One of the most overlooked, but also one of the most powerful kinds of journals you can write, is the Gratitude Journal. All too often we’ll journal out our problems and hopes for the future that we forget to take stock of what we currently have: The Present Moment.
It’s all we ever have and no matter how much loss we’ve suffered in the past and how much more we’ve got to gain in the future, so long as we’re simply breathing, we have a lot to be thankful for. Maybe you’re not where you want to be in life and maybe you’re suffering a crisis. The mere fact that you get to live and be given the opportunity to learn and grow from hardship should be appreciated.
It’s a strange concept, to be thankful for even hardship. But if you really think about it, without sadness and hardship, we would not have much appreciation for happiness and the good times in our lives. There’d be no contrast. And in the business of contrasting, instead of journaling out your problems all the time, take a moment to be grateful and acknowledge where you’re at.
“He who cannot be contented with what he has will not be contented with what he wants.” – Socrates
It was true over 2000 years ago and it’s still true to this day. Practicing gratitude can help reframe your mind toward abundance rather than always focusing on scarcity. We have evolved to focus on scarcity because human survival was much harder before than it is now, so we’ve still got a lot of leftover monkey brain residing within us. Not to say it’s entirely useless because starvation and poverty are real problems, but I think it’s safe to say that if you can afford the internet connection in order to read this post, there’s a high chance that you’re living a comfortable life, if not a luxurious one.
Yet that’s the problem, right?
We work so hard to get to the point of comfortability because being challenged is difficult, we just wanna laze around and watch Netflix or play video games all day because they’re the most fun and easiest things to do. But then we tend to grow stagnant when we live a little too comfortably. So just as we need challenges to help us grow, we also need ample rest so we have the energy to tackle the challenges of life.
It’s a balancing act that we will never perfect, but will definitely try our entire lives to employ. You want to be journaling your problems out for the catharsis and possible problem solving that can come with it. And you also want to be writing about the things you’ve achieved thus far and be grateful for what you have in life, even if it may seem very little.
Harkening back to the Socrates quote, sometimes we get so busy chasing things that we think will make us happy that we somehow forget how to just be happy. We think that next relationship, that new job, or that new toy is what’s gonna make us happy, and maybe we get one or all of those things and then it’s like “so what now?”
That’s the tricky thing with life.
It’s good to have goals to strive for so that each day you live is filled with some sense of purpose and direction. But as that old cliché goes, “life is a journey, not a destination.” It’s cliché because it’s true. If you’re not moving toward an aim you are then aimless and begin to feel the weight of existential dread falling upon you.
So you work, work, and work, and you finally achieve your goal, and then you’re confronted with a whole new problem: “what’s next?”
Achieving one goal only opens you up to having a whole new set of problems you did not think possible, and since you have much more life left to live, then the process repeats. Until the very end of your days there’s always gonna be one more mountain to climb because it’s just what we do as human beings. We inherently do not feel like we are or have enough and so we strive to fill ourselves with more and more experiences and possessions—all of which are not bad things in and of themselves, but none of them really mean anything unless we take the time to be grateful for them.
If you have nothing pertinent to journal about, no issues to solve, then take a moment to write a Gratitude Journal because we could all use a little respite here and there. Give thanks to the people you love, the art that you’ve consumed, and even thank yourself for showing up for your daily practice. Life is very short and we tend to go from one thing to the next in a heartbeat, so giving ourselves a moment to breathe and feel that heartbeat, even for just a fraction of eternity, we are reminded that it is Your Write to Live.
For today’s Workshop Wednesday post, I am really excited to share two types of journals that can be used separately or in conjunction with each other. There’s the Dream Journal and the Idea Journal, both of which can be very helpful in receiving the therapeutic benefits from journaling, as well as expand on your creativity.
The Dream Journal
The Dream Journal is where you jot down your dreams in the best possible detail you can manage. Dreams are so mysterious and elusive, we often forget them much quicker the more we go on about our day, so I highly suggest that you write them down as soon as you wake up.
The first stage in writing a Dream Journal is simply writing a narration of what you can remember happening in it. What kind of place did you find yourself in? Who was there? And what are some thoughts your dream self had within the dream itself?
Not sure if anyone else experiences this, so please let me know if you experience this too, but I often remember verbalizing certain thoughts in dreams that are even more out of my control than the thoughts I have in the waking world.
