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Journaling Through the Dip

Do you quit when the going gets rough?

I do, too, sometimes. And it’s a big mistake. Often, we’re just steps away from victory when we throw in the towel.

On the other side of the struggle lies the reward for all your hard work.

You can use your journal to harness the stamina needed to push through the Dip.

Here’s how.

What is The Dip?

I’m a big fan of writer Seth Godin. Godin writes about marketing, leadership, and innovation. Even if you don’t think you care about those topics, his books are fascinating and his writing style engaging.

His recent book, The Dip, is a pocket-sized volume with the power to change how you achieve anything worthwhile.

The Dip is the part of any journey where the going gets tough. It’s that painful place between the excitement of starting something new, and seeing results from your hard work. It’s the spot where motivation wanes. It’s the discomfort between beginning and mastery, the pause between effort and glory.

Any worthwhile undertaking has a Dip. Changing careers, establishing an intimate relationship, learning a new skill, losing weight, starting a business, creating a work of art.

It’s human nature to quit when the going gets rough. But like a muscle you’re trying to build, you’ll never get stronger if you don’t challenge yourself. You’ll just waste all the time, energy and resources you’ve already invested.

Daily journaling is an invaluable tool for getting you through the Dip. Let’s talk about how I’ve used it and why you should give it a try.

My Personal Dip

I’m going to offer an example to illustrate the Dip. It’s the same example that lead me to Godin’s book in the first place. It starts with the creation of the Journaling Saves website on New Year’s Day, 2010.

When I started this website, I was excited, energetic, and filled with a sense of purpose: I wanted to help people build awesome lives through journaling. That mission powered me through the beginning. I was writing high-quality content every day of the week.

I was so excited when I started getting actual readers. I remember the day I had 12 visitors to the site and two newsletter sign-ups. I did the Dance of Joy in my living room. I sent out my first newsletter to nine people. NINE. Two of them were friends and one was my dad. But I was motivated and on a mission.

There’s a lot that goes into building a successful website behind the scenes. It’s a steep learning curve to get up and running. For every hour I spent writing, I also spent two hours implementing some technology. Setting up a permissions-based email list, configuring the publishing platform, tweaking the theme, installing widgets, tracking stats, integrating SEO strategies. It’s a lot of work.

Three months after launch, I was putting in the same effort, working on the site 50-60 hours a week. Except I wasn’t getting the results I thought I’d earned. I had traffic and subscribers, but not enough. My enthusiasm started to wane. How could I work this hard for so little return on investment?

I became discouraged. I burned out. I didn’t want to write anymore. I lost all enthusiasm for the project. I lost touch with my mission. I was ready to throw in the towel.

I was in the Dip.

If starting and maintaining a high-quality, content-rich website was easy, everyone would be doing it. But most people bail when they hit the Dip.

I almost did, too.

Journaling my way out of the dip

Around that time I turned to my mentors for help.

I’m a member of a community called the Third Tribe. It’s a marketing community for people like me – people who want to make a living delivering awesome content that helps others. Lots of successful entrepreneurs offer their expertise within the Third Tribe.

I asked for advice on whether or not to throw in the towel because I wasn’t getting enough traffic or mailing list sign-ups. My thread was titled, “My stats make me want to stab myself in the eye.”

It was recommended that I read Seth Godin’s book, “The Dip.” I went out that day and bought it. After I read it, I bought every other book he’s published and read those, too.

It was right on the money; by every definition, I was in the Dip.

I’d been journaling about my progress with this site since day one. Keeping track of ideas, progress, set-backs, and plans. I turned to my journal once again from inside the Dip.

I realized the only way to get through the Dip was to get back in touch with my passion and my mission: the “why” of creating this site.

I journaled about it every morning — I wrote about who I wanted to help and why. I wrote about what it would like like if I succeeded at that goal. I kept myself company on the page while there was a lull in the activity. And I kept writing. And writing. And writing.

It was a difficult time. There’s nothing that saps enthusiasm like shouting into a void. I was publishing my best work to a tiny audience with little response. But my journal helped me stay in touch with the incremental progress and kept my mission in the forefront of my mind.

A few months later, I finally emerged from the Dip. I can look back at the pages of my journal and see almost the exact day it happened. I hit critical mass and the site took on a life of its own.

Emails started pouring in from readers. My mailing list grew exponentially. I wrote an eBook, put it up on the site with almost no promotion, and sold over a hundred copies.

This site now averages 9,000 visitors a month and my mailing list is quickly nearing 1,000 subscribers. (Become one of them!) This is still a baby of a site and I’ve got a looong way to go. But I now have visible return on investment.

I’m helping people – I know this because you email me every day to tell me. Your feedback keeps me going, keeps me motivated and excited and enthusiastic. The energy feeds on itself to power me through so I can keep writing great content and keep connecting with you amazing folks.

