3 Ways to Eliminate Excuses and Make Journaling Easy
You have heard it many times. “I have tried to journal, but I just can’t get consistent, and it takes too much time”.
Now this could be true from a time standpoint if you are a prolific writer, but I have found a way to journal almost every morning for 5 years, and sometimes every night.
And it doesn’t take me longer than 20 minutes and that fills a whole page.
So what can you do to start and continue to journal?
Everyone I know that has tried to meditate and gives it up seems to have a common theme. They get frustrated because “they aren’t doing it right”, or “it’s too hard for me to clear my mind.”
I know countless people (including myself) who have given up because “I’m not as good at this as I…………”.
You can fill in the blank.
The problem is we are being bombarded with “how to” instructions on everything.
Everyone has a formula that rightfully they want to share because it works for them.
But it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you and chances are you will not start much less start and stop.
1. Stop Judging Yourself
“When we struggle to change ourselves we, in fact, only continue the patterns of self-judgement and aggression. ..”
- Jack Kornfield
The very first thing we need to do is to stop judging ourselves and overcome the expectation that it is going to be perfect. Middle aged men, especially who have shown some level of success, have a false belief about things needing to be perfect. It makes sense because it has worked in the past. I don’t believe this is how journaling works, and men need to realize what got them here may not get them to live their best life going forward.
How can something be “perfect” when what’s perfect is what works for you?
The problem is that we have not created a habit, so the first couple times feels forced and you may not know where to even start. Men also may have gotten their instructions from a woman which makes them suspect if it will work for a man.
All of the sudden all the tips become overwhelming. The next step, whether conscious or not is that we judge ourselves and this allows us an “out”.
We tell ourselves that we are not good at this so we must be doing something wrong, and why keep doing something if we aren’t going to do it well and see the impact right away.
We have all heard the 10,000 hours to master a skill as quoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”. I don’t believe this to be true when it comes to journaling. I saw an impact in my life in 3 weeks. I have gotten to a point where if I feel off, and I reflect on the day, it typically started with me not journaling for some reason or another. When learning to meditate my instructor in a calm voice said that when I feel my mind start to wander, just say “oh well” and reground myself with my breath. This gave me the permission to not judge myself and fall back into the world of right or wrong. I can still remember the silly tone in which he said “oh well”, and it even lightens my mood and takes me back to centered. The same applies for journaling. If you start to judge, find your “Oh well”, and move on to your next step.
This portion is going to take a huge leap of faith as many of us think it’s not working so what’s the point? We may start to label it as a waste of time when in fact we are simply letting ourselves down and making excuses. Speaking of which:
2. Stop Making Excuses
“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
I have heard them all. From “I am just too busy”, “this is for women” to “I just don’t believe in that “woo woo” stuff”.
This is all from men who have tried and don’t want to admit the problem has less to do with them and more with how they are approaching the task.
Middle aged men I have spoken to also have this false belief that journaling it too feminine and more for women. It is as they are saying it challenges their masculinity somehow.
These men also believe (wrongly), that it is too late to start and if it worked, it would have taken hold by now. Men I have interviewed also believe there just has to be a better way. God forbid a buddy knows they are keeping a “journal”.
“What if my wife were to read my innermost thoughts, fears and dreams?”.
Just more excuses. Very real, and very scary for some men, but communication is one of the top reasons for success especially the communication you are having with yourself. I call this playing the tapes.
My perspective is that we have over complicated journaling to a point where we allow the time and other “necessary lies” about our manhood to be validated.
Bottom line, there are some days where I write three bullet points and sometimes they may just be someone’s initials. I know what it means and that is all that matters. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is better to have a more comprehensive strategy, but let’s get real honest. How long does it take to write three bullet points? It takes you longer to make your morning cup of coffee. And it works!
I won’t bore you with the countless scientific studies that journaling produces Serotonin and is one of the best ways to be fulfilled and reach your goals. If you are reading this article, you already know.
