2 Years of Journaling, 5 More Lessons Learned
On September 14th, 2020, for no apparent reason or instigation, I started writing a daily journal. I’ve now maintained this journal for 780+ days.
I wrote an essay about this at the one year mark, and it’s available here.
7 Things I Learned from 365 Days of Journaling
Something, never mind what or why, clicked into place on September 14th, 2020 and I started writing a daily journal…
Now well past two years, here are 5 more lessons I’ve learned.
1. You will maintain a habit only if it helps you
The big epiphany for me in my journaling habit was “You don’t have to write everyday to maintain a daily journal.” I still stand by this motto, because it has helped me sustain my log for so long.
No matter what habit you’re trying to add to your life — journaling, meditation, exercise, eating healthy — you cannot sustain it for any significant portion of time if it is detracting from your life rather than add to it.
Some days, you don’t want to write or exercise or meditate, and if you force yourself every time this happens, your habit will turn into a chore. It’ll stop helping you and become a burden instead.
Pushing yourself is good, fighting yourself isn’t.
The hidden assumption of writing a daily journal is that you HAVE to write on the day itself, but some days you don’t have the time or the inclination to write. That’s OKAY. Write the next day instead.
2. Some days in your life don’t matter much
“If we make every day better than the one before, today will be the best day yet, and the greatest days ever will await us in every tomorrow.” — Wes Fesler
That’s a nice thought, but reality doesn’t work like that.
The idea of “1% better every day” or “continuous growth” is an unsustainable model. It doesn’t work at a macro level with the stock market, and it doesn’t work on a micro level with your mind and body.
My journal brings this to my attention frequently — there are many days where I don’t leave my room, don’t open up the laptop to work, and sometimes I don’t bathe. That’s the life of someone who deals with lifelong depression.
Some days, you just can’t be bothered to do anything, and that’s okay.
Instead of trying to make every day matter, focus on the days where you’re at your best. You’ll be far more productive cycling work and rest rather than dragging your body every day.
3. Some days in your life matter a lot
I’ve now maintained my journal through several deaths in my family. I’ve maintained it through job changes, financial troubles, major surgery, and more. I’ve made big decisions, and experienced big consequences.
Those big days are the ones I struggle to write about.
There have been entries that I’ve not been able to write for weeks after the fact. When I eventually do sit down to write about them, they take me hours, and I’m exhausted by the end of it.
The benefit of my journal is that this exhaustion leads to processing and acceptance. The fact that it is so hard to write about is the point — I need to process the big events of my life. It helps me accept what happened, learn from it, celebrate or mourn it, and move on.
If you maintain a journal, look forward to the big days. The struggle of writing about it lends itself to a better relationship with yourself.
4. Habits become dependencies, but you may not need to control them
A lot of people drink alcohol. It’s a nice break from tedium every now and then.
But when you start needing the alcohol instead of wanting it, that habit becomes a dependency. That is the start of overconsumption and problems. It is at that point that you decide to control it, either by yourself, or with the help of friends, family, and professionals.
Every habit you have can become a dependency, and journaling has become a dependency for me. If I don’t write for 3–4 days, I start feeling anxious, lost, and unsure of myself. I begin to struggle with everything else, and until I sit down and log my days, I don’t recover.
This is a dependency I’ve decided NOT to control.
Mental health is a crucial aspect of my life. I have to pay attention to it over everything else. My pending journal may be a source of stress, but completing it brings me an equal and opposite sense of relief.
Even though it is a dependency, this habit helps me take proactive care of my mental health. For that reason, I feel okay letting it take control of my life.
I have other battles to fight anyway, and so do you.
5. Your journal is your relationship with yourself
In writing and occasionally reviewing this journal, I express myself in a way that I’m sometimes unable to through speaking. At some point, I started addressing my journal to “future Vaibhav”, because that is who reads the journal back.
And when I read the journal back, I see each time how past Vaibhav felt. I have happy memories, sad memories, angry memories, and everything in between.
More than anything, my journal proves to me that I’m living a life as full as I can handle. That I’m not stagnant, but ever-moving. It reminds me to look at myself objectively, and it helps me look at myself with kindness.
I will continue to write, and I hope you will too.
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