Gotcha! There are no shortcuts to self-knowledge.
Obviously you can not achieve the same results you would in therapy through journaling alone. However, there is still a goldmine of value you can gain from jotting your thoughts down on paper. You can potentially save a sum of money by doing your own self-work before hand, but let me make this clear: I am not at all claiming that therapy should be replaced with journaling. Put together, both tools go hand in hand like different instruments in a band.
If you can’t afford to go to therapy or just don’t feel comfortable with opening up to a stranger you may or may not connect with, journaling could be an affordable and more comfortable alternative to dipping your toe into self-knowledge.
Journaling can be used in a variety of ways including outright emotional release, decluttering your mind, and organizing creative ideas to name a few–but for the express purpose of this post, let’s focus on pursuing self-knowledge through this practice.
Following in the principle I provided in The Free Fall Journal, you need to feel comfortable with writing down your thoughts and feelings, most especially when you journal for self discovery. It’s an invitation to have an open and honest dialogue with yourself, after all.
Now, I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of that crazy guy you saw downtown arguing with himself at the street corner that one time, but I assure you it’s nothing like that. In fact, the reason why this man lost his mind enough to shamelessly berate himself in public is because he never learned how to keep it to himself and journal it out.
Though within every joke, there is a hint of truth. We are not all that different from that guy, you and I. We all have an inner dialogue that runs through our heads all day, he just chooses to express it out loud, albeit in an unfiltered and frightening manner.
Keeping your most distressing thoughts and feelings to yourself doesn’t make them any less frightening unless you choose to write unfiltered. When we write about our experiences, we provide evidence to the contents of not only our minds, but most importantly the expression of our hearts.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
You can just as easily journal for the sake of emotional release, but when you pursue self-knowledge through journaling, it’s important to also examine the evidence so you can understand yourself better. Self-knowledge is all about understanding what sets you off and gets you off (your couch 😛 ).
Having the luxury of reading back what you’ve written, you’re bound to notice a few patterns. When you recognize certain patterns in your thought process, you can then spend the time to explore why you may have them, and then decide on whether or not to break them.
That’s not to say that all patterns are negative, but generally speaking, the ones that fill us with the most doubt and distress are usually the ones that require more than one entry.In fact, some of the best journal entries are the ones that span beyond different dates, either in chronological order or streamlined between other topics. If you find yourself revisiting certain events or themes in your life, it just means that you’re comitted to understanding that aspect of yourself.
“Pain demands to be felt.” – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I cannot promise your entire life will be saved and understood through journaling, and I can not speak much for therapy in that regard, but the only guarantee I can offer is that if you commit to this practice frequently, you will develop a better relationship with yourself. It doesn’t have to be everyday, sometimes you need the break, but come back to your journal frequently and you will notice that you gradually become more honest in your writing.
Be sure to have compassion for yourself when you come across things you may not like re-reading, especially immediately after writing. Those are indicators that you might need to make drastic changes in your life, or at the very least, learn to play the hand you have been dealt.
Keep in mind that your journal is a safe place for you to express yourself authentically. So just like free fall journaling, do not worry about poise or eloquence in the way you write. Sometimes I decide not to separate paragraphs and write in the most unreadable chicken scratch possible (take THAT, would be invaders of my private journal!)–vulnerability is expontentially more important.
It has been in my experience that the less I filtered myself, the happier I became. I used to just reiterate what I learned from the plethora of self-help books I read with the intent of simply reprogramming myself to think positively. Although it helped in the short term, it only masked the pain, rather than helping me understand and heal it.
When I go back to my old initial journal entries, I can sense how inauthentic it was to cover up my pain by forcing myself to think positive, just for the sake of faking happiness. I don’t doubt that thinking positive can have its benefits, but there’s a disconnect between mind and heart when it’s not genuine. When I realized this–and wrote from a place of truth instead of falsehood–that’s when I finally got to experience what authentic positivity feels like.
Do you journal? If so, how has your experience been?
If you’re new to journaling or thinking of trying it out, what do you look to gain from it?