Daily Journaling Strategies: Discover Creative Solutions and Improve Athletic Performance

Thursday’s are for self-education and taking action. This post outlines what I’ve learned about why journaling is important, what the experts recommend, and how I intend to structure daily journaling into my life.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Yesterday, I quit following a training plan and went out for a fun ride with a teammate. It was devastating. On a popular climb I used to have the QOM on, I couldn’t talk, I could barely breath, and my legs felt like spaghetti noodles. This really is ground zero for fitness, I told myself, and now you don’t even have a coach to prod you into shape. “You’ll get it back,” my teammate said, “it’ll hurt like hell the next few weeks, but you’ll get it back.” I don’t think she noticed me clutching my bike for balance when we stopped for a snack break.

I really might not get it back. It’s been over three months, and I still haven’t caught a glimpse of my old drive or perseverance-at-all-costs attitude. As a last ditch effort to re-establish myself as an ultra endurance athlete, it’s time to take these Thursday posts seriously. Thursdays are not just for self-education, Thursdays are also for taking action. Today, I am committing to a daily journaling practice in order to discover creative solutions for rebuilding my life on and off the bike.

Journaling Intentions for Creativity and Performance

I’ve scoured research on the benefits of journaling and set five intentions for myself, to help guide my daily journaling practice.

1) Find clarity & tap into creativity

2) Set and track goals

3) Improve self-efficacy (and self-worth)

4) Work through fear & worry

5) Cultivate a positive, gratitude focused mindset

Strategies for Daily Journaling

Psychologists, athletes, and artists all agree: journal writing is most beneficial when it is stream-of-conscious, without concern for anyone (even you!) reading it. The rest of the strategies for journaling are up to personal preference and finding a system that allows for consistent practice in your unique daily life. These are the strategies I’m thinking through as I develop my daily journaling practice.

Handwritten Journaling. A lot of journaling diehards believe in handwriting your thoughts in a bound notebook. My adventuring bestie falls into this camp. She has packed a notebook on every alpine climbing trip and canyoneering adventure we have ever gone on. Julia Cameron, creativity guru and author of the Artist’s Way, along with athlete Becky Wade (author of Run the World) are two journaling advocates who promote hardcopy, handwritten journals.

Digital Journaling. The bound notebook has never worked for me. I’ve tried lugging one around on many adventures only to resent it as dead weight I never made time for. In daily life, I’m working to minimize clutter, so creating a pile of hardbound journals right now also doesn’t make sense.

  • Voice Recording. When I rode the Baja Divide, I met a woman who voice recorded a journal entry into a tape recorder every night. She told me she had done the same thing on her year long bike tour from Alaska to Patagonia. She then transcribed all of the recordings when she got home! I would never have the patience to listen to the recordings (fast skimming is more my style), so to make audio recording work for a journal I need instant transcription. I have now enabled dictation on my I-phone, and for days when I just can’t get myself to sit down and write, I’ll talk into my phone and save it with all my other journal entries.
  • Journal Apps. When it comes to forming habits or routines, simplicity is really important to me. For this reason, my daily journal is a simple folder on Google Drive. However, for more crafty people, or people interested in journaling with images, the Lifewire list of all the best journaling apps is an excellent resource. In the future, I intend to push myself to use one of the apps on the list for longer adventures (journaling with texts and photos would have been awesome for my ride down the Baja Divide).

Morning Journaling. Julia Cameron, in the Artist’s Way, explains journaling as a way to clear your head and make space for creative inspiration. She refers to a daily journaling practice as the morning pages. A lot of sports psychologists, including Richard Kent of Writing Athletes, frames journaling in a similar way—clear your mind of the clutter in the morning (or before a game or race) to increase your ability to focus.

Evening Journaling. If your intention is to reflect on your day, or track progress toward a goal, journaling in the evening is a good move. I have a friend who uses evening journaling as a way to unload anxiety so she can fall asleep.

Journaling to Improve Athletic Performance. I’ve relied on journaling to get me into a racing mindset in the past. Along with tracking fitness and progress, journaling is often used to tap into athletic performance through these topics:

  • Making a Gratitude List (as means for jumpstarting positive thinking & all the happy brain juices that help with motivation, endurance, and the ability to try hard).
  • Responding to the Question “What am I Worried About Today?” Unloading worry can increase athletic focus. It is an especially powerful tool when used as a pre-race or pre-game strategy.
  • Creating a Management Plan for Self-Critical Thoughts. Confronting critical thoughts, combined with thinking through ways to reframe them, boosts self-confidence and motivation.
  • Setting Achievable Goals. Writing about the goal each day can help athletes see progress and also create specific, daily steps, for reaching their goals.

One of the best resources out there for athletes working on their mental game is The Brave Athlete: Calm the Fuck Down and Rise to the Occasion. I’ll be turning to the author’s Simon Marshall, PhD and his wife—the endurance queen Lesley Paterson—for journaling prompts this week. The Daily Athlete and Writing Athletes also offer ideas for journaling to improve athletic performance.

Journaling to Increase Creativity. Journaling is useful for creative problem solving in all areas of life. Entrepreneurs and company leaders are joining forces with artists to use journaling as a tool for fostering creativity.

Currently, I’m stuck in a big life rut. As much as I want to, I can’t go back to the way things were pre-COVID, pre-heartbreak, pre-job loss, pre-cognative diagnosis. Finding creative solutions for rebuilding my life is the only way out. Below is a list of ways journaling taps into creativity, and why I’m dedicated to turning it into a habit.

  • Daily journaling clears your mind of worry in order to make room for creative, original ideas.
  • Daily journaling quiets your inner creativity critic.
  • Daily journaling processes emotions to free up space for creativity.
  • Daily journaling establishes a routine for dealing with information overload, which in turn frees up time and mental capacity for creative work.

I’ll be dabbling in all of these strategies this week! Next Thursday, I’ll recap with what has worked for me.

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