Journaling – Litemind Exploring ways to use our minds efficiently. Mon, 01 Jan 2018 20:43:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Break Out of Recurring Patterns in Your Life in 5 Easy Steps Mon, 10 Aug 2009 17:20:46 +0000 Do you find yourself caught in certain loops in life? Situations that keep happening which you can’t help but wonder “Not again!” or “Why me”? In this article, I’ll share a technique you can use to break out of these patterns.

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How to Break Out of Recurring Patterns in Your Life in 5 Easy Steps

This is an article by guest writer Celestine Chua of Personal Excellence.

Do you find yourself caught in certain loops in life? Situations that keep happening which you can’t help but wonder “Not again!” or “Why me”? In this article, I’ll share a technique you can use to break out of these patterns.

For most people, whenever something negative happens, their first instinct is to brush it off as just a one-off incident or to blame the environment.

The second time it happens, they may still do the same. Third time, they may think it’s a coincidence, but it’s beginning to trigger some thought that there might be something in them that’s attracting these situations.

Fourth, fifth, sixth time… soon, it becomes clear that this has become an established pattern.

A Personal Example

Throughout my life there have been recurring patterns. For example, one dominant trend that kept emerging when I was in school was that I was almost always late for my lectures and classes. At that time I thought that it was because I lived far away from the university and I would be on time if I lived nearer.

After that, when I started working after graduation, I continued to be late — this time for work and for meetings. This time, I rationalized that it was because there were so many things to do and the schedule was too tight.

Then, when I left my corporate career last year to help others live their best life, I switched to become a full-time coach and personal development blogger. Even then, I would still continue to be late for my appointments. Since my schedule was clearly of my own making now, it became evident that I was late solely because of myself.

There was something inside me or the way I was doing things that needed to be addressed.

Examples of Common Patterns

Here are some common recurring, negative behaviors people deal with in their lives on a day-to-day basis. If any of the incidents below have happened to you at least five times, then it’s likely to be a pattern attributable to you:

  • Being late for appointments
  • Not meeting deadlines
  • Being absent-minded
  • Getting together with the “wrong” guy/girl, resulting in destructive relationships
  • Sleeping late; not being able to wake up early
  • Emotional eating
  • Not exercising even though you planned to
  • Getting into arguments or losing your temper
  • Giving up halfway through whatever you’re doing
  • Staying back late at work; getting burnt out

How to Break Out of Patterns

Some people’s response to these recurring behaviors is to exert external force to prevent the occurrence (i.e., through discipline). For example, if they are not exercising according to their regime, they will just whip themselves to stick to their exercise plan. If they are not sticking to their diet, they will discipline themselves to eat properly.

This usually works… for a short period of time.

The issue with this method is it requires continuous expenditure of your energy to keep up the results. As soon as the external force is removed, you start to revert to your natural habit pattern. In addition, by investing external energy to address a particular area, you are left with less energy to deal with other things in your life.

The reason why that happens is because patterns occur as a result of the internal, fundamental frameworks you live by. These frameworks refer to the inner beliefs and values you hold. To get rid of these repetitive behaviors, you need to look inward, examine what triggers them, uncover the underlying causes and resolve them at the root level. The good thing is that since patterns are a result of our beliefs, we can get out of them by changing our beliefs.

Here’s an exercise which I find very helpful in gaining clarity on the root causes of patterns then addressing them. I regularly use it for self-improvement, and it has allowed me to break out of behaviors which don’t serve me, such as being late, emotional eating and not sticking to my exercise plans. I also use this in my coaching, helping my clients successfully break out of negative patterns and accelerate toward their goals.

Before you start this exercise, write down a list of negative patterns in your life, so you can better choose the one you want to get rid of.

1. List down the past 5–10 times you have been in such a situation

Start off by picking a pattern which you want to break out of. Then, list down the past five times when you were faced with it. Five is a decent sample size which lets us compare the incidents and spot similarities between those patterns. If you like, you can even list down 10 incidents just to be exhaustive!

Let’s take my example of being late for appointments. Not being on time was one of the dominant trends in the past. Whenever I went out to meet someone, it would almost be guaranteed that I would be late for appointments. The lateness would usually range from anywhere between 5 minutes to 20 minutes, or even 30 minutes or more.

