I haven’t written a proper journal for months now. I used to be really consistent with it in my latter years of high school, and have been off and on since then. The last time I tried to be disciplined about it was at the start of this year, but I made it until I came back to uni and it all fell apart again.
Most of the time I’m not really too worried about my lack of journal-writingness. There are a number of traps that I fell into that I’m not in a hurry to repeat (as I’ll talk a bit about below). Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking more about it lately and whether to give it another go, because there’s definitely a lot of pros to it. Whatever I do, though, I want to be wise about it rather than just dive in with a pen and paper and an enormous amount of time. So here are a few lessons I’ve learnt from the process, starting with some of the good things I’ve noticed about journaling:
1. It helped keep the dream alive
I want to be someone who makes a difference in the world. Journaling was, for me, a way of remembering that one day in the future I may well write an autobiography that people would actually want to read. It was a reminder to me that I was working towards and building something that would endure for future generations, who would want to know how I tick and how I did what I did. And so sitting down and keeping notes on what I was doing and thinking was helpful in keeping that dream alive.
2. It's cool to read about how far I’ve come
Reading back over my thoughts from those younger years is an easy way to remind myself now of how far I’ve come in my outlook on life, my interactions with others and my understanding of God. Many of my thoughts, which seemed so mature and wise back then, look so elementary as I look back at them now. It’s quite encouraging to think that really my life has been improving on the whole, and journaling is a great reminder of this.
3. It helps to track causes and effects
I didn’t do a lot of this when I was big into journaling, but I definitely saw the potential it has for making note of what actually works and what doesn’t, and whether doing one thing actually leads to something else happening or if its just a nice idea. In Christian circles the typical example is of recording what you’ve prayed for and seeing what prayers get answered. I was never very explicit with doing this, but as I read over my journal entries from years gone by, there’s definitely evidence of God doing stuff when I’ve cried out to him. Without writing things down, it’s far too easy to forget what worked and what didn’t, and to run into the same mistakes all over again.
Here are a bunch of the not so good things I’ve noticed from my history of journaling:
1. I wrote way too much about girls
As I said before, the heyday of my journaling career was in my late high school years. Therefore it’s not much of a surprise that a lot of my thoughts were centered around the female species; who I liked, whether they liked me and so on and so forth. This makes it a bit embarrassing reading back over them, and means they’re really not that helpful or informative to where I’m at now.
2. Introspection often got me quite dark
I wrote quite frankly about the problems I was facing and how I was dealing with them. I got quite introspective with my journal, meaning that I’d spend ages analysing myself to figure out what thoughts were helpful and what ones weren’t, whether I was improving and overcoming stuff or not, and so on and so forth. If I messed up in some way or failed socially at something I would disect it like a scientist, churning it over and over to get some lesson out of it. I liked to think that this meant I was ‘deep’ and ‘thoughtful,’ but frankly I was just wasting time that could have been spent enjoying life. I could get quite morose while writing my journal
3. More often than not, it was a waste of time
I’m all for reviewing and monitoring your time, in order to be more productive and ultimately achieve more. The problem is that, when I set out to write a page or two a day about the day I would spend ages writing thoughts that didn’t often achieve anything. To be sure, there were times where writing that journal was the best, most optimistic, future-focused and goal-driven part of my day. Mostly, though, it was just a time where I vented my problems and complaints with no systematic way of getting over them and moving on. Hence, a lot of time was actually wasted while thinking I was doing something significant.
So there you have it, a few off the cuff thoughts on writing about life. Overall, I think I’d recommend it, or at least some form of it that avoids the pitfalls that I fell into. In the meanwhile, I’ll continue wondering whether to get back into it myself!