30 Days of Journaling: How It Revealed A Personal Struggle
How writing down my daily thoughts brought an underlying conflict to my attention.
Managing your stress. Dealing with anxiety. Boosting your creativity. Improving memory function. Becoming aware of the bright spots and the shadows of your life.
Whether through anecdotal experience or science-backed research, those are a few of the potential benefits that seem to be associated with journaling. If you’re not familiar with journaling, it’s basically a closeted way of saying “writing in a diary.”
Nevertheless, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try my hand at journaling if I could reap even a sliver of the benefits it appears to offer.
So beginning on April 1st, 2020, I decided that I was going to write in my diar…I mean journal for 30 days straight. What I was aiming to discover was whether or not journaling was for me, and if it was a habit I would want to keep in my life.
It wasn’t. But I won’t deny the lessons it taught me.
Turning Thoughts Into Words
The concept of journaling wasn’t foreign to me. I had already built the habit of keeping a food journal to track my calories and a workout journal to track the progression in my strength training. For this experiment, the type of journal I set to embark on for a whole month was a freeform, stream of consciousness journal.
I didn’t have a set prompt regarding what I wanted to write about. I liked the idea of not restricting myself to a theme I needed to abide by. Otherwise, it would’ve felt more like a homework assignment if I did. As long as I was able to articulate one clear thought out of the blizzard of ideas scrambling throughout my mind, that was all that mattered to me.
Despite the blind direction I took while trying to manifest my mind’s elusive thoughts into words, it allowed me to discover an internal struggle that had been hidden in plain sight.
How Inspiration Led to Realization
When it came time to start journaling, I pulled out my handy dandy notebook and wrote furiously about life advice that I had learned about that day. Although I came in knowing I didn’t want to work by a set theme, I was naturally inclined to start writing about any new insight I found valuable.
Some of the most practical life advice out there were things I didn’t learn in school, so I was inspired to reflect on such valuable advice I had gained from reading, watching videos, or podcast listens.
A bulk of my journal began to look like an Instagram feed of a bunch of inspirational quotes and advice. “Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof, when your own doorstep is unclean” is a personal favorite of mine from Confucius.
Getting into the groove of writing down motivational advice and everything nice, I started running out of things worth jotting down. Or at least I thought I did.
Through all of the tokens of insight I had taken note of and reflected on, I eventually took a turn away from the usual inspirational theme of my entries. Instead, I decided to write about the feelings of discontentment I was struck with that particular day.
Entry #23, May 2, 2020:
“Consuming leisurely isn’t as satisfying as it used to be because I get the sense that I can be doing something more productive and satisfying. I’m always down and eager to learn anything that will serve value to my life, so I guess when I’m not putting myself in that environment, I feel a bit empty-handed. My mom is like that sometimes too. She usually does something to occupy herself with whenever she’s not at work, no matter how mundane or interesting it is. I seem to be that way as well. Wired for productivity and motion, although not all motion is productive”
I was feeling a bit down this day, which was an unusual shift from the sense of eagerness I wake up with every morning. It seems as if whenever I’m feeling down in the dumps, emotionally or physically, I’m suddenly able to articulate the struggles I have either failed to come to terms with or been unaware of.
In this case, it took a bit of sleep deprivation and the rare occasion of waking up on the wrong side of the bed for me to clearly express a struggle I was and currently am facing.
It’s true that I have an “issue” of always trying to be “productive” and busy.
To my advantage, I have the tenacity and grit to not procrastinate while spending as much time as I can on my goals. I want to maintain a perfect GPA? You can sure bet that I’ll study my ass off and do all the extra credit assignments offered to me.
But to my detriment, I can’t even watch a movie peacefully without thinking about it as potential study time for an exam, or as an opportunity to read about the latest advice on achieving success.
“Wired for productivity and motion, although not all motion is productive.” That’s what I need to keep in mind before I burn myself out and forget that relaxation is a gift, not a punishment. Regardless, I’m glad I brought this internal conflict to my attention. Emotional vulnerability is something I typically shy away from, but it was what relieved a bit of the stress off of my shoulders.
“Wired for productivity and motion, although not all motion is productive”
I’m a very private person when it comes to my emotions. I never feel the need to share my feelings with another person when I’m bummed out. I always figured that whatever problems provoked this emotional tension would solve themselves and that all I needed was a good night’s rest to feel my best.
Except when it came to journaling, it wasn’t until my 23rd entry that I realized how being cognizant of our emotions is important. It’s much easier to ignore how we’re feeling than it is to recognize the source of our stress, dissatisfaction, anger, or fear.
If you’re anything like me, you feel uncomfortable with the idea of sharing your emotions and deepest struggles with another human being. It doesn’t matter if it’s your mom or a therapist.
But that‘s not an excuse to deem our feelings as worthless to recognize and worthy to neglect. Coming to terms with our emotions by being open enough to express the thoughts created by fear, stress, dissatisfaction, or anger is the first step in achieving peace with ourselves.
For me, journaling was a private yet effective way to practice emotional vulnerability. In a sense, journaling served as a form of therapy for me to figure out what exactly was bugging my mind, without the fear of being judged.
What Journaling Taught Me
It took an array of positive self-affirmations, life advice, and inspirational quotes for me to come to terms with a struggle that I had been neglecting for the longest.
It’s not every day that I go through problems that I feel are worth mentioning. I’m not going to write about the struggle of running out of peanut butter or that I burnt my toast, it’s a bit silly.
However, there are times where I feel some type of stress weighing down on my shoulders. When those times do hit, I do plan to go back to my journal not only to look at all of the positive advice I had written in the past, but to also jot down my current struggles when they inevitably hit me in the face.
What did I take away from this experiment? Journaling is for sure not a daily habit I want to keep. But when life hits, when I’m dealing with any internal or external issues that I’m having trouble to accept or change, then my journal is something I’d like to pick up to reflect and be at peace with my thoughts.
Although I don’t plan to keep up with journaling in the long run, I believe it can be a great short-term tool for coping with the stresses in our lives.
I challenge you to try journaling your thoughts daily. You could strive for one week of journaling, or 30 days like me. It could be one sentence a day, or one page a day. What matters is that you take the time to reflect on your day and the feelings you might be overcome with, positive or negative.
You can take my journaling experience with a grain of salt, but you truly won’t know if it would add value to your life until you try it out yourself.