When I mention to people that I have kept a diary for the last twenty-one years I am generally met with the same kind of response, ‘Oh, I started a diary once and then just gave up after about two days’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to keep a diary’. Rarely have I met anyone who has kept a consistent diary entry for more than a couple of weeks or the duration of a holiday. I find this curious since there are so many people who would like to do so.
What is your Why?
Like anything else in life, you’ve got to ask yourself why do you want to do it? If your ‘why’ is not strong enough, if it doesn’t light a fire in your belly, you can be pretty sure you’re not going to follow through. Your ambition becomes nothing more than a nice dream and nice dreams are fleeting and often forgotten.
I wrote in my diary for the first time at the age of twelve. Granted, it was not terribly interesting and mostly consisted of me hanging out with friends or visiting relatives. I think I got my first diary as a gift from my Aunt. It was the blank pages that fascinated me. I flicked through to the end of the year and couldn’t help but wonder what the pages would be filled with, what adventures would I go on and who I would meet! I loved the idea of being able to read back over my experiences and being able to say ‘this time last month I was doing XYZ’. I visualised my life unfolding there on the pages and even indulged in the thought that I could write a book one day based on my diaries. When I look back at my first diary entry of 1997 I see why the publishers weren’t knocking down the door.
First Diary Entry
January 1st 1997 – ‘Happy New Year. Well today I didn’t do much. Just ate really. Overall it was quite a boring day so see you tomorrow.”
Not quite the page-turner I had been hoping for. Nonetheless, I stayed fairly consistent with writing with the exception of a few holidays when I would leave my diary at home. The practice, however, allowed me to develop the habit of writing. When I did miss a few days it bothered me. I hated to see the blank pages and this motivated me to write more consistently. As I got older life, naturally, became slightly more interesting and complicated. Teenage mood swings and my latest crush became regular features.
Many Benefits of Writing
It was around this time that I discovered the real benefits of writing. Having unexplained emotions and getting irritated by the slightest thing was soothed by expelling my thoughts from my mind onto paper. In hindsight the issues were trivial but when you are fifteen they were my whole world. Writing became a way to clear my mind and see things more rationally and it was probably this, more than anything else, that has spurred me on to maintain writing every day. I found it to be quite cathartic. It gave me peace of mind at the end of the day and allowed for a good night’s sleep. It became invaluable when it came to later years and I dealt with bereavement for the first time or heartache. Gaining clarity on various issues has also become a by-product of my writing. If ever I am unsure about a decision I have to make, writing will more often than not, produce the answers that I am seeking.
Pen to Paper
I did try keeping an electronic diary for a while but found that I was less likely to write if I had to plug in and turn on the computer (and back in the day that could take ten minutes before the computer was ready to be used). I also found that literally putting pen to paper was far more powerful than typing, which made me feel disconnected and disassociated from my story. Having twenty-one years of my life to look back on is an incredible achievement and, now that my life has become slightly more interesting than January 1st 1997, I am now pursuing my goal of becoming a published author.
Studies have shown that people who keep diaries or journals produce less cortisol, the stress hormone, and it can even boost the immune system. It’s also a lot cheaper than going to see a therapist! Of course, there’s a time and a place for both but for daily challenges I can highly recommend writing. Even if it is just to record a few things that you are grateful for, I am sure you will begin to feel the benefits of it too.
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