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Observations on 6 Years of Journaling (herman.bearblog.dev)
136 points by memorable 1 day ago | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

Journaling for me is an essential tool for emotional regulation and self-knowledge. This wasn't always the case because I learned in school to write for someone else. If I'm not writing for someone else then who am I writing for? I'm writing for my future self, but who is that? My future self is determined by the thoughts and experiences I am having now, so if I can understand through writing where I am now in the world then I can make better decisions about where I am going. In effect, writing is a way of programming myself. If I am to be captain of my own ship then I need to keep a log to better learn from past experiences. I've found writing is the best way to collaborate with other parts of myself as Huxley says

If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.

- Lao Tzu

It doesn't need to be imagined, it needs to be written down

- Philip Glass

I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do and as they have to do

- Gertrude Stein

My fate cannot be mastered; it can only be collaborated with and thereby, to some extent, directed. Nor am I the captain of my soul; I am only it's noisiest passenger

- Aldous Huxley

Good composition is like a suspension bridge; each line adds strength and takes none away... Making lines run into each other is not composition. There must be motive for the connection. Get the art of controlling the observer – that is composition

- Robert Henri

Memory is the major element in cognition, in everything that we call the humanities. If you cannot remember, then you can't think and you can't imagine, and you can't write, and you can hardly read

- Harold Bloom

The characters in my novel are my own possibilities that were not realized

- Milan Kundera

>If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place. > - Lao Tzu

FYI, I hate to be that guy, but I don't believe that's a Laozi quote. It doesn't really sound like anything in the Dao De Jing, and google seems to link it to a English translation of a supposed oral tradition of the Huahujing, that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the actual pieces of the Huahujing we've found.

To question the premise of the quote as well, an approach that I've found to be helpful to address procrastination/negative moods is to start with action if I can, rather than trying to motivate myself or change my thoughts.

Psychiatrist David Burns summarized this [1]: "Most procrastinators think that motivation comes first, followed by productive action, but this is an illusion, because you’ll probably NEVER feel motivated to do some awful task you’ve been putting off. If you’re waiting for motivation, you’ll be waiting forever! [...] highly productive people know that ACTION comes first, followed by motivation. In other words, you have to get started on some task before you’ll feel motivated."

A more liberal and charitable interpretation of the quote could be to classify starting with action as a way to correct the mind, though I figured it could be helpful to provide a less thoughts-centred approach to living a better life.

[1] https://feelinggood.com/2018/02/12/075-the-second-simple-way...

An interesting corollary is that passion does not precede action. Action (and seeing positive results) leads to passion.

This aligns with prof. pychyl's "motivation follows action" and "just get started" https://www.procrastination.ca/

I used to verify all my quotes but it's really not clear in many cases because there's a lot of misattribution. I resign myself to thinking it's the thought that counts. Otherwise I'd be all day fact checking.

I can't find it on quote investigator so someone probably made it up. I have experience that it is true and that's what counts for me


I think the historically correct quote is:

"Free your mind and your ass will follow"

The emotional regulation part looks promising to me. How does that kind of journaling look like to help with that?

In the qorst situations of my life.when I felt alone, devastated, forgotten, hurt I always started to write a letter to someone, either my partner, the person who hurt me, a good friend, whatever. Where I nwed ro explain the whole mess I am in, why I feel the way I feel, what got me to that point how I imagine it will go from here, what I actually want — this kind of stuff.

I never sent one of those letters. The writing alone made me feel so much better or gave me a resolve to act that the letter would have been outdated by the point I sent it.

President Truman did this, as well. Apparently, some of them were absolutely scathing and full of language that he never would utter in public.

Many different ways to go about it. I preferred the short-form, almost structured tweeting to myself (how do I feel and what's happening) that I built in an app called iFeelio[0] (now defunct).

However, some prefer longform, written or typed, different apps and such.

What I found helped me was trying to focus more on how I was feeling and less on what was happening, as I think it's easy for me to rationalize and become more and more distant from how I'm feeling. Darn, now I want to revamp the app.

[0]: www.ifeelio.com

not op but, I consider the journaling I do to be complementary to the mediation i do. mediation trains the regulation and journaling gives the vocabulary and memory for the present experience

I've taken a course in Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) so part of my writing is to practice it

How do you deal with the privacy implications of noting your deepest thoughts, insecurities, actions, desires, etc. in a presumably single place?

