This month, I was challenged to write an entry in a personal journal every day.
I’ve done month-long challenges before, such as not drinking coffee or two separate times where I committed to a vegan diet for a month, but those are in an easy category of challenges where you stop doing something. Want a cup of coffee? Don’t. Walked into Dunkin’ Donuts and none of the sandwiches are vegan? Eat hash browns.
The journal, however, has proven to be one of the harder challenges simply because it requires breaking an inertia to actively do something, even if that something is as trivial as writing.
Along with that, the idea of a journal is daunting. Am I using an old notebook, college ruled? Or do you take this as a potential future piece of national history and splurge on a high quality book with leather binding and a monogram? Then comes the issue of what to write.
A journal is supposed to be about self reflection and long-term goal setting. So what do I write down on an average day if I don’t find it remarkable at the moment? It took me a week to get a physical journal–I was recommended by other journal writers that a physical copy makes the journaling more thought-provoking and meaningful–so I had the first week written on my notes in my phone. The first journal entry in the book acknowledges the past week, stating “I’m not going to rewrite the last week of journals because it’s been mostly just the homework and tests I’ve been doing, what I eat, and my Atlantic work schedule.”
I took the journal to also give myself long-term life and development goals, like “Save Money” which comes from me analyzing the stupid amount of money that Dunkin’ collects from me, and “Be nice to people.” It’s on the first page of the journal, so every time I would write an entry to reflect on my day I would have a list of tenets that I can evaluate a day’s worth of decisions on.
After a while I stopped writing on a daily basis for a number of reasons. Part of it is the inertia that I spoke on earlier. When it’s still early in the day, it feels too early to reflect on the day so I would wait. By the time I felt the day was complete, I was exhausted and had no motivation to write or think so I would fall asleep. I know of some people who journal every morning, but my mornings are consistently inconsistent between sleeping late some days, being up at 5am on other days and rushing to work and waking up just before class during the week. At that point, I either skip a day of journaling or I retroactively write about the previous day which just doesn’t feel authentic, as if I’m lying to myself about when I wrote about a certain day that felt inconsequential to begin with.
What worked for me is writing every few days and summarizing them as a pattern of choices rather than a list of where I was at what time and what I did there with whom. I told funny anecdotes that happened, taking the time to write them like a good story so that I can look back and remember good or interesting moments. I wrote on November 15 about how I spent three days sleeping at my EMT job then playing Skyrim and watching TV late at night and getting no work done at all. I ended that reflection with “Gotta get my shit back together.”
The journal, though tedious and seemingly pointless at times, allowed me to do a more solid job of organizing my thoughts and reflecting on my life choices. I feel like I’m a reflective person to begin with, thinking about what I could have done differently and setting a vision for myself during long drives and long periods of staring into empty space, but a journal helps to trap a thought and keep me from running away from a difficult idea. It helps me to remember the highs and lows of my life, especially since I forgot half of the things that I wrote in there even though they happened within the last few weeks. Most importantly, I can appreciate the low points that I had knowing that I grew from them, and I can visualize an overall trend that follows the goals that I set for myself.
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