The second stage then is to re-read your entry and see if it holds up to what you think you can remember from it. This is where you’re free to add more details if more come in, or subtract some that you think might not have actually been in the dream because we do tend to add things we merely wish or thought were in the dream.
The third and final stage is the fun part: try to extrapolate personal meaning from them. While there are some websites that give you a rough guide as to what certain people, places, and objects are supposed to symbolize in a dream, it is ultimately up to you to decide what you think these things mean because only you know the specific idiosyncrasies of your life.
For instance, I’ve had the same dream twice in my life where I am lying in a hospital bed while rolling through a desert at night. I see myself in third person as a silhouette on that bed while my mom’s face is in the moon watching over me. I had the initial dream when I was a young kid, and then again when I was a teenager, this time with the addition of three doctor heads floating beneath the face of my Moon Mom.
Upon close inspection of this recurring dream, I think it symbolizes how disconnected I’ve felt from my body during the two of the open heart surgeries I’ve had in my life, and how my mom has always been there to watch over me in the hospital. She’s taken a couple weeks off work both times just to be there with me and praying to God that He’d guide the doctors, nurses, and surgeons in assisting my recovery.
Being in the desert at night symbolizes how cold and alone I feel when I go under the knife in real life, and seeing myself in third person I think might have to do with how I need to disassociate from my body in order to survive the kind of stress its put under during open heart surgery.
I often theorize that having had suffered heart failure as a baby, maybe my ADHD developed because my body was in such excruciating pain and fatigue that my brain fought to keep me alive by firing all the neurons it can to keep itself occupied and distracted from all that pain and fatigue.
The Idea Journal
The Idea Journal is a lot less emotionally heavy, but still fun to write as well. This is where you work out your ideas whether they are for a business, a creative writing project, or everything else in between. You spitball a ton of ideas without giving them much thought, then later see if you can separate the wheat from the chaff.
There’s a common misconception that you might end up exhausting all of your good ideas from the very beginning and will be left with no more in the future. I would argue that the ability to create ideas is a lot like a muscle that you need to train in order to maintain. You need to exercise it by dumping all your ideas out as freely as possible on a regular basis.
One of the things this will do is allow you to write out the bad ideas and make room for the good ideas. Then another thing it can do is give provide a compass for which ideas you actually feel excited about. You can do this in a grocery list form or even in long form describing certain things for a few sentences and paragraphs before you jump to the next.
Either way, the point is to jump around from idea to idea quickly without being too attached to any of them. If you do find an idea that draws your attention the most and you can’t stop writing about it in that session, it might be a sign of how important and engaging that idea will be to work on.
I will confess to the reason why I’ve been able to write two blog posts a week this year is because I wrote a huge Idea Journal listing and briefly describing 50 possible blog posts I could write. A lot of them are the ones you’ve seen since January while a few other ideas were left by the wayside because I either saw no use for them yet or I know they’re good, but I’m not ready to write those particular posts just yet.
However, all the posts in this particular series on Therapeutic Journaling were not from that Idea Journal, rather completely off the cuff every week this month!
Dreaming Up Your Ideas
And now putting them together, you can also use Dream Journals to come up with story ideas. Dream Journals are beautiful to gain some personal insight about your life, especially the dreams that illicit a strong emotion in you like that Ralph Wiggum dream I had. (It actually turned into a huge journey for me to take on personally and one of my favourite blog series to date!)
They can serve the dual purpose of giving you the personal insights that change your life and help you generate creative ideas like they have for me.
Dreams are so interesting because they bend the rules of reality, yet feel very real when you are within them. Even if you become a bit conscious during a dream and acknowledge it for not being “real,” that feeling of hyper-reality still overtakes you if you don’t have the misfortune of waking up from them. Especially the good dreams and even the nightmares.
I’d even go so far as to say that if you become conscious of being in a nightmare, that you try and stay in it and see what kind of obstacle your mind is trying to get you to confront by way of that dream. And in turn you can use all those feelings and weird concepts you experienced in the dream to inform your creative writing ideas.
So for instance, back in 2010 I wrote a novel called Me, Myself and Who Am I? where a man is haunted by his own reflection in the mirror that has taken a life of its own, taunting him and acting like a cynical life coach to him.
I could not have come up with that idea had I not had this dream where I was in my washroom looking into the mirror, and instead of seeing my adult self in the reflection, it was my child self in the mirror. He was dressed in shrunken versions of my adult clothes, the very same clothes I’d often wear to to get drunk at parties and get high with friends outside all throughout the night.