I had that concern when I first started journalling, and invented a secret script (neography). I stuck to it a week or two before I realised nobody really even cares about most of the stuff I write about, so why make the effort. Mind you, I'm young and don't live with a partner, so I don't have to worry about them finding my journal.

A partner who is an ethical person typically would respect boundaries, and avoid snooping (e.g. reading journals and going through unattended laptops/phones). However, as a failsafe (e.g. the person has a lapse in judgement, they're drunk, or is typically great to be with but struggles with snooping), just don't commit anything offensive or relationship-ending to long-term storage.

For example, if you're having doubts about a relationship or feel concern about a sensitive subject to the other person, you can write your thoughts to work it out on a separate piece of paper to securely dispose of after, or (similar to a suggestion elsewhere in the comments) a text file that isn't saved or gets deleted after.

Some may argue for great openness about thoughts in a relationship, but I think it's often useful to work things out on your own to clarify your thoughts and position, before a crucial discussion.

Does writing on paper work better than typing into a text file?

I like writing on paper much more than typing after years of being mostly paperless, though experiences may vary depending on personal preferences.

The main benefits include the flexibility to easily draw and write formulae if thinking about a technical topic, the ability to recall what you write easier than what you type, and enjoyment of the feeling of writing on paper. The feeling is actually really nice, and I believe it even inspired essays by Japanese authors about the feeling. The Guardian interviewed some researchers about the differences at: https://theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/16/cognitive-benefi...

The main drawback is the ability to search, though I personally rarely look back at past entries (the main benefit is during the act of writing). When brainstorming about something work-related, though, I do scan the related pages with my phone. Digital handwriting (e.g. Surface or iPad) with an app that does hand recognition is an alternative, though the feeling of writing with a good pen on quality paper is much nicer than a stylus on the display (even with screen protectors that simulate paper).

If you’d like to try, you can get an excellent setup for less than $50. You can get a nice pen (Pentel Energel, Zebra Sarasa, or Uniball Signo) and notebook (Rhodia, Midori, or Leuchtturm1917) and try it out for a few weeks. r/pens and r/notebooks talk about the differences, and also suggest other alternatives for writing tools.

In my journaling I realized the process of writing was valuable, but I rarely referred back to anything. So for personal / stream of consciousness things I either write on paper and put it in the shred pile, or to something like an ephemeral vim buffer.

For when I'm feeling very self conscious I have a script that turns off echoing to the terminal and streams everything I write to the clipboard (in case I decide I want to review/save after all)

Same. I've never read back any of my entries. I don't see the value in it

Keep it offline or realize that probably nobody cares about reading your journal anyways

Put it in a unmarked box with a basic lock, assuming nobody has the trifecta of knowledge, skills and motive to uncover.

To double down on obscuring the knowledge that the journal exists, if a person hasn't yet started a journal, a very good habit is just not to tell anyone you have one.

If anyone occasionally happens to see you writing in a journal and asks about it (though preferably it's best to save writing for private moments), you can just describe it as note-taking or brainstorming. If one considers these lies by omission, a more direct way would be a description of "personal notes." Then, the notes sound far less interesting for most people to look into.

I've written my own program that loads and saves my files with encrypted zip files. C# and .Net make this a breeze to implement. I use a long password so even if someone gets the file it will be hard to crack. I don't encrypt that many files, but sometimes I need the option.

Often you reveal more to your friends and coworkers when you don't journal it out.

It's not perfect but encryption should keep most people honest assuming you practice good opsec.

Thank you for those! They are fantastic!

Thanks. Part of my journaling is collecting quotes I come across if they are particularly thought provoking or mysterious. I forgot one of the best. I know it's the best because Eastern and Western thought both start here:

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom

- Aristotle

One of the benefits of keeping a diary, particularly if you are or aspire to be a good writer, is that the daily practice will inevitably lead to the recording of tedium. If you push through the reflex to stop at this point because it only seems like you are wasting time on a record of no significance, you will begin to see how the structure of a sentence, and its minute variations, can tease out the structure and variety of tedium. Writing from that point on becomes a game of presenting elegant contrasts. Committing one’s self to a record of how one feels, I would argue, is frequently onerous and forced. It does not seem dependable as an exercise. I simply play the game and wait to see if my true feelings are revealed to me.

Also, the tedium of one phase of life is the delightful memories in the next. For example I ate the exact same breakfast for years in my 20s, but now I couldn’t recreate it because it didn’t seem worth capturing.

I used to journal because I was also told that's what you should do — that it helps with anxiety/depression. It was the nagging, recurring daily task in my daily checklist that I begrudgingly rushed through, filling that 1 page (oftentimes procrastinating the very thing that was supposed to help my chronic procrastination).

