Along with cultivating a habit of daily meditation, keeping a journal is one of the two pillars of my journey self-actualization.
In some ways, journal is just a fancy word for diary, but in other ways it means so much more. I see a diary as a more superficial version of a true journal. A diary is a place where you write what you did today, where you went, interesting events and so on. A journal goes deeper.
A journal is a place where you go into the meaning of your life. Your aspirations, fears and your wildest dreams. It’s a tool for working with emotions and insecurities. And above all, it’s a tool for inquiring into the nature of your being.
I’ve kept a journal for the past five years. As with most of my life transforming habits, I started out unsteadily. I didn’t write every day, and I didn’t dive deep. It wasn’t until I started writing daily, and from the soul, that the true potential of journaling revealed itself to me.
Your journal should be your best friend. A friend with whom you will share anything and everything. I now write things in my journal that I wouldn’t even share with my girlfriend or my actual best friend. I write things that are exceedingly difficult to think about or even acknowledge.
I write about my sexuality, about my dreams, about my past. I endlessly go over the possibilities in every given situation. I console myself when I feel bad. I pump myself up when I need to go do something.
A journal is like a mirror, and the more you write, the more you polish that mirror. You see your reflection clearer and clearer. I’ve polished a decent amount of grime from my mirror, but I still have a way to go. I want to go deeper every day. And every day I write, is a day that I get closer to acceptance and understanding.
I’ve also been able to blow away the chaff, so to speak, regarding my aspirations in life. All too often, we think we want something in our lives, but really we’re doing what we think we ought to do, or wanting what we think people should want.
In my own life, most often that means wanting something that’s acceptable to society, or my parents or even my friends. I decided long ago that I wanted to break free from cultural restraints and to live honestly and in sync with my true wants and needs as a person. And my journal has been indispensable for finding out what I truly want in life.
A more down to earth reason for starting a journaling habit is that you’re effectively practicing communication.
I’ve improved my speech and writing by leaps and bounds by sticking to my journal. My mind is more organized. I can formulate thoughts way faster than before. Words come to me when I need them. Not always, but way more than before.
Communication is the cornerstone of fulfilling relationships. My communication is in no way perfect, but the more I’m able to be honest and reliable to myself through my journal, the more I’m able to cultivate those qualities in my relationships with others.
In the end, what I want from all this is the capacity to synchronize my thoughts, words and actions. I’m not there yet, not fully, but I know I’m on the right path.
So where to start? For the first thing, find something to write on! I recommend getting a nice notebook, not one of those cheap ugly ones with terrible paper, but a proper little book. Something that inspires you to treat it with respect.
In my years of keeping journals, I’ve used pen and paper, an app called Journey (which is great), and I’ve also recorded some entries on my phone. All of these work, although I keep coming back to the physical pen and paper approach. It feels more stable and secure I guess, but to each his own.
As with building habits in general, the most important thing is consistency. Even if you only write three lines a day, you’re making progress. Doing a little every day is always better than doing a lot every now and then.
A habit creates momentum. Momentum will keep you writing even when you don’t feel like it.
Our habits can make us irrelevant, or they can make us invincible. It’s our own choice, all things considered. Sometimes life gives us a cold splash of water in the face, or sand in our eyes, but it will be our habits that help us through the tough times and journaling will give you a new perspective and a way to internalize the lessons that existence is trying to teach.
Your life is your own. Do with it what you see fit. But first, you need to see clearly. Make your journal a priority.