Christmas, 2005: my Uncle Ken gave me a journal. He told me to write; document your life he would say.
And so I did. I wrote in it every day for the first month, then a few times a week, then a few times a month, then… months went by… almost a year…
I’d write to it like I was writing to a friend; I felt I had to catch my journal up on everything that had happened since my previous entry. So each time I went a few weeks without writing, the thought of writing became that much more daunting. I treated it like a captain’s log, recording every detail, writing all the things I thought I should write.
My uncle was an avid journal-er, to say the very least. Every time we’d speak on the phone he’d ask if I’d kept it up. Sometimes I’d say yes, when I had, and sometimes I’d say no. I’d tell him how it felt daunting and time consuming, how my hand would start hurting and I didn’t always know what to write. He gently reminded me that I could write only a little bit. I could write whatever is on my mind. And I didn’t have to “catch it up” or write the current events chronologically.
Letting go of these pre-requisites made it much easier to pick up my journaling practice again. I continued on with a not-perfectly-consistent habit for a few more years after that conversation, growing stronger and stronger as I traveled, and especially as I began the process of figuring out what I really wanted to do with my life (something that I, apparently, hadn’t really contemplated before). I found that looking back at my old journals came in handy for this exploration, as you can begin to see patterns in your habits and reactions and emotions and passions, ultimately getting to know yourself from an almost-outsider perspective; as if reading a novel in which you are the main character.
"This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?" - Leo TolstoyTweet It!
These days I journal every morning (well, almost every morning), as part of my morning routine. I find that the morning journaling provides a chance to get your thoughts straight for the day, check in with where you are and how you feel, before any interactions from the outside world can begin to cloud your mind. This is something we often forget to do as we rush out of bed and into the shower and out of the house. It doesn’t have to take very long, you can even write one sentence a day if you like, although I bet you’ll find that if you allow those floodgates to open, by simply free-writing and letting go of any “rules” about journaling, you can easily fill a few pages.
I find myself journaling before bed many nights as well; something I like to call the “worry dump.” I’m one of those people who struggles to turn my mind off when my head hits the pillow. I can toss and turn all night thinking about my to-do’s, planning stuff out, or even dwelling on how something went in the past. By dumping this all into my journal before bed, I can set it aside. I know I won’t forget about it; if something requires more thought I can come back to it another time. I can write my to-do's and goals for the next day, letting that weight lift for now so I can get to sleep. It lets me check in at the end of the day, maybe even look for a few silver linings, and go to sleep feeling happy with how things turned out. At the very least, I can put the day behind me, and the next day ahead of me.
Journaling helps me stay in tune with myself – my feelings, fears, desires, etc, and it is especially helpful if/when you’re trying to sort something out in your life. If you’re struggling to get going, or just starting for the first time, try these simple prompts:
In the morning…
- Take a moment to close your eyes and take a deep breath, checking in with yourself and how you feel, before beginning to write.
- Ask yourself “What do I need today?”
- Write literally the first thing that pops into your mind. Is it rest? A workout? Pizza? To accomplish a certain task? There is no right or wrong, and there's nobody checking your grammar, just let it flow out of you.
- Follow that up with “How can I get that for myself today?”
- Use your answers to set your goals and intentions for the day. Write them down.
- Good job, you’re done.
In the evening…
- Again, close your eyes and take a deep breath before writing anything that comes up for you on that day.
- Ask yourself, “What went well for me today?” and “What could have gone better?”
- Use this space to VENT. Write down any worries or to-do's, resolving to tackle them tomorrow.
- Look for silver linings, and write down anything you’re grateful for. Even on the worst days, look for one thing to be grateful for. NOTE: if you’re lying in a comfy bed and your heart is still beating, you can find something :)
Journaling is like a form of meditation to me (which is probably why I journal after meditating every morning). In meditation, we take a chance to notice our thoughts. By journaling, we get them out and begin to explore them a bit further. Try not to overthink it; just let your thoughts flow.
I attribute my love for writing and storytelling to my 11-year journaling practice; and it is for this reason that I am forever grateful to my uncle – to whom I dedicate every story I ever write, and who inspires me to live my best life and always document it, because some things you don’t even know about yourself until you write it down, and others you won’t know until you read it back years later. And should you ever feel unhappy with the story you’re writing, look at all the chapters you have yet to write and realize those pages are blank! Anything can happen, and you’ve got the pen. Get after it.
Megan Cuzzolino is a storyteller, life coach, and yoga instructor in Brooklyn, NY. Her biggest love is freeing others from overwhelm so they can tap into their own desires, but she also finds her bliss cruising through Brooklyn on her bike or enjoying a good book at her local coffee shop. A recovering office-dweller, Megan's mission is to feel good, love life, and keep it simple. You can follow her adventures and read more of her stories here.
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