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How to Start a Journaling Practice that Actually Works.

Cracking the code to a better life isn't as complicated as you might think.

You want to build your own business.

You want to get healthy and lose those 10 pounds.

You want to learn a new language before your next international trip.

You want to be a better mother/father while keeping your job.

You want it all. And you should…because life is worth creating what you want it to be. The thing is, some days, you wake up “on a diet” and by noon are having a slice of cake for dessert. Some days, it seems more realistic to just give up entirely before you even attempt to change.

Taking one step forward to take two back is beginning to get old. But you don’t know what else to do. These patterns get you down and leave you thinking you are alone in this. Well, think again considering that 80% of resolutions are broken within the first 60 days.

So why is it so hard to make these shifts? Why do so many people fail before they barely even start?

Habits.

You need a transformation habit that is going to kickstart your changes. And I know just what that habit is. Journal. Daily.

I have found, if done correctly, you will show up better in every area of your life — every area.

I can offer myself up as a guinea pig to this idea. Because, without question, building a daily journaling habit has been the number one factor contributing to the immense change that has happened in my life.

The excitement I feel about journaling might borderline embarrassment, but cracking the code to making life better is something that must be shared. Here are three actionable steps you can take to use journaling to help you succeed:

1. Start with baby steps.

This is what I realized, most people have tried and failed at journaling several times. It’s something you know you should do, but for some reason won’t do.

Why? Because you try to bite off more than you can chew.

I like to say, “don’t shoot for the moon when you can’t put on a spacesuit yet.”

When you started to read this, you likely imagined “journaling” to mean sitting down and writing page after page of beautiful story and insight. A single candle illuminated the pages while you scribbled away for hours. For some people (like Emily Bronte), this might be the case, but for most of us its looks very different.

Begin with something simple, like a list. Journal a gratitude list of 5 things each morning and each night. It can literally be 10 sentences for the day.

Here is the thing about gratitude, focus on the emotions…not the objects. Instead of thinking: “I love my cat.” Ask yourself…why? Then write a sentence about it: “Hearing my cat purr brings me joy.” or “Watching my cat kick litter all over the floor makes me laugh” (I don’t have a cat but imagine those things happen).

When you focus on the emotional experiences you have throughout the day your level of gratitude will have more depth and leave you feeling more inspired. Gratitude journaling is a scientifically proven way to improve your overall well being. It generates happier memories, deeper relationships, less stress, better sleep, improved decision making and so much more.

2. Journal right when you wake up.

Once you have started to build the habit of putting your pen in hand each day, you can grow the practice slightly. Don’t worry, we still aren’t writing a novel.

When you wake up, chances are, you reach for your phone right away and start checking email or scrolling social media, already absorbing content that can make you feel stressed. Instead, carve out 10 minutes where the first thing you do is journal. Allow anything and everything to leave your fingers without any concern or thought.

The rest of your day is probably going to be spent meeting the demands of others, so gift yourself these 10 minutes to have no judgment and no care.

Think this sounds silly, well the famous Salvador Dali would actually use the act of falling asleep and waking up immediately to generate a deep level of creativity. Thomas Edison was the same way, he used the precious moment of waking to generate some of his greatest ideas.

When you sleep your brain isn’t turned off, it is still thinking, but in a different biochemical state, a more visual and intuitive state the be exact.

You have likely heard of the right and left the brain. In conscious and non-REM states information travels mainly from left to right. But get this, during REM sleep there is no preferred direction. Which means the right side gets to come out and play more. Since this shift has happened, when you first wake from sleep, your right brain (the creative house) is more active.

What does this have to do with making your life better? Well, imagine waking up with a spark of creativity. Imagine waking up suddenly with a new idea, a solution to a problem you needed to solve or simply a moment of joy. You are not only going to feel better about yourself, but you are going to carry that emotion, that creativity, and possibly, that new idea, into your day.

3. Incorporate goals into your journal.

Use your journal to review and adjust your daily to-do list. Review your life vision and big-picture goals.

As you read and re-write your goals daily, they’ll become forged into your subconscious mind. Eventually, your dreams and vision will consume your inner world and quickly become your physical reality.

A lover of date, I found a study in Harvard Business revealed that only 3% of people write down their goals but they were three times more likely to succeed! Want that dream to come true, write it down!

And don’t skimp on how often you write it down and read it. Think back to that crush’s name that you may have written down over and over in a notebook. Okay, you might not have married them, but chances are you still remember their name to this day. Allow your journal to be a place to engrain your dreams and build up your goals. Even if you never re-read what you wrote, the simple act of writing things down increases your memory and brain development.

A tip for goal setting, write it in affirming verbiage. Ditch the “I want to be…” or “I would love to…” and replace it with “I am…” and “I will…” Writing in the present tense will make it feel more truthful and possible to reach.

I personally like to use the BestSelf Journal as a means of combining both my gratitude, my to-do’s and my goals into one single place. This way I am constantly being reminded of the goals I have set for myself. The more present they appear in your life the more likely they are to come true.

You have the power to build the life you want and become the person you want to be. Give it a try, I dare you.

This article first appeared on Medium.

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