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How To Journal For Problem Solving

Dear Diary, please help me solve my problems.

Learn today how to journal your problems away on Distinctions For Life.

The other day I noticed a trend in my life. There was a certain important, but the non-urgent project I kept putting off. Every day it would be on my to-do list and I would do all kinds of other things instead.

Every weekend I would review my projects for the week and put this important project back on the list. Then just move it through the week with no progress.

Now you might think this is a normal plight for important but non-urgent things. You’d be right, that is part of it. But my Time Leadership process should handle that. It is why I’m intentional on Sundays to look at those non-urgent tasks and schedule them.

But it was at the point of execution that it wasn’t happening. I would just look at the task and my mind would go blank. I wouldn’t know what to do.

Finally, I realized I had a problem. And I needed to figure it out. But no amount of sitting around navel-gazing or trying to “think” about it was causing action.

Finally, I pulled out my special DFL notebook and started journaling about it. I asked myself, “Why am I never making progress on this project? Why do I keep delaying it?”

Then I started journaling about it. After a few minutes, I discovered the problem. Then I kept writing, asking how to solve the problem. Soon I had an action plan that made taking the next steps simple. I no longer looked at the task and went blank.

Best of all it was written out. As was my thinking about the problem, both good and bad. And it led to this distinction video.

I could at this point talk about how just the physical act of writing changes how you think about something. I could tell you it engages your physical body in the process. I could wax poetic about the power of writing.
But to me that isn’t actionable and DFL is all about giving you actions and next steps.

I’ve already done an entire video on how to journal using morning pages, and you might want to check it out for the basics. We are going to use some of the same principles and methods when problem solving journaling.

The big difference between simple morning pages and problem-solving journaling is intentionality. Which is the first tip for your writing to solve problems.

Start with an intention.

The first sentence you write should be the problem you are trying to solve. Either as a statement or a question. This tells your brain where you want to go. What outcome you want.

Brain vomit.

After you have your intention down, just brain vomit, a stream of consciousness writes. Just like morning pages you are going to endeavor to just keep the pen moving. Don’t filter yourself. Don’t try and stay on topic.

Just write. Don’t worry about staying on the topic at first. Matter of fact you’re probably going to start bouncing all over the place.

How long it takes to get into your problem solving is directly proportional to how often you already do morning pages journaling. The point of morning pages is to clear out your brain. If you haven’t done it in a while, then there is stuff clogging up your brain that needs to get out. You won’t think straight about your topic until that is cleaned out.

What you’ll probably find is you bounce around for 5 or 10 minutes and then suddenly you are on-topic and don’t have much trouble staying there.

Use a marking system.

I believe that your brain doesn’t trust you. You’ll learn this while journaling. You’ll be writing and remember that thing you forgot to do, and that is completely unrelated to the topic.

So you’ll write it down. You’ll say to yourself, “I’ll remember that later. I’ll come back and find it in the end.”

But your brain knows better. “You aren’t going to come back that. Liar!”
So in a couple of minutes, that thing will jump back into your thoughts. Your brain is saying, “I have to keep reminding you of this important thing!”

But if you put a mark in the margin when you first encounter that thing, your brain goes, “Hey she actually intends to come back to this thing. OK, I trust her and will let that thing go.”

A mark system like the one I mention in my other journaling video will help you remember, and review later. Use it.

Find good questions.

And keep finding them. Your intention may be a question. “Why am I not doing that thing I keep putting off?” Along the way, you may discover other questions to explore.

But be on your guard that you aren’t asking questions that are defeatist. “Why don’t I ever do what I should?” Is a bad question.

Here are a few good ones are:

  • What do I need to do next to make this happen?
  • Who do I need to ask about this problem?
  • How can I do this and enjoy the process?
  • What will be the dire consequences if I don’t do this?

Review at the end.

Finally, you need to review at the end. There will come a time in your writing where you realize you’ve done something. You’ve had a breakthrough and see your problem differently.

You know what smaller tasks you need to focus on. You’re motivated like you weren’t before. That’s when it is time to bring this journaling in for a landing. That means to write out any last thoughts and stop.

But stopping isn’t the end. Now you need to review. First, go look at all your marks. You may have new to-do items. Questions that need answering. Stars next to good ideas and thoughts.

Review those things and decide where they need to be transferred for maximum impact. Your to-do list? Your calendar? Your project outline.

Alright so let’s review:

  • Start with an intention.
  • Brain vomit without filtering.
  • Use a marking system.
  • Find and use good questions.
  • Review at the end.

This is just the start of journaling for problem solving, but following these five steps will help you work through problems you may have been ignoring.

Question of the Day: How do you use journaling to solve problems?

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