Focus On This Podcast

61. The Power of Journaling



You want to live with intention. But life happens so quickly that you feel like you’re just reacting. The world feels chaotic and you’re wearing thin. This can’t really be living, can it?

We know what it’s like to long to feel grounded and confident about the life you’re leading. To get there, you’ll need to go beyond accomplishing your most important work. You need to learn from your life, shape your thinking, and cultivate self-awareness.

In this episode, we take a practical look at journaling—what it is, why it matters, and how it fits into the Full Focus System. Whether you’re a tried-and-true journaler or just not the journaling type, you’ll learn how engaging in regular reflection can help you get more out of your work—and your life.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How journaling changes what you notice day-to-day
  • Why even people who don’t like writing should journal
  • The difference journaling for just 15 minutes can make in your day
  • How journaling helps boost one of the most important skills of a leader
  • What’s happening next week—don’t miss this sneak peek!

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Happy Monday. Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays, with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton.
Courtney: Hey.
Blake: Oh, hey, Courtney. How are you?
Courtney: Good. How are you?
Blake: Thanks for dropping by the old Zoom closet for this podcast recording.
Courtney: Yes. Always good to be here with you. Sometimes I really wish everybody listening could actually listen to the five minutes before we start the podcast, because there’s always something funny that has happened.
Blake: Before we become the most productive podcast on the Internet, we actually start as maybe the most unproductive people on the Internet, and then we hit “record” and turn a corner. Have you ever done this? Or maybe you’ve heard this recently, especially this year, where someone says, “Wow! I can’t believe it’s already November” or “Whoa! Where did the month go? It’s already fall.”
Courtney: Do you mean have I said that yet today? Yeah. Every day I’m like, “Can you believe…?” I think especially because of the year we’ve had… I keep thinking back to March. I kept thinking things would be different than they’ve actually played out to be. I just thought, “Oh, we just have to get through this little season,” and then here we are. I keep being like, “Can you believe it’s already November? How? How is it possible?”
Blake: I’ve definitely been there. I think our listeners could probably relate to this. That’s one thing. It’s another thing even to get to the end of a quarter and feel like, “Oh, I’m not even close to my goal. Remember when I was so silly? What was I thinking when I set this goal?”
We just get in this flurry, this pace of going from thing to thing, and it feels like life is just happening to us sometimes, maybe especially this year, because everyone in some way, shape, or form has been affected by some very serious things…a global pandemic. It can feel like life is just happening, and I’m just kind of hanging on and getting through it, rather than proactively being connected to every day and feeling like you’re really living it. Do you know what I mean?
Courtney: Yeah. Totally. I don’t know if this is true for you two, but I can kind of distract myself by being busy and going from one thing to the other, and it almost distracts from what actually is happening. Then you get to November, and you’re like, “Did I just live 2020? I don’t know what just happened in 2020.”
Verbs: Well, good thing you have your planner. That way you can kind of look back and see what you’ve actually accomplished in this crazy 2020.
Courtney: That is true. What’s interesting today is we’re actually going to be talking about another resource that accompanies your planner in a totally different way. If I’m honest, I will say I have not been a journaler. I have not been someone who journals previously, but I do wonder as I look back on this year, specifically, how it would have been different if I had been in this practice of journaling. I think the cat is out of the bag. Should we go ahead and let people know about what’s happening next week?
Blake: Let’s do it.
Courtney: Okay. I was expecting one of you to, you know…
Blake: Next week, Courtney is dropping her first ever major label rap album.
Courtney: That noise I just made is the epitome of why that is so far from…
Blake: Was that beatboxing? What was that?
Courtney: I don’t know what it was.
Blake: Were you shushing your daughter? I couldn’t tell.
Courtney: It was so bad. Oh gosh. I need to never associate with any kind of music ever. But next week we are releasing a brand-new version of our Full Focus Journal, and it is epic, especially the way it implements with your Full Focus Planner. We’re really excited about that.
