As a teenager, I maintained a daily diary. That’s where I probably got the writing habit. Every day, I would write out my thoughts – sometimes about the events of the day, at other times about the direction of my life in general. As I grew older, the daily bit went away, but I still journal every so often in my notebook. It is like speaking silently – a mind talking to another, one which just listens and passes no judgement. Just the act of writing helps me lighten the load and move on. This is especially helpful when things are not going well, or I have made a particularly bad mistake in word or deed. Pouring the words in my diary helps me get it out of my system and move on. I rarely read what I have written again, but it helps freeze the moment in time, and clear my mind of the thoughts that would otherwise embed themselves in. In some ways, in such situations, the diary works as a closure – detaching me from the situation and getting on with life.
Writing the diary is different from my regular writing and note taking. The diary is about the present moment – capturing my thoughts at an instant of time. It also works well when something good has happened and my stoic self limits my outer celebrations and helps me maintain equanimity. I still need to share my extreme happiness and my diary becomes an outlet.
A couple of years ago, I came across a few quotes from Lara Zielin which capture the essence of keeping a diary (or journal, as she calls it): “Journaling is really, really good for us. It’s a tool for self-reflection and there are many studies that show it is good for our physical and mental health…What makes journaling most effective is this idea of welcoming stillness and reflection… You make yourself the hero in a story of your own making and write about the life that you want to have. We’ve all heard the adage, “Change your story, change your life.” Author Your Life is a way to do that where you write about the life you want to have as if it’s already occurring… After we’re done writing, one of the best things we can do is close our notebook and begin to embody the emotions that we just wrote about. It closes the distance between all the things you want to be true and your actual presence. Our minds are so powerful that we can begin to experience that now, whatever it is. It could be a feeling of peace about your job or calm during the pandemic. You just close your eyes and begin to feel those emotions and the power of that story as if it’s happening now.”
Maintaining a diary through the decades has helped me become better at managing life’s extremes. The diary is a friend who is always there to listen to me, to guide me, to share my joys and sadness, to help me think. When I need to make important decisions, it is the writing which helps bring clarity. Talking to myself but in a silent way through my handwriting becomes a way to cut through the clutter and see the present and future like it is. In times of attention recession, the few minutes of diary writing helps concentrate my mind.
My advice: start a diary. It is never too late in life. It is not about reading it in the future to relive your past, but to share your present with a friend – yourself.