I tried to look away from him because seeing him cry was painful to look at, but only his eyes shifted to the side while my adult dream self’s eyes were still fixed to the mirror. I woke up gasping for air because of this dream because of how much anxiety it provoked in me. It made me think about how I was betraying and suppressing my wounded inner child with all this substance abuse and hanging around the wrong crowd in my twenties.
I was a straight edge teen all throughout high school, but when I graduated, I got pretty addicted to the partying life because I felt lost and had no idea what to do. I had been so haggard and resigned from trying to graduate high school because I was held a back a little and needed to go to summer school for two years in order to catch up. I inevitably burned out after having put my all into my school work which is just absolute agony for the ADHD brain.
That dream alone saved my life because it forced me to confront myself not only in my journals, but also through the novel I wrote that year. The idea of your mirror reflection talking to you, pointing out to you and shaming you for how you can be better…I needed to experience that journey along with the protagonist Parker Davis in order to create some sense of resolution in my soul.
So you too, can probably some have deeply personal dreams that you can gain some personal insights from and/or get some inspiration for story ideas. Whichever way you slice it, Dream Journals and Idea Journals are another beautiful way to feel the therapeutic benefits of journaling.
While I do think it’s important for us to contend with our shadow side and work out the worries of the day in a journal, we can’t always be digging that deep and getting that emotional because that could be very taxing. In fact, although I am a big proponent to expressing your darkest deepest feelings as earnestly as possible, there can be a point where it can be a bit excessive and you can become too identified with your problems as opposed to having them shed on the page.
To reverse that, we also need to learn how to write Progress Journals to keep track of our goals and ambitions. This can range from your progress in therapy, your progress in your novel, or anything else that you’re working on in life to give yourself a moment to take stock of your life thus far, especially when you feel stuck.
Even if you’re not feeling stuck, it’s even more beneficial to focus on your progress because if you’re not inhibited by any emotional weight holding you down, you can propel that much further in your goals by continuing to take stock anyway.
So why should you write a progress journal and how do you even do it?
What You Measure Grows
If you approach your life like it’s a game you start to notice just how much the quality of our lives are based on “high scores” in different aspects of our lives. How much money do we have in the bank? How many reps can we lift x amount of lbs of a dumbbell? How many words can we write a day?
It is important to jot down these numbers because then you could compare and contrast them throughout the weeks to see how you’re faring in a specific goal. So let’s take writing for instance. Say your goal is to write somewhere between 500-2000 words a day. If you have a word count tracker where you mark each date and total word count for that day, you can keep a tally of how well you do throughout the week.
(Keep your eyes peeled for a future post on Word Count Goals as I will share my own Word Count Tracker and how I use it.)
Some days you’ll be under par and some days you’ll be over par, and in a different section of your Word Count Tracker, you can even briefly mention how and why your word count was a certain way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that being under the word count is bad, rather maybe other things came up that day, and that is something you can mention in a Progress Journal
The whole point of a Progress Journal is to have an open, honest, and earnest conversation with yourself about how far you’ve come in the project, and what you have left to do. It even doubles as a perfect pre-writing warm up exercise because you get yourself thinking about your novel at the bird’s eye view rather than being honed in on the story at ground level. Sometimes it helps to get that broader perspective before you pan the camera down to where the novel focuses.
So keep track of your scores for everything in your life and write entries about how and why you were able to achieve so much or so little in the day. If you score low, it’s not about blaming external circumstances for getting in the way of your goals, rather it’s taking accountability over how you allowed external circumstances for getting in the way of your goals.
I get that a lot of us lead busy lives, but if writing truly is our lifestyle as we believe it is here at Your Write to Live, then we should always make the time to write. Much like anything else in life, it’s not that we don’t have time for certain things, rather we don’t make time for them unless we find them all that more important above everything else. And when it comes to self care and mental health, they damn well better be more important above everything else or everything else begins to fall apart if we’re not well taken care of.
But I digress!
The Progress Journal Manual
My Progress Journals before every writing session were always recapping what I’ve written the day before, or the session before if I have more than one that day, and meditating on what I have left yet to write. Sometimes I’d be focused on shifting my mindset toward being positive, and if I had that inherently intact for a day, then the fun begins where I’ve focused a lot on working out my ideas. This same approach can apply to other things too aside from writing. Even something like weight lifting or any other form of exercise you want to do on a daily basis, you can reflect on what kinds of thoughts and feelings arise as you’ve approached your goal for that day.
