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Performance-enhancers: paper journals

Who: Ranah Farkhondeh, Tier X coach at E Madison Avenue in New York City 

Why she journals: to gain mental clarity

"I started two years ago because I was having trouble sleeping. Putting my long, complicated strings of thought on paper throughout the day meant I didn’t think about everything before bed. I knew all along that my brain was a hectic place. The practice allows me to better understand my desires and needs.”

What journaling has made possible for her: “It has helped me separate feelings from fact and reality and create actionable plans for reaching my goals. For example, I realized after I started journaling that my strength programs are most effective when done in four- to eight-week blocks. Through journaling, I’ve also developed one- and five-year career plans, learned to manage the fear and anxiety that come with change, and deal with emotions surrounding relationships.”

3 elements that make it successful: 

1. "If I feel scattered, lost, overly anxious, or as if I’m lacking direction, I pick up my journal to figure out what’s going on and what my next move should be. Most of the time, in the process of articulating nuanced thoughts, I arrive at clarity and focus.” 

2. “If there’s a super clear intention behind my journaling session—like planning a new workout cycle or setting intentions—I get straight to it. Otherwise, I usually do it freestyle. I’ll write down how I’m feeling and what’s on my mind, then let the entry find its own structure. I end up using a lot of bullets, sub-bullets, arrows, and numbers once I get to the game-plan portion of an entry.” 

3. “I always journal in a calm environment with minimal distractions. My favorite setting is the local coffee shop as soon as it opens on Sunday mornings, when I’m feeling most sharp.”

Journaling shows me how to be the secret key—not the greatest obstacle—to living the life I want.

Ranah Farkhondeh

Who: Stephanie Carter, group fitness instructor in LA

Why she journals: to achieve holistic wellness

“Wellness is more than healthy eating and physical fitness; it also encompasses self-reflection and mindfulness. Journaling helps me delve into all those elements to achieve total clarity and balance.” 

Her journaling routine: “I love to have a cup of probiotic tea in the morning, put on a guided meditation, then jot down my daily expectations. If for some reason I don’t get to it in the morning, I find time later to write an affirmation, at the very least. Journaling shouldn’t induce stress. Beating yourself up over not doing it undermines the entire process.” 

3 elements that make it successful: 

1. “Every Sunday, I write down the staples I’d like to prep for the week, things like black beans, quinoa, crispy tofu, salad toppings, and chopped vegetables. I make these components rather than specific meals because it allows for variety.”

2. “I log two sets of movement each day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Planning in this way helps me hit all the elements that are really important to me: restorative routines to support relaxation and improve flexibility; progressive runs or cycling classes, because I love cardio; one strength routine focused on compound exercises and another focused on a particular muscle group; and a ballet class (to bring me back to my roots) followed by an outdoor activity like a hike.”

3. “Affirmations help me continuously manifest the mindset of a successful individual, discover my life’s purpose, and let go of self-doubt I’ve acquired from past failures. Because of them, I can truly move in the direction of my goals.” 

Who: Mike Olzinski, Precision Run coach in LA 

Why he journals: to progress as a runner

“I’ve been tracking my workouts for about twelve years. It used to be a digital habit, but over the last three to four years I started feeling burned out by constantly jumping online or into an app, so I switched to pen and paper. I genuinely feel a sense of enjoyment and relief as I see my running progress through journaling. I swear it’s my sanity. It makes me feel more in touch with my workouts and see what’s possible for me to do in the long run.” 

What journaling has made possible for him: “Two years ago, I wrote in my journal that running a sub-16-minute 5K would be a landmark moment. I kept seeing that note in my mind over the years and it motivated me, especially this year. The more I wrote about the goal, the more attainable it seemed. Finally, at the Carlsbad 5000 in April, I got to the line and genuinely believed I would reach it. I finished in 15:58. Two months later, I beat that PR with a time of 15:46. Journaling daily influences my belief in myself for the better.”  

Crossing off one goal drives me toward a new one.

Mike Olzinski

3 elements that make it successful: 

1. “I set two to three intentions every week. They could include reminders to complete a key workout, do extra cross-training for recovery, or focus on nutrition.” 

2. “At the start of each week I also assess the previous week’s rundown, which tells me if I fulfilled those intentions. If I didn’t, I make a note in the rundown, which encourages me to nail it that week.”

3. “For every workout, I record my mileage and rate of perceived exertion so I can identify streaks. If I have a string of challenging, successful workouts, I know I might need a break soon. When I have a few bad workouts back to back, I’ll do something fun for a day instead of my typical workout. These records show me that a few minor adjustments can help me train sustainably.”

Who: Teresa Harris, Tier 3+ trainer and master instructor at Equinox Sports Club in DC 

Why she journals: to stay organized and express gratitude

“I started keeping a Bullet Journal in 2017 when I went back to school. I needed something to keep me organized, and the traditional paper checklist has always served me well.” 

Her journaling routine: “I keep my journal on the table where I do my client programming and schoolwork. Every morning, I write down my sleep performance based on smartwatch data. I look at that day’s tasks as I make my pour-over, before doing my mindfulness exercises.

“Reviewing everything first thing gives me both a sense of urgency (because it shows me what I need to do) and calm (because it helps me focus only on what’s necessary). Throughout the day, I check things off and log my workout data. Lastly, I write down the best part of the day.” 

What journaling has made possible for her: “Journaling helps me feel less overwhelmed. In turn, I’m better at finding time to foster relationships, practice self-care, and express gratitude.”

When I’m stressed or doubting my value, I focus on the positive.

Teresa Harris

3 elements that make it successful: 

1. “Bullet journaling is inherently creative. It encourages you to color code each life compartment. For example, workouts might be written in blue, errands in green, and school tasks in orange. It keeps me engaged.” 

2. “I keep one page that shows a snapshot of the entire month. I’ll include major tasks that I need to complete and their deadlines, but I make a point to keep more lighthearted records on it, too: books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, thank-you cards I’ve written (one of my forms of self-care), and recipes I’ve made. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and the fun accomplishments, whatever they are to you, are often overlooked.” 

3. “I love reminiscing over the best part of each day. When I’m stressed or doubting my value, I focus on the positive. It absolutely changes the emotional tone for me.”

These interviews have been edited and condensed for publication.