How Journaling Made Me Better at Life

Throughout the year of 2018, I experienced more emotions than Kanye West during a Twitter rampage. I was basically a living, breathing #somanyfeelings hashtag.

At the end of 2017, I quit my job as a magazine editor to start my own business. If you ever want to have a LOT of feelings, quit your secure and stable job to start your own business. The uncertainty and overwhelm of not knowing how my future would play out brought up a lot of insecurities that caused discord in my personal life (my sincerest apologies, soon-to-be hubby) and distraction in my professional life.

Long story short: I was an unproductive and semi-unpredictable hot mess. Not a good look when you’re starting a business centered around helping people feel their best.

One morning, after feeling this way for two months too many, I remembered a blog post I’d written (back when I had that secure job) all about the obsession surrounding the practice of Bullet Journaling, and how simply putting your thoughts onto paper can free up space in your brain to, you know, actually get things done.

Sounds like something I should be doing, I thought, while doing absolutely nothing.

Being the information-seeking person I am, I started researching journaling a bit more and learned that the practice is associated with reductions in feelings of anxiety, which I had mountains of, and improvements in mood. I was sold.

I’d tried Bullet Journaling, which is a very precise way of tracking just about everything you do in a journal, back when I’d written about it a few years ago. That practice lasted all of two days, so I knew I didn’t want to journal in that way. I simply wanted to get my thoughts out onto paper. So instead, I turned to the Morning Pages technique. The rules are pretty simple: write out three pages of any thoughts that come to mind first thing in the morning, every damn day.

I was more committed to this practice than I’d been to anything in months. And it paid off. By writing out my thoughts every morning, I started to recognize daily patterns that were inhibiting my production: fear of failure; a paralyzing drive for perfection; a deep (like, sea-floor-level deep) fear of uncertainty. There were plenty more, but I’ll spare you.

By recognizing these patterns, I also began recognizing how I was reacting them. See: me, in a deep state of perfectionism-induced paralysis, watching the Real Housewives of New Jersey until my eyes bled while shouting at my fiancé to demand a raise immediately because we needed a security blanket for when I failed at life. I repeat: Not a pretty scene!

Recognizing my behavior, by writing it down and reflecting on it, allowed me to see where I wanted to make improvements (um, everywhere) while also helping me to understand what motivates me and what causes me to feel stuck, unproductive or unhappy, everywhere from at the gym to with work assignments to with my partner and my friends.

I’ve been journaling consistently for nearly a year now and, if I do say so myself, I am no longer a hot mess. I credit a good amount of this turnaround to the illumination that came about from simply writing down what was going on in my head and really forcing myself to examine my feelings and behavior.

I am more productive with my work, because when I find myself procrastinating, I am able to recognize that as a behavior that is simply induced by fear of whatever I produce not being perfect. And because I know that I don’t want that fear to block me from growing professionally, I get to work.

I am more diligent with prioritizing my workouts because I know—through the practice of journaling—that I experience much less anxiety and am more focused when I am able to exercise in the morning. I’ve also recognized that when I am consistent with my gym practice and pushing myself physically, I have more mental fortitude. So the gym has become not just a physical practice, but a form of mental-health upkeep for me.

I am nicer to my fiancé because I realize now that a lot (okay, maybe all) of those critiques I was constantly screeching his way actually had nothing to do with him. It was all my insecurities, really. Projection is real, y’all.

I don’t always get my thoughts out the Morning Pages way anymore. Now, I switch it up between doing Morning Pages and using prompts to help me work through my emotions and behavior. And I’m telling you: It’s been a game changer for me. If this were an Amazon review, I’d give it five stars and tell you to buy.

If you’re interested in trying journaling out yourself, I say just start with writing your feelings down and taking a good hard look at them. To get you started, I’ve included a few journal prompts that have been helpful for me below.

Journal prompts:
• Who are the top five people you admire in your line of business and why?
• What is your greatest fear and why? Expand on how you observe this fear affecting your life on a daily basis.
• What is one recurring pattern you see in your life right now that you’d like to break? What do you need to do in order to stop it from occurring again?
• What is holding you back from achieving your goals at this exact moment? How can you remove that barrier from the equation?
• What are five things you are grateful for today and why?

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