(Re)writing My Histories: 4 Things I’ve Learned from 4 years of Digital Journaling
I often find myself in a personal catch-22: I love talking about everything under the sun, but I rarely have the courage or confidence to talk as much as I’d like to with other people. There’s always the fear of coming across as too much or too shameless. So, at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, a self-made safe haven where I could talk about anything was born when I started digital journaling.
Initially, I didn’t expect that this habit would last because I always thought that I wasn’t consistent enough to journal every day. But now, I can’t go to bed without going on about my day in a space I can truly call my own. Digital journaling has been on my side as I came (and am coming) of age, so it’s an understatement to say that it’s important to me. As I’m less than two months away from my four-year anniversary with journaling, here are the top four things I’ve learned through it all.
1. Little habits turn into bigger lifestyles.
I journal daily—usually at midnight to reflect on the day that just passed. This year, I’ve also been making entries outside of my daily ones to summarize my weeks and months as they ended. Though, that’s the most structure that comes with my journaling. I don’t use prompts, and I’m not one to make gorgeous spreads, either. Don’t get me wrong: I admire those who have picture-perfect entries, and I’ve wanted to have these too, but doing so would’ve been largely unsustainable given how busy (and disorganized) I can get.
This is where my first takeaway comes in: a little truly goes a long way. While romanticizing daily routines works well for others, you don’t need to do that if that’s not what you want. Habits you care about keeping will be effective, and they don’t have to look perfect to serve their purpose! If you hope to prioritize functionality over aesthetics (no harm if you prefer the latter!), take time to know your goals, priorities, and desired outcomes in starting a new habit—journaling or otherwise.
On my end, I hoped to remember better, document my stream of consciousness, and have an outlet to talk about my feelings without burdening others. Thus, I’ve chosen to write in my journal like I’m venting to a good friend: casually (lowercase/slang), emotionally (typed out screams/keyboard smashes), and pretty quickly (less than 10 minutes per entry). This clear-cut process has worked well for me, if the four years of entries mean anything. That’s why my journal has seen me grow, which brings me to my next point.
2. We always grow through what we go through.
One of my favorite things about my digital journal (and why I’ll never journal on paper) is this “memories” feature where I can see my journal entries from weeks, months, and years ago. I’ve been journaling since my sophomore year of high school, so I can see what and how I was doing for the past four years. Depending on the entries, I’d usually sigh in relief (because past worries meant nothing now), cringe (because I was so hung up on things/people that weren’t worth my energy), or reminisce (because I did have some good memories). Oftentimes, I feel comfort when I read past dramatic entries because I’m almost always doing much better than I was at the time of writing.
As cliche as it is, time heals most, if not all wounds. Sometimes, we may feel like we’ve hit rock bottom, but we’ll realize that we’re bound to rise above as we grow. Having a tangible reminder of that through my journal is all the more rewarding. It’s always fun to remember what we’ve been through and see how we’ve grown or changed. While we may not always “grow,” we are always changing, until we only have memories left from our past selves. And speaking of memories…
3. Remembering is powerful, but forgetting is, too.
I journal to remember what happens to and around me. Of course, I’d like to have more good memories than bad ones, so I leave some things out. On particularly awful days, I’d try to not talk about the bad parts in hopes of forgetting what happened. I’d also censor names if I don’t want to remember who frustrated me. This has made me forget about the causes of my emotions, which is contradictory to the reasons I journal in the first place. Social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner explain this phenomenon of motivated forgetting nicely: we actively repress memories that contradict or damage us.
Lately and somehow, though, it’s the harbingers of good feelings—not the reasons for negativity—that I gloss over. I say “my friend” or some variant of “this person” instead of name-dropping, like I’m keeping secrets. As someone who cannot shut up about a lot of stuff, I believe that talking about something makes it worse, and if not worse, more real. And sometimes, not everything needs to be a reality. I don’t want to immortalize feelings I consider fleeting and people I think I’ll end up losing (but maybe that’s just me overthinking). There are some crucial experiences that I’d like to keep under wraps, even from myself—despite knowing how this doesn’t always work because...
4. No one knows us (and our feelings) better than ourselves.
It’s one thing to not feel the need to drop names all the time and another to pretend that a significant experience never happened. And ultimately, it’s burdensome to feel something without being able to talk about it.
Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek says that “the human brain cannot comprehend the negative.” We cannot train our brains to not do something. For example: if I tell you not to think of your crush, you’ll spend the rest of your day fantasizing. Likewise, whenever I tell myself to stop wasting time on Twitter, I scroll for another hour.
With that in mind, I’ve realized that not writing about something in my journal doesn’t always make me forget about it. Sometimes, these omissions only make me think about my repressed memories more. When I see vague allusions to whatever or whomever, I resort to digging into my brain in hopes of remembering despite intending not to.
The age-old adage proves itself right: bottling things up only hurts you. I can spend all the time pretending that I’m not fazed by anything, but I’m only fooling myself as I know how I really feel. The emotions I repress will only eat me up inside, causing me more discomfort that wouldn’t exist had I just chosen to…talk about my feelings in my journal.
We can run, but we can’t hide from vulnerability. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable does not entail us to bear our truest selves to everyone—we merely need to start being honest with ourselves. As my four-year anniversary with digital journaling approaches, I hope to do better at that. Though it’ll be an uphill battle and constant journey, it’s a worthwhile experience to balance honesty and tact—because honesty shouldn’t have to hurt. A lack of honesty and vulnerability in exchange for constant repression may work for the short term, but all roads lead to emotional constipation. And when we’re emotionally constipated, we should get ourselves some emotional laxatives to truly flush our worries down the drain.
Ally De Leon