When I read Little Women, I knew that I wanted to create like Jo March. That year, I asked for a diary for Christmas because I had read that keeping a journal helps you become a better writer. Of course, like any other ten-year-old, I didn’t stay with the habit daily.
I was a sporadic diarist until my junior year of High School. That year, my English teacher insisted upon a daily writing practice. She would occasionally do a journal check that consisted of reading random pages, making a few comments, and returning the journals to us. While I was in her class, I began to fill spiral notebooks at an amazing pace. I wrote every morning when I got up and every evening before I went to bed.
That summer, I wrote my first novel. And continued my (mostly) daily habit of birthing my thoughts into the physical world by taking pen to paper until the summer before my sophomore year of college.
I finally understood the benefit of keeping a journal.
Especially one that was handwritten. A diary was for recording what happened on a particular day, but a journal allowed me to work out problems within the pages, wonder about the injustices of the world, and craft my dreams of the future.
Keeping a journal during those limbo years when I was growing out of childhood and into womanhood also allowed me to figure out how I could contribute to the world when it was time for me spread my wings and create a life beyond my little town.
I was ready to fly the nest after my freshman year; I got married that summer.
Upon returning from my honeymoon, I discovered that during my absence my mother had searched every nook and cranny of my room, unearthed my old journals, and destroyed them. She informed me that she hadn’t just trashed most of them; she had burned many of the pages because my new husband didn’t need to read what I thought about politics, gender roles, careers, relationships and other issues.
My sense of self was frankly shattered by not just the privacy invasion, but the judgement and censorship of my private thoughts. My mother’s choice to destroy the written collection of my memories was devastating in more ways than I can express.
I quieted my inner voice for thirteen years until I discovered the world of blogs; I wrote my first entry on September 29, 2000.
My early blog writings were much like those early journals – a daily practice of putting thoughts to electronic paper. Though it seems counter to today’s Google culture, back in 2000, writing online gave me a better sense of privacy than if I had gone back to writing on paper.
My past experience taught me that paper journals were unsafe and dangerous to my tender soul. My heart long to let my wise inner voice have its say, so electronic it was.
“Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life. It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.”
–Robin S. Sharma
Each one of us has dozens of thoughts in a single minute. The act of taking those thoughts and writing them down allows us to process them, not just ruminate over them. As David Allen said, “our minds are for having ideas, not holding them.”
Nor our minds meant to hold onto emotions.
Writing allows us to process both our thoughts and emotions.
When our thoughts are in front of us, whether as ink on a page or pixels on a screen, it is easier to treat our purely emotional thoughts with logic, and temper our pure logic with emotion.
Keeping a journal is a yin-and-yang way to manage thoughts and emotions.
As I continued my journaling practice, I learned that whatever the format, writing out our thoughts and allowing them to become ‘real’ also allows us to befriend ourselves. Penning our thoughts somehow allows us to extend more kindness and compassion towards the holder of the pen.
Beyond growing our own self-compassion, keeping a journal forces us to get real with ourselves. It helps us clarify what we want out of life, and it even helps us achieve our goals.
When you put your desires, dreams, and goals on paper, they have a stronger chance of becoming a part of your reality. A 1979 study by Harvard of their MBA students discovered that MBA Students who wrote down their goals earned ten times the amount of money as their peers that didn’t write their goals down. Though money isn’t everything, this study illustrates that writing down what you wants helps you make it happen.
For me, one of the goals was having a daily life that I love.
The kind of life I dreamed about having back when I was a junior in high school has come into being. I’m passionate about my personal and business worlds, and I am in a healthy, loving and supportive relationship.
The daily rhythm invigorates, nourishes, and excites me. Life far surpasses what I thought was even possible.
While I’m certain that my journaling practice didn’t do all the work to get me where I am now, I’m equally certain that I would not be living this life if I had not committed to such a practice.
These days, I’m back to keeping a paper journal. Though I don’t always write daily, I do write regularly. Thanks to that practice, I live an unapologetic and unaltered version of me.
Yes, I’ve done tons of work to make that happen, including years of reading, therapy, and coaching, but the biggest tool in my collection, the one that has helped me do all that work, is my journal.
Keeping a journal isn’t just for writers; it’s beneficial to anyone. You are never too old to begin. I promise you that if you’ll give it a chance, journaling can help you become more compassionate, aware and brave. It will also help you bring your deepest dreams into your real world.
Keeping a journal gives you the space and the place to have that “deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself,” and the tools to help the topics of that conversation grow from the seeds of an idea to a life well-lived.
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