Why I started journaling

It all started with a drink. I was going through a weird, transitionary period in my life, and a decent few things started with a drink.

There’s something quite scary about the blur of days that sinks in during a period of depression. It’s not so much an “everything is terrible, ermagherd!” kind of scary, but a much more apathetic, quiet, existential whisper kind of scary. One that says: “Hey Herman, it’s ya boi, lethargy. Wanna not do anything this weekend and then forget that it happened?”

I want to say that I was determined to make a change, but that would be a half-truth. Sure, I didn’t want to sit around, listless and forgetful. But at the same time the word “determined” is a very strong-willed description of my effort to elicit change. So I started journaling.

It started as just 2 or 3 sentences a day. Intentionally. I knew that if I decided to write a whole page a day, that I would write a handful of days in a row, and then the habit would slowly disappear, along with my good intentions. I had read and heard of the many great benefits associated with keeping a journal, yet I had my doubts. How could writing about my today improve my tomorrow?

Fast forward 3 years and I have written every day since. That’s over 1000 days of my life logged! And did it help? Sure, but not in the ways I expected.

  1. I remembered my days more clearly. The act of sitting down at the end of the day and thinking “what happened today?” forced me to deconstruct and reflect on my day. So many of my days were blurring by with nothing really separating one from the next, and here I was picking at the details. “How do I feel? What did I do? How was the weather?” Though this act of forced surface-level introspection my days became more cohesive chunks of life that I could quantify and examine.

  2. There was a feeling of mental offload and catharsis that came with journaling. This was not because I was enjoying the writing (I don’t think I did back then). The catharsis came afterward. I realised that I was ruminating on so many things, spinning in my own head with no escape. This took up the ability to think about other things, ponder other thoughts, or just chill. Once the words were out on paper it was almost like my journal said “There you go. All written down so you won’t forget. Now go ahead and relax your brain.”.

  3. I experienced long term reflection. Erling Kagge (a Norwegian adventurer who has walked to both the poles) put it quite nicely. “The secret to walking to the South Pole is to put one foot in front of another, and to do this enough times.” We tend to not notice the progress we are making, whether it be mental health or quality of writing. It’s natural for us to not see this progress as it’s happening in very small steps. Being able to go back and read about where I was half a year ago was very eye-opening. I can see what motivates me, what makes me sad. I could map out what season I am the happiest in. There is so much information packed in a journal that is ripe for self-improvement.

I’m sure there are more benefits that I’m missing, but these are the ones that made me a person who writes words for himself. I’ve become very attached to my journals. It is a habit I am sure I will stick with for the rest of my life.

It's pretty tough to form habits, no matter how meaningful. I spent some time reading a book Atomic Habits by James Clear and he laid out a few interesting rules on how to make habits stick. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying. I have since built a journaling system that uses email and SMS to submit entries to make it easier for myself (and others) to stick with journaling. My thought process was "how can I built something that is not too much of a deviation from what I do every day while providing additional value".

We'll see what the next few years look like, but I'm optimistic.