What I’ve Learned from Reading My Journal

After many years of trying, this is the first year I’ve been able to consistently keep a journal since I was a kid. The research on writing in a journal is pretty settled. It reduces anxiety, clears one’s mind and helps one reflect. Also, if you’re anything like me, you change so many things in your daily life, that when some part of your body freaks out, it’s hard to pin down exactly what might be the cause.

In my head I knew keeping a journal was important but I couldn’t get myself to do it. I tried the gratitude journal, but it quickly became a meaningless list of every thing to which I have a positive association.

The only thing that worked for me was writing about what I learned that day.

Part of the impetus for this format was that I wanted to cull out the junk to which I was exposed. If the media I was reading wasn’t consistently offering tidbits that made it to the journal, then it was a goner.

Part of the impetus is that I have a terrible memory. I can rewatch movies  like new because I don’t remember the endings (the third time I watched Braveheart I was pretty shocked). So I had finally instilled in myself a habit for reading books and though I read 50 books last year, but I was afraid that I wasn’t distilling all that information for ready incorporation into my life. So it seemed like a huge waste if I didn’t write that information down.

It’s November now and I realize that I need to re-read my journal to remember what was in it. And it’s quite a funny read for the following reasons

  • I remember the stupid stuff I used to worry about.

I have a prayer list that includes my brother finding a job. I completely forgot that he was unemployed this year.

I have a prayer that my ex would get a job that he wanted. He’s now working at another firm.

I tell myself I’m at my wit’s end at my job. This was 8 months ago. I’m still at the same job.

It reminds me that everything worked out. I’m not saying it was clear that it would work out in this way or that it’s futile to pray, because prayer has a lot of positive benefits for the self, but it’s true what they say when they ask if what you’re worrying about will matter in a year’s time. Some things will, but most won’t.

  • I remember the stupid stuff I used to think.

I don’t think it’s necessarily fair of me to judge the stupid thoughts in my journal. It’s not a publication. It’s all a first draft that isn’t meant to see human eyes. But it’s not like I’m so much older now. I feel like a disinterested third party picking apart the logic I had back then.

Suffice to say, I had read a bunch of books about psychology and had really gone full arm-chair psychiatrist on my family and friends. But I can see clearly now that the diagnoses were flawed.

  • I remember lost promises I forgot to keep.

My very first entry was how I was going to use the app One Second Video to record the best moments of my year. Unfortunately, I only reread that section AFTER I got back from my Paris trip. Opportunity lost!

  • I see my growth

My natural hair color is black but this year I put some pretty blond highlights in the front. For me, it was a gradual process but for people I hadn’t seen often, I was unrecognizable. That’s how it is with change. You don’t notice the subtle changes in your life, in your habits or appearance, but it is readily apparent to people who only see the before and after.

That’s why it’s so useful to step back in time and see who you used to be. It seems like second nature what your character and habits are now. You’ve already forgotten who you used to be. You’ve forgotten that you can change. And now that you know that change is not only possible, but at times inevitable, you can be purposeful with your changes in the future.

All in all, it’s been really helpful to revisit my diary entries. I’m really glad that I didn’t keep my journal from last year though because I’m sure it would have been filled with happy thoughts about my engagement that I would have had to relive after the breakup. This year was about rebuilding and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Do you keep a journal and do you ever reread it?

 

Kaizen Method: Read one page a day

Kaizen (改善), is the Japanese word for “improvement.”  And the Kaizen Effect is the idea of getting 1% better everyday.  Another way to look at it is “No Zero Days,” which is saying that every day you do at least one thing everyday to advance your goals.

And to alter a Bill Gates quote:

Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.

A one percent improvement every day will compound to amazing results in a year. Even, or perhaps more importantly, establishing the habit of thinking of improvements and consistently working towards your goal every day will do more to advance your goals than working for hours intermittently.

In this spirit, every week I will put up a suggestion on a 1% improvement you can make.

And in honor of my book reviews, which I started this week, and which will become an ongoing weekly feature:

Pick a book that you want to read, borrow it from the library (or take it off your bookshelf) and read 1 page every day this week.

What book will you start this week?