Sticking to the example of writing, though—since this is Your Write to Live, not Your Write to…Lift?—you could just as easily write about your perceived Writer’s Block. Doing so is what made me come up with the Shadow Journal in the first place, actually. I would get so deep into my head about why I have all this resistance toward doing something I know that I love, but can’t bring myself to do. It was no longer about the book itself, but myself, and how I have to contend with my own shadow almost every time only to realize that after each session, I come out stronger and smarter than I ever thought possible.
While it is best that you know how to regulate your own motivation for writing, there is no shame in asking for help and that’s why I’m happy to announce that I will be offering Writing Coaching services later in the year so I can help other writers cultivate healthy writing habits of their own that suit them, as well as provide a sounding board for their ideas.
Whether you can’t afford writing coaching services or simply want to do it alone, though, Progress Journaling is the next best alternative to keeping yourself in check and bouncing your ideas around to see if they are sound. You can even join writing forums online or a critique group in person, but I believe that the less people there are and the more intimate the experience is, the more value you can get from reflecting on your progress.
So if you’ve got a grip on the whole mental and emotional aspect of writing, then you get to have a whole lot of fun simply writing about your ideas for your current chapter. Progress Journaling is also a less structured way of outlining, though outlining chapter and GMC graphs are still important, and can lend you more freedom to write and retract some of your ideas as you write them.
Often times you will find yourself writing about a particular idea and realizing it sounds dumb out loud or doesn’t even getting used in the end anyway. Which then makes room for the good ideas you’ve been waiting for, and that’s the thing about ideas which I’ll write about next week: the fact that generating ideas is a muscle you need to exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at them.
One of the most useful journaling methods that have helped me is loosely based on Internal Family Systems. It’s the concept that within every individual is a plethora of different personalities all warring for dominance over their directing mind. You might be thinking about people with split personality disorder and how you would be so far removed from them, but actually what they suffer from is a very drastic disintegration of the self.
For those of us fortunate enough to not be clinically diagnosed with that mental illness, we still contain a variety of competing personalities within ourselves, which would explain why our thoughts and emotions are so complex. There are different versions of ourselves living within us that comprise of our entire being as a whole. It doesn’t make you crazy or anything, just human.
Due to varying factors such as culture, upbringing, and social circles, we all internalize different thoughts and opinions from our environment and all these ideas become a huge part of our personalities. Some ideas are stronger than others, while some are strong enough to contend with each other, and the goal of Internal Family Systems style journaling is to integrate these personalities, not disperse them.
I talk a lot about contending with your shadow on here and this is a more detailed and nuanced form of that. There are parts of you that you might be ashamed or even afraid of, and perhaps it is your resistance to their existence that creates their persistence.
(I totally didn’t mean to rhyme, I’ll try not to do that all the time 😉
What you resist persists, though. According to Freud’s theory of repression, the more we stuff down things in our psyche, the stronger they actually become in trying to take the center stage of our minds. This is possibly how split personality disorder can occur aside from the unfortunate randomness of neurological development in the brain.
So instead of trying to completely cast out certain parts of yourself, you befriend them and finds ways to make them work in your favour. Most especially if they run counter to another personality of yours that seems to be its complete opposite. In actuality, these two warring personalities are two sides of the same coin, and sometimes one side wins over the other causing discord within our lives.
By allowing these varying parts of ourselves to have an open dialogue with each other, our directing mind can have a better time at getting a clearer picture of who is saying what, and why they are saying it. Imagine your consciousness as the director of a play and all these different aspects of your personality as individual actors who you need to assign roles to. Then as the playwright, give them their lines and let them put a play on for you to get a better grasp of yourself.
What I am about to teach you is definitely useful in understanding yourself better through Therapeutic Journaling, but also your fiction, and you’ll start to see how and why as you read along. I’ll even go into further details afterwards, but without further adieu…
Assigning Roles to Your Personalities
Think of the most prominent thought patterns you have about yourself, your relationships, and the world. For simplicity’s sake you can call them protagonists. Then think about if you ever have other thought patterns that contradict your protagonist’s patterns. Consider those contradictory thought patterns as antagonists. In actuality, there is a little good and bad in each of them, but whichever way you slice it, what you want to do is give each pattern a distinctive name as to give them some character.
