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How to Begin Journaling for Success

how to begin journaling for success

We’ve all heard the stories before. Whether it’s Oprah, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, or Emma Watson, we know how important journaling is for other people’s success. 

But how, exactly, journaling helps people find success remains something of a mystery.

In this article, I will show you the difference between journaling and journaling for success. 

Related: How to Overcome a Fear of Failure: Start a Journal

Is Journaling for You?

The way people talk about journaling sometimes makes it sound like magic. We’re told that it keeps them centered, that it helps them stay organized, and that it’s the key to achieving their goals.

That sounds wonderful. I mean, who couldn’t use a bit more centering and achieving?

To make things even better, we’re told that anybody can get a piece of this magic. All you need is a pen and some paper.

At this point, it’s pretty hard not to imagine what a journal could do for your life. Am I right?

Sure, you probably won’t become the next Albert Einstein (also a famous journaler). But if a pen and some paper is all you need to begin journaling for success and actually start to accomplish your goals, what are you waiting for?

Imagine for a minute what your life would be like with even a minuscule of a fraction of the success Oprah has had. 

Pretty crazy, right?

But, anyone who has ever started a journal already knows that it’s not quite that simple. Sure, that first week of entries feels like you’re making some real progress.  

But, as time passes, it begins to feel a bit mundane. Maybe it even becomes a chore. 

And you begin to feel bad. Or worse, you think there’s something wrong with you.

After all, journaling is supposed to help you to be at peace, to accomplish more, and to find success.

It seems to work like a magic bullet for other people, but when you do it, nothing in your life changes. You’re still frazzled. You still don’t meet your goals. And you definitely aren’t any more successful.

So you come to a simple conclusion: Journaling is not for you.

The Big Lie

The big lie holding you back from journaling for success

I’m here to tell you that the problem is not with jounaling itself or with your ability to do it. The problem is that you’ve bought into a lie.

The reason journaling isn’t making any difference in your life is that you’re doing it wrong.

There, I said it. There is a wrong way to journal.

You see, the big lie out there about journaling is that people say that every person can journal in their own way. People claim that there is no “right way” or “wrong way” to journal.

But that’s only true if you don’t want to see tangible results in your life.

If you’re happy just writing a few words on a page each day that don’t impact your life in any meaningful way, then I guess you’re free to journal however you want. There are no rules for you.

But if, like most people, you journal because you actually want your life to be better and you want to have success, then there are some rules you need to learn.

The big lie covers up the truth: People who accomplish significant things in life almost always use their journal in the same ways.

They have what I call the journaling for success mindset.

There are six key aspects to the journaling for success mindset that virtually all successful journalers have in common.

And developing the journaling for success mindset is one of the most important things you can do to join the ranks of those who count their journal as their most prized secret weapon.

In what follows, I outline each of the six major aspects of the journaling for success mindset, and I show you how you can begin to develop this mindset in your journaling practice to start seeing tangible results in your life today.

1. Clarity

People who have a journaling for success mindset approach journaling as an opportunity to gain clarity about their thoughts and values.

It’s easy to think that we know what we believe and what we value in our lives. It’s easy to say that you value family and friendship, but what does this really mean? How do these values shape your daily schedule or your long-term professional goals?

If you sit down and write about those things, you might be surprised what comes to mind. When you write it down, it becomes easier to dig deeper into these things and wrestle with some of the tough questions that come up.

Studies have shown that physically keeping a journal activates the “reticular activating system” in your brain. This is the part of your brain that filters and focuses information.

So, when you put pen to paper you are helping you brain think. 

This is what Barack Obama has said is the most beneficial part about journaling for him:

In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are. The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.

By writing out thoughts, successful people gain a clearer understanding of what they believe. This helps them more efficiently process experiences, effectively evaluate progress, and set and reach meaningful goals.

By using a journal for the purpose of gaining clarity about beliefs and values, you will better understand where you are coming from and where you want to go.

If you’re dead clear about where you’re coming from – your strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures – you are able to form a clear vision for your future.

With a journaling for success mindset, a journal is not simply a place to write to-do lists. It is the place to get clarity on on the most important aspects of life.

2. Measure

If you’re not using your journal to measure your progress, you’re missing out on a powerful tool. 

Successful people want to grow and improve every day. That’s obvious. After all, that’s how they become successful in the first place. 

But simply wanting to grow is not enough. Successful people know that it is also important to keep a record of where they are in each moment. That way they can go back and measure themselves against where they were three months, six months, or a year ago.