The beauty of making it through the Dip with my journal is that I have the whole process spelled out for future reference. Whether to provide context and perspective on this project, or to nurse me through the Dip of another project, I can look back and remember what it felt like.

I can remind myself that it will get better, that I just have to power through the dry spell.

Why you should journal through the Dip

Whether you’re changing careers, learning a new skill, getting fit, starting a relationship, or making any worthwhile change, journaling through the Dip will help you in so many ways. To get the best results, I recommend journaling on a daily basis, even if it’s only for a short time.

Here are just a few of the benefits of using your journal to push through to the other side of your struggle.

Measure incremental progress

Writing often about where you’re at lets you look back and see that you’re making progress, even when it’s hard to see. In my case, 10 new mailing list signups was progress from one week to the next, even if it didn’t feel like it.

By tracking the little changes, I saw the forward movement over time. Slow and steady, like the proverbial tortoise.

Learn from past experience

There’s something about defining your experience in your journal that cements it in your brain. Writing about it makes it more real and more memorable. So the next time you encounter a similar situation, you’ll recognize it.

Even if you don’t do so automatically, simply consulting your journal and re-reading will remind you where you’ve been so you can benefit from past experience.

Tap into intuition

I frequently journal about my “gut feelings.” Later I journal about the results of acting (or not acting) on those hunches. Doing so builds trust in my own intuition, because I’m often quite accurate.

You’ll find the same thing if you journal your own gut feelings, actions, and responses. Journaling helps us learn to trust ourselves and our judgment.

Leave breadcrumbs and objective evidence

If we hit a roadblock, we can review our past thoughts and decisions to see where we were lead astray. Having that spelled out on the page is invaluable in improving future decisions.

Create a realistic timeline

Our experience of time is often warped by the intensity of emotion or hard work. Think about it. Why do you think “time flies when you’re having fun?” Periods of struggle seem to last longer than they actually do.

Journaling helps us get in touch with the actual timeline, keeps us present. When I revisit my entries, I’m able to see how silly it was for me to expect instant results from only four months worth of work.

At the time, I felt like I’d been working at this project FOREVER. Journaling helps us realistically measure time.

Keep your spirits up

My journal has always been a source of support, like an old friend. That’s why I originally started journaling and it’s one of the reasons I continue.

Sometimes when you’re in the Dip, you are your only source of support. Having a place to voice your troubles, discouragement, or even your small victories bolsters your confidence.

Look back on how far you’ve come

The ability to look back and recognize how far I’ve come is intoxicating. Turning to an actual entry from early on, and compare it to where I am now, is rewarding on a million levels. It’s proof, victory, validation, and reward.

Remember that any worthwhile undertaking has a Dip. That’s what makes it so valuable. Involve your journal next time you start something important. You can get through that Dip, and journaling will help.

This site is living proof. 🙂

10 comments

  1. I am so glad you survived “the dip” ~ ’cause you’ve been such a help and encouragement to/for me. Keep on, keeping on ~ and I’ll keep on reading/writing…sbr

  2. Aw, thanks Sue!! Feedback like that keeps me going strong.

  3. One thing that is so encouraging to me is how “real” you are. I read the interview with you and that was one thing that stood out. I’m a real person who wants to learn real writing in real journals. I want to read what real people have to say about those real life situations we all face ~ if we are real with ourselves…Think I’ve overused that word, but that my real feelings sticking out…sbr

  4. oh kristin HORAY FOR THIS POST. i love it.
    i am reading the dip right now. it’s amazing, isn’t it? i wish it was longer just because i don’t want to be finished reading it.
    you have done such incredible work with this site. way to go.

  5. Hi Kristin,
    I ‘m glad you worked through your issues, otherwise I would not be the proud owner of of your ebook (awesome) and your many inspiring prompts! Keep up the great work!!

  6. Aw, thanks you guys! You’re the best. I appreciate your support and I’m so happy you’re enjoying the fruits of my labor. Especially the peaches. I love peaches.

  7. I’m a subscriber and now I’m doing the journaling prompts in your e-book. I totally get “the dip” feeling and I’m so glad you overcome it too! Let’s dip into journaling instead of those sinking feelings, ay!?

  8. Great post, Kristen. Thank you for clearly labeling and explaining “The Dip.” I have been a chronic giver-upper, and have always (I mean ALWAYS) cut and run when things got too hard or took too long or something else distracted me (oooh look, a kitty!). I shudder to think of the things I could have accomplished if I had just journaled my way through it. You can bet I will from here on out!

  9. I’m in my own personal dip right now with my blog. Currently, my only frequent reader and commenter is my mother. Occasionally, I get a “like” on Facebook by another family member. I really want to reach others with my blog, but I don’t know if I’m going about it the right way. I’m glad you wrote this post about journaling through the dip. I may just do that. Who knows? It might become good content for my next blog entry.

  10. So glad you got out of the dip! Just written a blog post about how much I love your site!