Blake: Let me say why I’m excited about it. I’m someone who likes to journal, but I haven’t always liked to journal. Today we’re actually going to talk about why you need a journaling practice, because if you don’t currently journal… You’re like, “I don’t need to journal. I listen to Blake on a podcast, so I have all the knowledge I need.” Maybe, “I already use my planner. It’s kind of a form of journaling.”
To a degree, yeah, it is. You’re cataloging your agenda, your actions, but there’s something really critical about journaling, which is it gives you space to assign meaning. It gives you space to process and assign meaning to what you’re experiencing, to those actions that were in your planner, to the agenda items that were in your planner, to the circumstances you’re going through. What happens to us isn’t nearly as important as the meaning we assign to it.
The new planners we have are great because they really make it easy, especially if you’ve never journaled before or if you’ve tried and it just hasn’t worked. There’s a lot to it. That’s the end of this tease. We’ll explain more about that particular product later, but for now, whether you use that journal or some other tool, we want to drive home that journaling is so valuable in whatever season you’re in for a handful of reasons we’re going to dive into.
Verbs: Blake, we probably have a variety of listeners, some who do journal consistently, faithfully, and people who may not be into that practice quite yet. What would you say to someone who just isn’t into the whole practice at all?
Blake: Well, I would look that person straight in the eye, and I would say, “Courtney, you have to start journaling.” In seriousness, journaling does help us go from that feeling of blur, that feeling of “I’m just reacting. 2020 is just happening to me, and I’m just hanging on, and my life is just happening to me.” Then maybe you hit a goal and you feel emotionally disconnected from it. Get out of reaction mode. Don’t think about journaling as one more thing to do because you’re already too busy. Think of it as a way to shift from always being in reaction to actually being able to respond.
Today, we’re going to dive in, specifically, to three reasons you should start journaling. If you’ve done it before and it hasn’t worked, if you’re too busy now, just give us a few minutes here, because we’re going to dive deep into some reasons you’ll want to pay attention to.
Verbs: Blake, I think this is important, because journaling isn’t just a feel-good exercise. It’s actually an effective means for personal growth.
Courtney: The first reason you may want to start journaling (and you’ve already mentioned this, Blake) is that journaling helps you learn from life. Goodness. I think we probably all have some lessons we could learn from this year. Frankly, life is always happening, but that doesn’t mean we’re always learning from it. I already talked about this a little bit, how it’s like, “Oh my goodness. How is it November already?” Yes, I have lived through 2020, but whether or not I actually took any learning from it is all up to me. Journaling is a great tool to slow down and be able to go through that process.
Verbs: This is something I found out while using the journal. When you’re aware that you’re actually trying to write something down, whether it be at the end of the day or the top of the next morning, you actually make your brain kind of document or capture those things you want to write down. It almost forces you to slow down throughout your day and capture little moments, like something somebody said that you want to hold on to, and say, “Hey, I need to remember to write that down in my journal a little bit later.” So I agree with that. It makes you slow down a little bit and take stock of what’s going on throughout your day and capture those moments.
Courtney: I think what you’re really saying is it helps you clarify what your thinking is on something, and then you get to revisit it as you’re journaling and actually work on solving whatever that issue was, which is the key to learning. If you don’t clarify your thinking and then work on solving the problem, you’re really not learning from it. You’re just kind of plowing through.
Blake: I want to give an encouragement specifically to you listening to this podcast right now. Because you’re listening to a self-development podcast, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you listen to other podcasts that give you a lot of other learning lessons. Maybe you even subscribe to Audible. You listen to books. Maybe you go to a conference. You’re always learning, and it can feel like collecting that knowledge is valuable.
You look back at your career, and maybe you haven’t gone as far as you wanted to go. That’s because, in my opinion, the most valuable lessons you could actually learn are generally not happening in a book someone wrote five years ago. They’re actually happening in last week’s activities. Journaling, for me… I connect it directly to the value I’m able to bring to what’s most important to me. If it’s my work, I know I’ll be able to create more value at work if I’m a one-time learner, if I learn the lessons from what happened last week.
The sooner I learn those lessons, the less likely I am to repeat those mistakes and the better I can get. But journaling is directional. If you want to become a better parent, maybe that’s all you journal about. You just journal about, “How did it go last week being a dad? Well, when I yelled at my kid, it surprisingly didn’t work super well. Why did I do that?” You can read a parenting book and get knowledge, but you’re not going to learn until you start journaling.