Problem is we know the stats on vaping as well, but it has become an epidemic. We try to fight logic with emotion which rarely works when changing habits. “Atomic Habits” by James Clear is a great read on why we can create some habits and struggle with others. Bottom line, there needs to be a payoff (Vision), and you have to stick with it long enough where you feel the payoff even if it’s on the subconscious level. It only took me three weeks, but I know of individuals who felt the benefit after just one week!
We also may be scared what comes out and jumps off the pages. A great deal of successful middle aged men are afraid and/or unsure about the future, and have not told a single person. They can be intimidated by what comes out and then feel worse if they don’t take action.
There are many times when I am writing and I am shocked at what I am writing and what it really says about me versus the world around me.
Journaling exposes your soul sometimes and that scares the crap out of some men. According to Benjamin Hardy, the NYT bestselling author of “Personality isn’t Permanent”, makes a compelling scientific argument that we can change our personality, but not without knowing what our goal is and what might creep up to be an obstacle. These are the type of insights that scare some of us as we would rather blame our current circumstances on our past. It makes it easy to blame others than recognize those people and events shaped who we were, but doesn’t mean that it is who we are forever. Most men, including myself, had a false belief that I am who I am and that is not going to change. Journaling is that window to the Soul and it’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The insights can be life changing.
I work with many men who do what I call “hacking at the leaves” versus getting to the root cause of why they are feeling the way they do. Once again, if these issues are uncovered, then it becomes “what do I do with this new perspective”, and “what will other people think?”. This may include people that are very close like a spouse or significant other.
3. Curate Your Journal to Fit Your Needs
“I was doing an interview with a curator, and he asked me to sum up art in one word. Before he even finished asking the question, I said, ‘Impurity.’ Because that’s it.”
There are many experts who give tips on how to journal, people who have published many tools that make the time excuse even smaller.
But we still can’t seem to get the process going.
My belief is that your process needs to be created and executed as you see fit. I’m not saying the experts are wrong, but are they more convinced about the process to help, or selling you a guided journal?
I believe that most men at the mid-life stage need it to be their own as they are dealing with a potential bucket of different circumstances than a 23-year-old who wants to accomplish certain goals.
For example, the 44-year-old me may have become cynical, and starting my journal with gratitude is the best thing we can do to start to break the cycle. It is also proven that you are more likely to stick to a program that you have input than one that allows you to critique before you even start. This is especially true for those that are starting in mid life.
I will share my format and please keep in mind that this is just “right” for me at this point in my life. My journaling consists of:
Three things I am grateful for from previous day or night.
I just added two intentions for the day.
This whole process takes no more than 20 minutes and that is if I am writing longhand.
By the way, I have 4 apps on my phone and I use a leather bound notebook everytime. A friend of mine has a similar approach and I asked him why he liked it that way as well, and he stated that the pen and journal with the textured paper grounded him each morning. Interesting.
If needed, I can make it as short as 5 minutes, but I commit to doing it every day. Am I 100% successful? Hell no! However, I can now tell before I lay my head on the pillow and review the day, which days were better and which ones were “off”. You know the answer.
This is my process for now, but I look at it as a layered cake. Sometimes I will slide a section in based on what is happening in my life and sometimes I will slide something out that is not proving beneficial.
It changes as my life changes.
I know when people see the word prayer it can be overwhelming or not fit your beliefs. That is fine.
However, if you do pray, know that sometimes my prayer is simple as “God, I am tired, and I just need you to read my heart”. You would think one line wouldn’t have an impact, but it does.
Where to Start
You already know the answer. It doesn’t really matter at the beginning.
Commit to doing it every week day for 3 weeks, and even journal the excuses that are coming to mind if that is all you have.
I can’t tell you how cool it is to go back through my journal and see where I was spot on and something like journaling manifested great things in my life, and times where I was so off in my thinking.
I am then able to match what is happening in my life at that time and it is uncanny how much you can learn about yourself.
If you don’t do anything else, just write down three things that were good or you were grateful from the day before.
You may feel silly, but I promise if you do it before life hits you in the face,(email, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), and you do it for at least 3 weeks, you will wonder why you didn’t start this process a long time ago.