“A thought not written down is like a bullet ricocheting around inside your skull wreaking havoc on your peace." - Tim Ferris
If you're reading this and you're not already a regular journaling man or woman, my heart goes out to you and your beautiful, unique, insightful thoughts that went straight to the grave instead the rich soils of the page.
I sadly wasn't introduced to journaling until far into my adult life. I grew up with the "diaries are for girls" mentality. Writing down your thoughts and feelings was not for men. What that did was stuff my heart and mind with thoughts that had to eventually boil over somewhere other than a page: Mom, Dad, my closest friends (sorry guys).
Today we're inundated more than ever with an overwhelming number of thoughts because we're taking on more content and information than ever before in the history of the world. We'd love to write it off as clinical ADD, but the fact of the matter is we've all become sensory junkies. And that leaves us with a brain filled with unprocessed thoughts that are burning out our CPU (I'll get to this later).
WHY JOURNALING IS ESSENTIAL
Journaling is in essence, processing. And an unprocessed life is a directionless life.
I shutter to think of all the big life decisions we've made shooting from the hip without properly processing them all the way through over time. What college I should attend? What craft should I decide to endeavor into? Who should I pursue to date and why? Which friendships should I invest in? Why am I here doing what I'm doing right this second? Did I even stop to think about it?
Journaling helps us figure out up from down and wrong from right. It allows us to map out our minds to figure out what is truth and what is simply made up. We wake up and jump into our days without even realizing WHY we do any of it. We let our feelings guide our actions without ever asking the heart what it is we were truly meant to be doing. This is called Defensive thinking. We think up thoughts as they come at us from all directions. We process them without proper analysis and burn those limited daily calories processing (what is more often than not) junk and lots of it. The fight for order comes about and to win that battle you're going to need Excalibur. The sword in the stone is none other than the good old pen and paper (or the digital equivalent).
"As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is..." Proverbs 13:7 (KJV)
Do you ever find yourself lost in a black hole of thoughts and then snap out of it, to realize you haven't been paying attention to the task in front of you or the person you really care about who’s trying to have a conversation with you. We all do it and let's be honest, it's forgivable. But our lack of presence stems from our lack of responsibility in protecting what goes into our brain. We've unfortunately sat back and allowed every little thought to invade the conscious canvas of our brain.
In my coaching workshops I often use the Mac Activity Monitor as an accurate example of our minds at any given minutes.
If we look at the first two columns we see Application and CPU %. Notice the running applications: many of them you might notice: Word, Excel, Safari… but then notice the long list of other apps and .exe files that are constantly running in the background. We don't know the names of most of these applications, in fact, we didn't even know that our computer was running them to begin with. Then notice just how much of our CPU% is being used by these unknown applications. These little apps are our unconscious thoughts: items we don't even realize we're thinking about.
This is how our brain works, consciously we are thinking about whatever it is that we're doing right this minute. We know what we're seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting. We know that we're at the gym and trying to get in shape, we know we're on a date to try and find long-term (or short-term) companionship, we're doing our job trying to make our wild and crazy dreams actually manifest in the real world. Consciously we know what we're doing.
BUT that's not all we're doing…
We're also thinking about the looming deadline we have coming up next week or the girl we locked eyes with at that conference on Sunday, or the fact that we haven't called our parents in over 2 weeks. Or what song those lyrics were from, that keep popping up in the back of our heads.
To take it even deeper, we're reliving the unresolved conflicts of yesterday right at this very moment. The abuses and hurts we never reconciled, the break-up we had 6 years ago, the embarrassing thing we did in front of our crush when we were 9 years old ('so stupid! why did I say that…').
"Travis?.... Travis!? Hey, are you okay? Did you hear anything I just said?"
If we are to truly be effective in life, our CPU should be almost entirely used up by the intentional task we've set forth in front of ourselves. Listening to the people we care about. Learning that new skillset. Executing on that next step we've identified as essential.
When we haven't yet processed everything else, everything else will control the here and now. We too often fall victim to defensive thinking or "unconscious overwhelm".
We are the sum of each and every one of our thoughts. If we think about our past successes and incredible life experiences, we become people of gratitude. If we think about the unresolved pain in our life and the ways we've been wronged, we become victims. If we think about how overweight and unsuccessful we are, we become….well…overweight and unsuccessful.
So if we are what we think, why don't we think about great things and stop with the bad? Easier said than done.
This is where our journal comes in.
