How Journaling Anything Helps You Change Everything


You probably know Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa and invented the parachute. Did you know he also journaled more than 20,000 pages of notes and sketches over the course of his lifetime?

Why did he do that?

He used his journals, in part, to explore his ideas, record his plans, and track his progress. He wanted to understand the big picture and find a way to create reality from his dreams. He journaled about practically everything.

Most likely you won’t journal to imagine things like Da Vinci’s flying machine or robotic knight. You probably aren’t interested in producing 20,000+ journal pages in your lifetime. But like, Da Vinci, you have dreams you’d like to realize.

You may not want to journal, though.

Take as an example, my own introduction to journaling. As a young-adult dieter, I joined Nurtrisystem®. My diet coach snapped a “before” picture for my records. Then she handed me a journal, which I was told to use to track my food and exercise.

Each week, my coach reviewed my journal and made suggestions. Then she recorded my weight in her folder. I could see my “before” photo stapled to the inside of the folder each time she opened it.

After a few months of progress, I got off track and started to regain. Even so, I bravely went to my next appointment to step on the scale and watch my coach record my … regain.

This time, she looked through my journal with a frown and no suggestions. She opened my folder and looked disgustedly at my “before” picture. She pulled it out and shook it at me. “Do you want to look like this again? Do you?”

Needless to say, I never went back. And for the most part I stopped keeping a journal because I judged myself mercilessly, like my coach had done.

Even on the rare occasion when I kept one, I didn’t write down the truth. I was too ashamed.

After bariatric surgery, I was encouraged to keep a journal, yet again.

Only this time, I was even more desperate to succeed. At age 44, weighing in at 331 pounds, I was considered super morbidly obese. My life was becoming ever smaller as I grew larger. The surgery was my last, best hope.

So, when I was asked to journal, I decided to do two things despite my misgivings: 1) Keep a damn journal, and 2) Keep the journal all to myself (so no one could judge me).

At first, I recorded the basics: what I ate, what vitamins and supplements I took, how much I moved my body, and what I weighed. If I’m being honest, it helped me set a great foundation for my self-care.

Over time, however, just like with all the diets before surgery, I got off track. Clearly, what I was doing wasn’t working as well and I wanted. But I didn’t quit.

It was time to try something different.

As I mourned the end of my bariatric surgery honeymoon, I came to understand that tracking my food, supplements, exercise, and weight wasn’t enough for me. It was a good start. But now, I needed to expand my journaling so I could understand the
bigger picture and look at every aspect of my being with curiosity and compassion. I needed better self-awareness, overall, to make my dream of a lighter body become a reality.

It was time to be like Da Vinci – to get curious and journal about practically everything.

A wonderful bariatric dietitian, who is also a therapist, offered me the best advice I’ve gotten – bar none – since surgery. She insisted, “Awareness cures.” And she encouraged me to, “Track anything.”

Well, that encouragement allowed me to take my journaling to the next level. I recorded my observations about anything that interested me – and everything I thought might help me.

I decided I would observe myself without judgment, like a scientist. I made experiments. I tracked my mood, my energy levels, and my TV viewing. I noticed how many times a day I thought about chocolate.

And I recorded these things in my journal.

I noticed that when my husband came home from work my first thought was, “Oh goodie, it’s time for cheese.” (Yes, we were eating buddies.)

I experimented to find out which foods drained my energy and which foods invigorated me. I figured out how to get good sleep by experimenting with my body temperature, the amount of light in the room, and what time I went to bed.

I observed which friends I felt confident around and which friends I felt shame around. Whose company made me want to eat, and whose company made me want to laugh. I kept a negative-thinking journal for a week. That experience was mind-blowing.

I recorded it all.

Over time, I realized it really didn’t matter what I focused on in my journaling. This journaling tool helped me see the big picture and put things in context. It taught me to observe anything about myself like a scientist – without judgment.

And when I did that, everything changed.