I’ve been keeping a journal for over ten years. I could probably count the days I missed writing something in my journal, and this habit has been a fantastic source of personal growth and reflection.
On any given date, I can go back and understand what I was thinking about the situations in my life and reflect on how I could have made better decisions based on what I now know.
One of the funny things is that a lot of problems that I was dealing with feel trivial now, but they felt like significant obstacles to happiness back then. This makes me consider my current problems and how I will view them in five or ten years, and this helps me gain perspective and ensure that I do not overly concern myself about trivial issues.
Yes, the plane is late. Do you have to add additional problems to that? Whether you stress out if the plane is late is a problem that is only created by your own mind.
I often wonder what I have in common with my 22-year-old self. What makes that individual and my present-day person the same human being? It has been long enough that every cell in my body will have died and turned over, so there is direct physical continuity. Is it the fact that my cells are decedents of that young man? Is it that I have a level of physiological continuity? That we share some of the same memories? That person, in many cases, would act in a very different manner to how I would act today, so in some ways, that is a different person, just someone that I know very, very well.
I don’t just see the benefits of journaling by looking back and reading past entries but also in the writing of new entries. Writing is thinking. If you can write, you can think. And so, journaling is a way to structure my thinking on topics and events that concern me and to have a private space where I can voice concerns without worrying if someone will judge me.
I can review each day and consider: did I have the best day I could have had? What could I have done better? What did I do well and deserve to praise myself? What is my current life trajectory? I am, in a general sense, heading in the right way.
Journaling appears to allow me to escape the distracted state of mind and view my life from above, almost as an objective third party examining how an individual’s life is going. This is an interesting skill, because it is far too easy to view everything about your life through the prism of your specific circumstances. Sometimes you are too harsh on yourself, and other times, far too lenient. We are better judges of other people than we are of ourselves, and so that is why having the ability to judge oneself from a distance is key. It brings the benefits of rational judgement and turns attention towards ourselves.
And if you journal with enough attention and focus, it can become an almost meditative practice. Sitting down, being silent for five or ten, or twenty minutes, and just focusing on your own life is invaluable. But I don’t think that the payoff is short-term. Once you have been journaling for at least a year, you can do the interesting practice of reviewing what you were writing precisely one year ago and appreciate the change that has happened.
Call we are always in a rush to transform ourselves. We track minutes, hours and weeks when we should be looking at months, years and decades. Consistency trumps everything. Those tiny improvements compound over time if you spend even minor amounts of time trying to improve yourself in a specific area.
Even spending five minutes doing something important each day works. Do that for a decade. You’ll be amazed at the results. Because as this becomes regular, that five minutes becomes ten, that ten becomes twenty. As you improve your skill, the chore suddenly becomes delightful. This is something that is part of you, part of your identity. Perhaps it is meditation; perhaps it is exercise. Continue the habit for long enough, and you will identify as a meditator or athlete.
Journaling is a powerful tool for recognizing the gradual changes that might otherwise go unnoticed. It helps you appreciate the transformation that occurs over time.