July 14, 2023
Journaling is proving to be an incredibly beneficial tool in improving my quality of life. The hardest part was getting started.
We've overcomplicated journaling. Like so many other things in our lives, we're so afraid of "the right way" of journaling that it can be difficult just to get started. What will I write about? How should I structure my journal entries? How much should I try and write each day? Is there a structure I should stick to? Should I be using a physical journal, or an app?
So we turn outward searching for answers. Reading blogs, skimming books, or binging youtube videos, searching for the "best way to get started journaling". And by the end of it, we become so overwhelmed that we don't ever get started.
This happened to me the first 2 or 3 times I tried to start journaling. I used the processes others had put in place. I structured my journal entries a certain way. I tried to include x number of details each day. And without fail, I would lose interest in a few days. Despite these resources claiming how they "changed their lives by journaling", so much of their time was focussed on the how rather than the why. Why was I writing these things in this specific way?
The reality is this: journaling can be whatever you want it to be. It's a tool, like anything else. If you want to keep a record of your life, great. If you have a goal you're working to, track your progress. If you have bad habits you're fighting against, find the patterns. If you want to practice gratitude, fabulous. Use it how you see fit.
It doesn't matter how others use their journals; it doesn't matter what others write in their journals; it doesn't matter what their journal is made out of.
For me, journaling became most beneficial when I did it my way. It became something I looked forward to doing and have kept up with every day for the last month. Some days I have a lot to write about, some days I only have a single sentence. Both kinds of days produce zero stress about "doing things the right way".
I'd like to share with you why I find journaling to be such a helpful practice by addressing the main ways that I use it.
As I mentioned before - journaling should be whatever you want it to be. It took me a while to figure out what that looked like for me. Many of those resources focused more on "I write about these x things every day", and less on how you should create this process yourself.
Journaling is a living process that changes day to day, week to week. If things aren't working out, change them up. No one will be upset with you.
I'd now like to share some of the reasons that I find journaling to be so beneficial to my life.
Being an engineer, I deal with a lot of technical problems every day. Some things I might have an idea how to tackle, others I have no idea and need to research. Outside of work, many of my hobbies are also highly technical and require their own sets of solutions.
This means that my brain is almost always thinking through some problem. Which is great - don't get me wrong. But it begins to be a problem when I'm unable to "turn it off", such as before bed. Over the last year I've been working on being more "in the moment", and a lot of my analytical problem solving processes keeps me from getting there.
Journaling is a great way for me to get some idea down and move on with my day. If I write it down, I know it's there, and that I can continue to noodle on it at a later time. Specifically for me, this is identifying use cases, possible bugs or corner cases, or scenarios that I hadn't previously considered. Writing them down means I won't forget them, so I don't have to keep thinking through it.
I am an overly negative person. This has become more evident as I've grown older, and it is something that I'm very self conscious about. For years I've told myself that it's "just the way that I am", and that "I can't do anything about it". But the reality is that I 100% can do something about it. I just haven't found a way to approach it that has worked.
Journaling provides me with a way to reflect back on the day and find the positive aspects in my life - often things that I take for granted. It's so easy for me to get caught up in the negative, or to allow one small thing that went wrong to hijack the rest of the day. By reflecting on the day as a whole, I can see just how insignificant an event really was in the grand scheme of my life. Things that I wouldn't have even considered to be "positive" start to take on a much bigger meaning.
For example, I went out for a walk at the park yesterday with my partner and our dog. Just that event can be broken down into so many individual pieces:
Previously I had been hyper-focused on "gratitude", where I would have an actual section to identify things I was grateful for each day. I found this practice to be too rigid for me, and it was often difficult for me to identify things with the prompt structured that way. By changing the focus to be on "good things", I've been able to start drawing connections between positive events and circumstances that enabled them to happen.
I have a very overactive mind. When I lay down to go to sleep, I'll often be bombarded with thoughts and images of random things - including events of the day. This can often lead to spiraling thoughts, keeping me up longer than I'd like.
With journaling, I'm able to get all of that out before bed. This could be any number of things, such as:
By physically writing them down, I'm able to clear the items from my mind. There's no longer a worry of me forgetting, because they've been documented. It makes disconnecting from those thoughts and problems so much easier, as I know that I can pick back up from where I left off the next day (or later).
One thing that I often struggle with is making things more important than they are. I often feel as if things must be done right now, without exception. By getting them out of my head, I'm able to more easily see what things do have weight, and which things are just fluff. It's a way to help train my brain to relax.
I know that there are many aspects of my life that aren't working the way that I would like them to. No one is perfect, and life is all about growing and changing as a person. And while it's easy to notice these feelings in the moment ("I wish I had handled myself differently..."), it's hard to actually address the problem if you don't see how often it's happening.
Journaling allows me to keep a record of these accounts. I can reflect back on the day and see things such as:
At first the benefits are less obvious; but the more that I engage in this practice, the easier it becomes for me to identify these weaknesses and the situations that trigger them. Or maybe there's a specific trigger that causes a number of different things to happen. This allows me to identify the situation as the problem rather than being disappointed in myself with a certain behavior.
It really is that simple: just get started.
Use whatever you have around you - a notebook, a text editor, a notes app on your phone. Whatever you find to be most convenient. Don't over complicate it. And don't buy anything.
Write whatever you want to write. Over time you'll discover what you fine beneficial about journaling. No one else can tell you what that's going to be.
Once you've found the benefits and established a habit, then you can worry about the "fluff" (systems, physical vs digital, etc). But you have to start first.