Journaling is a key morning routine habit of many highly successful people. People like Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, but also historical figures like Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison (who wrote more than 5 million pages in his journals over his lifetime!) are known for their regular journaling practices.
As the scientifically-proven benefits of journaling range from increased happiness to higher productivity — and from increased quality of sleep to clearer thinking — it’s no wonder that journaling is a common habit of many highly successful people.
In this article, I’ll specifically hone in on how journaling can make you more productive and increase your odds of success — sharing five specific morning journaling practices that I’ve experienced to be most effective.
According to research, the human brain is wired to seek negativity. This is what psychologists call the ‘negativity bias’. In the past, our survival depended heavily on our skill of avoiding dangers such as snakes or tigers. Thus, the brain developed systems that would make danger so obvious that we’d respond to it. Sometimes, it sends signals of danger that isn’t even real.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
Nowadays, the dangers we experience are more social dangers than physical dangers. It’s why we tend to we recall insults or criticism easier than praise — and we stress more over a failure than we celebrate a win.
Unfortunately, this negativity bias leads to increased stress, depression, and negative thinking. To counter this, we need to train ourselves to seek positivity. One way to do this is by including a gratitude component in your morning journaling session.
By actively focusing on the things, events, and people you’re grateful for — and writing them down — you start your day on a positive note. You tend to carry this positive feeling throughout the rest of the day. When you repeat this gratitude practice daily, you train yourself to seek positivity and become more optimistic.
In fact, research by Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis and author of the book ‘Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier’, has shown that people who keep a gratitude journal for ten weeks are 25% happier than people who don’t.
“Our groundbreaking research has shown that grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and that the practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.” - Robert Emmons
Therefore, start your day by writing down three things that you’re grateful for. It could be a person in your life, a character trait, an achievement, or something super simple. Anything works — as long as you take your time to write them down and truly feel the gratitude for these things.
Two of the main reasons why people fail to achieve their long-term goals are:
Reviewing your long-term goal(s) every single morning and rewriting them in your journal is, in my experience, the most reliable way to overcome these two reasons for failure.
By writing down your long-term goals every single day — including your progress and reasons for why you want to achieve these goals — you prime your mind for goal-success.
You tell your subconscious mind to look for ideas, actions, people, and opportunities during the day that could help you get closer to the achievement of your long-term goal.
By reviewing my goals every single morning, I notice that they’re at the forefront of my mind — dramatically increasing my odds of success. Therefore, take a few minutes every single morning to review and rewrite your long-term goals in your journal.
Nowadays, most people have a cluttered mind filled with stress, worries, unresolved ideas, and other dominant thoughts. This occupies valuable mind-space that limits the capacity for problem-solving, idea generation, and clear thinking.
I’ve experienced that capturing my thoughts and emotions onto paper leads to clearer thinking — gaining me more clarity about myself, my priorities, and my goals.
When you capture worries, thoughts, or emotions onto paper, you give your mind a much-needed rest. By stopping the mind racing thoughts, you declutter the mind and free up space for more productive things such as problem-solving or generating new ideas.
Remember, your mind is not a storage place, but it’s a generator. The more mental clutter you store on your ‘internal hard-drive’, the fewer resources are available for problem-solving and generating new ideas.
Therefore, take a few minutes in the morning to write about your most dominant thoughts — whether they’re things you worry about, ideas you have or emotions you’re experiencing — get them out of your head and onto paper.
You’ll find that your thinking will be much clearer and that you’ll generate more high-quality ideas as soon as the clutter is out of your head.
Free Guide: 27 Productivity 'Hacks' For Superhuman Performance
Learn how to get more done, stop procrastinating, and work with laser-focus using SMART productivity techniques...
Setting your daily priorities (or goals/targets) is an incredibly important productivity habit. By setting your 1–3 priorities for the day, you know exactly what to do to move the needle for your long-term goal(s).
Most people wander through their day because they haven’t identified their priorities. Therefore, most people end up spending way too much time and energy on ‘busywork’ and lesser essential projects. Despite being busy, they’re not really productive.
That’s why you should identify your 1–3 priorities for the day and write them down in your journal. To help you identify your priorities, ask yourself these two questions:
What thing(s), if achieved, would lead me to consider that this day would be a total success?
What thing(s), if achieved, lead to significant progress towards my bigger goals (weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly goals)?
I recommend you keep your priorities at a maximum of three, as anything above that leads to split focus, time and energy — which decreases your productivity.
Most people are unproductive because they work without a clear plan. This lack of clarity quickly leads to procrastination as the brain doesn’t like ambiguity. When you lack clarity on when you’re going to do what, your brain will use this moment of ambiguity to talk you out of doing the hard work and do something easier instead (such as watching a funny YouTube video).
“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.” — James Clear
That’s why scheduling your day in the morning is so important. By pre-determining when you’re going to do what, you remove the need for decision-making within the moment as you’ve already created a precise plan in advance.
Psychologists call this an ‘implementation intention,’ and a study in the British Journal of Health Psychology has shown that this makes you at least twice as likely to do what you had in mind.
In other words, by scheduling your day, you fight off procrastination.
During the day, you want to avoid making decisions that could’ve been made in advance.
Decision making requires a lot of mental energy — and we’re much more likely to make lower-quality decisions (for example, procrastinating instead of doing the work) later in the day when we have less energy available.
That’s why, every single morning, I use my journal to schedule my day (later in the day, I transfer this schedule to Google Calendar on my phone). This way, I know exactly what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it — keeping procrastination on the low.
Remember, change only comes from taking action, not just by knowing about it. That’s why I recommend you pick out at least 3 of these journaling practices and apply them in your morning routine.
Furthermore, I recommend you follow the advice of Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, who suggests that you should write only a few sentences or paragraphs at most — much less than you might want to — in order to keep up with the habit and avoid dropping it because it becomes too intimidating or too time-consuming.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab