Journaling is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to accelerate your personal development. By getting your thoughts out of your head and putting them down in writing, you gain insights you’d otherwise never see.

Beyond sequential thinking

While your brain is technically capable of processing a great deal of input simultaneously, your conscious thoughts play out in a certain sequence. One thought triggers the next, which triggers the next, and so on. Sometimes these sequences have a few branches, but they’re still subject to linear time, and at any given moment, you’re following one of those branches. These thought sequences have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it’s nearly impossible to see the big picture overhead view of a sequence while you’re stuck in playback mode.

This is where journaling can provide huge advantages. Journaling allows you to break free of sequential thinking and examine your thoughts from a bird’s-eye view. When you record your sequential thoughts in a tangible medium, you can then go back and review those thoughts from a third-person perspective. While you’re recording the thoughts, you’re in first-person mode. But when you’re reading them, you can remain dissociated instead of associated. This dissociative view, when combined with what you’ve already learned from the associative view, will bring you much closer to seeing the truth of your situation.

Very shortly I’ll share a couple of excerpts from one of my old journal entries, and you’ll have a chance to apply that overhead view to what was originally a very linear thought sequence.

While many people use journaling to record a personal diary of their thoughts and experiences, the power of journaling goes way beyond verbal photography.

Here are 3 other powerful benefits of journaling:

  • Solve tricky problems. Some problems are very difficult to solve when you’re stuck in an associative, first-person viewpoint. Only when you record the situation and then re-examine it from a third-person perspective does the solution become clear. Sometimes the solution is so obvious that you’re shocked you didn’t see it sooner.
  • Gain clarity. A great time to turn to your journal is when you’re just not clear about what to do. Should you quit your job to start your own business? Should you marry your current romantic partner? Are you on the right track financially? It’s amazing how much clearer things become when you explore them in writing.
  • Verify your progress. It’s wonderful to go back and re-read journal entries from years ago and see how much real progress has been made. When you’re frustrated that your life doesn’t seem to be working out as you’d like, go back and read something you wrote five years ago — it will totally change your perspective. This helps you in the present moment too by reminding you that you are in fact growing and changing, even when it feels like you’re standing still.

A real entry from my personal journal

Recently I went back and read some of my old journal entries. At the risk of embarrassing myself a little, here’s an excerpt from an entry I wrote on June 13, 2004. This was about 3.5 months before I launched I hadn’t even committed to building the site as this point.

Keep in mind that this journal entry represents my linear, sequential thoughts at the time.

June 13, 2004, 3:24 pm

So far this year I’ve spent a great deal of time on non-work activities, including reading, playing games, spiritual development, etc. But now I’m feeling my energy return to a desire to really put some effort into my career for the second half of this year and to work hard at pulling ahead financially. The difference is that now I feel I’m being drawn forward out of a sense of ambition and positive energy rather than being compelled by fear and disappointment with the past.

I’m ready to begin working on business projects again, for Dexterity Software or otherwise, and get some energy moving forward. I feel I’ve had enough private victory in order to be able to push myself ahead into public victory. Whereas the past year has seemed like a time of contraction and turning inward, I feel that the next year is a time of expansion and turning outward. I can practically feel the cycle of energy shifting.

I sense there is a wave of energy entering into my life right now, and I want to ride it forward as far as I can.

Here are some of the things I want to achieve:

  1. Raise my income dramatically — into the $30-50K/month range
  2. Buy a beautiful 5-bedroom house here in Vegas in a terrific neighborhood
  3. Get really good at poker, and start playing tournaments regularly; be able to win consistently both online and offline
  4. Begin exercising regularly again.
  5. Build a new web site at with a focus on personal development, including a blog and some articles, and begin developing and selling audio programs. Actually create a basic business plan for the site to make it a profitable venture.
  6. Improve dramatically as a speaker through Toastmasters
  7. Be extremely true to my own energy in all that I do, not trying to be something I’m not. Express myself genuinely.
  8. Write and self-publish at least one book (especially one that can make a decent profit).

It’s very eye-opening to read these old goals, remembering where I was at this point in my life. This was a time when I was bored with running my games business, but it was still my main source of income. I felt that it was time for me to move in a different direction, but I was totally unclear about what that direction was. I thought that boosting my income would be the best way to buy time, so I could figure out what I really should be doing. In truth, however, I knew what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t convinced I could be financially successful at it. So I was looking for more money as a way to avoid having to deal with these doubts. What a mistake that was!

Interestingly, goal #1 was achieved last year… but in a totally different way than I expected.

Goal #2 was achieved 3 weeks ago, when Erin and I moved into our new 6-bedroom home in a “terrific neighborhood.” Technically it’s a 5-bedroom house plus an office. Either way it certainly fulfills the original intent.

Goal #3 died a pretty quick death. In 2004 I was into playing poker semi-regularly, but I totally lost interest in it shortly after launching I don’t think I’ve played a single hand of poker since 2006. However, poker has become increasingly popular since then. New poker rooms have popped up all over Vegas, and they’re bustling with new players. And not long ago George Bush signed a law that made it illegal for banks to process credit card transactions for online gambling sites — of course that only drives more people to Vegas. I don’t feel bad at all that this goal wasn’t accomplished. It was always more of a fantasy than a serious goal for me.

