Why We Need Journaling
“[T]he unexamined life is not worth living…” ~Socrates, as recorded in Plato’s Apology of Socrates
Time slips by when we’re paying the least attention. We get caught in routines of work and/or school, meals, time with friends and family, sleep. Before we know it, another week or month or year has passed and the question arises: Am I wasting my life?
I’m a goal-oriented person. At the beginning of this year, I made a list of thirteen things I wanted to accomplish before 2017 flipped to 2018 to ensure, in fact, my life was not being wasted. Then, I marked up the first month of my planner as a way of breaking the goals down into manageable pieces.
I’ve since realized making lists of goals and checking them off doesn’t necessarily make a meaningful life. Soon, the goal-seeking can become a routine of its own, void of heart and soul.
That’s where journaling comes in.
What I mean by “journaling”
Not what you find in a non-writer’s journal from the early 1900s: Uncompelling lists of facts for each day like, “Sick today,” “Mama had the baby,” and “Last day of school.”
What you find when you open one of my journals: A variety of quickly jotted thoughts, quotes from a book I’m reading, taped-in ticket stubs, and an entry where I’m writing to think through an idea or an event that’s troubling me. (This is not an invitation to open my journal — or anyone else’s.)
For me, journaling is a way to track my thoughts — not all of them, just the ones I find most interesting — and it’s a tool for working through problems. I’m an internal processor, but there’s something about writing things out that helps me see what I actually think about something. If I don’t write out what’s pressing on my mind and it comes up in conversation, I either don’t feel comfortable saying anything or my contributions are full of holes, contradictions, and inconsistencies.
Journaling is also a way to refocus. When I write out my thoughts, I start to notice patterns of what I’m spending my energy on, what’s consuming me, and what is mysteriously missing from my everyday.
When you start writing, you might notice that all of your journaling is self-focused or negative or oversimplified in an attempt to rationalize (or rationalize away).
When you see this stuff on paper, it can be jarring, uncomfortable even. Your journal is both a mirror and a magnifying glass: it shows you what you are and it can magnify your strengths and weaknesses. The next question is: what are you going to do about it?
Which brings us back to the Socrates quote: the unexamined life is not worth living.
An unexamined life is one that we don’t think about. We go day to day and do what we’ve always done without any thought on the greater meaning (or lack of meaning) of it all. Our default is likely self-serving, but if we never stop to examine our life, we don’t have to confront that reality.
Why confront it? Because life is better, it’s richer, when we approach it with intentionality. When we go into our relationships and jobs and the mundane parts of our lives seeking to do something for the betterment of those around us, when we set goals not just to pursue accomplishment but to make some sort of difference in our small corner of the world, when we wake up each morning with a sense of purpose that excites us the way the sunrise excites the birds, our lives are no longer routine-driven because there is meaning and purpose driving everything we do.
That’s another thing: journaling doesn’t just tune us into the inner world of ourself, it tunes us into the world around us and how ripe it is with possibility. And when we start to notice that, we’re one step on our way to contributing to a better reality.