We hear a lot these days about the value of keeping a journal.
It's interesting to note that journaling has been around for a very long time. It is nothing new and one of the earliest journal/diarists is thought to be the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121AD - 180AD) who famously said, "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love."
First up, how does journaling differ from keeping a diary? A journal is a written record of your thoughts, feelings and experiences whereas a diary is more event-based, a record of events as they happen, or are going to happen. Diaries are often shared (in business, for example) but a journal is private and indeed keeping your journal safe and secret is integral to the value of keeping one. Such 'secrecy' (let's call it that for now) ensures that you feel comfortable and free to write everything you need to without fear of someone reading it. A key to journaling is honesty and truth, uninhibited by fears that you will be judged or criticised by the reactions of others. It's about self exploration, looking into that vastly intriguing and fascinating realm of 'what makes us tick'.
And therein lies the greatest value: by journaling we learn more about ourselves, how we view the world and engage with it, what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch. We find out how we are with other people, places, objects, how we behave in certain situations and we can identify patterns of behaviour that are typical of us - and by identifying, we can change if we want to. We can see the triggers that 'set us off' whether that be into laughter, grief, anger or joy. Journaling often becomes a part of counseling or mental health work because it encourages us to look inwards in a positive, helpful and constructive way.
With so much introspection going on, it's easy to fall into the trap of self-criticism and being hard on ourselves when journaling. Maybe we perceive that we 'behaved badly' that time, or we 'didn't do our best' on another occasion. Try to acknowledge and understand these feelings rather than criticise or condemn, and exercise self-compassion and kindness. Balance out the negative perceptions with the 'good', even if it's just a small thing, like, in the midst of it all, you brought in the neighbour's rubbish bin because he is elderly and struggles and he smiled and waved 'thank you' to you from the window as you wheeled it up the drive.
It's easy to focus on all that is wrong. Try focussing on all that is right.
Think of what you are grateful and thankful for, even if it's a little thing. When I was having chemotherapy for breast cancer, I wrote about being able to get down the drive to collect the post one day. That was the only thing I had energy for that day and I felt really good about it.
It's not always about the heavy stuff. Creativity features large in our work as writers and our journal can provide us with a reliable and fun outlet for that. It's a place for jotting down observations, inventing stories, coming up with ideas as you allow your thoughts to ramble freely, sketching, drawing, decorating with pink flamingo stickers if you fancy, or photos that you like. There are no rules or expectations. It's a delightful free-for-all where anything goes and can be a great source for story ideas.
I recommend hand writing your journal. We do so much on keyboards these days. Don't lose the ability to actually write with a pen on paper. Take your time. Find a quiet place and space in which to write your journal and find a spot to keep your journal where it will be safe.