In turning these thought patterns into characters, having a distinctive name and visual representation of them in your mind will allow you to get a clearer picture of how and what they manifest in your life. Sometimes writing out your thoughts, contradictory as they may be to each other, is not enough, and so the more divided you are, the more important it is to try out IFS Journaling so that you can better manage the contradictions within yourself.
Drawing from my own experience, I’ll give a couple examples of some of the characters living within my Internal Family System and how I integrated them into my being in a healthier way than just resisting what I thought needed to be discarded.
Becoming Your Own Inner Parent
Little Marlon is the wounded inner child. He just wants to be loved, taken care of, and allowed to enjoy his hobbies without judgement and without the pressure of turning them into careers. He just wants to enjoy these things for their own sake. He’s also very shy around people, but also wants to befriend them anyway because he likes to talk.
Papa Marlon is the kind of father I wish I had growing up, and the kind of father I wanted to become when I grew up. He works in tandem with Little Marlon to give him compassion, leniency, and empathy. He comforts Little Marlon and knows how to talk to him so he can feel better, thus helping him develop his social skills and become more confident with other people. However, sometimes Papa Marlon is too soft on Little Marlon and lets him get away with too much when he needs discipline.
Inner Father is the internalized version of my actual father. Although my actual father could be loud, aggressive, and sometimes physically abusive, much to Little Marlon’s and Papa Marlon’s dismay, he is not wrong in asserting that children need to be disciplined. They need to know between right and wrong or they’ll go about life disrupting the order of things.
I originally saw Little Marlon is a weakling who I needed to forget all about and become infinitely better than. I also saw my Inner Father is a nuisance because he was the one bringing up shame in for me simply being vulnerable and sensitive. For so long I wish I could get rid of this weak and sensitive part of me as well as the one who was so judgmental about his very existence to begin with.
This is where Papa Marlon had to come in to empathize with Little Marlon to let him know he belongs in the Internal Family System because reconciling his sensitivity is actually what allows me to understand the sensitivity of others and treat it kindly. Papa Marlon also went head to head with my Inner Father during the years I studied psychology and childhood development, thus developing some resentment toward my actual father for some of the ways in which he failed me growing up.
Papa Marlon represented the moral stand I took in that if and when I have kids, I will never hit them or yell at them, mishandle their vulnerability, and outright ignore them throughout their lives. He is also how and why I was able to raise my God-daughter without raising my voice or laying a hand on her, and that was a great exercise in self restraint and learning to break the cycle of violence in my family.
However, I did get over zealous with peaceful parenting and at times had been too lenient with my God-daughter, who in many ways was the physical and present manifestation of Little Marlon; another fresh new child brought into the world who just needs some love and guidance to survive it so they can feel safe and sound. But at the same time can bring danger upon themselves and even us adults sometimes.
My Inner Father was right, you really can’t let kids step all over you, which is what I allowed to happen at times with my God-daughter and Little Marlon.
Papa Marlon and my Inner Father had to duke it out in what was one the most fundamental journal entries I’ve ever written in my life. What it all amalgamated to was knowing that you must be gentle and patient with children in order to foster a safe environment for them to grow in, but you also need to discipline them whenever they act out in unruly ways.
For a long time it was either/or for me. You either be kind to them or you beat them into submission. But thanks to the dialogue I wrote out between Papa Marlon and my Inner Father, the two were able to meet in the middle and teach me that you can discipline children without having to hit or punish them in any other way.
It took some time, but alongside raising my God-daughter like she was my own, while concurrently parenting Little Marlon, I discovered ways in which I can teach these children how to behave properly without having to resort to any aggressive means of discipline. A lot of the times, I learned that some of the things parents allow their kids to do was more of the fault of proper supervision, while at other times, it was just kids exploring the world and not knowing how to do so safely.
So for instance, to teach my God-daughter why it’s important to not run into the street, I comically simulated one of her Barbie dolls getting run over by a car and voice acting how in massive pain she was in. My God-daughter laughed at this depiction, which was a relief because in hindsight it sounds like I could have easily traumatized her instead.
But she understood even at the age of two what I was trying to teach her. So any time we went out for a walk, yes I mostly held her hand to keep her close, but there were times I’d let her go and she just knew to stay on the sidewalk.
The Internal Interpersonal Tournament
So to do an Internal Family Systems journal, you assign characters to certain thought patterns of yours and like a movie script, write our their dialogue and see in what ways they can resolve their conflicts with each other so that they can live in harmony within you, as opposed to discord.
