If we want to get to know ourselves better we need a safe place to discover what we really think, dig into possibilities, evaluate beliefs, explore feelings, get to know our different parts, and practice expressing ourselves.
I didn’t used to journal consistently. On a few occasions I was given a journal as a gift and I would set good intentions to follow through. I wanted to be a journaler—I loved books and writing and was drawn to the idea of creating a record of my life to look back on.
I’d start out making entries every day. Then a few times a week. Inevitably I’d lose interest and only pull my journal out when I got really upset about something or needed to make a big decision.
Then the words would come pouring out, heavy and barely legible. Looking back through those old journals it would appear my life was one big stretch of complaints and anxiety…unless you noticed how far apart the entries were dated.
Even then, journaling served an important purpose for me. It gave me a place to vent my difficult feelings and to express the things I couldn’t actually say out loud. Changing my thoughts from a swirling mess inside my head to something concrete on the page made it easier to see what I was really thinking and to understand more clearly what was there. But, since I was only turning to my journal to put out fires, I didn’t benefit from exploring more deeply when life was calm.
These days I journal much more consistently. My journals still do the same things for me now that they did then—and so much more.
Journaling is a key tool in sifting through all the expectations layered over who we really are. Of course, there is so much value in talking with others. They can offer a different perspective and see possibilities we don’t. Often others hold a less critical view of us than we hold of ourselves.
I have benefited beyond measure from people who took time to truly listen, ask me questions, and reflect back what they hear. Even with the most supportive, nonjudgmental person, however, I find myself wanting to live up to what I assume they expect of me.
The only expectations in my journal are the ones I bring to it. No one else ever reads my journals. My pen and paper have never once passed judgment on me or run away because my thoughts were more than they could handle.
I’m learning to let go of expectations around spelling and grammar, complete sentences, and even coherent thoughts. As I learn that I don’t have to worry about saying the right thing or coming up with a deep insight, my journal becomes a place of complete freedom to be really curious about who I am and practice expressing myself.
My journal gives me a little distance from what is going on for me and makes it easier to be curious instead of critical. When I’m curious I learn more about who I am and can bring the more difficult parts of myself to the surface where I can work with them instead of hiding them away and trying to keep them from ever showing.
We all need a place where we can set aside expectations in order to honestly dig deeper into who we truly are. What is your experience with journaling? If you journal, what do you find most beneficial about your journaling practice? If not, would you be willing to try? What’s the biggest obstacle for you in maintaining a journaling practice?