Nosce te ipsum

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I hate myself. I just ‘verbed a noun’ and I can’t un-see it and now I’ll have to admit it and tell you that the original title for this post was ‘Do you journal?’ … I KNOW!! So there you go. Please don’t judge me (too harshly).

(Who am I kidding, I know all of you are judging me… and when I say ‘all’, I mean ‘both of you’ dearest readers)

And yes, clearly the only route to salvation was to go for a latin title instead. Honestly, sometimes I despair.

I digress.

I wanted to ask if anyone else keeps a journal? Or a diary? If you do, why? What got you started, and what benefits are you seeing because of it?

Diaries

The first diary I remember was my Mum’s five-year diary. It was maybe A5 sized, quite thick, and covered in a bright red faux leather. It came with a little lockable tab to hold it closed and keep prying eyes out. I think it was the lock that piqued my interest, a small sign that important things lay inside. To this day I’ve no idea what she wrote in it (or if she wrote anything at all) but once I understood what it was for it must have stuck in my head; the idea that something personal, the words that someone would write in a diary, were important enough to be under lock and key was probably when I first started taking ‘words’ seriously.

During a recent clear-out I came across some items my parents had saved from when I was a child. One of them was, I think, a diary written at school. In it were page after page of memories that leap off the page in front of me – I’ve written about these before – and which mark my first venture into keeping a diary.

It wasn’t something I stuck with, and it was many years before the notion of writing up what had happened during a day came back around.

Journals

Writing a journal is something that was recommended to me many years ago by a counsellor. Out of that came my … ‘journalling’ habit (seriously, I’m about to punch myself in the face) and it’s something I’ve turned to on and off since then and, whilst sometimes the entries I’ve written have ended up being published here, the overwhelming majority remain private. Safe and sound, under (virtual) lock and key.

I use an app (cos I’m a geek) called Day One for my journal. It runs on my phone so sometimes I’ll use it to capture fleeting thoughts, and sometimes I sit down deliberately to write as a way to analyse my mood at a given time or before/after an event.

It’s equally as important, and this is something my counsellor pushed me to do regularly, to look back over previous entries, as painful as that can be. Although I do have to be careful to make sure I don’t skew the events, and thoughts and emotions from the past, as it can be easy to (re)shape them after the fact to how I want my world view to be reflected, rather than the reality I was capturing at the time.

I’ve always found writing cathartic – do you think I’d still be publishing this nonsense here if I didn’t? – but some of the things I write are for me and me only. My journal gives me a place to store the musings, the random scribbles, the illicit thoughts, the deepest of my desires and dreams, and the most friviolous and fanciful of my ponderings (a lot of my journal is ‘what if’ scenarios, none of which are ever likely to come to fruition, although I have learned that writing them down can make acting on them a little less scary if the situation arises).

More recently it’s a habit I’ve returned to with some gusto. It’s not quite daily but as good as, and most entries are longer than the few rambling paragraphs that I have a tendency to dump in there towards the end of the day. However I also realised that whilst I was writing more, the process didn’t feel as fulfilling. Was I writing in it just to keep a habit going? If so why is the habit so important? What value is this giving me?

So I took a step back to figure out why I was still journalling writing in a journal (ahhh that’s better) and realised I was largely going over and over the same thought patterns, with little variation. It seemed like the benefits I was used to getting were no longer working.

I felt stuck.

Prompted

Around the same time, in one of those lovely moments that seem to occur too often to be a coincidence, the ever wonderful Swiss Miss posted a link to these Know Yourself prompt cards.

As the name suggests, it’s a series of prompts, with one prompt per card. On the front of each card is a prompt, a topic to ponder. Once you’ve written your thoughts you flip the card over and on the back there is a perspective or associated thought which, so far, has been far more revealing than I imagined it could be. Re-reading what I’ve written in light of these has been enlightening.

Since I started to use the cards, I’ve found myself writing more considered pieces of introspection, slowly chipping away at some fundamental beliefs, analysing some statements some friends and family have made in the wake of my recent break ups, and processing the world as I now see it, all to help me better understand my place in it.

Ultimately it feels like my journal has returned to where it started. It’s helping me revisit my id, helping me challenge my own self-perception, and most recently I think it’s helped me figure out some fundamentals about my own needs and desires that had escaped me for many years (the why of them, not the what).

Know thyself, a wise person once said, and they were right. It’s not easy though, but one thing I have learned over the past few years is that, more often than not, the easy road is the least fulfilling.

And how do I know I know that? Because I read it in my journal.


In case you aren’t sure: What is the difference between a journal and a diary?