The Days Stack Up

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#posts #journaling

Recently, I was speaking to someone about journaling, and I casually mentioned I'd kept a diary consistently for over ten years. As I said it, it seemed wrong, so I checked the next day. Yup. Over ten years.

That seemed crazy to me. My journals cover my whole relationship with my wife, moving to a new city, moving out of the city, various different jobs, my whole history of writing poetry and short stories, the creation of this website, and various adventures, challenges and changes too numerous to list out here.

If I had to point to any habit that has has the most impact on my life, it would be this one. The act of writing down your thoughts is a special kind of alchemy- it transmutes the vague and unknowable to concrete and actionable. It is a form of meditation where you are able to reflect on the events in your life from an outside perspective.

My journal/ diary has taken many forms over the years. For a while, I wrote everything down in the same book, then split this out into various notebooks by type; to-dos, creative work and a more traditional diary to name a few. I used Linda Barry's observation journal method for a while. Now days I follow the bullet journal method, putting all my disparate thoughts and actions in one book, but with a little more structure.

What has been consistent though, is the act of writing down what has happened and reflecting on it. I don't tend to write in it every day but usually every two or three. Any longer and the events become distant.

When procrastinating, I often watch people sharing their own journals on YouTube, to see how other people organise their thoughts on paper. Often these people espouse the importance of journaling for productivity. While this is one benefit, I would argue it's not the main one. The point is to observe how you are feeling, what has happened and the world around you from an outside perspective. It's about sitting with the blank page, slowly filling it with messy handwriting and emptying your head. In a strange way, this allows you to be more present, as it primes you to observe the world, looking for details to write down.

Eventually the blank pages become a month, become a book, become a year, become a decade. The pages and days stack up beside you, become a tower. Eventually you notice patterns in your thinking and your actions. You make changes. You adjust. You re-evaluate. But every time you are brought back to the present moment, staring down the blank page again. Each time you open the journal, you begin again. What have you done? What are you thinking about? What is right in front of you? Breathe. Observe.

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