People who have a journaling for success mindset understand that comparing yourself to other people does not produce positive results. But comparing yourself to who you were yesterday is much, much more beneficial

Most people use a journal to record their emotional highs and lows already. But what separates the way a successful person journals from how the rest of us journal is that the successful person uses the records from yesterday and last week to measure where they are today.

It’s a simple mindset shift that can make a world of difference.

3. Creativity

Successful people know that creativity is important, no matter what area of life you are talking about.

A journaling for success mindset views journaling as a way to improve creativity. 

World-famous author, Virginia Wolfe, said that journaling was essential for cultivating creativity. Because journaling forces you to write with less care than if you were writing for an audience, it allows you to explore new ideas freely:

But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.

Many of us already include musings about various problems or challenges we face in life in our journals. But how many of us use our journals to test out solutions to those challenges?

Writing quickly and to the point in a journal “loosens the ligaments” of your creative imagination and improves your capacity to come up with creative solutions to problems you might face at work or in life.

4. Self-Creation

Those who journal for success know that the process of writing in a journal can be mysterious. The benefits can be clear but difficult to explain at the same time.

American writer and philosopher, Susan Santag, used her journal to create herself:

In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.

This might sound a bit strange at first. But let me explain.

A major part of who we are is in the past. The experiences of the past shape who we are in the present. But, because life continues and new experiences keep on coming, we often move on to new things before fully processing past experiences. 

Our past experiences could help to shape us more fully than they have, if we would just take the time to process them more deeply.

Each of our pasts are littered with infinite potential

Successful people recognize that keeping a daily journal helps us to mine the depths of those experiences for all they’re worth. 

And this actually shapes who we are.

Salman Rushdie, has put it well:

Never forget that writing is as close as we get to keep a hold on the thousand and one things – childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves – that go on slipping, like sand, through our fingers.

As our memories fade with time, pieces of ourselves fade along with them. By keeping a journal where you reflect on those memories and can go back and read about them, you will find that your past experiences can help shape you into a more fully-formed, productive person going forward.

Kathleen Adams, a psychotherapist and the author of Journal to the Self, has described journaling as “using personal material as a way of documenting an experience, and learning more about yourself in the process.” 

This process, when used over time, can help shape you into a fuller, more dynamic person.

 Those who have a journaling for success mindset recognize this.

5. Peace of Mind

Every successful person has to learn to juggle a lot of things at once. In fact, this is one of the main factors that separates successful people from the rest of us – they are able to keep a lot of things straight in their minds without dropping any of them. 

Journaling plays an integral role in this process. As Anne Lister said:

I tell myself to myself and throw the burden on my book and feel relieved.

If you have ever talked through a problem with a friend or therapist, you probably already know how valuable unburdening yourself can be. 

Writing down the things that keep you up at night in your journal has the same effect. 

It frees you from having to keep all the things you worry about – big and small – in your head, and allows you to focus on individual tasks. 

Journaling for peace of mind allows you to focus on one task at a time, which is essential for success.

6. Discovery

Those who journal for success know that being successful in life is directly related to knowing yourself. 

The truth is that the process of writing often brings out thoughts and ideas that we never knew we had. This teaches us so much about who we are.

The famous English novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray, said:

There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write.

Anne Frank said that, by writing, she was able “to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.”

Through writing we teach ourselves all kinds of interesting things about ourselves. 

You would be surprised what comes out when you let yourself write freely.

High achievers know that knowing yourself is foundational to success

Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and your true feelings about events, people and issues is unbelievably powerful because it enables you to maximize the other five aspects of the journaling for success mindset. 


If you want to use a journal to improve yourself and your life – if you want it to become a secret weapon that helps you find success – then do not buy into the lie that you can journal any way you want.

Because you can’t.

Instead, follow the example of hundreds of highly successful people who all have the same journaling for success mindset.

Successful people who are able to harness the magic power of journaling all intentionally approach journaling in order to:

    • find a deep level of clarity in setting goals and determining values
    • measure their progress against previous versions of themselves
    • foster creativity in order to solve complex problems
    • create fuller versions of themselves
    • experience peace of mind
    • discover who they are 

This approach to journaling is not easy. It takes quite a bit of effort. But the payoff is well worth it. 

Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment and let me know what your experiences have been. Have you tried to put these six elements together before? If so, how did it work out? 


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