Keep a Journal

The benefits of recording your plans, thoughts, and actions

December 30, 2022

Many people consider the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius to be among the greatest ever written, but something I just learned that I find incredibly interesting is the fact that Aurelius didn't write this book as a book for other people. What we call Meditations was really just Marcus Aurelius's personal journal and he'd probably be a bit mortified that we are reading it because he wrote it for nobody but himself, he was writing the things that he needed to remember in order to be a more effective person. I'll admit that I haven't read Aurelius's journal, I probably should someday, but I believe that we should follow in his footsteps and write for our own benefit as well.

I'll also admit that this is not a practice that I've been all to good at. There was a short period of my life when I kept up with journaling fairly well but that time has past and I could count on my fingers the number of journal entries I've written in the last four years. I guess you could say my new year's resolution is to change that. Growing up in church I was always told that it was a good idea to keep a journal but I don't remember ever being told why which is probably the reason I never seriously committed to doing it. Now I see that there are powerful benefits directly related to keeping a journal so I've committed to it and you should too.

The first benefit of journaling is for productivity. According to this video, Marcus Aurelius did most of his journaling in the morning. I found this interesting because whenever I've journaled it has always been at night. The more I think about it the more potential benefit I see in writing in your journal the first thing in the morning.

Writing in the morning forces you to think of the things that you plan to accomplish throughout your day. All those motivational speakers that talk about setting goals say that goals are much more powerful once you write them down. I've of course listened to enough of Scott Adams to know that goals are for losers and developing systems is the true path to success, and I can think of no better way to get yourself to get things done than to write down what you plan to do then do it. If you are familiar with Agile software development it is like holding a daily stand up meeting with yourself. I can't give you a personal testimony of a long term benefit to doing this because I only started today but I can say that when I got out of bed today I wrote in my journal that I planned on finishing this article then I got right to work doing just that without wasting any time on any other distractions. It just makes sense that if you start your day thinking of the things you mean to accomplish then you will put forth a better effort to actually accomplish those things.

Then of course at the end of the day you can look back at what you planned to do and report to yourself how things went. It gives you the opportunity to track your successes and evaluate your failures, if you aren't doing these things then you are making it quite hard to improve yourself.

Another benefit of keeping a journal is that it gives you a place to vent your emotions. Anne Frank, whose diary we read to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, said, "paper has more patience than people." There are times in our lives where we need to voice our feelings and frustrations just so we can get them off of our chests and move on. We don't always have people in our life who we feel comfortable doing that with but we always have access to paper. Remember, your journal is for you, nobody else has to read it, you don't even have to read it if you don't want to, but when words need to come out it is best to let them out.

Of the few random times where I wrote something in a journal I think all of them were times when I was simply getting things out that needed to come out. It was therapeutic, I felt better each time. I also remember a time back when I was journaling more regularly when I wrote a rather long poem in my journal about how I felt. I was in a tough place at the time and things weren't going how I wanted them to no matter what I did. When I was done with that poem I read it back to myself and saw how I felt, realized that I didn't want to feel that way, then made the decision to look at things differently and change the way I felt about things. This didn't change my circumstances but it helped me to realize that my circumstances didn't have to define my level of happiness.

The next benefit of journaling is of course the fact that it helps you remember things. Looking back at Meditations by Marcus Aurelius there are many people who criticize the book for being too repetitive but these people forget that the book is not a book it is a journal and Aurelius had principles that were important to him which he needed to constantly remind himself of and it appears that his journal was a way for him to do that. I am not a believer in repeating written prayers because prayer is our opportunity to speak with our Heavenly Father in our own words about our own needs not reciting a nice poem, but there are many people of all sorts of faiths which do this and I can see the benefit of having a daily reminder of the things taught in these prayers. Journaling gives you a similar opportunity to remind yourself of important principles in your life, I'm of course not saying that you should write down the same things every day but do as Aurelius did and write these things down when they come up in your life, explain to yourself why you do the things that you do so that you remember why and don't lose purpose in your life.

And of course a journal also records a history of your life so that you can better remember the things that happened and the things you did. That journal will also be of great value to your posterity as they can use it to learn from your example, either good or bad. It can also be a great value to history, I happen to have an ancestor who was on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and while Meriwether Lewis's writings on their scientific findings may have been of more value at the time the personal account of Patrick Gass is arguably more important to historians today because it gives us a glimpse into what life was like for the explorers. We all of course recently lived through an event that future generations will learn about in their history classes, for many of us the mainstream narrative does not align with our views and experiences, we should be the authors of our own history, not simply characters in that of somebody else, or worse, pawns either used or destroyed in the recorded actions of large organizations.

Now I hope I've convinced you of the benefits of journaling, a part of my purpose in writing this was to convince myself. At first I wanted to wait until I had gotten myself back into the habit of doing it before I wrote this article so that I could report my successes and what not and provide you with the sort of thing that those clickbaity I did x for y amount of days videos would give you. But I realized that convincing myself of the benefits beforehand would make it more likely that I'd actually follow through with my commitment to journaling than treating it as an experiment would.

Anyways I can't tell you how to journal, I'll be doing it in a physical journal with my own terrible handwriting in both the mornings and the evenings so I guess I could recommend trying to do the same, but ultimately you should find the method that works the best for you. There are plenty of people on the internet that will tell you about all the different ways they journal and you can of course look at those but don't overcomplicate something that can be done simply. Although I will recommend using a physical journal because there is something more personal and meaningful about using pen and paper that words simply can't explain, just like the true benefit of journaling can't be fully explained but only experienced. Experience it.