September 14, 2018

What Took So Long?

a journal and book on a desk next to a cup of coffee

Why it took me so long to start a journal.

It’s 2018, I am 26 years old, and I just decided to start journaling. Why did it take me so long to start journaling, and what changed that prompted me to start? Why is something that I used to think was a waste of time, unenjoyable, and not for me now one of my favorite things to do? Let’s take a look at some of the main reasons I avoided journaling, and what changed my mind. Maybe it might make you think about changing your mind, too!

It’s not useful.

That’s definitely something that was at the forefront of my mind when it came to many, many things when I was younger. It’s an idea that permeated much of my life at the time, and unfortunately one that stuck with me into my adult years.

On its surface, journaling isn’t useful, though. I’ve already experienced the day, why would I need to write down what happened? I’ve felt and considered my emotions already–as they were happening and after–what is writing about them going to add? I don’t need a journal to problem solve, to have experiences, or to navigate a relationship. And I was right, we don’t need a journal to do anything we do day-to-day.

But, I was oblivious to the real benefits. I didn’t want to acknowledge what journaling could add to these different life experiences. Not only that, but that journaling can be its own experience was totally lost on me. There is something extremely enjoyable and satisfying about just writing–just sitting–and writing, but I didn’t understand that.

“Maybe it was because the only direction I thought I had to look was forward.

Beyond that, though, there are a few very practical uses to journaling–uses that have real benefits. Journaling can be a very healthy activity, when done right, that can positively impact our mental health, boost our creativity, and act as a great way to document our day-to-day activities or important events in our lives. These things didn’t seem important to me when I was younger, but I’d chalk that up more to ignorance than anything else… Maybe it was because the only direction I thought I had to look was forward. I realize now that these things are some of the great positives of journaling. Once I realized this, I was able to put aside my own assumptions about why people journal and focus on what journaling could do for me, personally.

However, whether or not it is useful wasn’t the only thing stopping me…

I didn’t like to write.

There are a few reasons I didn’t like to write. It seemed like a waste of time. It’s boring. You know, the usual. I only recently realized, however, that wasn’t always the case. In grade school, we used to have these competitions–we each had to write a (very short) book, illustrate it, all that jazz–Young Authors, it was called. I loved it. I always tried my hardest to win, but never did. That in and of itself is fine, but that combined with criticism from teachers and friends, either for not doing a “good” job–writing being something you do for a grade–or trying too hard, which wasn’t cool, meant that writing quickly lost its joy.

It wasn’t until collage that I wanted to write again (I talk a bit more about why here). A few things happened that account for that switch in my life, and I changed in plenty of other ways during that time, as well. After collage, when I was no longer required to write, I stopped for quite some time. Once I got used to being told what to write, it was hard to write on my own. In fact it wasn’t until this year that I wrote something more than a quick note. I actually largely have fountain pens to thank for the more recent change. I became interested in fountain pens because of a podcast I stumbled upon, The Pen Addict. After I got my first pen, I quickly realized I needed to write things with it! At first I just wrote quotes here and there. Then I found out about bullet journaling. I’ve been doing that for a while now, and my rekindled interest in writing also led to starting an actual journal, and even this blog!

There’s one more reason it took me as long as it did to start journaling, despite being interested in pens and pencils and stationary, which were always art making tools to me (but isn’t writing an art?), and wanting to write more. No, one of the biggest–and most embarrassing–reasons I didn’t journal for so long is because…

It’s too girly, right?!

Well, in some unfortunate ways, it is! The conversations, marketing, and pop culture around journaling focus heavily on girls and women. See someone journaling on a TV show and it’s probably going to be a girl. Look up #journaling on Instagram and note how many of those look like they were posted by men. Not that any of this actually does or should matter, of course, but try telling that to a 10 or even 20 year old boy.

“Many of history’s greatest minds kept journals… They used them to generate ideas, reflect on their experiences, pay more attention to the world around themselves, to better themselves and possibly others.

All of this is likely due to the perceived notion that girls, women, are more emotional than their male counterparts. Oh, and journaling is all about emotion. It took me 25 years to realize that is not only stupid and wrong, but straight up irrelevant. The idea that the primary (or only, to some) use for a journal is as an emotional vacuum was something that was ingrained in me early on by teachers, friends, and the media. In fact, that is not a healthy way to journal. Many of history’s greatest minds kept journals–do you really think they used them to vent all day? No! They used them to generate ideas, reflect on their experiences, pay more attention to the world around themselves, to better themselves and possibly others. Anyways, the idea that journaling is for girls and women alone is absolutely ludicrous and gross, and I deeply regret not figuring that out sooner.

Once I (finally) figured out that journaling is useful, enjoyable, and most definitely not tied to any gender in any way, I realized that all I needed to do now was to start a journal! So now, I have a whole system of journaling (with the help of some Googling). Since started, I have noticed that I am able to put my ideas into words in more meaningful ways, I am able to track problems and progress, and I love the process of all of it!

My main journal is used as a bullet journal and planner. This keeps me organized day-to-day, and allows me to collect quick thoughts and ideas. Then, I have a more general journal to write interesting quotes, write regular journal entries, and organize and plan for bigger events, ideas, or projects. I also have a journal specifically for my blog.

For my journal entries, I follow a few basic “rules” to ensure I am using my journal in a healthy and productive way. I always write these near the front as a reminder.

The rules.

These are the five things I don’t do in a journal (mostly).

1. Live in my own head.

This encourages me to think outside myself and my own emotions. It keeps my focus off of myself and on others and their well-being, as well as the world in general.

2. Become a passive observer.

I don’t want to go through life only ever considering how I’d write about and record what I’m doing and feeling. Reflection is fine, but I get no benefit not paying attention to everything that’s going on around me.

3. Be self-obsessed.

A journal is not a place to praise myself or relish in my own ideals. It should be a place to explore, self-critique, and create meaningful solutions that can benefit more than just my own ego.

4. Use the space to blame others.

It’s easy to focus on the negative things others have done to me in a journal. However, doing so is harmful to myself and my relationship with them. I should be open to self-blame, but use that as fuel to better myself and explore creative ideas to find healing in those relationships, and to address the problems that we might be experiencing.

5. Overly reflect on negative feelings.

Wallowing in self-pity is easy, and might offer a temporary respite from negative feelings, but not addressing the cause can lead to a destructive loop that’ll only get worse over time.

Using these rules, I have found that my journal has become a great space for not only my mental health, but creative and constructive thought, as well.

So, even though much of my life has steered me away from keeping a journal, here I am. Once I was able to shake the negative ideas I had about journaling out of my head it has quickly become one of my favorite activities. If you’ve staid away from it for similar reasons, but have thought about giving it a try, I certainly encourage you to do so.

© Chris Colvin 2019