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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Answer to Your Career Questions May Already Be in Your Hands

When I was first introduced to the idea of journaling as a way of resolving career issues, I was dubious. I mean, aren’t journal entries just a recap of what happened that day; a throwback to the diaries I kept as a girl—the ones with the little lock on the cover?

However, I’ve since been converted. I now use journaling as a powerful tool that helps me get clarity, identify new ideas, and release issues that are holding me back.

Dr. Mark Atkinson, an expert in the field of integrative medicine, wrote, “One simple, practical, and cost-free way to process your emotions, gain insight, and clear your head is through journaling. It is particularly good for liberating yourself from self-limiting beliefs and thoughts, healing emotional pain, finding new meaning and purpose, and supporting spiritual growth.”

And not only can journaling help you work through career-related issues, but you’ll get health benefits as well! Medical research shows that regular journaling strengthens immune cells and decreases symptoms in patients with chronic pain disease.

If you’ve never considered journaling as a way to help address and resolve issues in your career (or your life), I urge you to reconsider. You don’t have to be a writer or even like to write; you simply need to be willing to take an honest look at what’s going on with you and write it down.

Often, people avoid journaling because they think it’s too hard to get started. If that sounds like you, let’s get that out of the way first. Here are three tips you can use to lower your barrier to journaling.

1. Write Fast

Sandy Shipley of Sage Creative says, “One way to overcome a dislike of writing is simply to write fast, and don’t worry about how neat or grammatically correct this is. You don’t have to be a writer, or even like to write. Just do it.”

2. Let Go of Your Inner Critic

We are so self-judgey! And that can be a huge block to embracing the practice of journaling.

You may feel that if you can’t do it perfectly, you can’t do it at all. Not so, says Sandy. There are no rules for journaling. It’s for your eyes only, so what works for you, works—period.

3. Find the Bargain Basement

Don’t go out and buy a big, fancy, pretty journal that you’ll be reluctant to write in. Ferret out a cheap notebook at a resale store and get started. Sandy says even journaling on scraps of paper works. If you mess it up, who cares?

The bottom line is, the easier it is to get writing, the more likely you’ll be to do it.

OK, now that you’re ready, what the heck do you write about?

If you’re like me, you may think of journaling as a literal interpretation of what happens each day. Honestly, that makes the writing process uninteresting for me and, therefore, less appealing to try.

I’ve since learned there are millions of other things to journal about that make it way more interesting and revealing. Check out these three simple techniques to get started writing. See how they help you in your career—or in any other part of your life.

1. Brain Drain

Julia Cameron popularized this method in her book The Artist’s Way, where she suggests you quickly scribble what’s on your mind right when you wake up each morning. Write two or three pages, long hand, of stream-of-consciousness writing. Cameron says this will “provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize, and synchronize the day at hand.”

I’ve used this practice, and I’m always amazed at the things that come out of my head that I didn’t even realize I was—at some level—thinking about. Try it and see what happens for you!

2. Use a Prompt

Questions are a great way to get your writing started. For example, to think a little deeper about your career, here’s a good prompt: What am I afraid of?

Write this question—and your answer to it—every day for a week. Think about your job, your career, and your goals. Do you fear being fired? Failing at work? Being discovered as an imposter? Putting these thoughts into words in your journal can help you gain clarity about what’s holding you back or limiting your success at work.

You may find, as I did, that writing about the bits we fear or struggle with actually frees you from the hold they have on you.

3. Make a List

You may be great at making to-do lists. If so, this journal practice is perfect for you. Just reframe your lists to reveal some deeper thoughts about your career. For example:

  • Make a gratitude list just before you drift off to sleep at night. For example, what are you thankful for in your job? This can be a positive way to reframe your day and your perspective of a challenging career.

  • Make a list of achievements. Reflecting on what you’ve already accomplished is a great solution for when you’re feeling down and out. Too often, we neglect this part of our self-inventory. It’s so much easier to look at what isn’t done yet, isn’t it? Instead of focusing on your to-do list, keep a list of your “ta-das”—that is, the things you’ve gotten done.

  • Create a list about your ideal future. What does it look like? What would it be like if you had your perfect career, boss, or job? What does your ideal day include? Often we focus on what we don’t like in our jobs. Giving some thought to the ideal situation can shift your energy.

  • Start a “things I used to believe” list. This is a common discussion I have with the clients I coach as I see them grow. Perhaps they used to believe they couldn’t confront that difficult manager, but now they can do so confidently and with great results. Seeing how your beliefs change over time can create a huge, positive reflection point. What better way to capture your personal development stories than in a journal?

  • In a big hurry? Write down three good things that happened today. Super simple—but effective.

If you’ve never tried journaling as a career tool, now is a great time to start. A journal practice is another tool in your personal and professional toolkit that will serve you throughout your career.

Photo of journal courtesy of Shutterstock.