How to Use Journaling to Better Your Life in Fitness and Otherwise

Are you familiar with the Greek myth of Odysseus and the Sirens? Odysseus orders his first mate to tie him up so that when his vessel goes past the tempting sirens he is unable to submit to the Siren’s enticing calls. He knew his will would not be strong enough, so he set himself up for success. Think of Odysseus as you and the sirens as your health and fitness temptations – the almonds you swipe off of your co-workers’ desk and/or the cookies in your kitchen cupboard. In order to metaphorically tie yourself up so that you don’t mindlessly swipe almonds or unconsciously nibble cookies while watching late-night Netflix, you first have to know that you have those specific less than ideal habits and thus those particular temptations will be problematic for future you.

The problem is, it is almost impossible to create healthier habits without first becoming aware of your current habits. Most of us overestimate our healthy choices and drastically underestimate our unhealthy ones — the foods we mindlessly eat, the workouts we skip, the degree to which we rely on coffee, or the time we fritter away. As the famous business adage goes, “what gets measured, gets managed” — you can’t possibly manage your time, activity level, food consumption, etc. if you don’t know where your time goes and what you are putting in your mouth.

Creating a healthier, happier more productive future you hinges on the ability of the current you to make healthier choices NOW. The choices of the current form the future you.

The solution, journal. Think of journaling as an awareness-building tool, as “biceps curls” for your awareness. Once you know how you are currently spending your time, what you are giving your attention to, the foods you are eating and the amount of activity you are doing (or not doing) you can decide how the future you would most want you to allocate your resources.

The classic health journal is the food and exercise log. A fantastic option. For two weeks I suggest trying two additional types of journals. Try journaling how you spend your time, and any regular negative self-talk. These journals will help you beat the “I am too busy excuse” and pinpoint the evil roommate in your head sabotaging your efforts.

The Three Journals:

 1 – Time journal

How many times have you stated a wish to exercise, but then been “too busy”? How many times have you decided to eat well and then “something came up”? If you want to get on top of your health, you have to get in control of your time. Too many of us fritter it away, let emergencies dictate how it gets used, or have no idea how we actually use our minutes, hours, and days. Time is our most valuable resource — we can’t make more time.

Journal your time and then analyze the data. Colour code or use graphs to sort your activities — meetings, creative work, time with clients, sleep, time with family, etc. You decide on your categories. They will obviously depend on if you have a family, what your job is, etc. Then analyze how you are spending your time. See where you are wasting 20 minutes on social media — with 20 minutes you can do five Tabata intervals and that is a great workout.

2 – Food and exercise journal

You have two options: the “traditional” or the “X and O.”

The traditional: For two weeks track your food (including your liquids) and your workouts. Is that after-dinner indulgence you thought was a “treat” really a daily occurrence? Maybe you think you miss one workout a week, when in reality you average skipping three. Is your “tablespoon” of almond butter really half a jar balanced on a spoon? Once you are aware of your choices you can decide to make alternative, healthier ones.

The X and O food journal: This twist on the traditional diet and exercise journal helps build your intuitive eating muscle and connects your food choices to your emotional state. Create an “O” for each meal and snack. If you basically ate well — consumed nutritiously dense food, stopped when full, ate when hungry, stayed hydrated, etc., place an “X” over the circle and move on. It is only when you go off the rails at a meal or snack that you have to detail your food choices in the circle, as well as the reasons behind the less-than-ideal choice(s). Were you lonely? Sad? Tired? Then set up systems that will allow your future self to deal with the emotion in a healthier way. For example, phone a friend when lonely. 

3 – The Self-Talk Journal

Too many of us are not only cruel to our physical beings (eating bad food, not exercising), we are cruel to our minds; we make ourselves listen to such unproductive, unloving, and belittling words. Our self-talk is hurtful, harsh — harmful! We have different standards when speaking to ourselves than to a family member or friend.

We have to learn how to have empathy and compassion for ourselves. We have to care about ourselves enough to make healthy choices — in how we move, what we eat, AND how we think (i.e., how we talk to ourselves)!

Pinpoint any recurring self-sabotaging thoughts and work to understand the root of the thought. Address the root cause – childhood, insecurities, etc and the work to create healthier, more productive reoccurring thought loops. Get rid of your destructive internal dialogue. You wouldn’t let your best friend or child talk badly about their body and self-worth; why is it okay for you to berate yourself?

Final Thoughts

Journaling is only the first step. Use your awareness to set your future self up for success. Create realistic goals and a plan of action – figure out “your sirens” and how you will “tie yourself up”. Create systems to save yourself from your future you. Don’t just observe what you do and how you think; use that data to make a better choice next time. If you let yourself get too hungry and thus grab an unhealthy snack, decide to carry around a few almonds in your purse. If you note you mindlessly eat while cooking, chew gum so you can’t pick. Hope is not a viable strategy. You can’t “wish” your way to a fitter you. Reaching your health goals takes awareness and conscious planning. You can’t become a fitter, healthier, more productive version of you without first becoming aware of your current choices, thoughts, and inner dialogue.

Contributed by Kathleen Trotter

Kathleen Trotter-Strongerrr

Kathleen Trotter is a leading authority on fitness in North America and has been named one of Canada’s most influential fitness professionals. A two-time published book author, columnist, media personality, fitness guru, life coach, body positive advocate and overall health enthusiast, Kathleen Trotter’s career blossomed when she started as a fitness writer at Chatelaine in 2010.

Shortly after, she started blogging for The Huffington Post and writing for The Globe and Mail.  Her work included being featured in over 50 online fitness how-to videos as well as being included in the Globe’s online book on running.  Kathleen also penned three columns: “Ask the Trainer”, “Sweat Test” and “Health Advisory”.  Other published articles appear in Canadian Running, Glow, Alive, Today’s Parent, Healthy Directions, Impact Magazine, and Sharp, and for ParticipAction.

Kathleen Trotter shares her philosophy in an effort to motivate and encourage others to live a healthy and happy life. Her two books Finding Your Fit and Your Future Fittest Self are both available on Amazon and regularly receive 5-star reviews.”

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