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Five reasons to keep a journal

Do you keep a journal? Or, just wonder if you should? Then read on…

A blog offered as a personal insight into my measured but unbalanced calm. Here are my five reasons to journal.

Writing is my sanctuary. One discovered late in life, but all the more delightful because of that novelty. My hiatus from my blog of late is because I have my head back in my journal, and a less public period of reflection on my part.

Here are a few reasons why I sometimes favour my journal over either social media or my blog:

Reason one:
avoiding oversharing

It is good to talk. I am pretty bad at sharing my emotional range, but even beyond my willingness to do this now, I still like some semblance of Pre-Frontal Cortex control. This really does not need to be a spectator sport. Tears and social media seem a misplaced public display again this week. A CEO can cry. Who knew? Who cares? Both the real, the fake, and those tears in jest all seem to be an overshare, at least to me. When you really need to explore your feelings – and you really should – do it safely.

  • ✅ Best mates
  • ✅ Professionals
  • ✅ Journal
  • Not social media

Maybe talk it through. But if it is to be written, the journal is only ever going to listen, not laugh or mock. Writing it down can however also be its own therapy.

Have you ever written a caustic and undiluted email, and then just deleted it?

I share personal stuff on this blog. And that automatically lands on LinkedIn. But writing it down is often done long before the share. That’s just basic risk management – of both mental welfare and reputation. Have you ever written a caustic and undiluted email and then just deleted it? You should try it. It can feel great to both write it and then not have to deal with the reality of sending it. Same with a journal entry, plus you get to read it later in private and laugh or quietly chastise yourself. You should see some of the stuff I say but that never goes anywhere…

2013 Blackberry – don’t send that drunk reply!!

In the 2010s I would joke that all company Blackberry (remember them) should have a breathalyser test.

Maybe everyone should journal? Imagine if half the nonsense on social media just went into peoples journals and never saw the light of day – how much happier might the discourse that is aired then be.

Reason two:
manage your dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance is that pang of angst you experience when two truths collide – collide because they cannot both be true. There is a wealth of social psychological literature explaining this in detail (cf. Leon Festinger 1947 onwards).

Cognitive Dissonance Theory as summarised in my MSc Psychology notes

Evidence of this dissonance it is everywhere in daily life, and often helps explain cancel culture, them and us disputes, individual agitation, but also an inner sense of unrest between action and incompatible beliefs.

Bringing dissonance toward a positive conscious end

Harnessing dissonance: I actually enjoy the feeling of dissonance – at least when I have some sense of what it is highlighting. It can however sometimes consume me, torments me, or inwardly mock. Two truths that cannot be is a sign I am close to something interesting to uncover. But it can be exhausting just letting it fester within.

Nurturing dissonance: With practice – in my case therapy, extensive reading of psychology, meditative practice, and a permitted openness to hold for longer what just cannot be – this dissonance can be better felt, used, and even reached for. In other words, it can then be extrapolated and the threads captured and written down. Furthermore, with a little Heidegger in mind, I am minded to think it may be encourage to reveal insight (see the end of this block).

Parking dissonance: I sometimes just park the threads upon a page and suddenly my dissonance is less, and I can temporarily walk away. That is not to repress the issue (which is what most of us do), but it is a means of revisiting the conflict of ideas with less felt need for early closure or rejection of its relevance at all.

Inviting challenge when dissonance is missing: Other times I may note my absolute conviction towards something, by the way it has been written, and actively challenge that certainty.

Reason three:
Personal growth

The method not the show

Carl Jung embraced his own theorising and developed a process of “individuation” to which many of his personal books attest. Not that this is new, he borrowed much from philosophical classics, medieval, and modernity before him.

Throughout history the more private inward side of known figures have been elucidated posthumously by their personal note books.

The tortured soul: Carl Jung, Frederick Nietzsche, and Martin Heidegger, are known to us more from such writings in ways that I think each relate to growth through their writings. Each fair rather badly as people in this posthumous light (IMHO). Brilliant minds, tortured souls, and seemingly unsettled accounts at the end. But this also shows their process, and their changing perspectives over time. They each built their work out over time through their reflections.

The stoic goal: Marcus Aurelius’ meditations are quite possibly the best stoic treasure of all time. The whole Roman Empire was his burden, and mostly that was filled with war. His meditations are almost all his journal to himself. Humble he remained, and ever watchful to seek means to grow from his burden – his stewardship burden – and the grace he perpetually rediscovered to do this well.

