New habits are hard to learn, but older ones are harder to break
There are no two ways about it, daily journaling is hard.
As I write this I’m glaring at my journal across the room. Probably because for the past three days I’ve put off writing in it.
One month ago, when I pitched this article I assumed that I would write in my journal once a day, weaving interesting stories about my life, deep diving into my emotions, and at the end of the month, I would emerge as a more centred individual.
Unfortunately, I forgot how hard it can be to form new habits.
This past year, I finally started daily flossing after years of lying straight to my dentist’s face. In the past, I thought flossing was a scam. Now that my gums no longer bleed each time I do it, I can admit that I was wrong.
The point of that story is that I was fresh off the flossing high when I took on the challenge of daily journaling. I was optimistic that if I could do the mundane task of sticking a piece of string between my teeth every day I could just as easily sit down and write in a notebook. After all, I enjoy writing much more than dental hygiene.
I enjoy writing much more than dental hygiene.
But right from the start, I hit a roadblock when “buy a notebook” stayed on my to-do list for at least a week. I eventually picked one up from the dollar store and managed to write consistently for three days, but I skipped the fourth, wrote a few more then got sick and skipped three again. That’s pretty much how my whole month went. The problem was once I missed one day I would tell myself I would write about the skipped day in my next entry so then I’d want to skip the next entry because I knew I had a lot to write. It was an endless cycle.
When I didn’t write I would get mad at myself for not writing, and call myself lazy. While the journaling added to my negative self-talk, it also made me aware of all the other ways I talk down to myself. I remember writing entries where I’d berate myself for spending too much money, or eating too much, or not doing enough with my day. Sure, these were my inner thoughts so in that sense maybe it’s therapeutic to put them on paper, but on the other hand, it can be unhelpful and I shouldn’t amplify those negative thoughts. Yet, once I became aware of all my negative self-talk I made the effort not to be so hard on myself in my writing.
Near the end of the month, once I stopped the negative self-talk, I enjoyed journaling much more. The best times were when I would go on my back porch on a hot day and write, listening to the sounds of birds around me and the screams of children (The “I’m having fun outside” kind of screams, not the “I’m being murdered” type). That’s probably the only time I would say journaling helped “centre me”.
Despite the few good days, there were still many days where I didn’t put pen to paper. As I write this article, I still haven’t written a new entry over the last few days. Even though this challenge is done, I am hopeful that I will pick up my pen and continue to write.
Journaling didn’t make me a more balanced person (whatever that means), but I realized how in a few years I’ll look back on these entries and smile, thankful to see the world as I did in my 20s
So, no journaling didn’t make me a more balanced person (whatever that means), but I realized how in a few years I’ll look back on these entries and smile, thankful to see the world as I did in my 20s. I had a creative writing teacher who told me that the best writing comes from our own lives. For that very reason, I want to keep writing, so that I have a record of my life and my thoughts that can one day fuel and improve my future writing.
With that in mind I now look at journaling as not necessarily a gift to my present self—but one to my future self.
For now, it’s challenging to break my procrastination habits and control my negative self-talk, and maybe that’s just as beneficial as the hypothetical clear-mindedness I hoped journaling would bring. After all, self-care isn’t always about immediate rewards, it is equally, if not more important to form habits that will help you in the future.
And who knows, maybe one-day journaling–like flossing–will become second nature to me.
Featured image from https://theartofsimple.net/journaling/