Keeping a journal is a simple habit that can help athletes (if you have a body, you're an athlete!) maximise performance and enjoy the journey in just a few minutes a day.
So, if you’re not already keeping a training diary or running journal, here are 10 ways in which it could help you get the best out of yourself.
1. Training smart
Putting pen to paper is a great way to help you train smarter. One of the main benefits of keeping a journal is being able to look back and identify what works for you and what doesn't - what patterns in your training and habits gave you the best results?
Being able to reflect on what what you did and how you felt in the lead up to a good performance can help you learn what really works for you. Response and adaptation to training is highly individual, so finding what makes you tick is essential - and writing things down is a great way to go about this.
Equally, looking back through your training, recovery and how your body felt leading up to an illness, injury or a poor performance can help you stop repeating the same mistakes.
Being more mindful and reflective about what you're doing by recording areas of development can help you become a better learner too. Sitting down with your coach to set goals, build plans and review your progress can be a great way to use your journal.
The practice of journalling generally has been shown to be a useful tool to aid mental wellbeing by helping people overcome anxiety and improve self-confidence and awareness. This is just as true when it comes to athletes.
For example, being injured can be a mentally challenging time, but keeping an ongoing journal - where you can continue to track things like stretching, rolling, physio, rehab, cross-training, sleep, nutrition, and your thoughts and feelings - can help you stay positive and maintain a feeling of purpose.
Likewise, journalling can help you learn to see failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. It can help you make sense of a disappointing performance, learn the lessons needed, and move on - stronger.
Equally, in the build-up to a big event or goal, it can be a way to help clear and calm the mind. Through writing, a person can release pent-up feelings, escape from everyday stressors, and let go of negative thoughts. A 2011 study highlighted the positive impact journalling had on adolescents who struggled with worry and self-doubt before test taking - and it's the same when it comes to sport.
Keeping a training journal or training diary keeps you accountable. If you use a watch or app that provides data-based feedback, you’ll love the satisfaction of uploading that big session, but the same is true when it comes to writing down your training, how it went and how you felt, on paper.
Equally, keeping a written record of your progress makes you more likely to execute your plan. When it’s right there in front of you, there’s no escaping the blank space where a missed training session should be. In this way, your journal helps you stay focussed and disciplined - it's your own personal accountability tool.
Even if your training is disrupted by injury, keeping your journal going gives you that extra impetus to focus on what you can do (like cross training, stretching, rehab, eating and sleeping well), rather than what you can’t – always a healthy way to approach setbacks!
Anyone who’s seen big improvements will tell you that consistency is key. And if consistency is key, then so is routine – as it’s building your training (and your recovery) into a sustainable daily and weekly routine that will help you build consistency.
To be really effective, your journal should capture the whole process, from setting a goal and building a plan, to recording and reviewing your progress along the way.
Managing your daily and weekly routine should be a part of the planning process. Defining how you structure your ideal day and week is a great place to start.
5. Habit building
Small habits done consistently can make a big difference to your performance – especially when it comes to recovery and injury prevention.
Tracking a few key habits - such as stretching, foam rolling, drinking enough water, or getting enough sleep - can really help in the early days of habit building, when you need that regular reminder.
Over time, they’ll become a natural part of your routine and will build up to give you the performance benefits you need without you even thinking about them.
6. Goal setting
It’s difficult to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going in the first place. So, it stands to reason that effective goal setting is essential when it comes to growth in any aspect of life, including athletic performance.
For instance, just saying to yourself that you want to be a better runner is a great start, but research has shown that a more focussed, purposeful approach to achieving your dreams is much more likely to succeed.
Writing down your goal is the first step – and a journal is the perfect place to do it. In fact, a study by Dr Gail Matthews at Dominican University of California showed that this simple practise alone makes you 42 percent more likely to achieve your goal.
7. Focussing on the process
Keeping a journal helps you to build a long-term plan, with each and every day another paving stone on your path towards your goals.
Having a defined plan and knowing how it fits in to your routine means that by just looking at your journal, you know exactly what you need to do today, so you can execute it with overthinking or getting ahead of yourself.
At the same time, having space to pause and reflect on your efforts and progress helps you to get the best out of your training and focus on today. By focusing on the process, you’ll give yourself the best chance of success in the long run too.
More importantly, by learning to focus on the process rather than the outcome, you’ll not only give yourself the best chance of success but, regardless of the result, you’ll be more likely to enjoy the journey - which is where the real value is found.
8. Tracking your progress
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Using your journal to set steppingstones (mini-goals that build towards your big goal) and track your progress against them, as well as review your fitness and wellbeing every so often, can help you stay motivated and on track when your big goal is still some way off.
Steppingstones help you know whether you’re off-course and, if so, how can you correct. Equally, hitting your steppingstone goals can be a huge boost and give you the confidence to push on.
The Run Journal, by Performance Journals, has space to set your big goals and steppingstones, as well as weekly, monthly, 13-week and 26-week/6-month reviews.
9. Recognising your achievements
It’s important to take time to reward yourself and celebrate your achievements as well as rest, recover and regenerate properly before moving on to your next goal.
Sitting down to review your results against your objectives can help you give your successes the recognition they deserve, as well as help you to learn lessons, lock away those memories, close that chapter and move on to your next goal!
10. Capturing your story
It’s also hugely satisfying to read your story in years to come. Imagine dusting off an old photo album full of memories, verses scrolling through the photos on your phone. You put all this work into your training and those ups and downs deserve to be captured properly so you can look back on them in years to come.
A journal gives you a physical memento to cherish and look back on. Pulling your journal off the bookshelf and reliving those dreams you chased is a great way to remind yourself of your achievements, efforts, even friendships, and all the ups and downs along the way.