Practically no one keeps a Journal… Practically no one reads. Knowing that everyone else is avoiding these tasks… We know that these tasks will improve your life. So lets get cracking… For all of the people who hate on journals, this post should break down exactly why you should have one and how it is going to 1) increase performance and 2) force you to develop better habits.
Why Should You Write: The truth is that writing a single page in a word document will take less than 10 minutes. This is because all of the information is new, fresh and easily recalled. The 10 minutes you invest in tracking your own progress is going to show relative strengths, relative weaknesses and clear areas where improvements can be made immediately. All of these items are going to be difficult to track without consistency (consistency is key – day or night is not impactful).
A journal is personal compounding interest. You won’t see any noticeable gains unless you do this for at least 90+ days in a row. Why? It will be difficult to spot trends and see holes in your diet, workout, mentality and overall progress.
The benefit? Once you’ve established the habit you will be hooked as you’ll make at least one adjustment that will benefit you immediately. If you do not see at least one or two holes over the course of a year, you should stop immediately… because it simply means you’re not taking it seriously.
Enough with the over view, can you show a real life example?
1) Athletics, the Most Common Example: Training journals are extremely common for weightlifting, sprinting, distance running, swimming etc. The difference between a high end journal and a low end training journal is this:
Person 1: Simply tracks reps and weights
Person 2: Tracks reps, weights… and also tracks muscular trends and soreness.
This is the difference between good and great. You’re making a mind muscle connection and you’re actively searching for areas to take your skills to the next level. If you are properly tracking your muscles and performance, you are now in a significantly better position to break a plateau.
Anyone who has attempted to break a plateau will know one thing… It seems impossible to crack for weeks at a time. This is the difference between Person 1 and Person two from the example above.
Person 1: Training journal says “Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps at 275 lbs”.
Person 2: Training journal says “Squat: 3 sets of 8 reps at 275”, right IT band and hamstring is tighter than left.
For serious athletes, you already know the solution to this. You attempt left legged and right legged jumps to see if there is a muscle imbalance. What happens next? When you run and jump to touch an arbitrary marker (vertical jump markers, a basketball backboard, a football goal post etc.) you will notice that there is a significant difference in the height (call it 2 inches instead of the typical 0.5 inches for left foot vs. right footed jumpers). Now you’ve confirmed the muscle imbalance and turn to your training regimen and realize the following… You’ve been running 200 meter sprints for the last 4 weeks.
If this is true the answer is simple, you’re going to run the 200 meter sprint clockwise instead of counter clockwise forcing more pressure on your right leg during the bend of the turn. Your 200 meter workout suffers by a half second to a second, however your body adapts within a week or two and the next thing you know… You’re now squatting 3×8 reps of 305lbs.
Not Sold yet? Not an athlete? How about this…
2) Diet: Track your diet at a high level. While calorie counting is all the rage these days, if you’re a busy person who exercises it is best to start simple by monitoring exactly what was consumed and ignoring the total calorie count for now. If you want to go from good to great you can add the exact portion sizes, however, this routine will keep you honest about what you have actually consumed.
How is this going to help? You’re going to break bad habits.
Three years ago I personally had a bad habit of eating a chocolate glazed doughnut every single Sunday of the week (being honest sometimes two!). This was like clock work, I would rush to the bakery eat and then move on with my day, an odd habit. While it doesn’t sound like much, just like other things in life the small efforts compound and add up. I couldn’t seem to drop the last 1-2% of body fat I wanted.
After reading about the negative impacts of heavy carbohydrate consumption after lunch, I decided to track my diet in my regular journal. Things started to change. Instead of going to grab my glazed doughnut I was grabbing a banana and mixed fruit cup instead (an extra $3 no big deal). Within 6 months I noticed a slight change to my body fat which allowed me to reach my goal.
Why did this happen? This happened because I forced myself to write down what I ate and had to stare at the results every single day I double clicked the word document. Once you write down chocolate and maple glazed doughnut two times in a row… You start to shake your head. It becomes harder and harder to write down the bad decisions.
Still not sold yet? Believe your exercise routine is perfect? Believe your diet is impeccable? How about this…
3) Mental Growth: Everyone reading this blog should have lofty goals. If they are not lofty you’re not aiming high enough in the first place. With that in mind, how are you going to reach your goals if you are not learning something new? How are you going to retain the knowledge without writing it down? How are you going to debunk previous beliefs without tracking them? You simply can’t.
