Half-Assed Journaling

Young woman journaling in the forest

I’ve long been an advocate of journaling and have written about it here several times, but I had a realization related to this last week (actually several, but I’ll stick to this one for today). I’ve had a sense for awhile that I’ve been mostly doing half-assed journaling. I’ll write down what happened during my day, what went well, what didn’t. Sometimes I’ll throw in some notes about something I may have learned that day, but that’s it. Most of the time, something is missing.

I report the facts as I see / remember them, but rarely do I mention the emotions that I experience from those daily experiences, which is where the benefit of journaling really is. I had a meeting with so and so and they’re going to run with one of the ideas I shared. Great, but hey, what was meaningful about that for me? There was some conflict within our family today about issue X. What emotions came up for me and how did I feel afterward?

This may sound unnecessary or even too froufrou for you, but this is actually important stuff. Noting the emotions that I experienced in various situations serves multiple purposes:

  1. Naming the emotions and feelings I’m experiencing and putting them down on paper (or screen or any other format) can help diffuse some of the ones that may be holding on long after a situation and getting in the way of having rational thoughts about what happened. Think of the disputes that friends or family members have that go on for years, even though at some point, the parties involved have forgotten what the fight was about, they just know they’re mad.
  2. Getting in the habit of naming the emotions and feelings you’re having can make you more aware of what you’re feeling when you’re in the middle of a situation. Meditation also helps with this. By recognizing what you’re feeling during the argument, for example, may shape how you respond and could diffuse a the fight instead of escalating it.
  3. Trying to name the emotions and feelings that you’re experiencing is really hard. I heard an old interview with Brene Brown the other day and she said that the average person can only name three emotions that they feel, which shocked me, but then helped me to understand why, while I struggle to figure out what I’m feeling, my therapist thinks that I’m quite self-aware. Journaling about how you felt in various situations can help you to see the often nuanced differences between emotions (angry and frustrated are good examples for me).
  4. Weather you struggle with your mental health or not, journaling can help make you more mindful of what triggers might bring about fear, anxiety, and frustration, or joy, contentment, and exhilaration.

So clearly I know the benefits of this kind of journaling, I just don’t usually do it. My realization was about the why. I thought I was just lazy and wanted to get the facts down and move on, but I don’t think that’s it. I don’t do this kind of journaling because it scares the shit out of me. It brings up fear and anxiety and requires incredible vulnerability.

Acknowledging emotions and feelings can open an enormous can of worms. In the short term it’s easier to gloss over those things, focus on what I see as the facts (which often includes the stories that I’m telling myself about a situation), and not touch what I’m really feeling. Of course, in the long term this is terrible for my mental health and my relationships. If I can’t be aware and honest with myself about what I’m feeling then how can I be honest about these things with those closest to me (spoiler – I can’t)?

Am I just going to start doing some deeper journaling after having this realization? I don’t know. I know that I should, just like I know I should stretch more consistently after I work out (stretching isn’t scary, I just forget or actually am lazy), but that level of vulnerability is something I’m still working on.

Featured image courtesy of Doug Robichaud under a CC-0 license.

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