Could a Journal Be The Next Productivity Game-Changer? Self-reflection might make or break your chances of success.
The following article is based on excerpts from Ben Angel's book, Unstoppable: A 90-Day Plan to Biohack Your Mind and Body for Success. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound. And be sure to grab a copy of Angel's Unstoppable Journal (based on research from Unstoppable), which recently saw the release of its 2nd Edition via Entrepreneur Press.
You've created a new brand, completed your business plan ahead of schedule, then looked at your short-term and long-term goals. You launch, and the orders come in. Months pass, and the demand is too high to keep up. Post-its cover your monitor until you plot them out on your shiny new whiteboard.
You get a call from a venture capitalist wanting numbers pronto. They explain they have "connections" to even more capital if you can get a prospectus done in a week.
You go to bed late, drifting off to a fitful sleep, waking to the snooze button that you've hit too many times. You race to your office down the hallway, grab a bagel smeared with jelly and gulp down a triple-shot espresso. You stand in front of your wall in overwhelm, knowing the stakes.
You begin to work and go for more coffee because of the crappy sleep, and by 2 p.m. you can't keep a steady thought. Grabbing more coffee and an energy bar, you push on. A headache emerges just when you have to calculate more data.
You crash that night after wolfing down a cold pizza, skipping the gym to get things done. This repeats until the end of the week, your exhaustion levels reaching maximum overdrive, and you forget to get on a conference call, not impressing the venture capitalist in the least. You wonder: How could things go downhill so fast? Why can't I keep up? How come I can't focus? Why is my anxiety through the roof? Am I doomed to fail?
In a research paper on the subject of self-awareness, author and former Boston College professor Dr. Esther Urdang concluded that "self-reflectiveness is the cornerstone for the development of the professional self." It's a notion that's even more critical today due to the growing number of self-employed workers.
Researchers at Harvard Business School have also found that "employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed 23 percent better after 10 days than those who did not reflect." But there's more to self-reflection than just making or breaking your performance and productivity. Critical reflection can help you uncover the root causes of mental and physical issues that may be holding you back from becoming the peak performer you know you could be.
Plenty of journals help you plan your day with a calendar or contain some positive affirmations, all of which has its benefits. But that also misses the complete picture of you. Here's how to start journaling in ways that will make you unstoppable.
The Missing Piece: Fluctuating Energy Levels
Marking your daily goals and appointments is good for keeping your mind clear of clutter. However, annotating your energy levels for that day can have a great impact on your overall well-being. Your mid-morning slump or afternoon caffeine pick-me-up may be rooted in something you haven't even been mindful of on the path to achieving your goals.
Theresa Welbourne, a business professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has been studying energy levels of business leaders, and according to one of her recent reports, 82 percent of them aren't functioning at optimal energy levels. Of the 540 participants, 61 percent said they were working below their best energy level, while only 21 percent reported working above it.
The findings are problematic to Welbourne, who notes that "research from hundreds of thousands of people shows optimizing and directing energy drives high performance and growth" and that "energy reflects performance."
Uncovering what could be causing these shifts in energy levels brings us to the next important item you should be journaling about.
Positive thinking isn't a substitute for nutritional deficiency. The reality is, we don't associate vague symptoms such as low self-esteem, anger, carbohydrate cravings, digestive complaints, overwhelm, insomnia, joylessness, brain fog and poor cognitive function with our diet.
If some prescription medications can trigger suicidal thoughts via our biochemistry, then could we trigger positive thoughts by hacking our own biology? Stress, prescription pills and poor nutrition can hijack our thoughts away from us. Keeping close tabs on everything we ingest and its side effects could help us discover what's holding us back.
Choosing whole foods that are organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised, as well as staying away from sugars and processed foods, would assist in your body healing and promote an increase in your energy levels so you can get more done in less time.
How does inflammation begin, and what are the implications of it? Why have we become a chronically inflamed society? The first part of the body to be impacted by inflammation is the brain. Inflammation releases cytokines that wreak havoc on cognitive processes and has been shown to alter behavior. Researchers now believe that chronic inflammation removes motivation by reducing dopamine, impacting the metabolism of our neurotransmitters. This can hit your memory, focus and mood hard, thereby preventing you from completing your task list and achieving your goals.
Untreated injuries or infections are obvious sources of inflammation, but did you know that everyday chemicals, pollutants, cigarette smoke, food sensitivities, psychological stress and alcohol increase inflammation in the body and the brain?
Also, the foods we may think are healthy can also cause inflammation. Dairy, gluten, artificial sugars, vegetable and seed oils, as well as refined carbohydrates, all produce an inflammatory response in the body that either kills off or overpopulates your gut microbiome, thus causing an imbalance that can impact your mental health.
I don't think many people contemplate gut micro-flora in their journals, but it can be one of the most important systems in our body that can make or break our success. Traveling to different geographical areas, a poor diet, stress and emotional upheavals all critically impact our precious gut microbiota. This flora is made up of millions of microbiota living within our intestines. Not only does it impact how well we digest our foods, but it also helps create vital neurotransmitters that alter our moods and can directly affect our mental health.
So, stop and look to see what your journaling experience is giving you. In the end, you may be missing some critical pieces that can help you overcome biological and psychological triggers that can be holding you back.Related: How Journaling Can Make You a Better Entrepreneur and Leader