Journaling is the best way to set and organize goals. To achieve what we want in life, not only do we have to create goals, but we also need to check in with ourselves to make adjustments and execute daily actions that slowly move us closer to our long-term goals.
We usually set goals once a year and forget about them until weeks or months later. We tend to get excited and think about the future intentionally at the beginning of each year, but without a trusted system for revisiting goals and measuring progress, they fade into the background.
Our long-term goals are the most important things in our lives. For most of us, if we only completed these goals and nothing else, we’d still be proud of our accomplishments. And yet, most of us don’t have a plan to create or manage our goals.
Imagine if we treated our schedules the same way we treat our goals. We would try and write down all of the important events for an entire year on one sheet of paper in December or January and then put it in a drawer for 11 months and hope we remember everything. There would be a lot of missed meetings.
Instead, we have calendars. We plot all of the most important events and dates ahead of time, but at the beginning of each year, 90% of our calendar is empty. It’s impossible to plan out every single day a year in advance, so we revisit our calendars every day to remind ourselves of upcoming events and plan out each week.
Calendars provide a systemized and organized way to manage our schedules in the same way that journaling provides a systemized and organized way to set goals and monitor our progress throughout the year.
The first thing we’re missing in our current approach to our goals is a thoughtful method for creating them. Instead of examining our values and defining what’s important to us, we usually shoot from the hip and create goals without thinking much about them.
We also neglect to create a plan to achieve our goals. Often we write goals down and rely on the powers of manifestation or luck to will them into existence. Unfortunately, just writing goals down or thinking about before continuing on the same we were living our lives previously is not enough to achieve anything worthwhile.
Whether we create a plan or not, another common shortcoming is failing to revisit our goals or our plan once we create them. It’s easier for us to set a big goal and create a detailed plan when we’re sitting at home, but once we head out into the real world and weeks or months pass, we rarely revisit or adjust anything.
Finally, we’re missing a source of accountability. When our goals our floating around in our own heads and they slowly slip away as time moves forward, there’s no accountability from ourselves or others when we’re behind on our goals or stop working towards them entirely.
Journaling is the process of transforming abstract thoughts into concrete ideas. The act of capturing our thoughts on the page lets us further investigate our ideas and peel back the layers of thought in our heads to find insights that are hiding beneath the surface.
Accessing and capturing our thoughts like this gives us a deeper understanding of what’s important to us and paints an honest picture of our efforts and progress toward our goals.
Journaling is also beneficial because it’s something we do almost every day. This provides an opportunity to keep track of our progress and dig into our efforts to see what’s working and what’s not.
Writing everything down forces us to be honest. It’s a lot harder for us to make excuses when we have to write them down and justify them on paper instead of whipping up a flimsy argument in our heads. Journaling is a constant reminder of what we're supposed to be doing so it provides an excellent source of accountability.
Calendars work for managing our schedules because we can look forward and look backward. Not only can we plan for the future, but we can also look back and evaluate how we spent our time in the past to inform our choices about the future.
Journaling gives us the ability to do the same thing for our goals. We can set audacious goals for the future, and we can review these goals regularly throughout the year. This way, our goals stay top of mind, and we can measure our progress. We can also look back at what we’ve been doing and use the information to adjust our approach or even our goals themselves.
Journaling is simple but not easy. Staying consistent with anything is easier said than done.
Below are the 4 steps we'll cover to help create goals with journaling, review them consistently, and achieve what we set out to do.
Setting goals using journaling can be as simple as writing down a list on a blank sheet of paper, but the benefit of journaling comes from digging deeper.
Thinking of our goals in specific categories that align with our values instead of listing off the first few things that come to mind is a great way to peel back the layers and create impactful goals. The more intention and thought we put behind our goals, the easier it will be to consistently work towards them.
We all have different priorities, and the goals we have for ourselves should reflect those differences. If we have too many priorities, we'll be spread too thin, so it’s best to choose no more than 5 areas of life to focus on. Examples of these might include, Relationships, Fitness/Health, Spirituality, Career, Financial, Philanthropy, Personal Projects, Family, etc.
Once we have these categories defined, we can spend time journaling about what we want our lives to look like in each of these categories. We can imagine our life 5 years into the future and write about what we want out of each of these areas of our lives.
Here are prompts to structure this part of the journaling goal-setting process:
With a better idea of what we want our future to look like we can set specific, meaningful, and worthwhile goals.
Traditional goal setting leads to subpar results because of the lack of planning involved. After journaling about the future we want to create for ourselves and identifying the most important areas of our lives, we need to break down our vision for the future into an actionable plan.
Starting with a high-level plan, we can drill down into monthly and weekly plans as time moves on so we have manageable and measurable chunks that create checkpoints along the way.