2. List down the factors for each situation that led to the outcome

Now, list down as many factors as you can that led to each incident occurring. If you have a pattern of sleeping late, write down what the reason that led you to sleep late. Maybe you had work to do, you were talking on the phone with a friend, you had insomnia, etc. It may be possible that each incident has more than one trigger, so list out as many triggers as possible.

When I examined the incidents when I was late, I found a whole list of factors such as (a) oversleeping, (b) being caught up with work before the appointment, (c) bus was late, (d) unanticipated traffic jam, (e) couldn’t find the location (the place was foreign to me) and (f) something cropped up just before the appointment.

3. Identify the commonalities across the factors

Look at all the factors you have listed. Are there any common factors across the incidents? Circle them. Chances are you will find 1-2 dominant trends across all the factors listed.

In my example, the common factor was that I was always caught up with work before the appointment. While there could have been additional factors in each case, I was almost always running late because I was engrossed in getting my work done.

4. Drill down into the cause of the factors

Now, drill into those common factors. What led to these factors? For each answer that comes up, keep digging deeper to identify the underlying cause. Keep asking “Why is this the case?” or “Why is that so?” until you hit a resonating point.

Looking into why I was getting behind, I realized it was because I wanted to finish the stuff which was supposed to have been done earlier but was not finished yet. As I looked deeper into this, I found:

  • I had planned more than what was realistically achievable. I did not factor in for appropriate breaks and I had underestimated the time needed for each task.
  • Instead of adhering to my work schedule, I was distracted during the work process and would be doing non-peripheral tasks instead.
  • This happened because I overestimated my own capacity.
  • Thus, by setting off for my appointments before I had finished my work, it meant that I wasn’t able to achieve what I had set out to do. I had let myself down by not living up to my envisioned persona. Because I didn’t want to accept that thought, I would keep working away at my tasks until I was already late beyond measure.

It is possible to have several causes behind the factors. As you work on this step, ensure you uncover as many of them as possible.

5. Identify action steps to address the cause

Now that you have uncovered the root causes, how can you address them such that they will not lead to a recurrence of the pattern in the future? Come up with action steps that will address the root causes, as well as any factors which you feel lead to the issue.

In my case, the action steps I came up with were:

  • Create task lists which realistically match my current capacity.
  • Place my schedule in a prominent spot so I’ll be conscious of the time and the tasks that need to be done.
  • In times where I am not able to get the work done, accept that to be the case and create a separate plan to address the unfinished work later on.

As you come up with the steps, it may seem they do not address the patterns directly. For example, with my issue of being late, creating task lists may not seem like the most appropriate solution at first sight. Yet, because it addresses one of the causes (unrealistic planning), it has helped in breaking me away from the pattern. If you (a) correctly nail down the root cause(s), (b) identify the right action steps and (c) act on them, the patterns will start dissolving away in your life.

Additional Notes

  • As you delve into certain patterns, you will often find that their underlying causes are one and the same. Thus, by dealing with that cause, you can get rid of many undesirable behaviors in your life in one fell swoop.
  • Note that some patterns may be interlinked with others — for example, you may find that some causes can also be patterns themselves! Thus, it may not be easy to completely eradicate such patterns in one sitting. Focus on getting as much uncovered each time and progress from there. Subsequently you will come to a point where the root causes are properly addressed and the patterns are eradicated.

Try out the exercise and start breaking away from the negative patterns in your life! Feel free to give me your feedback — I’d love to know how it works for you.

About Celestine Chua

Celestine is a personal excellence coach who writes at her popular Personal Excellence Blog to help others like you achieve excellence. She has been featured frequently in the press and is a highly sought-after coach. Some of her top articles: 50 Ways to Boost Your Productivity, 101 Most Inspiring Quotes of All Time and Cultivate Good Habits in 21 Days.

