Want to know why I started keeping a journal? Because, I read an article that was “7 Things to Do in Your 30’s”, or something like that.
Seriously, I started writing my thoughts down because some blogger told me to.
Is it messed up that I’m that susceptible to persuasion?
I viewed it as a necessary kick-in-the-pants. I needed so many things that writing has given to me.
I could never keep a journal before. I have about five partially-filled journals in my office right now. Hard cover, soft, and spiral bound. Some are “dream journals”, others “personal notes”.
At least one is mostly a confessional. (No, I’m not letting you read my diary!)
I’ve tried to stick with the journal habit several times, but usually stop after a couple of months. Finishing things is a problem for my personality type. I used to view that as a character flaw, but now I know it’s just how I was wired up.
So I forgive myself. (Isn’t that magnanimous of me?)
Overcoming the obstacles to journal.
Understanding my personality type helped me overcome my inability to stick with a journal. My idealistic tendencies drive me to make everything perfect. If I missed a day, that meant that the streak was broken, so why continue?
If what I wrote didn’t make sense, or if a word was misspelled, I’d quit. It wasn’t perfect anymore.
I approached my journal with a different mindset this time. I viewed it as my opportunity to be completely real and candid with myself. I didn’t need to maintain a false front with myself — the point was to end the self-delusion.
What I needed was some real self-talk that would allow me to clear my mind and my heart of what was burdening them.
So, I threw out all the rules!
I decided that I’d only write as much as I felt like writing at that time. If it was just a couple of paragraphs, then that was fine. If it was three pages, great!
I also got rid of the idea that my writing had to be perfect.
I would write sentences, and then immediately follow them with a contradictory idea.
Misspellings were either lined out, written over, or just left as-is. If I knew what I meant, then what does it matter?
This is not meant for communicating with anyone but myself.
Formatting used to hang me up. As any creative can attest, sometimes a different format can communicate more effectively. Drawings, lists, charts — I did them all without hesitation. And, I didn’t worry if they matched with anything I’d done previously.
As for my incessant need to write every day, well, I dropped that idea real quick. This was the hardest thing to break myself of, because I date every entry. If I missed a day, it was a glaring hole in the date on top of the page.
I overcame this compulsion by deciding to write first thing in the morning at my work. This was a time that I always had to myself, and I was still mentally fresh.
At home, I’d have to get up so early to journal without distraction, that I wouldn’t be mentally aware. And, I was useless by the time the kids went to bed.
Since I work five days a week, going in at about the same time every day, I was able to develop a natural rhythm. I gave myself permission to take the weekend off, which helped me overcome the compulsion to feel bad if the dates were consecutive.
The effects of regular journal keeping.
I’m sure most people are wondering if there was much of a change over the course of the year. The truth is that I changed in many unexpected ways.
I got out of my head more.
I tend to live in my head.
My wife complains all the time that she’ll be having a conversation with me and I’ll stop answering. In my mind I’ve given her an answer, it just didn’t actually come out of my mouth.
The reason: distraction.
I find myself with so many to-do’s and projects that my mind is constantly flitting from one idea to the next.
Writing in a journal has helped me to get those distractions out of my head and down on paper. Over the course of the year, I’ve found myself less distracted, because I’ve already processed things on the pages of my journal.
I appreciate people more.
I write some of the most inane details of my life in the journal. Stupid little frustrations, or snide remarks. I record exactly how I feel at that very moment in time — whether good, bad, or indifferent. I get it all out on those pages.
When I read what I’ve written, I begin to reconcile that with the person I’m complaining about. I often realize that I’ve magnified their negatives, and have ignored how awesome they are.
So, I’ve become a more loving father, husband, and co-worker, because I can clear out all of the negatives and reconcile it with the positives.
Many people keep a gratitude journal anyway. I wouldn’t say that my journal is dedicated to gratitude, but it often flows out through my pen. Even when my thoughts start out self-centered and selfish, my self-talk will eventually wind up finding something to be grateful for.
I’m more self-aware.
I did not expect to have any major breakthroughs this past year. In fact, my expectations were very low to start out. I figured it would be a way for me to record my goals and funny things the kids did. Imagine my surprise when, in my mid-30’s, I suddenly learn knew things about myself!
There is only one rule for keeping a successful journal: complete honesty.
I learned, just recently, that I am a very anxious person. This results from my perfectionist tendencies.
I came to this realization after looking back at my self-talk in the journal. The way I phrased my thoughts clearly indicated a preoccupation with things that were out of my control. I would start writing about a situation how a situation was going to result in catastrophe, only to realize how negative I sounded when I read my words.
At one point, I actually convinced myself that I was the reason one of my friends was in the hospital. Against all logic, I believed I had fed her something that caused her anaphylactic reaction. (Turns out I didn’t, by the way!)
Slowly, I developed the habit of positive, confident self-talk. It started with writing the negative, then focusing more on the positive. The more I wrote that way, the more I started to think that way, too.
Visualizing the patterns of my thoughts and feelings has given me great insight into who I really am. It cut through all the distraction and the false fronts I would use with myself. I have become much more intimately familiar with myself through my time spent in journal writing.
Why should you keep a journal?
People keep journals for all kinds of reasons.
Some record their thoughts and ideas, others use them for gratitude, and still others write their prayers. The fact is, using a journal is a powerful tool for self-improvement.
Keeping a journal is essential for any person interested in becoming self-aware — an essential component of success.
The importance of self-awareness is not new. Sun Tzu famously referenced this concept in his book, The Art of War, when he noted that knowing yourself was a key component in becoming a successful commander.
A journal is a space for us to be completely open with ourselves. There is no need for pretense or falsehood, because no one else will read our words. (Unless you want them to. And, no, you’re still not reading my diary!)
There is only one rule for keeping a successful journal: complete honesty.
With complete honesty, patterns will begin to emerge. Wrong ways of thinking will become obvious, and then correctable. Negative self-talk can be countered with positive, affirming statements.
A lack of follow-through on projects can be acknowledged, then addressed. Putting the same concerns on paper, day after day, will bring clarity and spur action to resolve them.
If you can become completely honest with yourself on the pages of your journal, it will begin to align your life.
Who we think we are is often inconsistent with the way we act. We deceive ourselves so easily, which leads to conflict with ourselves and others. But, honesty with ourselves allows us to become aware of the internal conflict.
We can begin to align our actions with who we want to be, but only if we truly know ourselves.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. — The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
Have you kept a journal before? I’d love to hear about how it affected your life!