So if the name of the game is to increase the thoughts that serve us and decrease the thoughts that belittle or paralyze us, we know we have to fight a battle on two fronts. How is this possible?
(cue heroic entry music, enter stage left walking leather bound journal)
We've covered the front of defensive thinking, now we must boldly move forward. We must think intentionally. We must go on the offense.
What thoughts will ultimately serve my vision and goals? What truths must I solidify and prove to myself? What myths and limiting thoughts must I debunk and disprove to my brain so that it can finally let go of it?
THE BRAIN DUMP
First we must get the entire database of active thoughts out of our brain and onto the page so that they can properly be dissected.
Here is an excerpt from my journal that shows how to properly brain dump:
Start from the top and work your way down. Here's an example…
Thought: I'm still angry at my friend today and the things he/she said about me to Jane (Jane told me last week)
Does this thought serve me?: No.
So what must we do with it?: Resolve the conflict by finding empathy and build a system to properly find empathy each time our brain wants to think about it in the future.
Here's what that conversation with ourselves then might look like in our journal:
• Q: Why would she do that?
• A: She's hurt.
• Q: Why is she hurt?
• A: Well… I guess at some point or another I hurt her.
• Q: Have you taken action to properly seek forgiveness and have you taken full ownership of your own actions?
• A: Yes, I sincerely apologized back in December.
• Conclusion: I guess I can't control other people's emotions, I've already apologized for the past, there is nothing I can do in my current state to resolve this conflict further. I guess I can let it go…
Make sense? That angry bullet that was bouncing around keeping you up all night last night can finally slow its roll and allow you to step back into your regular scheduled programming.
Once we've exhausted the list and reasoned through each item. We can move on to Step Two.
VISION/OUR ONE THING
Now that we've rooted out the weeds, let's move on to the good stuff.
Next we write in our journals 2 questions:
Where am I going?
Why am I going there?
It sounds crazy, but the vast majority of people on this planet exist day-to-day in this world without effectively answering these two questions. These two questions are so important, it is essential that we write them out in our journal each and every day.
This is where we get clear on our vision and what we want out of life so that at some point we can eventually see it come to fruition.
Where am I going?
"I'm becoming an influencer of Christian men aged 28 - 35."
Why am I going there?
"Because that segment of people have the most power to change the world and are sadly surviving through it rather than thriving within in it and seeing their maximum potential. This world needs more actualized, middle-aged men and they don't have a voice for it yet."
Now we look at that answer we ask the question: Am I excited enough to go after it? If the answer is yes, we move on to this question:
What is the next small step required to bring that to fruition?
"Bring what you have to bring to the table."
"Create interesting content in a digestible format."
"Bring the target audience to the interesting content to get their attention."
You get the picture.
If the answer is no? We don't look up from our journal until we get a WHY that invigorates us into action.
Now we know where we're going! Our day can begin. Our dreams can now come true.
The stated examples are just a few different uses for our daily journal. Below are a few other items that should constantly be written down throughout the day:
• Recurring thoughts that are burdening your peace. (Defensive thoughts)
• Confessions (repentance)
• The Truth
• Instructions from God
• People put on our hearts
• Clues to the Big Mystery
Me personally, I carry around both a hard-backed physical journal to write in every morning and then I use Microsoft OneNote on both my laptop and iPhone to jot down thoughts, insights and discoveries that are constantly coming at me the rest of the day. The answers and solutions to our biggest hurdles will come to us at the most unexpected time. We must be prepared to WRITE. IT. DOWN!
Break out each entry by specific date and don't be afraid to mix and match categories and topics. You'll always be able to reference it by date whether it's work-related, personal or an answer from God. It's all right there.
Make a point once a week to revisit the last 7-days of entries to see what you haven't yet acted on or what we may have already been forgotten. You'd be shocked what eureka moments we got mere hours ago that almost fell completely off the table because we got too busy in our day.
At the end of the day, peace is what we're after and it doesn't matter what you've accomplished to this point in life. If your brain isn't cleaned up, you're going to struggle
I myself don't allow myself to go to work or even eat breakfast until I know where I'm going and the bullets have been sedated.
Sit down. Slow down. Breathe. Think. Pray. Write!
Travis is a global transformational life coach, business strategy consultant, and pastor. He travels the world teaching The Good Life, a live workshop that brings forth self-actualized people and businesses. His clients include Fortune 500 corporations, entrepreneurial ventures, churches, non-profits, and individuals of every background. His mission is simple: To help people find meaningful peace & energy by any means necessary.