Amid anxiety and uncertainty, there exists a myriad of tools we can employ to strengthen our mental resolve and boost wellbeing. Some find solace communing with nature, or cuddled beneath their covers with a good book while others find it more constructive to reach out to their networks for support and distraction. I have tried my fair share of cure-alls when wrestling life’s challenges. Exercise, mediation, and social engagement have their place in my life, but no other practice has helped me to untangle the knotted mess of my stress other than journaling.
Start With Why
Journaling is an open platform where you can unapologetically speak your truth. It does not need to be a day-by-day account of your activities. Writing is, and always has been for me, an emotional cleansing exercise. My journal is a space where I can freely work through challenging moments, express my feelings, and bring clarity and objectivity to decision making. Extracting my inner dialogue by writing it down uncovers the stress and recursive patterns of thought. At the same time, it allows problems to live physically in the pages of your journal and helps you to symbolically close and let go of things out of your control. Once done with an entry, I can leave the problems on the page knowing I no longer have to ruminate over their solution in my mind.
Divulging your human experience in a journal is a great way to catalog the pivotal moments in your life – to accurately remember the good and the bad without the distortion of faded memory. At present, I have a journal collection reaching back over ten years and it is a gift to be able to relive an experience through writing. We all can mentally look back at life through a video or photo, but rereading my stream of consciousness rebuilds my memories more vividly than any other medium. That raw emotion in experience is hard to capture in a picture and if we are using journaling as a tool to better understand our selves, it is essential that we can accurately recall our mental and emotional reactions to events to be able to learn from them.
Goals and Values
Words and actions are very different things. I know I am guilty of having said one thing having meant another or even saying something that my actions contradict. It is instinctive to share the best version of ourselves when we proclaim our values. Actions, however, can tell a completely different story. Reflection has been really helpful for me to find the driving force behind my goals and to weed out what my intrinsic values are. The tendency to step back and analyze may be a quirk of my introverted personality, however, I think that focused reflection can be helpful for even the most outgoing among us to improve our self-understanding.
There is a lot we can learn from ourselves and there is a lot that we can learn from others. The human experience is endlessly nuanced and sometimes disturbingly common. We can empathize with the protagonist in classic literature hundreds of years ago and understand that much of what we are struggling with is not unique to our existence but another variant of the human condition. If you can intellectually know that there is an immense amount of physical and temporal space between the characters of fiction and your own life yet still find meaning in their words, don’t discount your own and the impact they could have on others. Yes, personal reflection can be a selfish pursuit of personal development but it can also help other people struggling with the same problems. So, my suggestion, start your chronicle. I still favor my journal, but you could document your life experience through video logs, pictures or some other medium that is too creative for me to have imagined.
What I have Learned
Remember the Date
More generally-the more detail you can put the better. I have looked back on previous journal entries and wished that I had taken the extra two seconds to, yes, do something as trivial as including the year. You can never experience the same moment twice so I encourage you to layer as much detail into your journal entries as possible to preserve your memories and share them with your future self. What we are feeling when we write is not always a pleasant experience, but it is just as important to understand your pain as it is your pleasure. When I look back at how I handled pain in the past it makes it easier to pick out patterns of behavior that were constructive and see other tendencies that deepened my wounds. I write to unapologetically share with myself. It is a healing act of self-love when I can release my unfiltered self into the pages of my journal and let go of the burden of my curated image.
I’ve come very far and have further to go
Maybe the gaming industry has brainwashed me into thinking that progress is always in a positive direction – up and onward. In my reality, life’s progress has felt more like a labyrinth. Of course, I recognize a lot of progress and self-improvement when I see myself overcome challenges that at the time felt all-consuming. However, I also know that some of the demons in my journal still creep at the recesses of my mind. My perception of self-worth, tendency to internalize conflict, and struggle to understand what it means to practice self-love are as challenging to me today as they were ten years ago. I had hoped that I would have found a key along the way but honestly, I am still very much a work in progress. This puts purpose to life knowing that I still have many mountains to climb but also elevates some current stress to understand that certain personal challenges will always be a struggle for my personality to overcome. In short – I’ve found my inner stoic. Life will always have challenges and some things will always be particularly challenging. Journaling has helped me to learn what works best when battling quests in life and has taught me that I am strong and more resilient than I think when faced with overwhelming odds.
Same Old Me
So what’s left after a decade of journal entries? Maybe a better sense of self-understanding and a stronger resiliency muscle but if anyone intended to be transformed while recording their life I’d be tempted to say they’re probably asking too much. There are intrinsic character traits in my self-identity that remain constant despite the time and what has at times felt like obsessive self-development activities. If I learned anything it is that reflection is not always about creating change. We can act as a best friend, confidant, and coach through personal writing and that itself is productive, positive, and worthwhile. You inevitably experience an evolution over time, but journaling how I analyze that, not how I initiate the change.