Journaling Expands Your Life

I‌ was having a conversation with a friend this past weekend. I love talking about ideas; it’s a way to clarify thoughts I have in my head, to test them in the real world, to bounce them back and forth with someone who brings their own ideas and experiences, which elevates my own.

We were talking about journaling and writing. “Why,”‌ I‌ said, “should I‌ even bother with blogging every day, the way I have been for a week?” I told her that I didn’t have a goal with it. It wasn’t for any reason, except perhaps my own pleasure. I find writing fun. I find journaling fun.

She said that writing is a way to expand your life. How when you write about your life, it causes you to think about your life like a story. You crystallize ordinary moments in your memory. Having sharper memories gives you the experience of time moving more slowly. Instead of a week, a month, a year racing by with you saying, “Where did the time go?”, you know where the time went, because you’ve been thinking about it and observing it all along.

You start to notice recurring themes. You start to pay attention to the small things. You notice what’s happening in your daily experience. The beautiful lighting just before sundown, the perfect blue sky, the funny thing your daughter did, the strand of an idea you have. It all starts to mean more.

When it means more, you pay more attention. Life expands.

I don’t journal so that I‌ have an artifact to look back on, though that’s a nice side-effect. I do it for the immediate and long-term benefits of improving my memory and having more richness and depth in my days.

Once you start to see your life like a story, with you as the main character, you start to think about moving in more interesting directions. About making more interesting choices. Taking more risks. Pushing yourself further. Because after all, do you want a boring life story?

I’ve been journaling 40,000 words or more every year since 2015, and it’s one of my favorite habits. Before that, I‌ would handwrite in notebooks, but I‌ find the process too slow now. Some people love writing by hand, but I’d much rather type my journals. I reserve handwriting for lyrics and poetry, which by default require slow thinking.

Some of my earlier years are distinct and memorable. 2004, 2005, 2009. These years stand out to me clearly, with obvious themes that I‌ can recall in great detail. Other years blend together, with nothing of significance standing out.

Since 2015, I can easily identify themes. Some of them are based around life milestones – getting married in 2017 and having a baby in 2018, say – but others are more inward-focused, such as 2016, where my theme for the year was‌ “zest” and I made a point to start wandering outside my comfort zone in work, friendships and hobbies.

Sometimes my journal entries are just a couple of sentences. Sometimes they’re long and sprawling. Sometimes they’re anecdotes, other times detailing plans, goals and dreams. Anything goes. I‌ treasure it all. I want to live my life fully, and journaling is one important piece of that puzzle.