There are lots of advantages that come up as a result of journaling regularly. One really interesting benefit is an improvement in our ability to focus. Not just in work, but at home, in our various relationships, health, creativity, basically our whole life! But what is focus? For most it’s an experience where we are paying attention, have clarity and lacking distraction. The hard part is doing it. So let’s break down my top three types of journals to improve your focus:
“Working through a problem” Journal
How many times have you sat down to work on a high concentration task only to drift away in your mind again? Maybe to think about that annoying thing that your relative said to you. This type of journal can help with this. It’s great when you are stuck in a loop in your mind with a problem that is affecting your focus. A famous psychologist Carl Jung said that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” So attempting to avoid or ignore the problem causes more distress in our thinking and emotions. This can have a knock on effect on our ability to focus also.
Here you can use the journal as a way to get it out of your head and put it on paper. So if something like a minor interaction with someone is staying on my mind and I’m not able to get rid of it then I will write down:
1. what the problem is
2. my feelings around the problem
3. try to understand how to overcome it.
Or if it’s something that is outside my control and I can’t overcome, is it something that I need to accept and work through? Are there things that I could do to help to move past it or at least allow it to be less sticky and irritating. So the basic aim is to keep asking yourself questions around the problem. Embody that three-year old kid that keeps on asking why to get to the root of the problem.
This journal is almost like sitting with a counsellor or coach so that you’re almost using the journal, like talking to someone. And by the way this can be a great way to prepare for a session with a counsellor or qualified coach. So you are working through some of the problems in advance.
“Setting your intention for the day” Journal
One way to improve our clarity and focus is to use a journal I call “Setting your intention for the day”. This is not an exercise in listing out all the tasks you hope to get done for the day. Of course, listing things down can be very useful for clarity and focus. However for any fellow perfectionists out there you will be familiar with that overwhelming feeling when you don’t get all the things done on your list! “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Stephen Covey. What this particular journal can help with is to clarify what you value. By reminding yourself of something that’s really important to you that you want to do that day.
When we connect a clear sense of purpose to our actions then it makes it much easier to focus. As opposed to doing things we feel we “have to do” or “should do”. So for example, if you want to focus on making health changes like moving more everyday. Maybe journaling in the mornings with the intention to go for a walk, for 15 minutes on your lunch break. Follow this up by writing down your purpose around moving more. Such as you want to feel less stiff, you want to clear your head on your lunch break, you want to get a little bit healthier when you’re playing with your kids. So thinking of all the different reasons of why it’s important to you.
Here we can either look back on our day or at an event in the past. At the core, journaling allows us to become more consciously aware of our own thoughts, emotions and actions when we look back. We are often very unconsciously thinking and acting so journaling is one way to become more Self-Aware. Here we are able to look at things differently, from alternative perspectives and come out of automatic ways of thinking and doing. So when we become more self aware and capture unhelpful thinking we can stop it from sabotaging us from being present and focused.
An example could be writing down some unhelpful thoughts such as “I didn’t get enough work done today” The next part is looking at, is it true? Can I look at it from a third perspective as if somebody I love or somebody I really respect was giving me advice. How might they view this opinion I’m having? And then asking are there alternative perspectives that could be valid?
As you can see journaling can be a great way to improve your focus. To help you decide which type or types of journals will help you most I recommend paying attention to what takes you out of focus. Such as thinking about a problem or being distracted when you are unaware of your thoughts and actions or maybe not having clarity about what you are doing and why. Here you can find a way to move forward and become more focused in any area of your life.