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Why You Need To Start A Journal

Updated: Nov 5, 2018

As 2017 came to a close, I found myself utterly confused by what had just happened. Due to events of the year (a car accident, a wedding, new jobs) it felt like 2017 went by in a blur. I found myself thing (and kicking myself for saying this) that I hadn't been fully present. There were literal moments at the end of 2017 where I pondered what the fuck did I even do this year? On paper I had done a lot, but deep down it felt like... not that much. I felt like Lizzie, me, as a human, hadn't really done much in terms of personal growth and evolution. She was perhaps even going backwards developmentally. She was becoming a cave woman. I needed a personal development challenge, and with the physically limitations I was still facing at the beginning of the year, I had the sense that that challenge should be mental.

As a new year started I knew that I needed to do something. I realized that I didn't have much of a ritual anymore, since the beginning of 2017 had taken away my physical ritual of practicing yoga.  I'm not one for huge resolutions, mostly because I know that I won't keep up with them but I will post them alllll over social media and then it will be weird for all of us. Instead, I like trying new things and seeing how long it lasts, the only resolution being that I "try". For whatever reason, this seems to work well for me. For instance, for my goal in 2011 I decided that I would be vegan for a few weeks. That lasted for 7 years. In 2013 (or was it 2014?) I decided to pick up running and ended up running three half marathons in a year. Something about just telling myself to try for some reason is much easier on my millennial-fear-of-commitment soul. Don't worry, it doesn't make sense to me either. 

For some reason, it seemed like a good idea to try this whole mindfulness thing. I was secretly uber embarrassed that, as a yoga teacher, my mindfulness practice was pretty much... not. It wasn't. I didn't have one. I would try breathing sometimes if I was feeling a particularly bad bout of anxiety (or hulk-rage), but the practice was irregular at best. I recently told my friend Karen that working out is my idea of a spiritual experience. Getting sweaty, breathing, lifting some heavy things, that's my mindfulness. But I learned the hard way (BY LITERALLY GETTING SMASHED INTO BY ANOTHER CAR) that relying on physical activities is a delicate balance, particularly when your physical ability is taken away from you. I decided that in 2018 I would take up journaling. I had no idea what that would look like. I felt as if I should be one who journals.

Keeping a journal is something that I've been intending to do for years. I have a collection of fresh Moleskins strewn all over our house. I'm a habitual list-maker, quote-keeper, and worrier, so journaling theoretically should be something that I've been doing for years. I love writing (lol, duh), but I never knew what to write. Sitting down with a journal can seem so daunting. I do well with prompts. I like having an assignment. Just the act of writing terrified me. The old-lady-wise-yogi that lives somewhere in the depths of my brain was like yo girl, if it scares you that means you need to do it. Namaste.

I never really embraced the journal life as a teen. My teenage hormones and anxiety were such that I wasn't even fully comfortable writing something in private so I did a lot of bouncing around between soulful revelations (he looked at me in math today), to pages and pages of Death Cab for Cutie lyrics (I can't make this shit up), to a lot of random shit that I was writing just to write. I remember feeling that, as a teenage female, I should be an avid diary-keeper. I should have deep secrets to confess, but the reality was that I went to cheerleading practice and then came home and I was too scared of getting in trouble that I never did anything truly noteworthy. I would write a novel on a particularly teenage day about something ridiculous like my parents making me take the bus, and then I wouldn't touch it for another 5 months. 

My journal practice of 2018 started very slowly. I started by pulling out my journal every morning, either at home or right when I got to my office, and noting down a few lines each day. I'm slowly becoming an organizational freak (something I LITERALLY NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD SAY I THINK THAT ALIENS ARE TAKING OVER MY BRAIN) so at the beginning it was a lot of lists. Lists of things I was thankful for. Lists of things I was looking forward to that week. Lists of qualities I liked about my body- a particularly hard one. Lists of words that I wanted to identify with that day. Somehow I found the Five Minute Journal and used their prompts for the first few weeks. I was completely overwhelmed by what to write at the beginning, so instead I would challenge myself to fill up a space - 10 lines, 15 lines, half a page. I started writing down affirmations in the grey months (living in Seattle is very glum in the winter) over and over and over. Sometimes my journal entry would just be one affirmation repeated through a whole page. One one particularly exasperating day I just wrote FUCK a bunch of times. I never said I was writing poetry here, people. 

