Journaling: You’re Bound to See Things Differently

By Dan Brown, PCC. Throughout each day, you star in your own dramatic works of art. Morning rush hour. Meeting with the boss. Negotiating a deal. Dinner with the family… A farce here, a triumphant drama there, comedies and tragedies round the clock. 

Set design and lighting might involve others. But the key point is nobody but you is writing your script and directing your actions, all based on how you alone make sense of the world. 

Which begs the question, how accurate is your worldview? What assumptions are you making?    

Effective leaders  routinely ask these two questions, to write even better plays next time. One proven method of self-inquiry is to keep a journal, which is this article’s focus. Journaling provides a quiet place off stage to examine assumptions that predict behavior. Preferably a pen-and-book exercise, it yields numerous, research-validated benefits: stress-reduction; work efficiency; clearer thinking; effective behavior, and, best of all, transformative personal development. 

Journaling keeps you on top of your game, by reminding yourself that you are the game.

Why then aren’t more leaders toting Moleskines? 

Here’s the probable, leading cause. Nobody gets the instruction manual with the journal. 

So, here is yours, in the form of a list of 10 fun and rewarding techniques. They come from the how-to book, Journal Keeping, by Dannelle Stevens and Joanne Cooper. I bet that at least one of these ideas grabs you!

1. Time Travel. Imagine yourself placed in the future or back in time. From that standpoint, write a message to your present self. Journaling from the future perspective can bring clarity to your goals, ambitions, and life’s purpose. Journaling from a past perspective could involve exploring roads not taken, strengthening your resolve to make a change, for instance.

2. Freewriting. This foundational practice permits you to work through whatever is on your mind and unload burdensome worries and concerns. It can doubly serve as a 10-minute warm up to any writing you need to do for work that might require playfulness, creativity or analysis. After freewriting, you’ll sigh a relief and feel clearer than before. 

3. Events Log. Perfect for project-management, this form of journaling chronicles steps in the process, and captures empirical data along with your thoughts and feelings concerning whatever voyage or journey you happen to be on. It need not be a daily diary; entries can occur when you feel most inclined to write. (Coaching clients of mine often use the Log as they engage in self-observations and behavioral experiments; then we debrief at the next session.)

4. Dialogue. This is where you create a conversation between yourself and someone else. Great for scripting upcoming difficult conversations – or processing a past one by re-writing it the way you wish it had unfolded. Surprising insights await those who use the Dialogue method.

5. Unsent Letter. A safe way to say what you feel you can’t. One of my clients recently wrote in her journal an unsent letter to the boss who let her go. Another client used this method to forgive a peer who betrayed him. 

6. Free Association. This form, which can involve use of the non-dominant hand, without lifting the pen from the page, brings subconscious, creative thinking to the surface. It’s important to relax and let the mind empty itself without censorship. 

7. Lists. Using short phrases simply jot down ideas, thoughts about yourself or others, pro’s and con’s, to-do’s or have-done’s, steps to be taken… The list of possibilities is endless. The benefit of this approach is quick review and easy comparison of items. 

8. Mind Mapping. Appealing to visual learners, this clustering method means drawing circles, boxes, connecting lines as part of brainstorming and creative synthesis. 

9. Metaphor. A powerful way to understand something from a different perspective is to write a comparison of it to something else: your team to a school of fish; your organization to a machine; your product line to a magnet. 

10. Metareflection. My personal favorite! Looking at prior journal entries, you write a review of them, to tease out the themes, healthy and destructive patterns, obsessive thinking, hidden meanings and breakthroughs (like, I can’t believe I used to hold that view!).

To learn more about the power of journaling and developing your leadership skills, contact Dan for a consultation.