The benefits of journaling to shape your future

In her ground-breaking book The Source, Dr Tara Swart draws on the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience to demonstrate that we all have the power to lead the lives we want simply by tapping into the full potential of our brains. Journaling can be an invaluable tool for this, here are five tips to get started.


1. Write in your journal daily
Dr Swart recommends making a daily habit out of journaling to get the maximum benefit. Use it to reflect on your thoughts and reactions to events and the people in your life. You don’t have to write long entries, but always aim to be honest and open about your emotions, motivations and behaviours. Used like this, journaling can be a powerful way for you to spot repeated patterns in your behaviour, so you can start to understand how your personal beliefs and attitudes are shaping your reality. It is much easier to challenge any debilitating beliefs and break down your own barriers to change if you first understand what they are.

2. Set your intention
If your journal is to be the tool that helps you lead the life you want, you will first need to set your intention. This is the overarching goal that underpins everything you want to achieve in the future. It should feel grand, a big-picture aspiration reflecting the area of your life that you want to change. Do you want to find your soul mate? Get your dream job? Set up your own business? Buy your dream home? Write this on the first page of your journal. Aim high with your goals but don’t focus on just the external achievement. Instead, be specific about the changes you’d want to make within yourself to attain your goal. So, don’t just say ‘I want to find love’, but rather phrase it as ‘I would like to develop confidence and self-love to find a great life partner’.

3. Use your journal to consider your ‘tribe’
The people in our lives have a direct impact on us. To create positive change in our lives, it’s important to surround ourselves with characters that bring out the best in us.  Use your journal to reflect on the quality of your social connections and how they affect your mood, thinking and behaviour.

If you are struggling to see what impact your friends and family have on you, drawing a ‘people tree’ can be a useful exercise. Draw a tree with five branches and on each branch write the name of one of the five people closest to you. Along each branch, write five words that describe that person. Take a look at these words. How much of them do you recognise in yourself? Draw an X by the negative traits you share, and think about how you can improve them. 


Life does not have to be about fear and half-measures or what ifs and regrets. We each have the capacity in our brains to live life fully, boldly and without shame or sadness – Dr Tara Swart

4. Use your journal for visualisation 

Incredibly, experiments using brain scanning have shown that there is very little difference to how your brain reacts to experiencing an event in the outside world and a strongly imagined vision. So visualisation can be a powerful tool for self-reflection and for working towards your intention.  

Try this visualisation exercise to help you understand your own traits when you are at your most and least confident, so you understand how to put your ‘confident hat’ on when you need it most. Draw the following table on two pages of your journal, divided into quadrants:


Think of a time when you felt very stressed, your confidence was low or things were not going your way. Close your eyes and immerse yourself in this memory for a minute. Then, make notes in the table straightaway about how you felt. Under physical, write down what you felt in your body; you might write ‘exhaustion’. Under ‘mental’ write down what was going on your mind; you might write ‘racing thoughts’. ‘Emotional’ is the space for what you felt, such as ‘sad’ or ‘angry’, and under spiritual write something about your sense of meaning or place in the world, such as ‘lost’ or ‘disconnected’. Now, do the same for a positive memory, when you were happy and confident, and compare the notes. What strikes you as obvious or surprising? What traits could you try to emulate to turn a bad day into a good one?  

5. Reflect on what motivates you and what doesn’t
We all experience ups and downs in motivation, but if you have hit a wall it is time to closely examine what motivates you and what distracts you, keeping you stuck where you are. In your journal, make a list of distractions and motivation-sappers, alongside a list of what really motivates you. These lists could look like this:

- Checking social media and comparing myself to others
- Reading celebrity gossip websites
- Getting sidetracked while working on a project at home by tidying
- Drinking too much in the evenings
- Binge watching mindless television series

- Reading an inspiring book or watching an inspiring film
- Networking with people in my industry
- Going for a run or a yoga class
- Going to an exhibition
- Meditating

By raising the awareness of your distraction tactics and reminding yourself of what keeps you on your track, you can make positive changes in your life to increase your motivation. Keep referring to your list whenever you feel your motivation slipping, and eventually you will naturally turn to your motivators, while being able to put rules into place around your de-motivators.

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