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  • Writer's picturePhil Murray

Should I Keep a Fitness Journal?

To learn how journaling helps in fitness I had to zoom out a little further and look at how journaling simply helps at all? Not just in fitness, but in life!

Many times, we hear about fitness journaling, and we don’t consider how it isn’t really any different than regular journaling and how journaling in general is helping us be successful; many of the rules and benefits of journaling that help in fitness apply to how journaling can be effective in the big picture.

Many successful people that shaped our current culture journaled, they didn’t always call it that, sometimes they called it a diary, idea book, musings, or research, but whatever they called it they attribute journaling to their success.

From historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci to modern pop culture icons like Jennifer Aniston, we can find recordings of how they recorded their early thoughts and how they used that to stay grounded or keep track of their progress. Here is a list of some others who have journaled: Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Lady Gaga, Socrates, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, the list can go on and on. Both historical figures and modern influencers have been keeping journals in their own form for a lifetime.

So how does journaling help?

1. Expressing your questions brings clarity.

When psychologist Brian Ross enrolled in classes for computer science with a bunch of classmates that were more than a decade younger than him, he says that his success in those settings were due to his ability to express questions and find answers to those thoughts easier because he expressed them.

He would routinely ask himself out loud, why does this matter? Or what is there to learn from this? And through doing so was able to keep his thoughts on track and work towards meeting a goal with his learning, essentially, he employed the learning technique of self-explaining in keeping himself on track.

Self-talk is sometimes seen in a negative light, it is seen as a form of confusion when the public hears you doing so. But it is a great technique to keep your focus on the big picture. By giving voice to your questions within a bigger picture can bring clarity to your impulse of curiosity.

Take a simple question that may come up like, “what are waves?” and we come to a basic conclusion like well the wind makes waves. But bringing your curiosity to a more detailed and articulated level like “why are there still waves when there is no wind” or “how does a small amount of wind make such a difference” will incite deeper understanding.

Journaling allows us to take those moments of self-talk or asking ourselves questions to a place of articulating how we feel about them in a safe place that leads to finding answers and resolution.

2. Journaling encourages lifelong learning and improvement.

In 2015 Doreetha Daniels got a degree in social sciences at the age of 99. Daniels understood the value of learning constantly.

While we will not all have the desire or need for a formal education that late into our lives, the benefits of always learning will pay off in ways that make lots of impacts. Studies have shown that learning new skills, such as a new instrument or modern technology, staves off cognitive decline. Learning new things throughout life also improves memory and creativeness.

By always journaling you are always putting yourself in an environment to ask questions and explain answers thereby cultivating learning.

Oprah Winfrey talks about her early journaling and how as time went on she changed her journaling style from a form of complaining and worrying to expressing goals, aspirations, and gratitude. Without these outlets she says that she would not have been able to learn the skills to perceive the world that led to her award-winning talk show and books. She was able to look back on her journaling and see how it brought upon growth and learning that she was able to apply to great success.

Journaling brings us to a state of productivity, if we are always writing and expressing, we are going to follow that path to answers and resolution. Which will mean we are going to stay in a mindset of improving and may just lead us to a place where we have our head wrapped around the situation enough that we can clearly share that gained perspective with others.

3. Journaling tracks progress and helps achieve goals.

Your goals may be inventing a light bulb, or it may be losing a few pounds, either way, keeping a journal is a powerful tool to help you achieve those goals.

When you create goals in a journal, it forces you to commit to your goals. When you write things down they are in a way cemented, sure we can throw it out or erase an item on the list and replace it with a new goal, but we recommend you don’t do that! Write down what is in your heart right now. What are the most important things to you now?

There was a time where I wanted to get a six pack. That felt like the most important thing, as time passed and I changed, my goal became to gain financial freedom, and even further down the road it became happiness. That journey is worth noting as I learned from each goal and the challenges I met along the way. I would not be able to focus on new goals that were part of the bigger picture in my life without first exploring my thoughts and challenges that led me there.

Every goal you have comes with mountains to climb, progress made, and yes, setbacks. We learn from each of these encounters and each lesson is important in moving towards the next phase.

Sometimes the lesson I need to remember is how one process played a role in embarking on the next process, shifting my focus to something new that yielded more rewards. But I never regretted my experiences or threw out a lesson learned – in fact that experience was imperative.

