What’s the last page of your life going to look like?
We were watching one of the Hero, Genius, Legend course videos in the Internal Team when Robin Sharma asked this question. He was riffing on the benefits of keeping a journal, which he encouraged everyone to think of as their autobiography.
And then came his challenge: On your last page, on the last day of your life, what would your story look like?
It’s not the easiest question to face at 7 in the morning, when you’re probably still a little foggy and craving for a cup of coffee.
It’s a good one though, isn’t it?
One of the many benefits of writing in a journal regularly is that it helps us think more clearly about what we want out of life.
If there’s something important to us that we want to accomplish, one thing we can do is write down in our journal the steps we’ll take to get to that goal. Robin calls this his “pre-performance template.”
You may be more familiar with the practice of visualization or “goal-directed autobiographical planning.” Or mental models.
All it really means is that by thinking about what you’re going to do to get something done—and being really specific about it (like imagining how good it’s going to feel when you cross that finish line in your first half-marathon)—you’re training your brain for achievement.
What happens in your brain when you’re simulating a future experience is very similar to what happens when you’re remembering an actual experience. This is what makes mental models work.
There are so many other benefits from journaling that it would be a pity not to encourage more teammates to do it.
One of the biggest benefits is gaining hope.
Here are 3 suggestions to help you start (or resume) a habit of journaling:
First, make it easy for yourself to journal.
Try using Day One or similar apps on your smartphone, which you can open and jot down notes in whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Better yet, add to your schedule a little time each day (15 to 20 minutes is plenty) for writing in your journal.
Place your journal and a pen somewhere where you’re bound to see it every day, like your night stand or your desk at home.
When we’ve had a bad day, we might be tempted to avoid thinking about it.
Writing about it in our journal, though, helps us put some distance between us and what’s upsetting us. It’s almost as if we can observe what happened, without judgment, and figure out what we would do better next time something like it happens.
Think of your journal as a snapshot, not a first draft.
It’s not something you have to get right. It’s not a reaction paper or book report you have to hand in. It’s just for you. So relax.
For a lot of people, years of being corrected by composition or writing teachers may have turned them off from writing.
So when people say they can’t write—and that’s why they don’t want to journal—often it’s a case of trying to write and revise at the same time. They hear a voice that makes them feel bad about what they’re writing, as they’re writing it.
Your journal is not a first draft. You don’t need to revise it. It’s just a record of what your day was like (what you saw, what you felt, what you thought, what you’re sad about, what you’re grateful for), captured in the way that fits you best.
Replace one daily habit with journaling instead.
It’s strange how so many people can put the everyday details of their lives out there on social media—what they’re wearing, what they’re about to eat, how good or how bad their ride to work was—and yet not that many are willing to embrace writing in a journal.
Here’s a quick tip: Try replacing one habit that doesn’t really add much value to your day and spend that time writing in your journal instead.
You can even use a timer, if you like, so you don’t get intimidated by the idea of facing a blank page or filling an empty smartphone screen with your thoughts. Just give yourselves 10 minutes, for starters. You’ll be amazed by how fast that time can go by.
A journal could be a bridge that connects you to your future children or grandchildren, so that many years from now, they’ll have some idea of who you were and how well you lived.
Or you could just keep it to yourself. Whatever works for you.