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Topics du Jour: Give Your Life Direction in Less than 10 Minutes a Day Mon, 14 Jul 2008 12:56:50 +0000 Topics du Jour is a powerful journaling technique you can use to review, plan and put your life in perspective within no more than 5 or 10 minutes of your day. Here’s how it works: Number down a page from 1 to 30. Write in each line one aspect of your life that you would […]

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Topics du Jour

Topics du Jour is a powerful journaling technique you can use to review, plan and put your life in perspective within no more than 5 or 10 minutes of your day. Here’s how it works:

Number down a page from 1 to 30. Write in each line one aspect of your life that you would like to monitor. Then, each day of the month, look at the corresponding topic and write a paragraph or two about it.

You may end up writing about your plans, or maybe about a specific problem you’re facing in that area. Or perhaps you will end up just babbling — it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you’ll be spending those few daily minutes specifically giving attention to what matters in your life. That’s why I like this technique: it’s quick, intuitive and, above all, it gets you into the daily habit of connecting with what’s important in your life.

Here are a few examples of topics you can write about:

  • Career
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Health
  • Money
  • Spiritual Life
  • Learning
  • Leisure
  • Aging
  • Contribution

Bear in mind that the topics don’t need to be limited to the usual notion of ‘life areas’. You can, for example, pick themes such as ‘Successes’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Goals’, ‘Frustrations’, ‘Procrastination’; or anything else you believe would be interesting to revisit regularly.

A note about the number of topics: to be fair, you don’t need to define 30 topics to write about: the only requirement is that you keep a schedule to cycle between your topics, no matter how many of them there are. My schedule, for example, consists of 10 topics rotated biweekly, weekdays only.

Top 3 Benefits of Topics du Jour

1. Touch-Base All Life Areas

We usually don’t need complex tools to find out how to improve our lives. All we need is to get into the habit of connecting with our inner selves and listen. However, this is not as easy as it seems at first, as we tend to get stuck in just one or two dominant aspects of our lives and think only about those.

That’s exactly how Topics du Jour can help: it serves as a framework you can use to regularly connect with yourself and methodically focus on each and every important aspect of your life.

2. Get Instantly Motivated to Action

Facing the different aspects of your life on a daily basis is an act of courage. Bringing long-standing issues to the surface can be scary. Getting to regularly overcome the resistance to face these issues gives you an immediate sense of power and control.

Even more important is the fact that, by consciously bringing those issues to the surface, you can actually do something about them.

And here’s a suggestion, which is the only “rule” I have in my Topics du Jour sessions: once you’re done, look at what you’ve written and define at least one action you can do to move you forward in that area. Think of the smallest step possible you can take and, if at all possible, don’t even write it down: do it immediately! Maybe it’s a phone call; maybe it’s just tidying up your desk or deleting an old file on your computer. The motivating effect of immediate action, no matter how tiny, never ceases to amaze me.

3. Uncover Patterns

Contrary to regular journal entries, which are usually long and digressing, Topics du Jour entries tend to be short and to-the-point, making them perfect to be reviewed at a later time.

You can take, for example, several entries for just one particular topic and read them all in sequence. By doing that, you can get new insights about your advancement in that area, as well as uncover recurrent thinking patterns and struggles.

Another interesting way you can review your entries is by reading the entries in all topics for a certain period of your life. That way, you can find relationships between different aspects of your life (such as how one area impacts others).

How Topics du Jour Complements Getting Things Done (or How I Stopped Worrying About ‘High-Level’ Life Reviews)

Topics du Jour stands on its own as a self-knowledge journaling tool. The surprising discovery I made is that it really shines when used together with productivity systems such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). For me, Topics du Jour picks up exactly where GTD leaves off. Let me explain.

GTD is a great bottom-up approach to get your life in control. In order to put your life in perspective, you need a certain level of control in your life first. “If your ship is sinking, it doesn’t matter where it’s headed at”, Allen usually says. So, organizing low-level tasks and projects is a great place to start to get your life under control.

But once the organizing part is taken care of, you need to climb up and review your life from ‘higher altitudes’ — otherwise you’ll be trapped in mindless, never-ending micromanagement of tasks. Granted, GTD mentions that you should have those kinds of higher-altitude reviews, but it offers little guidance on how to do them.

In my case, even when trying to adopt other, more top-down oriented approaches — such as Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — I could never form the proper habits to make these reviews work. After many years of trying, I finally found out why.