Courtney: That’s so key. Something we really pride ourselves on at Michael Hyatt & Company is that we’re about you winning at work and succeeding at life. I think a lot of times, we think about journaling and we think about it in one context. Honestly, a lot of times, we think about it as teenagers who write in their diaries. That’s our context for journaling, but really, it’s this incredible tool that can help you in so many different life domains if you will take the time to try it and apply it.
Blake: Journaling helps you learn from your life. Take the time to learn from it. The second reason is journaling helps you train your thinking. You can train your brain by shifting what you focus on. This is a powerful thing. It’s an underrated thing in my opinion. This goes back to feeling like life is just happening to us. You can optimize your brain, optimize how you think, simply by directing your focus differently.
Courtney: This is so key. I feel like probably everybody listening, you have experienced this firsthand. Blake, Verbs, I don’t know if this has ever happened to you. It hasn’t been at Michael Hyatt & Company, but have you ever worked somewhere where you had coworkers who were just negative all the time?
Verbs: Yes.
Courtney: It was like whatever you talked to them about, it was so negative. Then even if you found yourself to be a positive person, all of a sudden, you found yourself just negative all the time, just so cynical. Slowly, over time, it trained you to think like that. Journaling can actually do the total opposite but in a good way.
If you want to have a gratitude practice, for example, it can help you cultivate those practices and learn to be a more grateful person and a person who looks at abundance rather than scarcity. That is so huge, especially if you’re a leader. If you find yourself always like, “When I respond to things, it’s always out of scarcity,” journaling can be a huge tool for you.
Blake: It’s interesting how our brain wants to answer the questions we provide it. If you’re asking yourself questions that are inherently negative, you end up with negative thoughts, which then lead to… You used the word scarcity, but a certain type of behavior that is kind of an energy drain for others. It’s typically not helpful.
With journaling, you can leverage that reality by literally prompting yourself with better questions and then journaling in that direction. You mentioned gratitude. That’s great. “What am I thankful for?” That’s just an example. Or “What are 10 things I’m thankful for?” It’s going to be hard to take the time to write 10 things you’re grateful for and then get done and be like, “And everything stinks, just like I thought before.”
Courtney: So true. Truly, if we’re left to our own devices… If you are one of those people who wakes up in the middle of the night (I think this is really telling), and then your brain starts running through all of the things, what your brain ends up thinking about is what other people think, like, how your performance stacked up to somebody else or just rehashing a conversation. You’re like, “Oh, I could have said this that way, and maybe if I would have done this…” That is the way our brain will operate if we let it. If we don’t train it to operate differently, that’s what we’re going to get, and that’s kind of a painful mindset to live in.
Verbs: That’s kind of what I was saying earlier. It forces you to think about these things and capture those moments as you go through your day. If you know, “I’m in my journal, and my journal provides some sort of prompt; it asks me about gratitude or gratefulness,” well, I need to start logging those moments I encounter throughout my day so I can write them down. I’m able to train my brain to think like that and look for those things as they happen in life.
Blake: That’s so true. If you take the time to write or journal, it’s almost like a mindfulness exercise. They say that about meditation, where you’re taking time to meditate. It’s not just about the 15 minutes you take in the morning. It’s about the moment where your patience is tested when you’re on the road in traffic. It kind of comes back to you. I think that long-term journaling habit really does help rewire your brain in a similar way.
Courtney: I feel like there are probably some people listening right now who are like, “Yeah, I just don’t like writing.” What would y’all say to people who are like, “I just don’t like the writing”?
Blake: I have one helpful thing and then one sassy thing. Which one should I say?
Courtney: Sassy. I love the sass.
Blake: Sassy? Okay. We’ll do sassy, and then we’ll do helpful. My sassy thing is… What do you dislike more: writing or repeating the same mistakes over and over again and never making more money or having a better relationship?
Courtney: Ooh, that is sassy.
Verbs: Sassy indeed.
Blake: I came to play.