Personal space

In the close care of my therapist, my journal became something of a free write for about a year. Very Jungian in its approach, very personal, very frightening, or exciting, or revealing at times. By comparison to the great minds like Jung or Nietzsche, my archetypal examination was somewhat comedic. From a Heideggerian perspective I was perhaps more Disney than profoundly Dasein. It became about 200 pages of personal fiction but based upon characters I was developing from within. Lockdown gave me that time. My journal gave me that safe psychological space.

Here are a couple of characters born out of that exploration. I found creative outlets came more easily once this process opened up:

Jack is my inner wit, guide, and mischief-maker, to shake the paradox of self-certainty
Jaqueline guides when I may leap toward shadow

Maybe that is my oversharing for the day. Only my therapist and I are ever likely to read all 200 pages – a singular example of a very open yet covert journey of change. And that is absolutely its rightful and surreal place. This was my intense Jungian phase – a child enabled to express all upon a creative stage – a place I emerged from to move to the next, but which I occasionally return to for fresh insight. One of my examples. For my journal allows for more – without need of such close fiction or psychoanalytic reflection. Only a journal permits that level of personal examination. Or the space to move beyond it without anyone witnessing that personal growth – but perhaps seeing the uplift in that change.

Reason four:
A dumping ground

We all have great ideas. Or at least we think we do. A journal is a great place to park them and later find them or rework them anew. I am currently reading Heidegger – because that’s what I am currently into – and many of the notes I am accumulating now sit in my journal. These aggregations are easily found, and easily contextualised alongside my wider writing accordingly. Before that I was reading Thomas Aquinas and Soren Kierkegaard. Last summer it was Immanuel Kant.

Often times, it is nothing so profound, or hard and/or pretentious. LinkedIn often generates the start. As my journal connects my notes I have much more to hand. Happenstance and odd connection happens occasionally. Soon a few strands may land toward my PhD, but having the notes in my journal makes them all easily found and contextualised.

The pre-journal or mobile notebook

I also use iCloud notes. Any flight of fancy or pithy phrase I hear myself say may prompt a quick note to myself. Most are nonsense (they are of course genius at the time). Some prompt further thinking. A few get completely forgotten but find place anew at a later time. When I am being organised I bring those notes back into my journal. It is interesting (in a very inward and personal way) to find a stray thought – and surprising how much extra recall it then brings back to life. No one else wants or needs to be privy to that. LinkedIn content creators please note…

Reason five:
Expanded practice

Society and technology seems to now be converging around the written word in near real time. If we want to be heard, in reality we are increasingly required to be read. Why would we not want to be at our best in such written exchange?

My journal is often my first draft of something important. My iCloud notes may be that first capture of an additional perspective I need to include or a record of a perspective offered in discourse, social media thread, a book, or as it pops into my head.

After a few months of journaling or otherwise capturing notes, something rather odd happened to me. I found my writing temporarily bound by a rhythm of poetry. Terrible poetry – my wife assures me – but it was something that just emerged. It still does occasionally, and that’s okay. Okay, because it lands in my journal and very rarely leaves.

And finally, can we Heidegger a little deeper?

Timothy Clark (2002) writes of Martin Heidegger’s philosophical stance on the primacy of creative mediums. This refers to Heidegger’s assertion that the very best of literature and of art did not just present itself to us into the open, but that it changes the Open into which it appears (see full quote below).

Clark, T. (2002) Martin Heidegger: Routledge Critical Thinkers essential guides for literary students pp44

This very best of art, Heidegger tells us, is not a mimic of life, or a reflection of the world, or simply the aggregate of material and skills that put all into one place. It is beyond the artist or or those observing it (Clark 2002). Clark advises that Heidegger scorned poets who explained their work. If the art was being revealed before the artist, and not completed by them – who were they to explain it?

The being-at-a-distance that necessitates the revealing that Heidegger observes is one I like. Not that I am suggesting any journal – certainly not mine – can be a self-emergent possibility, autopoietic if you will, but it is certainly a thrill to glimpse upon a personal insight written before it is even inwardly heard, or see an image emerge beyond the initial plan.

Is that the better dissonance?

And perhaps there is no finer dissonance than the one that is participated in, and thereby revealed, before it was even knowingly felt – and beyond being propositionally real. In our modern norms we are rarely permitting ourselves to be more that the logical of propositional thought. This is Heidegger’s criticism of the entire Western Philosophical tradition. Accordingly, might he argue that you cannot later record that participatory process, only be present when it appears. Why not let that possibility into your day? The journal, and the language itself, the mode of disclosure, not the re-presenting of what was on your mind. Maybe your journal will unlock unexpected insight.

Thank you for reading my personal insights all the way to the end. I will now return to my loosened strands and thoughts, in that more private space. I enjoy these busy but outwardly quiet days. Perhaps I have convinced you to try it too. If so, just write that down, and only share it with you.

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