Saturday, January 12, 2008

Start a Journal

Cleopatra, Marco Polo, and Anne Frank all kept journals as a tool to help them make sense of their lives. "Along the way," says Lois Guarino, author of Writing Your Authentic Self (Dell Publishing, 1999), "each of these people discovered more about who they really were, even though at the time they may not have consciously known this is what they were doing."

"Take Marco Polo. His intention was to chronicle his world travels, yet among the dates and descriptions are personal insights and observations of himself and others. As Marco Polo broadened his horizons, he also broadened his sense of self." [Source: "25 Ways to Reinvent Yourself" originally published in Modern Maturity January - February 2000, transcribed by Greg Olszewski.]

GTO's Thoughts:I've journaled for a majority of my adult life. Since high school.

I don't remember why I started the practice.
(I should read my earliest entries to see if they provide a clue.)

But speaking as someone who's kept journals for over 20 years, here's a few reasons why I think they're important.

(1) We are our memories. If I want to know how I felt about something in 1984, I can find out. If I want to know who I loved in 1991, I can find out. I already know the basic facts, but the journal helps me to round out the picture. It goes a bit deeper than my natural memory does. The journal adds detail to those memories, color. And keep them more fully alive.

(2) I always wanted to be a writer. Something inside of me always felt that if I wrote a journal, taking the next step and writing a book wouldn't be as difficult.

I haven't written that book yet. But I have enough journal entries now that they could fill at least two books. Heck, maybe three. (Point #3 is a book by itself!)

I'm not a prolific journaler. Most times I don't sit for hours and hours, though sometimes I do. If you sat down for just a few minutes each day (or week) to write a little something, I bet you'd have enough words to fill a book too.

(3) Journaling helped me come out of a very dark place in my emotional life by making me aware of trends (some a decade long) that had overwhelmed my life.

For about 10 years after college, I fell into an obsessive/compulsive state that did serious damage to my psyche.

You've heard the stories of teenagers obsessing over a single pimple on their face, and thinking themselves ugly and unattractive? That was me in my mid-20's.

You've heard the stories of men and women, worried whether they will be called back for a second date, obsess over things they could've done differently to "really impress" their date? That was me in my mid-30's.

In my 20's and 30's I was living like a stereotypical teen. But my obsessive/compulsive thoughts weren't only limited to personal attractiveness. They were limited to anything that entered my brain.

I'd alternately obsess about one thing while behaving compulsively toward another, all while being addicted to, of all things, the Internet. Which, back then, was charged on a per-minute basis. It wasn't unusual to see $200, $300 or $400 AOL bills each month. I lost a lot of time and money.

I also lost myself.

Keeping a journal helped me to become aware of how much damage I was causing myself. Not just financially, but also emotionally.

Let's say the woman of your dreams has just moved to California. Despite the distance, your feelings for her do not decrease. You don't date anyone else because you know that you're destined to be with this woman. God has something good in store for the both of you. And you know that, despite how difficult it is now, you're going to be together someday - and you're going to marry her.

You hold onto these thoughts even when she comes back to town for the holidays, but doesn't contact you. You hold onto these thoughts even after she stops returning your calls altogether.

Eventually, you hear from a friend that she's a lesbian.

But you know God will bring her back to you!

I'm stopping there. Hopefully, you see my point.

If you read enough of these entries, you start to see trends in your behavior. And you start to see how things like denial and naivette and pure stubbornness play in your decisions. These are important lessons.

Your journal can provide a wake-up call. A slap in the face. Even if it's a slow-motion slap in the face that takes 5-10 years to make contact.

Better late than never.

Start journaling.

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