Why to Journal and Why Day One

Day One Journaling Series:

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I’ve always wondered why so many notoriously famous people kept journals. It is no secret that people like Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Winston Churchill were famous for walking around with notebooks and pens, recording things they thought were of meaning to them. I never understood why they took so much time and effort to do it, where their ideas came from, or even what led them to begin writing.

Truth be told, the act of journaling has always intrigued me. I’ve always found it fascinating to read accounts of men like Francis Bacon, who wrote in his personal notebooks short essays about the most varied topics, and of women like Susan Sontag, who wrote on her notepads things that she couldn’t honestly say to people’s faces. Day after day, journals have never failed to fascinate me.

One thing I was never able to do, no matter how amazed by journals I was, was to actually start a journal myself. The reason being I mistook a journal for a simple diary where I would write down what I did that day. Just the sheer thought of taking time to write about the egg I ate for breakfast made no sense to me. I didn’t want to write trivial things, I just wanted to write the amazing things like Darwin, or Jefferson. I kept thinking that I was not good enough to start a journal.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I failed to see was the true role a journal has in one’s life. The value of journaling was not in writing incredibly complex thoughts or amazing things, but yet to be a personal recollection of your innermost thoughts. I was blind to the benefits journaling brings to oneself. What journal allows you to do is to have a “vehicle for my sense of selfhood” and a medium to “represent (you) as emotionally and spiritually independent.” A safe-haven that at the same time soothes you and saddens you; motivates you and makes you reflect; makes you hate yourself, makes you love yourself: a reflection on paper of yourself.

Why to Journal

The truth is, everyone has a different reason to start journaling. Sometimes people are compelled to journal because they’ve seen a person familiar to them do it, or because they’ve read one and found it touching. It is clear, however, that no reason is better than the other. Just being able to write down anything as an exercise of reflection is a incredible habit to have. Whatever the reasons might be that instigate you into this wondrous act that is to journal, below are the reasons I personally believe journaling enhances one’s life. I also coupled each reason with a quote that I believe defines the reason precisely.

Journaling allows you to understand yourself better

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America:

In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are. The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.

Writing down your feelings is the raison d’être of journalling. It is not an easy task though, translating into concise words all the mess that goes on in your head is a daunting endeavour. Not in the sense that it is hard to actually write what you are thinking about, but it is hard to clarify and solidify what you are thinking. When you put things to paper, it is as if you have decided which things in your head are more important.

The repetition of this process allows for a greater understanding of oneself. Consistently writing down your thoughts becomes an automatic funnel through which, unconsciously, you determine what is of deepest significance for you. Virginia Wolf said, in one of her journal entries, that when she re-read “(her) old volumes” she “found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time.”

When you turn to read over time, that of which you have written, you begin to understand how powerful journaling is. You begin to value the words you put on your journal, and understand how that 300 words jumble you wrote a year ago justifying a decision, can help you today make better choices and live a happier life.

Journaling allows other people to understand you better

As personal as a journal might be, there is no denial that you will want somebody to read it when you pass away. It might be your children, or loved one, but your journaling will help them understand some decisions you made throughout life, and understand you better than ever. They will gain insight into your world by reading your disorganized thoughts and conjectures.

It is a weird thing to say, but having all of your thoughts and life reflections on one place gives you almost a lingering immortality.

Journaling reminds you of the little details of your life

Charles Bukowski:

“Some moments are nice, some are nicer, some are even worth writing about.”

Even though I made fun of recording that egg I ate for breakfast, life is indeed made of the little things. A journal is the perfect location for recording those little things when they happen: a look, a meal, a feeling, a moment. Something that 10 years from now will make you smile just by reading or looking at it.

Journaling makes you a better writer

Shawn Blanc, author of shawnblanc.net:

As a writer, I believe journaling on a regular basis is critical. It’s writing that will never be judged. It’s writing that doesn’t require an editor. It’s the only place where I am completely free to write for my truly ideal reader: a future me. I have my own inside jokes, my own running story arc, my own shorthand. I love the freedom to write whatever I want, however I want, with no need to make it tidy or clear or concise. And I have no doubt that it makes me a better professional writer.

Journaling doesn’t necessarily need to be something strict as Shawn says. Most people won’t care about grammar or syntax when journaling, but the simple act of having writing as a habit will substantially improve your writing skills. I found myself writing entries with over 1000 words, and I could clearly see the reflection the practice had on my writing here.

Journaling is the best motivation you will ever have

Franz Kafka:

In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”

I couldn’t say it better.

I am extremely glad to have discovered journaling at an early age; I am extremely glad to take time everyday to talk with myself; I am extremely glad because I know the moments I live are not fading out of my life; I am extremely glad I journal.

Why Day One

When I was looking at a medium to start journaling, several options presented themselves: notebooks, word documents, and several apps. I really didn’t care which medium I used, but they needed to fulfil my priorities:

  • good writing environment
  • wide availability
  • easiness of use
  • future-proof(ness)
  • privateness.

A notebook offers almost all of these, but carrying around a notebook all the time with me didn’t seem like an attractive option. I eventually searched for apps, specially because I have my phone on me all the time, and landed on Day One because it met all the criteria above and more, it allowed me to add photos, location, and weather. It really is the perfect combo.

This is part of the Day One Series, a special collection of articles by user Tulio Jarocki about journaling.

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