Why High-Level Reviews Didn’t Work

The problems with my high-level reviews were twofold:

  • Too analytical. Linear, left-brain thinking may be great for managing to-do lists, but it failed me miserably when doing high-level reviews. For years I struggled trying to find the perfect structure for my high-level reviews: checklists of questions, improvement charts, SWOT matrices — I tried them all. And, no matter how my logical mind told me that these methods should work, I kept struggling. The very structures that I set up were preventing me from gaining access to the abstract thinking that’s required for high-level reviews.
  • Too frightening. The idea of sitting down to define goals and major directions for my life was always dreadful to me. I used to set my goals all at once (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?). No wonder that the mere idea of such big ‘life reviews’ overwhelmed me.

As you already figured out by now, Topics du Jour resolved both problems.

No More High-Level Reviews

After journaling for a while, I noticed that I didn’t need those dreadful, big bang-like reviews. As it happens, I dropped the idea of ‘life reviews’ altogether in favor of Topics du Jour sessions. In a truly kaizen style, my higher-level thinking is now spread daily, and consists of nothing more than the Topics du Jour journaling sessions.

It came as an unexpectedly nice surprise to me how a journaling technique solved, quite by accident, an age-old problem I had. Here’s how:

  • Too analytical? Topics du Jour (as any form of journaling) can be a truly sensorial experience. Put an ambient light on, grab a comfortable pen or a nice and sexy text editor, and just write. Let go of your overly-dominant left-brain and let your intuition speak: no projects list, no estimating, no priorities. It’s refreshing being able to include a ‘soft’ tool like journaling to the highly-structured world of productivity systems.
  • Too frightening? Topics du Jour allows me to review my life one bit a day, splitting up a once huge and frightening task into several smaller, more manageable parts. In fact, I now look forward to my daily journaling sessions. There are no expectations whatsoever about these sessions — and, therefore, no unfulfilled expectations. The directions, the goals, the frustrations: they all just seem to emerge naturally instead of being forced upon me at a particular, pre-defined review date.

Try It

For a long time I’ve been reading about the benefits of keeping a daily journal. However, I always thought it wouldn’t be practical in my life, as it would take too much of my time. With the Topics du Jour technique, I don’t spend more than 10 minutes a day (well, I created a focused time box around it, just in case). And I can say that I actually gained time, as I spend much less time setting goals or worrying about those big, dreadful life reviews.

The Topics du Jour technique — like almost everything else I know about journaling — was learned from the excellent book Journal to the Self, by Kathleen Adams (click here for the book summary).

Give it a try. If you need further topic suggestions, I recommend you check the ones from the book (they can be found in the book’s mind map).

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Journal to the Self: 13 Tools to Make Journaling Work for You Tue, 08 Apr 2008 15:27:13 +0000 In this post, I present 13 specific journaling tools you can start using immediately, along with a mind map of the great book Journal to the Self.

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Journal to the Self - Mind Map

In this post, I present 13 specific journaling tools you can start using immediately, along with a mind map of the book ‘Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth‘.

Journaling is perhaps the most effective and direct way to get a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you. By putting your thoughts in writing, you trigger some unique mental processes that often lead to invaluable new insights.

In the book Journal to the Self, Kathleen Adams presents many tools that make the process of journaling much easier and enjoyable, presenting plenty of choices to make journaling work for you.

Regardless of your writing style (or even if you see yourself as someone who doesn’t enjoy writing at all), you’ll find tips to make your self-discovery journey more effective and enjoyable.

Journaling Tools

The Journaling Toolbox is the meat of Journal to the Self. It’s a set of 13 specific tools you can use to spice up that old-fashioned journal of yours or start a brand new one. Here they are, in a nutshell:

  1. Springboards: These are ready-made phrases that answer the question "What should I write about?". They can be questions, statements, quotations — anything that helps you to get started.
  2. Character Sketch: Describe another person (or yourself) from the other person’s point of view. Great to use when you’re in conflict with someone or want to know or others (or yourself) in a more intimate way.
  3. Clustering: This is journaling in mind map format. This debunks the myth that a journal needs to be a long and verbose piece. You journal can be made of mind maps, drawings or just doodles if you like!
  4. Captured Moments: "The Captured Moments journal technique allows you to celebrate and savor, preserving in prose the glory and anguish, the serenity and sorrow, the pleasure and pain of your life" […]. A great candidate to be sent in a time capsule to the future.
  5. Dialogue: Due to its flexibility, this is called the Swiss army knife of the journal toolbox. Contrary to what you may think, a journal doesn’t need to be a boring monologue. Also, writing in true conversational style unlocks many different and interesting thoughts.
  6. Lists: This is where the great List of 100 technique came from. This is the most amazing problem solving technique I know. If you haven’t used it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out now.
  7. Stream of Consciousness: Very intuitive in nature, this is also called ‘meditative writing’. Here you just let yourself be guided by your subconscious. You will be surprised where you may end up. You may use aids like visual imagery as well, such as in a mental sanctuary.
  8. Steppingstones: This is about listing the main milestones of your life — those moments when you said to yourself "My life will never be the same again from now on". Explore your steppingstones’ many different aspects, either positive or negative.
  9. Time Capsule: Slightly different than the Time Capsule I am used to, this tool focuses on regularly writing and combining time-sensitive journals to help you pinpoint your own cycles, patterns and rhythms.
  10. Topics Du Jour: Each day of the month, focus on a different, pre-defined aspect of your life and quickly journal about that. An amazing personal development tool to monitor each area of your life. I’ve written about it in more extensively here.
  11. Unsent Letters: Great for expressing deep emotion, such as anger or grief. Communicate your opinions, hostilities, resentments, affections or controversial points of view in a safe, nonthreatening atmosphere.
  12. Perspectives: Allow you to explore the roads not taken in your life. Step into the future or the past and glimpse the world as it might have been for you or other people.
  13. Dreams and Imagery: Dreams can provide great insight into your life, and this technique makes sure you pay attention to them and put them to good use.

Note: Although the subtitle of the book is ‘Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth’, there are only thirteen tools that I could count. There are twenty-two chapters, yes, but I found the title needlessly misleading for that reason.

Now to the Full Book

When it comes to book summaries, mind mapping is usually my preferred choice, and this time it’s no different. Enjoy.

Journal to the Self Book

Get the mind map for Journal to the Self:

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Send a Time Capsule to Your Future Self Tue, 08 Jan 2008 12:02:38 +0000 The time capsule is a great journaling technique you can use to raise awareness about the direction your life is taking, as well as capture your current wisdom and memories.

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Send a Time Capsule to Your Future Self

The time capsule is a great journaling tool you can use to raise awareness about the direction your life is taking, as well as capture your current wisdom and memories. More than that, it allows you to have this valuable knowledge delivered to your door in the future. Oh, did I mention it’s also a lot of fun?

In its simplest form, a time capsule is just a letter you write to yourself to be opened in the future. All you need is to write it and set a target date to open it — say, five, ten or twenty years later. No matter how mundane your letter is, you’ll be amazed at its contents when you open it.

Take a Picture of Your Mind

To create a time capsule, write a letter just as you would to your best friend. Be conversational and friendly; have fun with it. Write about whatever you want, but always remember to capture your current reality as thoroughly as possible.

Just like a photo is a snapshot of your body, think of a time capsule as a snapshot of your mind. Be aware that just like your body changes, so does your mind. Remember that each ‘version of you’ has its own wisdom. Things that we know we won’t forget are indeed forgotten as the different winds of change come and go in our lives.

Remember that when the letter is read, you, as you know yourself today, will not be around anymore. Your current self won’t be there to answer any questions. So, don’t focus much on predicting the future, but rather on describing your present time. Focus on capturing ‘how it feels to be me today’ — your private zeitgeist, so to speak.