Courtney: I thought your sassy answer was just going to be like, “You need to get over it. Suck it up.”
Blake: Oh no. I’m serious. The truth is we do this all the time. I don’t like flossing, but you know what? I get less gingivitis, and I dislike gingivitis more than I dislike flossing.
Courtney: Right. That’s a great point.
Verbs: Or you do like your teeth.
Blake: I do like my teeth.
Verbs: You want to keep those as long as possible.
Blake: Exactly. This is officially an anti-gingivitis podcast. So, I am being sassy. I don’t mean to frame it in a negative light, but it’s true. I think there’s an element to “Don’t focus on what you don’t like but what you do like.” Practically speaking, it’s probably more true that… It’s not that you don’t like to write. Similarly, it’s not that I don’t like exercising. I do. I like the result of exercising, having exercised. What I don’t like is getting up early in that cold car, driving to my gym, and it’s still dark.
With writing, it’s like you don’t like a blank page. You don’t like feeling, “Oh, Blake said, ‘Ask good questions.’ Well, I can’t think of any questions. I’m tired, and I’m running late.” The Full Focus Journal is brilliant for folks who don’t like to write, because that hard work is already taken care of. There are built-in prompts to help you notice what you should be paying attention to. It’s just responding to a prompt, not having to become a prolific novelist in your journaling.
Verbs: When I hear the word journaling, that’s a long paragraph upon paragraph of thoughts pouring onto the page, that sort of thing, when really, it could just be as simple as a thought you’re capturing on a page. It doesn’t have to be something long to where it’s a small novel or anything like that, but it’s just getting stuff out of your head, things you’ve thought, emotions you’ve been feeling, and capturing those.
Courtney: That’s a good word.
Blake: A real-life example… A lot of times, I don’t feel like I have nearly as much time to journal as I want to have, but at the end of my workday, I make it a part of my workday shutdown to just ask, “What did I notice about today? What lesson did I learn?” For instance, “Oh, I had a meeting with so-and-so. I noticed they didn’t respond well when I said this comment,” or whatever. I just write that down.
I don’t force myself to do much more with it, but it naturally begs the question… The next prompt I like is, “How can I apply that lesson tomorrow?” or “How can I apply what I learned?” Just a little prompt like that. We have prompts like that in the Full Focus Journal, where it’s like, “What did you notice?” or “What lesson came out of your activities yesterday?” It’s so little time, it’s just a few sentences, but it takes me out of reaction, puts me into proactive response mode, and I feel more powerful the next day.
Courtney: Again, the first reason is journaling helps you learn from life. The second reason is journaling helps you train your thinking. The third reason is journaling helps you cultivate self-awareness. Guys, I think this one is so huge if you are a leader of people. One of the most important practices of a leader is growing in self-awareness.
Verbs: Absolutely.
Blake: Journaling helps you discover your why…why you do what you do, what you’re feeling, what’s going on in your heart (“Do I feel sad? Do I feel happy?”), where you’re struggling, who you want to become. It’s all of those things. It’s a way to help you feel grounded, help you feel connected to yourself. If you struggle with that, I encourage you. It’s not because that’s your personality type. It’s no one’s personality type to feel totally disassociated from the life they’re living. You just need a tool, and journaling is a great tool to help you do that.
Courtney: Blake, that’s so true. I think all of us could probably objectively look at the practice of journaling and say, “Yeah, I think it’s really key for a leader to be growing in self-awareness,” but if you’re listening and you’re a leader, you may be thinking, “Yeah, but that sounds like it would take some time and some work to get there, and I just don’t have that time.”
I think the answer to that is not that this has to be an hour-long activity you do every day or something that’s going to consume a whole bunch of bandwidth (although we probably could make the argument that it’s worth that), but really just 15 minutes a day is going to pay dividends.
The truth is even 15 minutes a day can make a huge difference. We talk about this all the time. I’m like a broken record, but you can do an experiment. Just experiment with it and try it. Try it for 30 days and see what it does to your leadership, to your most important relationships. I think you’ll find it’s really fruitful.