Goal #4 has been going well for years. I go to the gym several days a week, and I’ve been training in kempo since Oct 2006. I recently earned my blue belt.

Goal #5 is interesting. Obviously I created the site, and it’s been a big success. But I was expecting to create and sell my own info products, much like I did for my games business. I did create the business plan, and that helped provide some direction, but the plan never accounted for the possibility of advertising income or for the rapid rate of traffic growth. In a way this goal is still in progress. I frequently receive requests from people to create my own products, in order to cover certain topics in much greater depth than I can do with the free articles and podcasts.

Goal #6 is still in progress. At the time I wrote this journal entry, I’d only been a Toastmaster for 11 days. Now I’m past the 3-year mark. I’ve certainly made some “dramatic” improvements, but I’ve also become aware of just how much more there is to learn. One thing I didn’t anticipate was the long-term friends that would be gained from Toastmasters. Erin has benefited from this as well. As I write this, she’s out having lunch with one of our Toastmaster friends. Virtually all of our local friends were made through our involvement with Toastmasters, either directly or indirectly.

Goal #7 is perhaps my favorite from this list, and if I were to judge myself on this one, I’d say I’m succeeding with it. In the later years of running my games business, I began feeling very incongruent, like I was just supposed to be doing something else. Now I feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Of all the goals on this list, this one is by far the most rewarding, and it means more to me than all the others combined. If you currently find yourself feeling that something just isn’t right, do yourself a big favor and listen to those feelings, even if you fear where they might lead.

Goal #8 hasn’t materialized yet, but I expect it will. I do have a book in progress, but it won’t likely be released until 2008. In 2004 I was thinking more along the lines of writing a book on selling software online, so the original intent was a bit different compared to where I am now. My main reason for wanting to write a book back then was to create another income stream. Today my reasons for writing a book are more tied in with goal #7 — it would be a means of self-expression and a new way to connect with people.

The same journal entry continues:

Ok, so what about creating a personal development web site at

Now this is a different kind of situation, since initially I don’t have a grasp on how to make money with the site. If it becomes a serious money-maker, great. But in the beginning, I’d be creating a blog and possibly a newsletter and putting up free articles. So where is the sales potential of this site? There are many possibilities, but before I commit to doing anything here, I want to develop a basic business plan for the site and determine how it can make a profit. Maybe I can sell articles, newsletter subscriptions, and ebooks. Perhaps I could sell advertising and join various affiliate programs.

The benefit of this kind of site is that it can grow and evolve with me. I can make some interesting posts that are basic mini-articles. I can write whenever I want to w/o a huge obligation. I can just make some really short entries, or I can take the time to write much longer ones. It’s a nice outlet for me when I just feel like expressing myself.

So where is the profit potential for this kind of site?

  • Write and sell a self-help ebook
  • Offer to write custom articles for a fee
  • Sell subscriptions to the site (iffy)
  • Paid premium newsletter
  • Advertising and affiliate programs (likely weak)
  • Audio programs (possibly the best bet along with an ebook)
  • Donations
  • Promotion of Selling Software Online book

So at least initially, I don’t see a huge potential with this kind of site for making money. It’s certainly nice to have as an outlet for personal growth, but it isn’t likely to make me super-rich right away. There seems to be far more potential right now in writing a book about selling software online.

I had to laugh at myself when I read this. In all fairness though, the overall context of my journaling during that particular week involved exploring ideas to boost my income, so this entry’s focus on money was subject to that context. But it is true that I was stuck in the trap of thinking that boosting my income was very important and necessary to figuring out what I was supposed to be doing. Eventually I did work through these blocks and just decided to launch the site without worrying much about generating serious income from it. Of course, that early income boost never materialized, but I didn’t need it. I actually experienced a drop in my income after starting because I was stealing time from my games business, but I was enjoying it so much that it didn’t matter. I think even Erin didn’t worry so much about our financial situation because she could tell I was very happy.

It’s funny that I virtually dismissed advertising and affiliate programs as an income generator with the words “likely weak.” Perhaps I deserve a good kick for that one, but at least I was willing to try it 5 months after launching the site. I still get emails from people telling me it’s impossible to generate income from blogging though. I think those are the same people that emailed me several years ago saying it’s impossible to generate income selling computer games online. ūüôā

When journaling I often write down my goals and intentions, identify obstacles, and work through challenges. Journaling has been a tremendous long-term problem-solving tool for me.

My favorite journaling software

I do have a specific product to recommend for keeping a journal. It’s called The Journal. I’ve been using it since 2002, and it’s by far my favorite journaling software. In 2004 I bought a second copy for Erin, and she’s been a big fan of the program as well.

In fact, I like The Journal so much that I worked with the program’s developer, David Michael, to create an add-on for it. This add-on is called the “Steve Pavlina Templates,” and it includes 20 original journaling exercises based on material from These are not one-shot exercises either — you can re-use them again and again.

This add-on is free for readers.

See my web page about The Journal for all the details, including a link to download the free trial version.

Happy journaling!