Though I didn't realize it at the time, reflection was the thing I was avoiding. It scared me. I didn't know myself, and I was terrified of what I might find. I responded to the fear by diving into porn, social media, video games, news, girlfriends—anything that could distract me from me.
But the distractions hadn't gotten me anywhere. I was smart enough to know I couldn't keep doing the same things and expect different results, so I faced the dragon. My own inner self.
After enough research I decided that journaling would be my primary tool to start with. If I could describe my day in detail, then I could see what was and wasn't working over time—thoughts, habits, routines, and so on. By narrating my life, I gave myself the power to change the narrative.
I spent 15 to 30 minutes reflecting on my day every night before bed. I wrote down my thoughts from morning to night. I looked into how those thoughts shaped my actions, and how my actions affected my feelings, and how my feelings determined my day.
Far from the nightmare I had expected, journaling was calming. It put me at ease and made me feel peaceful, empowered, confident.
Journaling was my first success ritual.
Thirty days straight gave me insight into my biggest problems. When I realized that my lack of success was simply a bad habit and not a character trait, my confidence skyrocketed. After three months, I found my first bit of professional success: I got my first full-time writing gig.
Journaling didn't magically help me land good jobs. But through reflection, I discovered all the thoughts and habits that held me back. One session of reflection didn't accomplish much. But after 90 days in a row, the results were astonishing.
I finally had a career. I finally had work I could be proud of. I finally had my own life.
Reflection put a microscope on the little details that were dragging me down. But it also helped me zoom out to see the bigger pieces of success.
I realized that my best friend of 10 years was poison. Despite how much I enjoyed his company, Chad hadn't helped me become a better person. And it was always the same story with him: same dead-end job, same drinks and cigarettes, same relationship problems.
After half a year of journaling, I knew I had to cut Chad off. My time in reflection had helped me figure out that he wasn't helping me grow. The decision wasn't easy. But it was the best choice I've ever made.
Then the impossible happened.
After I let go of the dozens of bad habits and the couple of people that held me back, I started getting freelance clients for a buck a word. I got published on huge websites like mindbodygreen and Entrepreneur magazine. I moved out on my own and experienced the struggle of manhood for the first time.
With all my new experience, I was able to create even more value for my audience. Reflection started a positive feedback loop that continues to take me higher and higher.
I'm not immune to distraction. But whenever I have a bad day, I can always pinpoint the extra time spent on Facebook, or the mindless email checks that kept me from doing the important things. Nightly journaling is a safety net that prevents my mistakes from becoming habits.
I just wish I had started reflecting 10 years earlier.