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How Journaling Can Help You Hit Your Fitness Goals (No, Really)

How Journaling Can Help You Hit Your Fitness Goals (No, Really)

We hate to put you on the defensive from the get-go, but let’s be frank here: The reason you fail at your New Year’s resolutions is because deep down you believe you can’t change. “Your unconscious mind is telling you a story,” says Brian Grasso, a Montreal-based life coach and creator of the Sustainable Success program (available at “That story is made up of the perceptions, expectations, and beliefs you’ve developed in your life—and whether or not they’re true, you still believe them.”

You don’t realize it now, but the yarn you’ve woven in your mind says you can’t drop weight, put on muscle, or become the fitter, happier, more successful person you want to be. But a story, after all, is just a story. It can be changed—rewritten in the mind if you so choose—so you can avoid self-sabotage and see your goals through to fruition. Start writing a new, better story this year, using a journal.

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Here’s how it works: Take a few minutes to sit and write down what you’re thinking. To get started, ask yourself, “What am I going to do differently to lose weight/gain muscle/change my body this time?” Now answer the question. “But don’t try to make it sound optimistic,” says Grasso. “Just write down the first things you think of. What comes out is your unconscious.”

Be prepared for a lot of negativity. “You’re going to say things like, ‘It never works for me. I’m not good enough. I don’t have the willpower,’” Grasso says. Just let it out. The point isn’t so much to vent as it is to become aware of the thoughts that poison your ability to change. By repeatedly writing out what’s going on in your head, you’ll see patterns emerge in your thinking over time and be able to stop them; the reasons for your unhappiness will jump out at you, and you’ll be able to correct them.

Journal as often as you can. Ideally this is several times a week, five to 20 minutes per session. At first the process may make you feel worse about yourself, but confronting the negativity is necessary to changing it, so keep going. One study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that subjects who journaled, trying to make sense of trauma and stress in their lives, came to see the silver lining in the turmoil and grew emotionally from it. Another paper in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment showed that journaling improved physical health as well, lowering blood pressure, boosting the immune system, and even enhancing sports performance.

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Richard Wasson of Londonderry, Northern Ireland, is the chief officer of an expedition yacht, and a client of Grasso’s. Having suffered from food intolerances for years, he sought coaching to help him find a nutrition plan he could sustain. 

“I wanted to stop yo-yoing and find out why I couldn’t stick to things I knew would make me better,” he says. “I realized it’s all down to mindset—the most under-supported aspect in health and fitness.” His journaling began with phrases like, “I feel like an idiot for eating that. I hate myself for doing it.” “If I had a shitty day,” he says, “I’d journal at night and try to pin down why it was shitty.” 

Wasson’s writings revealed that he was particularly vulnerable to eating unhealthily after visiting his father. Uncomfortable conversations between the two led to eating copious amounts of takeout food that made him sick. “I’d use takeout to deal with those emotions, and journaling helped me see that. Eventually I looked at my journal and saw what I was saying and asked, ‘Why am I saying I hate myself because I’m eating the wrong foods?’ I started to tune in to the fact that it was all a load of bollocks! It was a big story.”

The revelation was liberating—and it took him only three weeks to get there. Wasson stopped beating himself up and realized he didn’t actually crave bad food—it was just covering up his real need, which was to improve communication with his dad. “Since then we’ve had a chat and things got better.”

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Even though weight loss wasn’t his goal, Wasson lost 22 pounds through an improved diet. “My skin has improved, and I have less mucus and more energy,” he says. And none of it required an iron will or a step-oriented plan of action.

“The word ‘discipline’ doesn’t even come into it,” he says. “I feel I do what’s right for me automatically.”

And that’s how you know you’ve changed for good. 

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