Know Thyself: The Practice of Journaling

Dec 01, 2022 by Amber McClain Shaw, in Dear Diary

I’ve kept a journal since I was in about fourth grade, on and off. My first diary had a lock on it, which I thought was such a great feature. I could pour my heart out without anyone else being able to read it. The fourth-grade me apparently had a few secrets to keep. But that lock was easily picked with a hair pin and whatever secrets I had were no longer secret to my sister.

I called this sister to ask what she remembered about reading my diary. While she doesn’t remember uncovering any specific secrets, she did not want to be left out of any secrets her older sister may have acquired. And she told me she didn’t have to pick the lock, the key was easy to find.

No longer limited to writing on paper and locking it up, secret journals can be online and locked electronically. Or we can journal and send our secrets out into the world in the format of a blog and beg people to read it. So many options!

I still keep a journal and as an adult I find it to be a very powerful habit. Mine is a cloth-bound book that I actually write in, with a pen. It has so many benefits for me. It helps me maintain my mental health and to be happier and more productive.

I’ve been using The Five Minute Journal by Intelligent Change for about six years. I consider it a practice, like yoga. You keep doing it and you get better but you never really perfect it. Perfection is not the goal. Consistency is the goal.

I just finished a journal and started a new one. When I finish a journal, I take the advice at the end of it and spend some time looking back over my entries. I can never do this right away. I have to be in the right mood and I have to have at least two hours of uninterrupted time to examine my personal past. There is something significant in looking backward, and it brings up a lot of emotion. Before I review a completed journal, I am always a little anxious about reliving the hard things. But as I look back, I am more pleased than anxious at what I have discovered about myself and accomplished. In looking back I can see patterns and trends that inform my future goals.

Some of my completed journals and my new pink one!

My goal to write a book was first written down in my journal. What I needed in order to write that book was written down in this journal. My recognition of what I needed was apparent when I reviewed a completed journal. I wrote down my desire to change jobs, to cultivate some friendships and let some go, my worries and anxieties, how I need to focus on getting better sleep, and that my dog needs medication for anxiety. This is maybe strange to say, but this journal has allowed me to know myself more intimately.

Part of the introduction to the journal reads, “The Five Minute Journal is not a magic pill. Although, there is certainly some magic at work here. You still have to do the work in the real world. Get out of your comfort zone. Take action and make magic happen. This journal is your guide. You are ready.”

This is not the journal of my school days, where I looked back at my day and recorded what happened, who I had a crush on, what song I was obsessed with. It’s not unprompted rambling. That rambling, or free writing, certainly has a place but I don’t do that every day. The Five Minute Journal is about looking at the present, and looking ahead. It’s one day at a time, it’s being grateful for and thoughtful about each day. It’s a couple of sentences about the small things. It’s about making a commitment to yourself. Some days it’s not easy to write, but I’ve found that it helps me start the day with perspective and purpose and that’s a damn good feeling.

If you are looking to make a positive change in the new year, I highly recommend trying out this journal for a few weeks. Let me know what you think!

If you use The Five Minute Journal and loved it, check out their Productivity Planner. It’s particularly helpful if you need some structure in your day or need help focusing on your bigger goals and not getting bogged down by your checklist. These make a great gift for yourself for the New Year!

After I wrote this blog post, I was curious if I still had my old diaries. I found three of them!  I'm not sure I've ever read them as an adult. I can confirm that the locks are not at all secure. I don't have the keys, so that's a good thing. How did I ever think these locks could possibly keep a diary private? My sister was obviously smarter than I was.