What I’ve Learned from Journaling

Journaling is an ongoing practice. Because journaling is an exercise where we write about our thoughts and feelings, and because we will always have thoughts and feelings so long as we are alive, there is no “end” to journaling. Perhaps we may decide to journal exclusively through the difficult times in our lives, but the opportunity to journal still exists once we’ve made those breakthroughs. Like meditation or yoga, journaling is a self-nurturing practice. We’re not necessarily meant to quit journaling once we’ve achieved a certain level of self-knowledge or emotional stability, so it’s not as though there is one big lesson to learn from journaling and boom–we’re done with it.

Rather, there are many things to learn from journaling, and often what each person learns from journaling will differ, because it is such a personal activity. Each journaler must develop their own unique journaling routine to best suit their personality and life experience, and so not everyone will “gain” the same things from the practice. They’re lessons we each must discover for ourselves.

Today, I’d like to share an overview of my journaling “journey” and a few of the things that I’ve learned from journaling over the past ten years.

My Journaling Journey

As I’ve discussed before, from a young age I took to reading and writing. Fortunately, I had access to lots of books and craft supplies, and as I am a naturally creative and introverted person, much of my childhood involved drawing art and creating stories.

During my childhood, I always wanted to keep a journal, but it didn’t always work out. I had the supplies–my yellow cat diary had a lock and key, as did the horse journal I bought from a school book fair. However, I was only a kid, so it was common for me to neglect journaling; I was young and I didn’t have the discipline yet. I was frustrated by my failed attempts, but it’s understandable that life was much more stimulating at the time and journaling fell to the wayside.

In middle school, my perspective shifted a lot and I began to experience many intense emotions–depression, loneliness, anger, jealousy, self-hatred. To cope with this tumultuous inner landscape, I started using a notebook to scribble about my thoughts and feelings, my creative writing, doodles, lyrics I liked, kind things others said to me, and other tidbits of my distressed adolescence. I took that notebook with me everywhere–and it was a standard spiral-bound notebook rather than a journal that proclaimed “Diary” on the front, so it looked like all my other school notebooks and subverted prying eyes’ attention. A lot of emotions went into those notebooks. I remember setting the ground rules for myself, thinking, “I don’t need to provide any context for my feelings; if someone else reads this, then they’ll have no idea why I’m angry, just that I’m angry.” It was a place where I didn’t need to explain myself, only to lay out the feelings flashing through my head.

A few years and journals later, when I was graduating from high school and beginning college, life picked up for me. I began “doing” a lot more, and because I was excited about all these new adventures, I wanted to record all the things I did. But it became difficult to keep up with these detailed event-oriented entries, so for a year or two I infrequently wrote an entry every few months.

My sophomore year of college in 2015, I resumed my regular journaling practice. I was having drama with friends and I wanted to use the empty notebooks that began stacking up via gifts from loved ones. The summer following my sophomore year of college, I recall being so bored and lonely and anxious about the future, and I turned to my journal as a friend. I had a lot of free time but I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I didn’t have many friends or a car. I dropped my obsessive record keeping and went back to doodling comics or commenting on current events, expressing my feelings and thoughts, journaling to keep myself company.

I continued to journal several times a months for the years following, as I made friends and grew as a person, during the process of graduating college, my years working at the restaurant, and throughout this pandemic. In fact, my journaling has become nearly an everyday habit for me especially since the beginning of the pandemic; at first, it was because I knew I’d want to look back on how I felt about this new world event, but as the months have worn on, my relationship with journaling has become even more beneficial to how I cope with each day.

Over the seventeen journals I’ve filled during the past ten years, my relationship to journaling has evolved drastically. As my situations and emotional needs have changed, so has my journaling practice. Whereas I used to journal to vent about peers I hated (and not even necessarily recognize it as “journaling”), now I journal for more self-nurturing reasons. Whereas I used to journal to record my “adventures,” now I journal to reflect on my inner voice and emotional well-being. And as I grow older, I expect that my journaling practice will continue to change to better serve myself. Which is why I love journaling so much.

What I’ve Learned from Journaling

I’ve learned a lot through journaling. Of course, for journaling to be “successful,” we don’t need to get anything from journaling; journaling is inherently significant, and there probably won’t ever be an “end goal” with journaling. It’s valuable merely as a practice.

That being said, through this explorative practice, I have learned quite a bit.

I’ve learned how to create distance between myself and my emotions. By interacting with the page, I’m honing in on my thoughts and feelings, and peeling apart what’s serving me from what’s not serving me. After habitually building this practice, I’m better able to recognize “This is a strong feeling, but it is fleeting; I choose to let this feeling go” against “This characteristic is recurring; this is a part of who I am and I am learning how to navigate myself in light of this trait.” When I am depressed, I’m able to step back and observe my depression better without sinking into it all the way, like I used to.

I’ve learned how to be a friend to myself. Through writing, I’m engaging in a dialogue with myself outside of the cyclical whirlwind of thoughts in my head. Journaling can be very conversational with the self; I allow myself to vent, then console myself, in a friendly and loving manner. I speak much kinder to myself, giving myself the space to write foolish things without harsh self-judgement, which ultimately leads to more quality personal development. And through being a friend to myself, I have learned the habit of self-love and self-reflection, fostering a healthy relationship to my emotions which have evolved through the practice.

I’ve gained the ability to look back on past journals and understand myself with a clearer perspective. I often will reread sections from previous notebooks, learning things about myself that I hadn’t realized in the past, yet is so obvious from the tone of the entries and time elapsed. It’s a direct portal to my younger self’s mind and heart. More than just an archive, my past journals are a way to connect to my younger self and use that insight to heal myself from past wounds.

I’ve learned a lot about myself overall, really, and about the person I want to be.

What lessons have you learned from journaling?

I think that everyone, in their own way, can learn to enjoy journaling.

If you are looking to begin a journaling practice, I hope this may serve as inspiration to pick up a journal and pen. I believe that you are worth the time you reserve for personal reflection.

If you are a fellow journaler, how long have you been journaling? What lessons have you learned, if any? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Thank you for reading!

For more journaling posts from Slanted Spines, check out this page.


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