Thinking about our ideal lifestyle and annual goals often gets us excited. Our plans for the future sound manageable when we're creating them, but it's easy for the hustle and bustle of daily life to knock us off track. To keep our plans grounded in reality, we need to break down our broad vision for the future into actionable portions.
Leaning on our journal we can break down our goals into chunks. For example, if our goal is to get promoted we can journal about the individual steps that will get us there. We can write about the new role, the specific skills or metrics we need to show to justify the promotion, we can outline the conversation we're going to have with our boss, and we can use writing to chart out the entire process from start to finish.
With the whole process broken down, we can assign a timeline to each step and see exactly what we need to do and when we need to do it.
This allows us to check-in with ourselves constantly throughout the year and measure our progress. Comparing our current progress to a huge loong term goal can be overwhelming and discouraging, but checking in to make sure we're on track provides the encouragement and reassurance that we're moving in the right direction.
When we build a plan to execute our goals, everything becomes more concrete.
Another benefit of building a plan and revisiting regularly is the ability to make adjustments. Chasing big goals is a dynamic process and things change all the time. Journaling provides the framework we need to adapt our plans in real life and distinguish resistance from laziness.
At many points in our pursuit towards something difficult we'll face moments when it feels like nothing is going our way.
This is where journaling becomes even more valuable.
Regardless of how detailed our plan is, life happens. When we're falling behind on our goals or they don't excite us anymore we can fall back on our journal to write more about the issue and uncover what's really going on. Digging deeper into why we're falling behind or losing excitement can provide the answers we need to adapt our plans.
Most of the time we're just going through a rough patch and the issue is our discipline or strategy not our plan. Occasionally, we do bite off more than we can chew and we need to adjust our plan to be more realistic given the circumstances. Writing is the best way to truly know if we're just going through a rough patch or if we're truly overwhelmed and need to make adjustments.
Setting annual goals is like picking a destination to drive to on map. We know where we are and where we need to go.
Breaking the goals down in quarterly chunks is like deciding which roads we’re going to take to get us to our final destination. At a high level, it’s very simple, but the farther down the road we drive the harder it is to remember the initial path we decided on and the more new variables are introduced.
A regular journaling practice lets us consistently revisit our goals and our path to achieving them.
More importantly, we can use journaling to guide the daily actions that move us closer to our goals.
When we’re driving down the road we have to choose what lane to be in, when to pass other people, avoid swerving trucks, and navigate detours or roadblocks. The same types of obstacles are the realities of everyday life that knock us off course if we don't have a structure to keep our long-term goals top of mind.
Journaling about our plans for each day is just as important as checking our calendar and making sure we get to appointments on time and prepare for important meetings. When we win each day we're constantly moving towards our final destination.
When we approach each day reactively, challenges become our primary focus. But, if we take the time to sit down each day and write about how are week is going and what our plans for the day are, we can proactively approach the day with our long-term goals in mind.
One of the realities of pursuing worthwhile goals is challenging the status quo. Most people don't choose to do hard things and staying on track for our goals can be lonely at times.
With everyone moving in direction that's different from our own, we can only rely on ourselves to stay consistent and stay accountable. Without a friend or a group of people working towards similar goals there's no social pressure to keep us on track.
It's easy to fall off the wagon and tell ourselves a story that justifies why it's not our fault, but when we have to write down our excuses on the page they tend to get flimsy quickly. Concrete words and ideas are much harder to hide from than abstract thoughts floating around in our head.
Journaling about our goals and our progress is a great way to stress test our thinking and keep ourselves accountable throughout the journey towards something bigger than ourselves.
As we consistently observe our goals, our actions, and our results, we’re maintaining a state of homeostasis. We’re able to adjust for what’s interesting, what’s challenging, and the results were getting so we’re always moving towards something meaningful while challenging and improving ourselves.
Journaling lets us learn more about ourselves every day and keeps us focused on what’s most important to us. All of the learnings, challenges, and accomplishments make it even easier to create new goals the following year and over time journaling serves as a tool for constant iteration and adjustment to decide what we should be pursuing and finding the best path to achieving it.
Journaling lets us transform abstract thoughts and feelings into concrete words and ideas.
Using journaling as the foundation for both creating and managing our goals allows us to dig deeper and stay consistent. Journaling about what’s important to us provides a more reliable and meaningful path to creating worthwhile goals.
Setting worthwhile goals is great, but if we can’t follow through with them, there’s not much point in creating them in the first place.
Journaling regularly provides an opportunity to revisit our goals consistently and evaluate them in the context of our daily lives. With our larger goals always top of mind, it becomes second nature to make sure our daily actions and weekly focus is always keeping us on track to achieve our long-term goals.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this post, you'll like my newsletter, Prompted.
Every Sunday, I deliver insights and prompts surrounding personal development to help readers become a bit better each day.
Check it out and subscribe below!