At a certain point, my mental mode switched. I started to actually enjoy journaling, and look forward to that time each morning. I often find myself journaling 3-4 pages, even having to stop myself "OK, time to actually do some work now."

Like others have said, I stopped journaling about specific events or circumstances, and started exploring my emotions. I got deeply curious about my feelings, and would capture my stream of thoughts. I thought of my "writer" self as the interviewer, and my "emotions" self as the subject. As silly and redundant as it felt initially, I used a "5 whys" approach to explore, writing down the questions and my internal responses.

This verbose written exploration was key for me. It's easy to "short circuit" a thought path and conclude it mentally e.g. "Yesterday, I was angry. Someone did X. I did Y. I guess I probably should have reacted instead with Z. OK next time I'll do Z."

Now I will actually write out the questions and answers as diligently as a court reporter, e.g. "Yesterday, I was angry. Why was I angry? Someone did X. Why did that make you angry? Because it sounds like they think they know more than me about Y. Why does it invoke that emotion if someone thinks they know more than you? Because I don't want others to think I don't know Y. Why don't you want others to think you don't know Y? I guess... I put a lot of my self worth into knowing Y, and I want others to see that..." and suddenly the words become powerful and lead to realizations that dissolve certain "mental loops" that I would get stuck in.

Seeing this post reminded me I did take a stab at the daily journaling last year, using this tool https://github.com/jrnl-org/jrnl

At some point I stopped which was a shame, but what's funny is all the journal entries are still there and I've just been reading them - lots of wonderful memories and snapshots of stuff going on in my mind at the time.

Just need the motivation to pick it up again!

the key is to write how you feel not document what happened

as someone who has journaled on and off for 20 years seeing my emotions evolve has been quite valuable

also start today. start right fucking now. it’s never too late.

Could you elaborate why it's important and how a typical emotional journal entry would look like?

There is also a systematic way to do emotional journal entries, from the cognitive-behavioral approach to clinical psychology (however this is more structured, versus freely writing thoughts down).

The technique is write down a specific upsetting events, describe the emotions you feel in response with percentages, point out any distortions in thinking (especially unhealthy thoughts) that may be exacerbating your mood, writing a healthier reframe, and writing your mood in percentages either. A simplified eversion would be to write down a specific upsetting event, identify any negative framing of the situation with writing, and reframing it in a healthier way (skipping the percentages).

The source material is in a PDF (low image quality): https://thrive.kaiserpermanente.org/care-near-you/northern-c... and a cleaner table for the approach can be found in this PDF as well: http://content.randomhouse.com/assets/9780767923897/pdfs/Dai...

When you are in a deep emotional state (like depressed or feeling guilty), emotional journal really helps. One time I feel really bad to myself for not checking the homework, then I opened my text editor and start ranting in it. It was one of the most relieving experience I have ever feel in a long time.

I have been journaling since 24 years now, on and off.

What I have figured out is recording your voice and expressing yourself clearly , with emotions attached to your voixe, is lot more powerful.

Is anyone here with ADHD able to maintain a journal? My journal has little weeklong attempts every 6-10 months. Any secrets?

I’ve been journaling for 6 years and I was diagnosed a year ago (which I reflect on sometimes). I used to have multi-month gaps but am more consistent now despite having more responsibilities.

My secrets:

Set a time and place beforehand. Somewhere you know it’ll be quiet and you’LL have time and focus. Consistency is key also. For me, I do when I poop or when I commute. (Unsuccessful: with other people around, at night when tired, during workout)

Also I have a physical notebook that I bring with me most places. I prefer this over a phone. Separation of concerns. Jotting down quick thoughts to journal about later helps with externalization (a useful keyword I learned when reading about our condition). And I can’t mysteriously start browsing the Internet from pulling out my notebook.

Also, experiment. Find out what works for you or things you want to try. Habit tracker. Phone reminders. Recently I tried coupling journaling after meditation, another habit I’m picking up (my mind was blank but I still want to try that again)

I've not been diagnosed, but I think my problem with 'journalling' is that it is far too rigid and structural.

When I put pen to paper in the morning, I am letting my absolute freak flag fly and engage in something that is much more akin to automatic writing.

While journalling no doubt seems to work well for others, I get so much more out of unleashing a torrent of blab or blah and seeing what meaningful stuff pops up. It is just a guaranteed way for the fog to lift from my brain, as I quickly get to the heart of what's bothering me.