After all, this is kind of what we do, as writers, when we write novels. All the characters we write about may be amalgamations of other people we know in our lives, but ultimately their words and actions are being born out of our very own hands. If that isn’t a more creative and emotionally distant form of Internal Family Systems journaling, then I don’t know what is!
But I digress.
Writing an Internal Family Systems journal can be a more direct, dark, and gritty form of getting the kind of self-knowledge you get from writing a novel with characters who all represent different sides of you. With an IFS journal, you remove the creative filter and write something raw, unhinged, and uninhibited. Just like the Shadow Journal, you will want to proceed with caution because the more honest and vulnerable you are, the scarier this kind of journaling actually is.
Though the good news is that if you can survive it, you will become a much smarter and stronger version of yourself that you may not have imagined possible before.
For this week’s Meaningful Monday post, I shared a little bit of my own personal experience with therapy so far as a way to lead into today’s Workshop Wednesday where I’ll tie it to journaling. Therapy and journaling go hand in hand the same way going to school and doing homework go hand in hand with each other. Or if you have an aversion to homework for school like I do, let’s take a more fun example like learning how to play the guitar.
It is not enough to go to a guitar lesson and think that 30-60 minutes with your teacher will be enough to improve your playing. They are there to guide you toward that, but ultimately the rest is up to you in and out of the classroom. A good teacher demonstrates what it looks like for you to teach yourself the very thing you want to learn. They open your mind up to what’s possible and challenge you in a way that you need to start challenging yourself.
Therefore, going to therapy alone is not enough to heal past traumas, get hopeful for the future, and learn how to be content in the present moment. You can still get a lot of value from going to therapy and going to a guitar lesson, but ultimately you need to take home with you all that you’ve learned and apply it all on your own. A good therapist, much like a good teacher, makes it their job to make themselves obsolete to you because you want to eventually develop the skills to educate yourself long after your mentorship from them.
This in mind, consider journaling as the homework equivalent to therapy. To use what you’ve learned and ask yourself the kinds of questions your therapist has asked you, and more, so that you can get ever deeper into self inquiry.
Plus, you’ll even cut down on your need for therapy by helping yourself because you’ll learn to discern what issues you have that are actually worth talking to your therapist, let alone worth thinking and talking about in the first place.
Without further adieu I would like to introduce you to three different ways in which you can journal about your life, thoughts, and feelings all dealing with the top three tenses in life and narration: past, present, and future.
Dwelling in the Past
If there are things in your distant past that still haunt you to this day, then it’s worth writing about certain instances and eras in your life that often keep you up at night. You may have had a traumatic childhood in its entirety, or an otherwise okay childhood, but still remember a few traumatic moments or eras in your life that still have an effect on you now.
We all know we shouldn’t dwell on the past because it holds us back from enjoying the present moment, and some of you might be thinking then why write about it? My answer to that would be so that you can finally let that part of your past go. If something in the past still bothers you, it means you’ve yet to process it and learn what you can from it.
Whether you were the victim, or even perpetrator, of an injustice, it is important that you analyze your past to get a better understanding of how and why things turned out the way that they did. Life is mostly random, providing us with fortune and respite in one moment, and then torturing us with trauma in the next. However, as autonomous human beings, we are still responsible for how we may be complicit in some of the things that happen to us.
So long as you’re mired by the past, people and events that have hurt you remain as things that happened to you. Writing about them in great detail is how you make your past happen for you. The distinction being that one was out of your control and continues to control you, and the way out of it is to regain control of yourself by learning how to avoid similar mistakes moving forward.
This requires a really hard look at yourself and being honest with what happened. It is easy to write about the ways in which you’ve been wronged, and believe me I’ve done it, even here on this very website, but it’s not enough to write a detailed account of what has happened to you. You also need to take responsibility for how you may have been complicit in prolonging your own misfortune by dwelling on these events.
I’m not saying that if you’ve been abused in the past that it’s your fault, but what I am saying is holding onto that hurt is only going to hold you back from experiencing any joy or relief unless you learn something from this trauma. Perhaps it’s learning how to treat others better than you have been treated because if you know how much it hurts, and you want to be a good person, then you can make it your responsibility to never enact any similar atrocities onto anybody else.
Even on the inverse where you know you did something wrong and you’re crushed by the weight of your own guilt, then you take in account how it must have felt for the person you hurt and promise yourself to never act similarly again. And while you do have to be brutally honest about how horrible you must have been, you also need to sympathize with the past version of yourself who may have acted poorly due to a variety of reasons.