Here are a few specific suggestions to consider including:

  • Lists of favorites. What do you like most today? What are your favorite movies, books, television shows, songs, moments, people, celebrations, surprises, lessons, quotations or achievements?
  • Important questions and feelings. What are the big unanswered questions currently in your mind? What feelings predominate in these times? How do you feel about your life and the world around you? What do you enjoy about today? What are you thankful for?
  • Goals and aspirations. What do you pursue today? What is the vision for your future life? What are the things you’re looking forward to? What are your hopes for your future self? How much or in what way do you expect to be different when you get the letter?
  • ‘A Day in the Life…’. How’s your everday life? How’s a typical day at work? At home? Who do you interact with daily? What do you enjoy doing every day? What are the daily trivialities you’ll miss tomorrow?
  • Highlights of the year. Which funny facts do you want to remember or laugh about in the future? What were this year’s 10 best things/worst things that happened to you? How would you describe this year in one sentence? In one word?
  • Lessons learned and advice for yourself. What advice would you give to your future self? What important lesson did you learn recently and don’t want to forget?

When to Open the Time Capsule

For each different time span you set, you will get different feelings associated with reading the letter: the emotions evoked when opening a 5-year time capsule are of course radically different than when opening a 30-year capsule. Although it might be amusing to open an ancient time capsule, we want to make the experience not only fun, but also useful from a personal development standpoint.

Having just recently opened my first time capsule, I can say that a 5-year time span worked great for me. Five years is long enough for having had major life shifts, and short enough for the letter to be still meaningful and actionable.

If you get into the habit of creating time capsules — every year for example — one nice side effect is that after you open your first one, you’ll then have an ongoing supply of time capsules to open. What a nice ritual to keep — creating new capsules and opening past ones: couldn’t this very well replace the habit of making and breaking New Year’s resolutions? And what about giving yourself a time capsule every year as a birthday gift?

Another interesting idea is setting to open the letter on a specific event, instead of on a specific date: How about To Open When My Son is Born’ or To Open Before Committing to Marriage’? Wouldn’t it be interesting to take a look at your former thoughts, opinions and beliefs in these events?

Don’t Limit Yourself

Another interesting feature of the time capsule technique is that it’s very versatile. Use your imagination and make it fun by inventing your own variations. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

  • Experiment with different formats. Instead of sending a letter, send a colorful mind map of your life, or maybe a drawing.
  • Reply to the letter. Now that you got the letter, why not connect back with your former self by replying to it? This brings an awesome sense of change and temporal awareness. Keep both the letter and the reply together to review them again in the future.
  • Involve others. Create an annual tradition in your family to create and open family capsules; ask your kids to contribute. Write a letter to your spouse. Write a letter to be opened by your kids when they’re the same age you are now. Use time capsules as holiday gifts for your loved ones. Involving others opens an entire new dimension to the technique.
  • Create a REAL time capsule. Make the experience of opening your letter even richer by including mementos of the times you’re living in? Real time capsules are everywhere, so why not create yours? Take a shoebox (or a more durable container, depending on the capsule target date) and include photos, receipts, admission tickets, magazines and any other meaningful items alongside with your letter. What car do you drive? How much memory do you have on your computer? Have fun collecting different tidbits of everyday life!

Do It Today, Be Glad Tomorrow

While the idea of intentionally sending information to the future is not new, it’s a great fun way to provide yourself with valuable material for self-reflection.

For a great time capsule that is both inspiring and useful, Trent of The Simple Dollar recently shared a letter to his 10-year future self. Do you think there’s any chance of not enjoying yourself when receiving one of these?

Get cracking and create one time capsule now. Your future self will thank you — guaranteed.

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Tackle Any Issue With a List of 100 Tue, 06 Nov 2007 11:04:38 +0000 The List of 100 is a powerful technique you can use to generate ideas, clarify your thoughts, uncover hidden problems or get solutions to any specific questions you’re interested in. The technique is very simple in principle: state your issue or question in the top of a blank sheet of paper and come up with […]

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Lists of 100

The List of 100 is a powerful technique you can use to generate ideas, clarify your thoughts, uncover hidden problems or get solutions to any specific questions you’re interested in.

The technique is very simple in principle: state your issue or question in the top of a blank sheet of paper and come up with a list of one hundred answers or solutions about it. “100 Ways to Generate Income”, “100 Ways to be More Creative” or “100 Ways to Improve my Relationships” are some examples.

One hundred entries? Isn’t that way too many?”

Bear with me: it’s exactly this exaggeration that makes the technique powerful.

