Today the silliest thing happened. I went to Publix on my lunch break and went up to the bakery and asked for a doughnut. When they handed me the bag, they didn’t ask for any money. I smiled and said thank you, and walked right out of the store, my doughnut bag in plain view, thinking I had just been the recipient of getting a free doughnut because of my charming smile and polite manner.
I hopped in the car and as my friend pulled away and headed back to school, I exclaimed that it was so nice of the guy at the bakery to give me my doughnut for free. My friend quickly pointed out that you’re supposed to pay for it at the register up front.
And just like that, I am a criminal. Stealing an item that in 1995 was worth about 50 cents.
I wrote that story in my journal at the ripe old age of 15, on lunch break from Lincoln High School, back at a time when I could eat doughnuts for lunch if I wanted. And apparently was enough of a space cadet that I didn’t realize I needed to pay for my bakery items up front.
(For the record, I didn’t know that because we never bought from the bakery at Publix. My mom baked all of our bread at home.)
Keeping a journal can be easy, just like the story above. You open it up and write about something – anything – and keep a nice happy log of your life. In the future, my kids will find that entry and will learn something about me, about my past. Or maybe not – I might burn my high school journals – undecided.
That’s one kind of journal.
There’s another layer to journaling that is sometimes more difficult to explore. It makes us more vulnerable and shines the light on us in a way we’re not used to. We create a spotlight on ourselves for an audience of one. It’s when we write entries like this:
I am not happy. I think getting married was a mistake. I realize now, I will have to leave him.
There’s more to that entry, but I won’t bore you with my rants and raves about the realization that my first husband was not going to be the person I wanted him to be.
This other kind of writing dives deeper. It holds the mirror up to our life and forces us to be open and honest. Sometimes it can be dark and scary. It can force us to be up front about our life circumstances and look at the places we’d like to see a change.
In the pages of this kind of journal you can explore your fears, make decisions to move forward, and commit to living a life on your terms.
In the first entry, I wrote about my day. In the second one, I was writing more about what I thought and felt about those days.
Writing what you think and feel about your days can reveal where you’re stuck. It can help you find the next step to move forward. It can also be the one place where you truly capture the essence of who you are, the good and the not-so-good stuff you’d rather no one else knew about.
But, guess what really happens when you start to keep a journal?
Most likely you do some of each. You may find that you need to write about the easy stuff, the meals you love, the funny stories, the people you celebrate life with, and from there, you may find it easier to dive into your deeper stuff.
The way to the answers and solutions for how you can change your life is straight-forward, but not always easy: keep your pen moving.
When you’re writing about a problem or a circumstance that causes you stress, write about it in all the ways you need to.
Describe it. (Get all the juicy details down.)
Blame someone else for it. (Your neighbor, that crappy hairdresser you tried, or the other kids mom.)
Notice where you are responsible. (Um, yes, I suppose I have a role in this too. And that role is….)
Explore solutions. (What am I going to do to fix this problem?)
When your pen moves, you come up with legit ideas and solutions. What do you do with them? That’s next weeks post.
I’d love to hear about the journal you keep – do you find that you write more summarizing your days…or do you write more summarizing your thoughts and feelings about those days? Leave a comment below.
Sara Marchessault is a writer, publisher, teacher, and mom who is on a mission to increase joy on the planet. Through the practice of self-reflection, we become aware of what brings us joy and what does not, and we make choices to move forward or stand still. Journal writing is a powerful reflection tool that can help any of us move forward, even in the darkest of times. For ideas on how you can get the benefits of journal writing without always keeping a traditional journal, check out Sara’s book, Beyond Pen & Paper: 33 Experiments in Journaling.