We all act out sometimes due to unbearable hurt within ourselves, maybe even out of intentionally malicious intent, but most of the time it’s really due to ignorance. Life and humanity are already so complex as they are, so there’s no straight answer for our behaviour. That’s why it’s worth processing and understanding what drives our behaviour and in turn become better people for it.
Living in the Moment
Technically, even if you journal about your current life as it is, your are writing about “the past,” but of course it’s a lot more local and current than dwelling on your childhood. While I personally like to journal about things many months after they have occurred—so that I can have a lot less emotional bias and more objectivity about certain events in my life—writing about the day you just had can have its advantages in keeping yourself emotionally up to speed in real time.
The drawback I’ve experienced in just writing about my past all the time is that it feels like my heart and mind are lagging between each other because my heart wants to live in the moment, but it gets bogged down by my mind’s incessant obsession with my past. Even as of this post I am journaling about things that happened to me in 2021 and finding ways to rethink them so that they happened for me.
But I digress.
Writing about your life as it unfolds day by day is a good way to keep your mental health chronologically in tact with life. This way, you’re always up to speed with yourself rather than playing catch up like some of the past driven journal entries you may doing. This way you even get a more linear experience of exploring your life, thoughts, and feelings, whereas the more distant your past is, the more scattered the events and your thoughts might be.
Daily journaling about each passing day is essential so that you can achieve much more immediate results from your self reflection. Whether you are going through a time of crisis or you’re living the life you’ve always wanted, it’s always worth taking the time to contemplate how you feel about your own fortune and misfortune.
If you are going through something, journaling can help you gain a sense of clarity about the situation and provide yourself with more options as to how to approach your life moving forward. If your life is trouble free for the most part, it’s also good to take stock of what you have and be grateful for it because unfortunately, not all things are meant to last and there’s always…
The Uncertainty of the Future
We don’t know what the future holds and that can cause us a lot of anxiety. Especially considering that the future isn’t even guaranteed because today might very well be the last day you get the tremendous privilege of living. And no, I’m not saying as a threat, I’m just stating a fact of life.
It’s often said how life is short, but the Stoic philosopher Seneca argued that life is not short at all, but only feels that way because of how much of our time we squander on trivial matters. Life is actually pretty long, especially if you’re fortunate and healthy enough to live well into old age. We are given, on average, quite a lengthy amount of time to live and it’s up to us how we make the best use of it.
So journaling about the future and the kinds of things you want to accomplish can help prime you for finding ways to achieve all that. You can set goals and detailed plans about your future. It doesn’t even matter if it seems like wishy washy wish fulfillment at first. The point is to get hopeful about the future so that you have things to look forward to assuming you are even granted the benefit of a bonus day to live tomorrow.
Then on the flipside, if there are things you are worried about, it’s worth writing about these fears so you learn how to better defend yourself against them. Seneca also said that, “we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality.” If you have constant concerns about a future that may never come, it’s worth writing them out to explore as to why you think these painful events will occur in the first place.
Are you still stuck in the past and think the future will be more of the same?
Are you suffering now and think it will only be the same, if not worse, in the future?
Or are you just conjuring something to worry about for the sake of having something to worry about?
It’s easier said than done, but don’t fret. What you can do about this is create action plans that safeguard you from potential threats, or even more preferable, realize that you are causing yourself unnecessary suffering in the present about the unguaranteed future and just stop torturing yourself already.
Time Traveling and Other Hobbies
Which ever timeframe you choose to write about in a given journal entry, the point is to be as objective, honest, and vulnerable as possible so that you get the most of your writing session. Journaling, real journaling, is a lot of hard work. People get the misconception is that you just write about what you ate and did that day, or you draw a bunch of hearts around it with your crush’s name written inside of those cartoon hearts.
And while you’re free to do that if you want, especially if it makes you happy, that’s perfectly fine.
But for those seeking to understand and improve themselves, you must grit your teeth and do the hard work of having these conversations with yourself. Paper is more patient than people, and so just like I said in part one of this series, you will be doing yourself, your friends and family, and your therapist a huge favour by doing your own heavy lifting on your own time.
The more mental and emotional baggage you clear for yourself, the lighter your interactions will be with others, and in my mind, that’s probably the best we can all ever hope for in getting along with our fellow man.