When starting your list you may believe that there’s no way to get it done. But then, at some point during the exercise, you will naturally have your subconscious mind naturally engaged in the process. That’s when you will uncover many new and surprising answers, and ideas will start flowing again. Making a List of 100 is a beautifully articulated cooperation between the conscious and subconscious minds tackling one single problem.

Unlike the related Idea Quota tool — whose primary goal is to acquire the habit of coming up with ideas — the goal of a List of 100 is to take your mind by surprise. While both techniques are based on the concept of getting good ideas from lots of ideas, the ideas generated by each method are usually different in kind. With the Idea Quota you tend to have more elaborate ideas, because you have time to incubate them throughout the day (often without being aware of it). With a List of 100 you tend to get more unexpected ideas, because you catch your subconscious off guard, not giving it any time for its behind-the-scenes editing.

Ground Rules

There are only two simple principles to keep in mind when making Lists of 100:

1. Do it at one sitting

This is the one crucial element for the technique to work. If you end up doing your hundred entries, though over many sessions, you’ll defeat the point of the technique. Before starting your list, make yourself comfortable and try to block all potential interruptions.

2. Eliminate distractions

Just like most brainstorming techniques, you should strive to eliminate all activities unrelated to idea generation during the brainstorming session. Just focus on getting the ideas out of your head as quickly as possible following these rules:

  • Don’t judge or evaluate ideas; you’ll review them later.
  • Don’t write complete words or sentences if that slows you down.
  • Don’t stop to wonder how far in the list you are; number the lines from 1 to 100 in advance or use numbered lists if you’re using a word processor.
  • Don’t worry too much about repeating entries; duplicates can shed light on your patterns of thought.

The Dynamics of Making Lists of 100

To understand why creating a List of 100 works, consider what happens during the process of making one. There are three distinct phases you will usually go through when making your list:

1. First 30 entries or so: where you escape circular thinking

The first items are the easiest to come up with. In this first phase, your conscious mind is still in charge and you’ll most probably just dump ideas you’re already familiar with.

2. Next 40 entries: where patterns emerge

In this phase you’ll start noticing recurring themes and patterns of thought. Phase two is usually the hardest one, as you may find it difficult to let go of the ideas you had in the first phase in order to come up with new, distinct ones.

Bear in mind that it’s exactly this struggle that enables you to get to the third and most fruitful phase, hence the importance of not giving up at this point.

3. Last 30 entries: where the gems are

At this point you will already have exhausted most “logical” answers, allowing your subconscious mind to express itself more freely. Don’t be surprised if you get at least one or two really nonsensical or seemingly illogical entries. You may feel tempted to not write them down (“How on earth did I think that?”). Write them down anyway: these wacky entries may sound far from profound, but it’s exactly those items you’re after.

Also, after coming up with so many entries, it’s not rare to experience a shift in perspective: items that you first felt as being awkward will seem to better fit now than when you started the list. Moreover, your whole attitude towards the problem can change as you develop your entries: you may even come to the conclusion that you should be dealing with a different list topic altogether.

Applications of Lists of 100

Although I have known a variation of the List of 100 technique for several years (thanks to Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci), it was only recently that I realized the technique’s full potential by reading Kathleen Adams’s Journal to the Self: 22 Paths to Personal Growth. This is an excellent book that has many great journaling techniques — and the List of 100 has its own chapter.

Journal to the Self: 22 Paths to Personal Growth

The List of 100 technique can be used for a lot more than solving specific problems; it is a general-purpose personal development tool that can help increase your self-knowledge, motivate yourself, and much more. To illustrate its myriad of uses, find below a List of 100 Lists of 100. The list was mostly taken from Journal to the Self, and slightly adapted with some of my own ideas.