Journaling brings that awareness and progression to the forefront every time we look to write a new page. Tracking progress is a powerful way of gaining motivation and focus on the next step of our journey in meeting the goals we set for ourselves.

What does journaling do in fitness?

Well, all three of these reasons for journaling in life are applicable in our fitness journey! You need to express what you are asking and experiencing to have a clear picture of the next step, you need to always be learning and growing, and you have to track progress and examine how that progress is helping you meet goals.

While each of these benefits are important to a fulfilled life, they can also be scaled down to more specific areas of your life too, such as fitness or relationships.

Journals are as specific and unique as you are yourself.

No one system is right or wrong. Maybe it will serve you best as a logbook, or maybe you should be tracking how you feel from day to day. Whichever you choose, journaling will bring clarity, positivity, and improvements to your daily life.

Here are some tips for implementing journaling in your own life.

1. Keep your journal private.

It is okay to share what you have learned through your journal with others, but when you actually write it down, that should be 100% honest. And it isn’t always easy to be honest while expressing the questions or mistakes in your life if you are worried about what someone else may think.

Keep your journal private so you do not hesitate to be honest in every word you write down and you can use the tool to improve and recognize what you are learning.

2. Use a medium that fits your life

What we want to avoid is making this hard, so think about what you enjoy the most. Some people find a lot of joy in grabbing paper and pen – they should get a notebook that they can physically hold and slip between their mattresses when they are done. Others find it a chore to sit down and write – they can use an app or dictation to record their thoughts.

Either way, find something that is easy for you to remember and use often. It really doesn’t matter how you express the thoughts, but that you are doing it consistently and honestly.

3. Don’t hold back.

I have often wanted to be too structured when keeping a journal, my ideas go here, my logs go there, my gratitude’s go here, and so on. But it kept me from saying what was on my mind fully until I was in a place where “it was time” to write that thing.

Talk about how you felt that day, what numbers you recorded or achieved, the memories you made, the ideas you had, etc. all in the way that you feel comes most naturally.

I like to write a date at the top of the page and let ‘er rip. But if you feel like you need to log your numbers first before you get to your ideas (or whatever you have next), it can be too easy to feel tired and never get to the more personal thoughts.

Let it come naturally and you will find it to be the most therapeutic. That being said, some people respond best when there is organization, that is okay too! As long as you aren’t letting that be a reason you aren’t expressing what is most important on your mind that day. Maybe keep logs and thoughts in two different places - but keep them nearby eachother and write in whichever one is calling your name loudest that day!

4. Make it a habit.

We know there is a framework to building habits explained by James Clear in his book, “Atomic Habits”:

· Make it obvious (don’t let it be “out of sight”)

· Make it attractive (don’t let it feel like a chore, do it in a way that you find joy)

· Make it easy (phone, notebook, dictation, what works for you?)

· Make it satisfying (reward yourself for doing it).

Think about each of these steps and systematically implement the process that is right for you. Don’t forget a step, don’t “let it work itself out”. You need to be intentional with creating habits. Without a habit, it likely won't last long enough to see the long-term benefits of journaling.

If journaling is a part of your life, so will the benefits of it be. But it takes an effort to get there just like exercising itself.

5. Schedule time to journal.

If you make it a priority, journaling will be part of your day. However, waiting for the right time or just “seeing how the day goes”, is a recipe for letting other things get in the way.

Be sure to schedule time in your day to journal ahead of time. That may be right after you get dressed, during your lunch break, or before bed. But no matter when you decide to pull out your journal, put it in your calendar or set a reminder on your phone. Essentially, you must commit to it beforehand and protect that time you have set aside to do it.

Don’t worry about how much time you spend on journaling, starting with even 5 minutes is a win. In the book, “Atomic Habits,” James Clear introduces a rule he calls the 5-minute rule – basically he says that if you commit to doing something for 5 minutes, that is enough to build a habit. Even if you are just writing the date and staring at the page for 5 minutes every day, you’re building a habit.

Eventually that will turn into writing something down and more and more words will hit the pages. Don’t worry about how long you journal for or how much you write, just start with the first step.

Wrap Up

Journaling has many benefits, and they are specific to you. Journaling can be therapeutic, it can bring answers, it can bring motivation and encouragement, and many other things. Focus on being honest and simple to start. The benefits will be there, and you will be glad you did it!


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