November 09, 2021

Dear Diary... Why I Started Journaling in the Pandemic

"My soul feels on fire by living in constant recognition of myself, and it’s all because of my journaling endeavours."

Dear Diary…

I am kidding. I do not start my journals like a teenager in a 90s film. I start with the words that come to my mind. The random things, the thoughts I can’t channel, and the emotions wiring my responses to life. Today, for example, I started with noisy prose where I ranted about feeling unfulfilled - but also considered what I am grateful for, and how amazing life is.

quotation marksI take my pen to the page, and wage war on the aforementioned desires unfulfilled, as Dune zooms in my ears.

- Day 579 of a daily diary

This is just a small extract taken from my personal diary this morning. Day 579 of a diary inspired by the imposition of lockdown. I knew that we were in for a long haul when the pandemic first started looming over us. Life was pretty dark. So, like many others, I settled on personal growth to try to get myself through it.

In this article, I wanted to share inspiration for journaling and building a better you, in case this is something that interests you too. I thought it’d be cool to write similarly to the Knowledge Hacks you can find on Uptime, summarizing some of these insights as an actionable guide for you.

Insight 1: Working From Home?

At first, we assumed that being forced to stay at home would mean more time, space, and mindset for the things we have always wanted to do. Some people wanted to learn a new language, study online courses, bake banana bread, finish that project, or become a COD Warzone veteran. I wanted to do them all, but became immersed in the state of the pandemic to a point where I could no longer function. 

I was getting nothing done. Now that enough time has passed to gain a bit of perspective, I can say that our collective lack of productivity - during the worst of a pandemic - can be excused. We gave ourselves a harder time than we needed to. You did great to survive.

Nevertheless, I would make myself write down the date and time on a sheet of paper each day, and list 1-to, maybe,-9 things to do throughout the day. I’d only ever have enough energy to complete several. And when I didn't complete them, my day and swollen sense of time felt misused. 

In my mind, I was failing. But in reality, I was building.

Like Rome, but without recognition that it doesn’t take a day, and days were all we had. While we sat on our couches or chairs at home, the bedroom desk becoming an office, and homeliness tainted by it morphing into a workplace, the ability to do things orderly left a lot of us. I couldn’t see what I was actually gaining. So to begin, I started speaking to myself about the entirety of it all - beginning my journaling by a stream of honest consciousness.

In A Nutshell:

  1. Don’t compare and contrast your productivity with others' - we all have our own pace
  2. We have been through a pandemic. Don’t belittle yourself for not being 'productive enough' over the last 18 months
  3. Your stream of honest consciousness will help you work out how you're really feeling

Insight 2: When Getting Started with Journaling, the Best Plan is to Have No Plan

It’s a funny feeling when you start something that everyone says will serve you well. In any given situation, you need to build a habit to reap its rewards. You don’t entirely get to conceive things that way until you get there. Before that, it can be difficult to see it through. You start questioning why everyone enthuses about it so much. This was definitely the case for me, and journaling was a free-for-all until I found a prompt. 

Before then, I’d scribble down my immediate thoughts, but I was pretty muted, unable to really map out how I was feeling. But I kept going. I kept writing. I tried a daily to-do list, too. I started to see results.

My stream of consciousness filled pages over the days, weeks - followed by the to-do list, I was already becoming much more in touch with myself. I identified niggling issues earlier than I would have otherwise, and I spoke directly to myself instead of being so immediate in response to everything else. I could project my happiness through scribbles, I could identify bouts of depression, and I could channel the war of thoughts going on in my mind. 

quotation marksMost importantly, I asked myself questions. Over the course of my journaling, I started to produce answers.

Even on the days I didn’t want to journal, incapable by sadness or rage, I realized that despite wanting away I could always regurgitate something on the page. It didn't matter if curse words were the only way to project my mood. Or simply stating "I can’t do this today", and opening with the question "why couldn't I?" the next.

The effort went a long way, and I realized the best plan for journaling was simply to not have one - until I became accustomed to the habit. The days I didn’t write something and produce that to-do list, I felt the same un-productivity I was attempting to steer from. This was not a coincidence. I began to see a correlation.

When I got bored and this approach started to feel a little tedious, I started to seek prompts that were suitable for me. This was the moment I started to double down on my underlying purpose behind it.

In A Nutshell:

  1. It takes 28-66 days to make or break a habit - until then, the rewards may not be so clear
  2. Allowing yourself time to get out random thoughts in your mind creates an empty space to dictate the flow of them
  3. At times, the best plan can be no plan at all; empower yourself to make a start, and go from there

Insight 3: A Crafted Approach: How To Start Journaling & Build A Better Way of Life

When I got to a point where I needed to improve my journaling, I googled "how to journal" and was met with a million articles. They were mostly how-to guides, offering the usual advice of just grabbing a pen, paper, document, notebook, or styled journal. 

These articles would tell you to carve out a time and space to diary-take, morning or night. They’d ask you to settle on your reason as to why you want to journal. Encourage you to tackle the hard questions of your life. Build affirmations. Set daily goals and such. 

We have entered a somewhat superfluous state of self-help, and this is a trend. As a result, the search results felt less human - until I came across the world of prompts. 

Writing prompts are inspiring, especially in times you aren’t feeling inspired yourself. Many creative courses/activities encourage prompts for people to think a little different. Sometimes that other perspective and way of articulating something can inspire a whole tree of thoughts that wouldn’t exist without that perspective being planted there in the first place. 

For me, for example, I was rooted to my own disappointment in a lack of growth, undesired results, and generally feeling as if I wasn’t reflecting wholly on my life. It made me think philosophically. Having studied a course in philosophy, I knew Stoicism and existentialism were two topics hyper-focused on self-investigation, purpose, and the meaning of life. It reminded me of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, a series of his own writings in which he had his own writing prompt in an attempt to build some self-mastery.

I took up Marcus’ prompt about a year ago, almost halfway through my journaling journey. It is a simple prompt that inspires a lot, was pretty detailed in a YouTube video that came across as more human, and encouraged me to begin.

I start my days now with this journaling format:

  1. Freestyle writing - write anything, rant, cry, shed happiness, anything to ignite your mind to start thinking
  2. My Sage - writing about your ideal Sage: someone who has attained the wisdom you desire
  3. The Worst Case Scenario - writing about the worst thing that could happen today, to offer perspective and settle on having a good one always
  4. Gratefulness - listing out the things you are grateful for. I always am so much more content for starting my gratitude journal. It’s great for stepping back and getting some perspective
  5. Planning the day ahead - with a newer mind, alleviated by having laid it bare, the approach to the rest of the day is great

In short, what my current rendition of journaling feels like is its most inspired, concentrated, and driven state. I have improved as a person. My mind has changed. My soul feels on fire by living in constant recognition of myself, and it’s all because of my journaling endeavours.

In a Nutshell:

  1. Your journaling style can constantly change, and there is no one way to journal. Utilise what works best for you
  2. Writing prompts are incredible, and can inspire a whole trend of thought you never brought to your brains table
  3. Enable yourself to become greater by deeply reflecting with yourself

I’d definitely recommend starting your journal today. Who knows what you will be or feel like in a years’ time, with a mind driven toward better understanding yourself.

Words by: Jude Yawson

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