The hardest part of having dreams in life is keeping them in focus. We sit down and have an intense planning session and come up with a strategy. A day, a week, a few months later, and we find ourselves blown off course. Planning and doing are two entirely different matters. The real magic can only happen when we take our broad vision for life and work it into the fabric of the everyday.

“You may wish to change your life…but your new vision remains merely talk until it enters the practice of your day.” ~ John O’Donohue

If you’re like me, you start every year fresh and motivated. You set big goals for yourself. People make fun of New Year’s resolutions, and rightfully so. Many resolutions are made under compulsion, whether it be from a school writing assignment or from a conversation at a New Year’s party. The results of these exercises are not goals at all but rather vague wishes for a better life.

But many resolutions are true goals, and we start out with the best of intentions. This year is going to be different, we tell ourselves. But something happens along the way to our dreams. We get derailed, demotivated, and distracted. I don’t think this happens because we’re not serious about our goals, but because of something else. We experience a massive disconnect between our long term goals and our daily activities. It is so hard to live your life in the light of your dreams. We are constantly faced with choices, and the way we respond to them will dictate what our life will look like weeks, months, even years into the future. And if we aren’t careful we get ourselves bogged down in the day-to-day.

“Life is what happens to us while you’re busy making other plans.” ~ John Lennon

At this point many of us quit, and this is why that John Lennon quote is thrown around so much. Usually quitting is not a conscious decision either. It is missing your workout two days in a row, then three, then a week. And then you have something major come up like a vacation or a new project, and next thing you know, it’s January and you’re beating yourself up again.

Or you may do like I do. You seek out help, whether it be a book or a website. You try to read your way around the problem. You may come across some great advice but you’re now acting out somebody else’s plan, thinking somebody else’s thoughts and moving towards somebody else’s dreams.

At this point, instead of turning to someone else for help, why not turn to yourself?

That’s why I have found journaling to be the greatest tool in my arsenal.

When I say journaling, I do not mean recording what you did today (although that is a great practice that I’ll talk about soon). I’m talking about free writing.

Here’s how you get started:

  • Buy a notebook and pen and get to writing, OR
  • Open up your favorite word processor program and start typing.
  • Start with a timed session of, say, 20 minutes and just write. Whatever comes to mind, write it down. Don’t stop. Just write.
  • Tomorrow, do the same thing.
  • Rinse and repeat.

At this point, you probably have a lot of questions about this, and I will definitely unpack this a little more as I go along. But for now, just write. At first, it will feel like the stupidest thing you’ve ever done in your life. And your writing will indeed be some of the blandest, most mundane stuff that has ever been put to paper or computer screen. But that’s OK – nobody has to see it but you. As you write, you will begin to air some of your frustrations. If you keep doing this every day you will begin to drill down to the source of what frustrates you. Eventually, you will start providing the answers to your own problems.

There are so many important disciplines in life, from exercise to prayer to organization. But journaling, in my experience, is the best way to stay in tune with what you need to do today.

Just write.

Your turn: I would love to hear about any experience, good or bad, you’ve had with journaling. Also, I plan on doing a follow up article in a few days. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll try to address them!