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Making the write decision: The power of journaling to unlock clarity

Journaling can help leaders increase awareness, track progress and enhance decision-making, writes Elisabeth Hayes.

5 min read



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Life is full of decisions. Some are bigger than others. 

In the face of a big, life-changing decision, what do you do? How do you weigh your options? How do you decide? When do you know it’s time to act? 

Elisabeth Owen Hayes

You may keep kicking the can down the road. Or perhaps you talk about it, asking everyone else for their opinions. Or maybe you’re a lister of pros and cons.

The power of journaling

Five years ago, I made a big decision to leave my corporate job of more than 25 years to become an executive coach. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly or quickly. I had been thinking about leaving for quite a while, but financially, I needed to wait. As a dear friend said to me, “You’re stuck with a purpose.” Indeed, I was ready to move on, yet I would have had more financial flexibility if I waited. So, I did. 

In January 2018, the magic date was nine months away. And although I had been waiting for that date to arrive, I wondered if I was ready. Would I regret leaving? Would I miss the corporate world? Would I prosper as a coach?

In search of clarity, I took a dose of my advice to many clients. I started journaling. My goal was simple. When it came time to decide whether to stay or make the leap, I wanted to have the benefit of my thoughts as a guidepost.

Much is written about the power and benefits of journaling. It provides space for self-reflection and increased self-awareness. It helps clarify your thoughts and identify patterns. It’s a valuable tool for enhancing decision-making skills, tracking progress and fostering personal growth. Journaling gets thoughts and ideas out of your head and into a system. 

How to get started journaling

There is no right way to journal. I’ve tried journaling a few times over the years with mixed success. I’ve bought expensive leather notebooks and researched apps. None of which worked. 

Here are a few lessons from what did work for me.

Keep it simple. I found a stream-of-consciousness approach worked best. Whatever I was feeling, thinking or pondering about was fodder for my journal. There was no pressure to write something every day — and no pressure on how much I wrote. A quick sentence or two would capture the essence of my reflections. You’ll be surprised how simple jottings become meaningful in aggregate.

2/12 … Tension between wanting time to go faster and wanting to slow down to enjoy every day. Tension btw being done with work and wondering whether I will be bored. 

2/13 … Today I’m struck by my weariness with the schedule. 

2/14 … Wonder if I will miss getting dressed for work. 

2/15 … Think part of the problem is that I’m bored. Not challenged. Need to create something to energize me. More networking.

Make it a habit. I took a page out of James Clear’s book, “Atomic Habits.” He suggests connecting a new habit with something you do every day. My morning train commute prompted me to jot down whatever was on my mind.  

Take note of your engagement. Write down where you feel bored, restless or unhappy, along with what you were doing during those times of disengagement. Likewise, note when you’re excited, focused and having a good time — i.e., engaged. The goal is to use these data points to inform your decision.

Be mindful of your energy. Notice and track those activities (and people or places) that give you energy and those that drain your energy. Once you have a good handle on where your energy goes, you have another tool in your decision-making toolbox.  

2/23 … Noticing that it’s easier to let go. Still struggle with defining my role and having purpose. Much more energy from mentoring, advising and coaching than with content, projects, issues at work. 

3/13 … The energy it takes me to get to work is getting to be too much. When I log in to my computer, I sigh. 

5/21 … Energized by idea of perusing passion of mentoring, advising and coaching leaders. Feels right, makes sense, sounds right. Has me excited on a day where I’m heading to our annual conf, which brings no energy.

Look back (when you’re ready). When the fall of 2018 arrived, it turned out that I did not need my journal to tell me that the decision was right. While there were a lot of emotions, I knew it was time to leap. I was ready.

It wasn’t until I started writing this piece that I reviewed my journal entries — and used ChatGPT to summarize them. It was a fascinating exercise that I recommend if you’re curious to learn more from your journaling. 


Elisabeth Hayes is an executive coach who works with ambitious mid-career professionals and senior executives to expand their leadership skills, transition into next-level roles and navigate career moves. Find her on LinkedIn. Join her monthly Five to Grow On email series. If you’re thinking about a career move, I would welcome the chance to chat about it during a free coaching session.  

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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