflection.
I learned this practice from an American Buddhist geshe ("virtuous friend"). The practice itself is simple, like most powerful things:
- Carry a notebook or journal with you everywhere (your phone can work)
- Divide the page up into two columns with a + and a - as headings on each page
- Set up pre-arranged times you will make journal entries. Here are mine:
* Right after breakfast (6:30am or so)
* At 10:15am or so
* At lunch
* At 2:30 or 3:00pm
* At dinner
* Right before bed
- Make the entries on time. Use a calendar reminder or alarm to stay on track.
Got it? Good.
WHAT DO I WRITE ABOUT?
This method suggests you pick a focus and stick with it for a long time -- I recommend at least 90 days. You can pick literally anything you want to improve in your behavior, attitude or mindset.
Let's say you're working on your temper. At the top of each page daily you would write a goal statement: "Work on improving my temper by noticing when I'm short of breath or when someone says something that triggers feelings of anger."
Or it could be relationships. At the top of the page you might write: "Who did I visit, call or connect with today in an effort to make our relationship richer, better, and more rewarding?"
This could be insanely practical. Let's say you're in sales. Your goal could be: "Did I reach out to 100 prospects today and schedule at least 10 product demos?"
Then, at each check-in point, you're going to fill out the + and - columns with a sentence or two. For instance, with our first example of temper:
Entry 1: 6:01am
- Had a dream about the product meeting going really well, and staying calm all the way through it.
- Imagined that idiot Carlos from Accounting bringing up our P&L limitations again and wanted to punch him in his smarmy face.
Then later, after the Product meeting:
Entry 3: Lunch
- When Carlos brought up our P&L limitations in the meeting, I stayed focused on my breathing, and it helped me stay much calmer! I did not feel my face getting flushed and my heart race accelerated only a little bit instead of going crazy like it usually does. I was able to respond calmly instead of snapping at him.
- I still couldn't help talking shit about Carlos with my buddy Jonas in the meeting-after-the-meeting.
WHY THIS WORKS
The idea is that you're paying much closer attention to your thoughts and behaviors, whether good or ill. You're reviewing your mental landscape on such a short time cycle it's hard for you to miss anything!
Because you're checking in with yourself every couple of hours, you're not letting anger or bad thoughts linger -- you're reviewing them, and in that reflection taking control of them.
The miracle of this method is that it doesn't even ask that you decide to change your thoughts -- merely notice them on a regular basis.
What you will notice if you apply this method for a significant period of time is you will become much more self-aware.
You will gain more emotional control and emotional resilience as a result of becoming more accustomed to your emotional and mental patterns: watching them, anticipating them, interrupting them, and changing them when it suits you.
You will be able to create a longer "moment of choice" in which you can choose to respond, rather than react.
You will be able to remind yourself throughout the day of what's really important, keeping focus and purpose instead of losing your mind to the mental mundane madness of a task-based existence.
This method is powerful. You can use it as an entrepreneur. You can use it for intrapersonal or interpersonal goals. You can use it for busy project management. You can use it to improve your relationship with your spouse or family. It's completely up to you how you use this powerful tool to "collapse time" in your own life.
But you may still be thinking....
SIX TIMES A DAY IS IMPOSSIBLE!
First of all, nothing's impossible.
But I get it -- sometimes I feel this way, also. Most days I have back-to-back meetings with no break in between and no lunch.
If you work in corporate, the key is to carry a leather-bound journal and make notes in it at the end or start of meetings, when you are invariably waiting for people to straggle in late. It just appears that you're doing work. People will ask you about this journal. Just tell them you're making notes to help yourself stay on track.
The goal is: try for six. Anything less than that (but more than 0) is still a triumph! Even reviewing your results once per day at the end of the day will probably put you in the top 10th percentile of all corporate workers.
OKAY, HOW WILL THIS SAVE ME TIME?
Let's break it down. Your time commitment for this method:
- Six journal entries per day x 5 minutes per entry: 30 minutes per day total (in practice, I find most entries are 2-3 minutes long)
- Total time commitment: 0.02% of your week max (3.5 hours) of self-reflection and strategizing
Now let's look at some benefits. All of these have happened to me, as a direct result of this journaling process:
- Came up with an idea to automate training a particular skill, saving the company thousands of dollars per year
- Remembered to turn in part of a deliverable that would have caused me ~10 hours of additional work
- Identified a better way to approach a difficult colleague, potentially saving the relationship and eliminating many hours of "spirited disagreement"
I'm sure you can apply this to your own life or work. A few minutes of preventative mental review and maintenance save hours or days of mental anguish and after-the-fact disaster-management.
JOURNALING IS MENTAL GARDENING
How do you grow a healthy garden? You have to pull weeds, water, fertilize, and make sure there is a good balance of sunlight and shade. You have to visit the garden daily to prune, water, weed, and otherwise give care and love to the plants.
How is your mind any different? Journaling six times a day is mental gardening. It will allow you to see (and pull) the negative-thought weeds, to break toxic mental patterns, and to cultivate the stronger thoughts you want to be thinking instead.
Most of us don't do any mental gardening -- and then we wonder why our psychology is overgrown, shaded, choked with weeds and impossible to walk through. We've never experienced the mental performance we are capable of when our garden has been tended rigorously and consistently for even 90 days.
Give it a try and report back. I'll be getting back on the wagon with this habit myself, so we can compare notes on how it's affecting us!