Blake: It’s really cool, because you can notice patterns and averages. I think that’s powerful. You don’t have to take a ton of time to emotionally expand on everything. Just me personally, I don’t do that every day. If I got deep into my feelings every day, I don’t think I’d be employed, because I have a lot of feelings. I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. But I like to take time on Saturdays. There’s a specific pocket of time. It’s in my Ideal Week to kind of have more open processing.
The cool thing about just taking 5, 10, 15 minutes every day is you can just do some check-ins. Again, there are prompts in the Full Focus Journal. I create some of my own prompts too. You can do the same. When you are checking in regularly, just “How am I feeling?” you end up with takeaways a month later or a week later, to go, “Okay. Was that just a bad day or is something really wrong?” Or “What I notice is that every third week in the month, because of such-and-such report that’s due, I’m always feeling X, Y, and Z.”
Think about that investment of 5, 10, 15 minutes. Expect, if you’re a leader, to make up that time easily but probably gain hours and hours and loads of money back from that investment, because consistency gives you averages, and averages (it’s just like any other data you’re measuring) give you trends, and trends give you confidence in setting strategy. That’s why it’s so helpful for leaders. So try it as an experiment, like Courtney said. Don’t make me get sassy with you. I’ll do it.
Courtney: Guys, we almost forgot to tell them about the really exciting… Again, if you need a little extra motivation to experiment with this, we have a really fun thing we’re going to be doing here in just a week or so.
Blake: That’s right. November 18-27, we are doing a community-wide journaling challenge as a part of Michael Hyatt & Company’s Countdown to 2021. I’m excited about this. I think it’s going to provide a lot of energy. If you could use some energy, if you could use some life being breathed into your own journaling practice, go to, and you’ll be able to opt in and be a part of that journaling challenge.
I’m going to up the ante even more. Why delay one more second? At the end of this episode, we’re actually going to give you some space and give you some prompts to do some journaling. For that, we will turn to the vocal butter we have come to know as Verbs. Verbs is going to narrate that for us at the end. Right? Did we agree to that, Verbs? Are you in on that?
Verbs: We did, and I will gladly be the journal prompt voice guy. Are we doing that right now?
Blake: No, it’s at the end of the episode, but we’re almost there. We’re in the home stretch. I’m just letting the people know they’d better stick around.
Verbs: It’s on the way. Hopefully, by listening today to these three reasons, you don’t have to keep feeling like life is just happening to you. Developing a journal practice will help you learn from your own life, train your mind, and cultivate self-awareness. With that being said, Blake and Courtney, do you have any final thoughts for our Focus on This team?
Blake: My final thought is maybe you’re hesitant to commit to a whole journaling practice, and it may feel like a big hill to climb and you just don’t have it in the tank right now. I totally get it, but I do want to encourage you. Just try it as an experiment. That’s what our team did.
We’ve spent the last 30 days trying out the new Full Focus Journal, which is why we can attest to just how awesome it is, and next week we’ll share our thoughts from before and after. I’d encourage you. Just ask yourself this: “If I take 5, 10, or even 15 minutes to journal today, what might be easier, off my schedule, or more enjoyable, more fulfilling tomorrow?” Take the challenge.
Courtney: That was really good, Blake.
Blake: Ooh, thanks, Courtney. What an encouragement.
Courtney: If everybody listening isn’t pulling over to start writing on some paper they have at hand, I don’t know. Well, thanks, everybody, for joining us on this week’s episode of Focus on This.
Verbs: This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends and remember to use #focusonthispodcast.
Blake: We’ll be here next week again with another great episode, but until then…
Courtney & Blake: Stay focused!
Verbs: All right, everybody. Here’s a quick reflection session you can use to get started on your own journaling journey. Just take a second, hear the question, and think about it. All right? Are you guys ready? Let’s get started.
What have been the most powerful lessons of 2020 so far?
What are you grateful for right now?
As you think about the upcoming week and all that it holds, what are you feeling?
What gives you hope?
Now imagine if you were able to write down your answers and refer back to them a few months from now. That’s the power of journaling. Join us November 18-27 for our community-wide journaling challenge by opting in to Michael Hyatt & Company’s Countdown to 2021 at