On hard days I would write to myself like I would hope that a cheerleader would talk to me- it's ok, Lizzie! You've got this! You can do anything! You did a great job on your project and nobody noticed when you messed up during your presentation. Deep breaths! It sounds cheesy, but I found that it started to help so much with my anxiety. I think that there's also something about not having a living mom that fed this urge more, the need to have that motherly talk. Those inspiring journal-speeches didn't make my anxiety go away completely, but they did help calm me down in moments when I needed to lock it up and be around people. I found, one day, that I actually looked forward to pulling out my journal. It was like this weird little pal that bummed a ride in my purse all the time but was really there when I needed. God, look at me. This whole journal thing has turned me into a complete sap.

Sometimes my journal habit offloads itself and becomes more scrapbook than journal, which is an odd development that has been unexpected but pleasant. Because I'm working to have fewer things, I've been using my journal instead to hold onto tiny mementos- things like pictures, receipts, tickets, stickers. For whatever reason, keeping these odd strips of paper instead of, say, a snow globe, makes me remember my adventures better than getting some tchotchke at a gas station. We went to Salem (WITCH COUNTRY!) in 2017 and the postcards I collected from that trip hide in the pages of my journals and surprise me- I put them in random pages so that periodically they'll come up and remind me of our trip. It's like when sober you leaves a glass of water for your hungover self the next morning. A pleasant and thoughtful surprise. 

As the practice of journaling has become more regular, I've let go of a lot of my structure. Since I work at home now and have flexible hours, now I pull out my journal when I need a break. Just today, for instance, I didn't start writing until about 3. Sometimes I'll have notes saved on my phone  (I'm a psyhco about organizing even my self care routine, ugh!) and will jot them all down in one place. Sometimes if I really can't think of anything to write I will go on Pinterest for inspiration, because apparently there are a metric shit load of people out in the world who are just as obsessive about journaling as I am. (Seriously. I mean it.) If I'm feeling unmotivated, for instance, I can search for "motivation journal prompts". There are journal prompts for everything. I once stumbled into the depths of Pinterest and came across journal prompts for bigger breasts. I repeat bigger breasts. YOU CAN JOURNAL ABOUT ANYTHING, PEOPLE! ANYTHING!

It's mid-July and I'm already halfway through my second journal. It's a ritual that I genuinely look forward to on the days that I can find the time- I don't journal everyday. Just like I noticed that resolutions were more restrictive for me than saying I would just "try" something, if I tell myself that I'm going to do something every day... it won't happen. In fact, the free spirit in me will rebel against it so hard that I will come up with all sorts of crazy ways to escape it. The longest I've gone (I think) without journaling this year has been about a week, which happened accidentally and when I realized how long it had been I immediately hammered out four pages of quotes, lists, reflections, and gratitude. There might have also been Lisa Frank stickers; an unnecessary purchase but 150% worth it. 

Since taking up the practice of journaling I find that I feel a lot less stressed out. It's almost like journaling has given me more tools to manage my emotions (which I absolutely believe that it has), and when I find myself in a frustrating moment I know that I can just journal the shit out of it later. I hate admitting this, but I have absolutely become the person who will say to my husband I just really need to go journal about this right now. Journaling has also been a great improvement for my relationship with... myself. As a high-acheiving-entreprenurial-always-has-to-be-the-best kinda gal, journaling has given me a space to be kinder to myself. To track my progress through all sorts of things and see how truly quickly I have moved through things that can seem to be moving glacially. I always write down my goals and intentions at the beginning of each month, and then a little recap of what I did/did not accomplish at the end. Tracking these little repots (which, for some reason, I feel like I need more work and give to myself) has been this incredible way to see how far my business has come, how much my relationships have developed, and how many new things I've tried that I never would've considered otherwise.

Journaling has- and I'm going to get Hallmark on you here- made me believe in myself more. It forces me to be present, because there's not much else that you can think about when putting pen to paper. And isn't that the whole purpose of mindfulness? Of just stepping out of your head for a second and into the present, whatever that is? 

Today I came across the following quote on Instagram that I really loved:

Just because you do it doesn't mean you always will. Whether you're dancing dust or breathing light, you'll never be the exact same twice. 

I'm sure that my journal practice will evolve. It may or may not stick around forever, and I'm positive that I will take some major breaks. But I also know that, for myself, this practice in 2018 has been an incredible tool for self-care, keeping my head on straight, and finding a mindfulness practice that I genuinely like. In fact, I think I LOVE IT.

Sending you crisp pages and brand spankin' new pens, 

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