For this one, lets turn to the work force. We already explained the importance of politics and keeping a journal can help save your career as well. Every day you need to learn something new within your field. It can be as small as knowing your Managing Directors preferred color template or as large as knowing about a firm wide layoff.
Write it down.
Many people are going to read the Managing Director example and think this is brown nosing when in reality it is simply people skills. If you know your superior is a hard core Boston Red Sox fan it is probably smart to avoid bragging about a New York Yankees win. Even if you are a Yankees fan, a socially intelligent person is going to avoid the topic entirely. Think about the close friends you have. You certainly avoid some topics on purpose since you simply don’t see eye to eye. We all have plenty of these. This will save trouble for both of you.
How is this going to add up? Keep light tabs on people, events and obtained knowledge. If you believe this is brown nosing, again you’re missing the point. This is akin to knowing your best friends birthday or knowing his or her favourite food when you happen to be in the same area. There is a difference between being thoughtful and a suck-up. The difference is that you’re not changing your personal beliefs to adjust for them, if you disagree with them, simply avoid the topic (see foolish people who argue about politics).
Fast forward 6 months. By this point you should know the quirks of the people within your office. You should know which groups dislike each other, which people love each other and which ones are simply apathetic. This is going to do a lot of leg work for you. Instead of worrying about prioritization and wondering what a certain person wants… you’re going to have a quick document to check and confirm your beliefs. You can laugh now but if you do, you’ll see that you have wasted your own time. Knowing that person A prefers to see Document 1 first instead of Document 2 first is going to change your entire workflow. In addition, everyone in the office will believe you are simply more efficient than others.
Do this correctly? During your performance reviews the first thing they will say is this:
“You seem to make the work environment easier for everyone around you”
If that doesn’t give you an edge, nothing will.
If you’re not sold on a Journal improving your physical and mental health then we do not know how to proceed. However… If you’re looking to add this simple exercise to your life, below is a template that has been adjusted over the years. We suggest a digital document as it is easier to search for information on a historical basis.
Day Month, Year
Today, I realized work was going to be lighter than usual so I decided to add an extra cardio workout at the end of the weight-lifting routine. Highlights of the day were 1) finishing document X and sending to client Y, 2) improving bench press by X lbs and 3) limiting caffeine intake to 1 cup of coffee.
Breakfast: 1lb mixed berries, 1 cup coffee, 16oz water, 1 cup almonds, 4oz ham and 2 fish oil tablets
Lunch: Half chicken, side brown rice, side of mixed vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower), 16 oz water and 1 banana.
Snack: Carrots and celery sticks. 8 oz water and 2 fish oil tablets
Post Workout: 300 calorie protein shake and 16 oz juice (carrots, apples, kale and coconut water)
Dinner: Half pound of salmon, mixed vegetables (zuchinni and carrots) and a handful of olives
Bench Press: 3×10 reps X LBS… No noticeable changes
Close Grip Row: 3×10 reps X LBS… No noticeable changes
Incline Bench: 3×10 reps X LBS… Personal record by 10lbs, right side seems stronger
Wide Grip Row: 3×10 reps X LBS… No noticeable change
Decline Bench: 3×10 reps X LBS… Notice left side soreness
Rack Pulls: 3×10 reps X LBS… Notice lower back pain is gone
Run: 3 miles easy run – Felt good today due to lower effort at work
1) Reminder that managing director Y is going to have his second child in about a week. He seems to stress with personal issues so better to avoid this week.
2) Left chest tightness means I should probably switch to dumbbell bench press to fix the imbalance
3) Finished chapter X of X book which suggests I change my email message pattern to Y.
4) Friday is going to be a longer than expected work day as XYZ project is running a bit slow. Going to prepare for this by taking off a bit earlier on Thursday as most people are out of the office at that time
Plan for Tomorrow: Knowing the workload is likely going to be higher, I plan on reading a bit more and decreasing intensity at the gym. Will stick to weight lifting and avoid cardio giving me an extra 30 minutes to read book X on topic Y. Given the lower expectations for lifting, I plan on eating a tad less as well.
***Bonus: Every year, you’re going to add 400+ pages of writing. This will improve your typing speed and writing abilities as well. Just remember to write the truth and you can look back and see the performance for yourself.