The only thing is posterity. Once I'm done, that paper is pretty much burnt after reading - as nobody needs to see that shit. That means it's a little more difficult to track internal progression or regression.

Meditation and qigong were great with slowing things right down as well - but not as immersive and long-lasting as brain purging.

This advice may not be helpful as I'm not a person with ADHD (though I've struggled with deep procrastination), but journalling (and most other regular tasks) can become more difficult if you see it as a task that you "must" do for self-betterment.

I would focus on motivation to start (it can relieve the emotional pain from having negative thoughts cloud your mind all the time), commit to imperfection (just half a page is fine), and reduce small friction in the way (e.g. keep an open notebook in an easy-to-access place with a pen readily available).

Also consider making the act of writing a pleasurable experience. This can be done with a nice pen, doesn't need to be fountain, and high-quality paper. You can also be honest with yourself about whether it's helpful in your experience; you can feel free to stop if it becomes something you dread, versus something you enjoy and look forward to (or at least feel neutral about in tougher times).

Yes, I stopped caring how much I wrote, how it was structured, if it was consistent, etc.

My problem was that I wanted a good journal. I needed to do it properly. It became a disappointing chore.

I write around 3 times per week now, which I’d like to improve still but is a lot better than 3 times per month or much worse.

A few notes, not much detail, beats the hell out of nothing. Opening my journal feels so much better than it used to — like I do have the time, I’m not too preoccupied, and I’m not pressured to do it any certain way.

You might be different, but if I feel I need to accomplish a specific goal or be able to ascertain some measure of success in what I’m doing, it becomes infinitely harder to initiate because I’m a perfectionist to a fault. By relieving expectations of myself I can actually let myself get things done.

I'm something of a chat-addict and use my group conversations with other people to collect my thoughts. The majority of them are annoyed that I do this, and either can't or don't want to follow my trail of thoughts. I should probably change this habit to just use a word processor, except that this partitioning leads to a lack of spontaneity that feels unnatural, and the effort to do it feels unrealistic in light of what else I am trying to accomplish.

I caught myself doing just that and I do something that works for me - I text myself, tens, sometimes hundreds of times a day.

i started writing a travel diary when i got my first portable notebook 20 years ago. (a sony picturebook, small enough to carry around everywhere easily)

initially i only intended to write when i was away from home, but as my life turned into moving to other countries to live and work there, i realized that i should be writing every day.

the main purpose for me is to write down interesting experiences and memories and less about feelings. the same way i take photos. because there is something i want to remember. that means on most days the entries are short, but when something exceptional happens, then i take it down in as much detail as i can.

> Whether it be meditation or prayer, the act of articulating your thoughts to your deity is a great way to come to divine realisations. In essence, it's rubber-ducking with God.

GOOD point

"[Prayer is] rubber-ducking with God."

I love this so much.

I communicate (read, write, speak, think) in two different languages, and often find it hard to pick a language for journaling. Sometimes I start with one and randomly switch to the other language. Does anyone else have this experience?

I see it as a strength, some thoughts come easier in one language rather than the other so I pick the path of least resistance. It keeps me in the flow.

It might also happen when writing to other people, in which case I will come back to the text and self-translate it once I have put all of my thoughts into words.

Since I’ve lived my teen and my adult life in an English speaking country, I find that I tend to think and write in English for concepts that I’ve learned in those times like engineering. Whereas I tend to think and write in Korean for more “primitive” things such as feelings, family and drawing.

  Thursday, June 23
  1326, Hacker News
I journal as well, and have for the past 15 years with varying frequency. I used for force long form entries and coherent prose. Now, I do somewhat what the author does: I just start writing. Timestamp, location, and what I'm doing currently. Then whatever pops to top of mind, then bullet point my past week/month/whatever. It may then turn into a to-do list for work or home. It may be dreams of things I want to do in the next month or two. Writing it all down takes it out of my head for just long enough to let the anxiety go.

It's a great way to remember things, a great way to "rubber-duck" and realize what's important to you. And very occasionally, I look back on them years later and remember things I'd completely forgotten about!


I do a similar thing, just listing off the date and time and just kinda writing whatever comes to mind.

If I may ask what does the 1326 come from? It's like a year but I cant recognize the system.

24 hour clock, perhaps?

Oh that actually makes a lot of sense, I guess I just couldn't understand that out of context.

This is why times should have a separator between the hour and minute.

Before I blockquoted it, it really looked like a date.

Yes, it's 24 hour time.

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