My Love/Hate Relationship with Journaling and Writing

James Titchener / @mistertitchener

When I started journaling, I felt like a whiny 13 year-old-girl writing about cute boys in her frilly little diary.

I was a man. A manly man. Men walk it off and shotgun Coors. They don't write in their diary.

Men pick up guns not pens.

But something motivated me to give it a shot. I had just graduated college, and I realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I played my whole life at that point like a game where players get style points for getting by without trying. Hard work was for suckers. Smart people don't need to work hard. Effort is only proof that you're not bright enough.

Something was telling me that this was all a crock of shit. I had put effectively zero time into designing my life and the results showed. I found myself on a dingy without a rudder, and I wanted a yacht.

So I started writing. I figured it would help me clarify my thoughts and goals and maybe relieve stress. I thought I'd like to record some things too so that I don't forget them, and my future kids would want to read about their Pa in the good ol' days. Although maaaaaybe there's a few stories I should burn and avoid scarring my poor little babies.

ANYWAY, journaling changed my life.

Business guy Peter Drucker has said, "you can't manage what you can't measure."

I see journaling as a means of measurement. The first step is documenting where you are now.

And I fucking hated what I found.

Up until that point, I had never reflected upon my life, who I was, and who I wanted to be. For me, reflection is difficult without writing or the help of a therapist or a friend you trust. My thoughts tend to arise and fade before I can really follow them to their depths. Writing helps me dig up the roots. It allows me to ask why a hundred times until I'm face-to-face with something I don't want to see. Like that I'm a little more racist than I thought I was.

When I journal, I effectively brain fart whatever pops up and put it on the page. I used to write as if there was an audience reading (I still do at times), but I tend to be more honest when I assume my writing is going into a dumpster fire before I'm gone.

Once I've got some neurotic nonsense on the page, I start asking why. Why do I feel this way? Why do I continue to make these mistakes? Why did I drink so much Fireball that I projectile vomited on that poor guy's beautiful baby blue suit? (This actually happened.)

Once I start pulling on that thread of why, I often find the core of the issue. And for me, it's pretty clear once you've reached the bottom of the inquiry. There's a sort of aha feeling that hits you. And from there I ask myself, do I have to feel this way? Does it make sense to? Is my fear, insecurity, anger, etc. useful?

I've since refined this method as I've read some on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Stoicism. I also now try not to figure everything out. I think some anxieties and worries are just that. Feelings to be noticed and allowed to pass. There's not a deep trauma to trace back to for every problem in your life. And even if there is, sometimes it just takes some time and persistence to allow for the unresolved feelings to resolve.

Once I've documented some issues I'm dealing with, some feelings I don't like, or some goals that I'd like to pursue, I like to turn back the page and review.

I find it so easy to forget the progress that I've made. Once I set a new baseline for my life, it's like I assume I've been this way the entirety of my existence. I forget that I was once donned the nickname Cumbutt for having gotten so drunk that I fell onto a bottle of ranch on a table and stained the backside of my jeans.

I used to be Cumbutt.

ANYWAY, reviewing my past journal entries acts as a helpful reminder to how far I've come. Whenever I'm feeling frustrated by my supposed lack of progress of late, taking a peek back at what I was like in 2015 brings me back to reality. Or it can reveal patterns of thought or behavior that continue to play out now. Maybe some goals or resolutions that have been forgotten.

On review, things that seemed so goddamn important then are complete afterthoughts now. For me, this helps me realize that most of what I'm worried about now will also fall into this category of forgotten problems.

It's hard to say exactly how much journaling has changed my life. I've made a lot of changes since taking up the habit of journaling (including quitting the sauce), so I can't say for sure that journaling has been the answer to my woes.

But I can say that I'm a better person now than when I started. And I can also say that journaling often makes me feel better in the short-term. It allows me to take some thoughts that have overstayed their welcome and give them a new home that isn't my brain.

I can also say that I have a hard time seeing myself ever stopping. I value this too much. And I surely wouldn't be writing publicly if I didn't take up writing privately.

Writing publicly, even for just the few friends and family members reading this, has been a challenge in it's own right. Where journaling has been a struggle to become honest with myself, blogging has been a challenge to become honest with others.

In some sense, I wonder if part of my goal with blogging should be to blur the line between what I write privately and share publicly. I wrote here last week about my struggles with fame brain, which has lead me to question my motivations for writing (among other things.)

Attention and acclaim aren't going to bring me lasting happiness. And optimizing for those values is going to produce boring and watered-down writing.

So going forward, my measures for good writing will be the following:

Please send me an email at jamestitchener[at]gmail.com if you think I'm missing the mark.

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