Journaling: it’s a practice whose benefits have been espoused by from everyone from Thoreau to therapists, wellness coaches and religious leaders. While everyone advocates journaling a little differently—focusing on writing down this rather than that—they agreement that slowing down to write something down improves an individual. As you jump into 2018, here is my preferred journaling method to get you started.
During my time as an equestrian athlete, I was introduced to a technique called deep practice meditation. Deep practice is a pedagogical practice used by high performance athletes to help them get into the flow and achieve peak performance by accelerating skill development. Often, journaling accompanies the meditation to record desired responses to stimulus, nuggets of wisdom and other learning moments. Olympic athletes, such as Courtney King-Dye, use journaling as means to rehearse peak performance outside of practice, so that practice time can be capitalized. Dan Coyle wonderfully breaks this practice down and explains the neuroscience behind it in his book, The Talent Code.
I started deep practice journaling as a businesswoman when I was first tapped to be CEO of a mature company. As when I was an athlete, journaling has become an invaluable part of my professional growth. A recent article by Dan Ciampa in the Harvard Business Review indicates I am not the only new CEO to embrace journaling as an effective C-Suite transition aid.
Why journal? Here are three key benefits I have received from it, both as athlete and a new CEO:
First and foremost, journaling helped me to embrace the steep learning curve I was on and accelerate the transition. It helped me to identify what I didn’t know so I could focus on leadership development in those specific areas. Organizationally, it assisted me by enabling me to more quickly see where the gaps were—both in my own leadership skills, as well as the organizational structure, processes and knowledge bases—to more effectively achieve my strategic vision. The faster I could begin to break down the capabilities and skills needed to achieve a component of my plan, the faster I could help the company develop the skills and capabilities needed for success.
➔ Here’s how you can tap into this: You have your strategic vision in place and all are marching towards it. Pick an area (say, entering a new market) and journal about the steps you want to take to get there. Be as specific as you can! Next, dig in and see what skills/capabilities/challenges confront your organization in executing your plan. As with the first part, be as specific as you can be. I frequently did this on both organizational and personal levels.
Journaling was particularly invaluable in growing my leadership skills. Whether I was being drug into office politics or had to deal with a particularly difficult employee situation, journaling helped me to step back, look at the bigger picture and what triggers led to the situation. By pausing to reflect, I could then choose how to constructively respond. Moreover, by slowing down and looking at the situational triggers, I was better equipped to nip the situation in the bud the next time I identified a trigger and bypass a potentially unpleasant situation. This saved me valuable time and energy and kept my efforts focused on what mattered. It also served as a reminder of what strategies worked well—and what didn’t work at all.
I didn’t have a large bank of experience to draw upon, so journaling helped me to compensate for this shortfall. I recorded what strategies I employed to overcome which gaps, and what happened. By not being afraid to try new strategies and making note of what worked in which situations, I increased my effectiveness in transforming the organization. As an added benefit, I gained a reputation internally of being an effective leader.
➔ Here’s how you can tap into this: Journal after something unexpected happens. Whether it is a good surprise, or something more unpleasant, like a key employee suddenly quitting or a meeting not going as you had hoped, take the time to slow down and reflect on what happened. What led up to the unexpected occurrence? What factors were present? How did you respond? Where is the door left open to? As a result of the incident, what opportunities presented themselves? Also, try journaling about what strategies you/the company tried, and what the outcome was.
This benefit is more of a by-product of journaling than the other benefits. As time passed, the situations I felt ill prepared to deal with became fewer, and my ability to influence the outcome increased – I could direct the outcome, rather than just maintaining status quo. I could flip back through my journal and see how I dealt with difficult situations, what strategies I used to address company weaknesses to what avail, and how my leadership moved from passively transforming the organization to actively effecting constructive change.
➔ Here’s how you can tap into this: Journal regularly. Try to identify a few key moments throughout your week, such as after important meetings or other key leadership moments throughout your week to carve out 10-15 minutes to reflect and journal. I always journaled on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Take the time to build the habit of deep practice journaling into your leadership this year. As I’ve outlined in this article, it doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes at a time, and you and your organization with both reap the rewards from this habit. You won’t regret it!