For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a notebook & pen in my hand. A neighbor growing up worked for a paper manufacturer and the scraps of paper he shared with us provided endless hours of joy with my childhood friends. 

Suffice it to say, writing and journaling weave in and out of my life like threads woven on your favorite blanket. 

But, recently, I confess, I’ve felt scattered. My notebook was filled with plenty of “to-do lists.” It even was close by like an adult security blanket. 

But something was off.

Feeling Scattered

Usually, when my feet hit the floor to start the day, I give God thanks for another day and look at my calendar for the day and week ahead.

Then, I’m off and running.  When I noticed the scatteredness I was feeling, I started asking questions.

Let me be clear. The scatteredness I was feeling was bothering me, not hindering anyone else. I was tending to my responsibilities and the people in my life. And, to poke a little fun, I have Achiever as #2 on my CliftonStrengths. Not getting things done can lead to panic and deep frustration in my soul. This wasn’t panic level unsettledness. 

When I’m not checking something off a list, I’m not being productive. (Welcome to the mind & heart of someone with Achiever talent!) The people who love me, warts and all, know that when I’m not productive, I’m not happy. As an aside, I’ve learned, the hard way, that rest can be one of the most productive things I can do. 

Something Was Off

But, having said all of that, something was off. 

I wondered, “Was I not getting enough sleep?” “Was I not eating well? Not setting good boundaries? 

No.

No.

No. 

What was off? 

For a few days, I simply practiced curiosity about what wasn’t “feeling right.” 

And then an unsolicited email from a coaching colleague landed in my inbox and I knew what that unsettled feeling was all about. Unintentionally, she helped me see what was happening. 

I’d not been using my journal or reflecting on my days with intentionality. In the midst of all the busyness, the one tool I use to process, reflect, and integrate what I’m learning about myself, others, and leadership was set aside in the busyness of daily life.

In the midst of personal and professional responsibilities, I had unintentionally set aside a key resource in my life. I returned to the email and recognized something I see happen with other leaders, too.

Busyness was crowding out space in my life to process all the input that was happening every day.

What, then, was needed?

Breathing Room

Busyness doesn’t lead to breathing room. Breathing room is the necessary pause in life that every leader needs to process the noise, input, and meetings we’re experiencing. 

That unsettled feeling I was experiencing was simply a whole lot of “input” in my life swirling in my soul without a place to land. 

In order to make meaning out of life, we need breathing space to foster growth. You might be thinking, isn’t that the rhythm God of God’s creation, too?

It sure is. We call that weekly breathing room Sabbath.

Daily, however, that breathing room happens for me with exercise, hobbies, and journaling. What I had not realized were the benefits a simple journaling practice brings into life and leadership.

“There is well over 35 years of scientific research that proves there are many benefits that can be gained through writing about your thoughts and feelings: lowered blood pressure, improved immune functioning, reduced stress, greater confidence, more clarity for decision making, healing emotional wounds, improving personal relationships, cultivating resilience and making meaning out of life events are among the many proven benefits of expressive writing.” L. Monk. 

Who knew that simple paper and pen could offer us so many benefits? It’s certainly helped me identify why I was feeling unsettled. Here are three ways leaders can benefit from journaling. It’s a simple, unexpected leadership tool that you can use to navigate life.

3 Ways Leaders Can Benefit from Journaling

First, journaling can help you focus and increase intentionality

Use your journal to reflect on how you engage your time and energy toward your values, priorities, and relationships. Exploring your thoughts and feelings about your goals, values, and relationships will help you make adjustments and recognize gaps. If you choose to reflect at the end of the day, here are three simple questions you can respond to:

  • What was awesome about today?
  • What would I change about today?
  • What have I learned and how will I use this going forward?

Second, journaling can boost your confidence.

Before you say, “Really, Sara?” here’s the thing. The process of untangling your thoughts on paper about a specific situation can help gain clarity which leads to confidence. 

Consider a situation where you’d like to be more confident. Here are a few suggested prompts to help you deepen your confidence.

  • What do I trust about myself?
  • What feels like a risk here?
  • If I were to let go of X belief, what might be possible?
  • How do my values inform my approach to this situation?

Finally, journaling can help leaders stop ruminating and build resilience.

Go back to the busyness of life I mentioned at the top of this article. When we ruminate on things, it leads to indecision. If we’re seeking to maintain a growth mindset, ruminating won’t do that! It will hinder growth and confidence. So while I’d like to simply say “stop it!” I know all too well it’s not always that simple. 

But, in the midst of our busyness, if we don’t stop and do something with our thoughts and feelings, our ruminating can lead to anxiety. And we’ve all experienced plenty of that in the past 18 months. We don’t need to pile on anxiety from daily life.

You might even be thinking right now about a challenge, conflict, or perceived slight that won’t stop cycling through your mind. Let’s try a different approach that will only cost you 15-30 minutes of your day. Grab a pen and paper and write about it.

Instead of offering your best as a leader, ruminating leaders can erode trust with our teams and impede your own health. Here’s why: your indecision, inaction, and avoidance lead to stress. And we all know what stress does. 

So what do you say? How about starting with a piece of paper and pen? Here are a few prompts to help you get started.

  • What is going well? What created this? What role did I play?
  • What’s challenging for me right now? What contributed to this? What’s my role in that?
  • What strengths can I honor and draw on in my daily life? How?

One Unexpected Leadership Tool

At the end of the day, a regular practice of journaling can help you as a leader stay grounded in who God created you to be and guide you towards being the courageous leader God wants you to be.

If you see me with a notebook in hand, it might have less to do with keeping track of what needs to get done and more to do with weaving the threads of life, leadership, and learning into a beautiful tapestry only God can create. 

Maybe today you’ll give yourself the gift of breathing room.  Grab a pen and paper and respond to one of the journal prompts above. It will be one step in remembering, “who you are is how you lead.” 

PS – Every week, the podcast offers two or more questions for you to integrate what you’re learning into your practice of leadership. We call it Write it Down/Talk it Out. Check out this week’s episode and questions here.

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