100 Things to Write a List of 100 About

  1. 100 Things I’m Grateful For
  2. 100 Ways I Could Nurture Myself
  3. 100 Ways I Sabotage Myself
  4. 100 Things I’m Good At
  5. 100 Things I Like About Myself
  6. 100 Questions I Want Answers
  7. 100 Ways To Improve My Life
  8. 100 Things I’ve Accomplished In My Life
  9. 100 Things I’m Feeling Stressed About
  10. 100 Things I’d Do If I Had Time
  11. 100 Things I Need Or Want To Do
  12. 100 Things I Want To Accomplish In The Next X Months
  13. 100 Things To Do Before I Die
  14. 100 Things That Are Going Right
  15. 100 Things That Are Going Wrong
  16. 100 Reasons I Want To Stay Married/Committed
  17. 100 Reasons I Don’t Want To Stay Married/Committed
  18. 100 Things I Want In A Partner/Relationship
  19. 100 Things I Have To Offer To A Partner/Relationship
  20. 100 Fears I Am Having Right Now
  21. 100 Things That Once Scared Me But Don’t Anymore
  22. 100 Reasons To Save Money
  23. 100 Things I Miss
  24. 100 Sacrifices I Have Made
  25. 100 Marketing Ideas For My Business
  26. 100 Ways I Can Make Money
  27. 100 Ways To Make A Difference
  28. 100 Jobs/Careers I’d Like To Have
  29. 100 Fears About Being A Multimillionaire
  30. 100 Things I Believe In
  31. 100 Achievements (Qualities) I Am Proud Of
  32. 100 Things I Value In Life
  33. 100 Ways I Help Others
  34. 100 Things That Turn Me On
  35. 100 Things That Turn Me Off
  36. 100 Judgments I Make
  37. 100 Things I Find Hard To Share
  38. 100 Things I’m Disappointed About
  39. 100 Things I’m Angry About
  40. 100 Things I’m Sad About
  41. 100 Things [Peoples, Places] I Love
  42. 100 Things To Do When I’m Depressed
  43. 100 Things To Do When I’m Alone
  44. 100 Rules I Have Broken
  45. 100 Skills I Have
  46. 100 Feelings I Am Having Right Now
  47. 100 Childhood Memories
  48. 100 Things My Parents Used To Say To Me
  49. 100 Ways In Which I’m Generous
  50. 100 Ways To Be More Productive
  51. 100 Things I Hate
  52. 100 Things I Want
  53. 100 Places I’d Like To Visit
  54. 100 Things I’d Like Someone To Tell Me
  55. 100 Things I’d Like To Hear
  56. 100 Things I’d Like To Tell My Child
  57. 100 Things I Want My Child To Know About Me
  58. 100 Reasons To Have A Baby
  59. 100 Reasons Not To Have A Baby
  60. 100 Adjectives Describing Myself
  61. 100 Decisions Other Have Made For Me
  62. 100 Decisions I Made That Turned Out Well
  63. 100 Things I’d Do If I Had Six Months To Live
  64. 100 Expectations Other Have Of Me
  65. 100 Expectations I Have Of Myself
  66. 100 Judgments I Haven’t Released
  67. 100 Ways To Be More Creative
  68. 100 Things I Could Carry In My Pocket
  69. 100 Things I’d Save If My House Were On Fire
  70. 100 Things I Want To Tell My Mother [Father]
  71. 100 Things I’d Never Tell My Mother [Father]
  72. 100 Financial Fears
  73. 100 Excuses I Make For Myself
  74. 100 Things I Need/Want To Control
  75. 100 Fears I Have About Giving Up Control
  76. 100 Answered Prayers
  77. 100 People I’d Like To Meet
  78. 100 Reasons Why I Get Jealous
  79. 100 People I Admire
  80. 100 Tasks I’ve Been Procrastinating
  81. 100 Memories From My Past
  82. 100 Things That Nourish Me
  83. 100 Things I Haven’t Finished
  84. 100 Things I’m Glad I’ve Done
  85. 100 Things I’ll Never Do Again
  86. 100 Ways To Generate Income
  87. 100 Principles To Live By
  88. 100 People I Want To Forgive
  89. 100 People I Want To Forgive Me
  90. 100 Things To Forgive Myself For
  91. 100 Mistakes I Have Made
  92. 100 Lessons I Have Learned
  93. 100 Ways To Be Healthier
  94. 100 Things That Make Me Cry
  95. 100 Things That Make Me Laugh
  96. 100 Things I’d Delegate
  97. 100 Thing I Want For My Birthday
  98. 100 Possessions I’m Tired Of Owning
  99. 100 Responsibilities That I’d Like To Avoid
  100. 100 Things To Write A List Of 100 About

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