This is the first in a series of posts about personal development. As I mentioned previously, there are no apologies for this. Leadership potential cannot be reached without intentional work on self improvement, as well as developing our skills in the care of others.
Journaling - really!?
For many people, the idea of keeping a journal is an unusual one - perhaps for authors, sailors or teenage girls. There are a number of benefits however to keeping a daily record of your life as it happens. These include:
- It is therapeutic. Things happen to us - much more important than these events, is the meaning we ascribe to them. Journaling helps us sort through experiences and be intentional about how we interpret them. Combined with mindfulness, journaling the successes and challenges of our life can help to disentangle thoughts, work through their meaning and provide clarity that might not otherwise become available.
- Understanding context. Writing down daily events helps you reflect on their context in the bigger picture of where you are, where you are going and their relevance.
- Better learning. Recording important lessons and reflecting on your journal in subsequent weeks and months helps to galvanise experiential learning.
- More reliable than human memory. How much of your early life do you actually remember? Events that took place, details about what happened on what day or month. The harsh truth is that most of us don’t have perfect recall. As time goes by our memories fade, precious moments lose their lustre and small details are lost. Having documentation of things that are important to you is fascinating to read back on, and if you wish will act as a legacy for your family.
- It’s versatile. Journaling can be as simple as a list of things you did on a given day or as complex and long as a 5 page prose. I do both. It can be feelings about your past, your family, relationships, personal growth, a note about a co-worker who annoyed you, a film review, a dream, quotes that appeal to you - literally anything. They are all great to get off your chest and to look back on later in time.
- It’s private. You can be completely open and honest about what is on your mind and how you feel about it. Connecting with your feelings is important - they can give you early warning of when something in your life needs attention. Nothing you write has to see the light of day. It’s a safe space.
Old school or electronic?
For many people, nothing beats the tactile sensation of a bound book in the hand, and the flow of ink on paper. I do journal this way sometimes, but for me over the last couple of years, I've moved to using an electronic app called Day One. Unfortunately, it’s only available for iOS and Mac, but there are a number of other choices out there for all mobile and desktop devices. Look out for features that are included in Day One, such as:
Great design. You have to like how it feels, the layout, how easy it is to use and whether you actually enjoy using it. You need to, because you’ll be opening it several days a week, if not daily.
The ability to quickly add an entry. It’s great to be able to do it on the go. I’m always entering my thoughts, pictures, quotes I come across and other information, then tidying it up later.
Images. For me, hands down the ability to add pictures is the most important feature. I’m a very visual person and when I look back over my journal, I remember so much more about events and the past when there is a picture there. Often it’s just a cafe I visited, someone I was with, a location, a baby I delivered, or bottle of wine that I liked. Sometimes when I don’t have time to write, I’ll just pick up a picture or two from my camera roll and create entries to fill in the details later.
Search and tagging. It’s very helpful to be able to search your electronic journal, and by tagging individual entries, you can quickly find ones about a specific topic. My tag set includes those such as work, family, quote, kids, babies, photography, friends, inspiration, growth, gratitude, travel, hotel, wine. You get the idea. Entries tagged with hotel, for example, contain a brief personal review of each place I stay and if the room is great, I include the room number and a picture, so I can request the same one next time.
Additional benefits. Day One automatically captures some data about each day as you write the entry - the date/time of course, physical location, what the local weather was when you wrote it. You can scan through entries sequentially, by date, tag, view your journal as a photo album and even publish entries as articles, with a private web link.
Best of all, Day One has released version 2 this week and I don’t mind saying that I’m pretty excited about it (it's half price until 11 January 2016) ! But whether you use Day One, another electronic option or go old school with a Moleskine and your favourite pen - journaling should definitely be part of your personal development package.
Here are some other articles about journaling:
Huffpost - 10 surprising benefits you’ll get from keeping a journal
Why journaling makes better leaders
Lifehacker - why you should keep a journal (and how to start yours)
A doctor's experience of journaling