Want to thrive in life? Start a journal.

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Never forget that writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things—childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves—that go on slipping like sand through our fingers. ~ Salman Rushdie

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A journal is a meta activity, a place for self-reflection. The story where you are your own heroine and villain.

As a logophile, I write down in my journals every fascinating tit-bit of information when I hear it from strangers or loved ones, or read works of writers or while laughing out loud to stand-up comedians I adore. Which is why you will find in them an eager assembly of anecdotes that my children spill out in busy evenings.

Journaling for me is a combination style of chronological diary keeping and a commonplace book. A commonplace book by definition contains entries from inspirational writings for learning purposes and is mainly organized under headings or tags rather than chronologically. Interspersed with all my key learnings is also a daily snapshot of my life as it happens.

After all, most days, it’s my 8 and 12-year-old boys who bestow me with knowledge I would not otherwise have the time or curiosity to seek. These are also the times in the day when I insanely capture my thoughts in writing for the fear of forgetting them while ironically not truly living them. 

These pages show me the organic growth of my life, from when I had newly learnt the skill of empathy to when I had started calling myself a follower of the “religion of secular humanism” back in 2009. In May of last year, I had written in it: “I could be a great writer today, if I don’t want to live with my husband, kids and have any friends anymore tomorrow.”

In them, I note down any retorts I should have given to difficult people and their rude words that I had encountered. I want to save them in the rare chance that I will face similar brutality in the future. 

I carry it with me wherever I go to write down every thought that comes to my head. I am capable of writing while sitting on the toilet or while delirious and half-awake in the heat of the sauna. I skim them for any typos and to reread my bizarre dreams from 4am scribbles. 

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Commonplace book.jpg

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Writing a journal has helped me experience a strong sense of well-being every day. It’s given me hope that life can still be phenomenal after devastating events. It shows me the fleeting nature of many life changing moments. It has helped me to make sense of life, “to connect all the dots going backward” in Steve Jobs’ words.

Journal keeping has given me the gift of learned optimism. It is where I had made notes while listening to and reading countless hours of Martin Seligman after a personal tragedy. Here’s how he says we get into victim mode after a crisis. 

  • We PERSONALIZE it, even though we are not necessarily to blame for it. 
  • It’s PERVASIVE in all areas of our life, and we can’t not think of it all the time. 
  • And we feel it’s PERMANENT, although nothing in life really is. 

Through continuous logging, I have learnt the skill of emotional intelligence, which has enabled me to surround myself with some amazing people. That doesn’t mean I am better at judging what people I am engaging with are feeling at any given moment, but it’s a journey. It has changed the way I understand and react to circumstances which are beyond my control. It has made me realize the value of personal integrity, the quality of a person that allows him to be the same inside and outside the house, as something for me to possess if I want to be a role model for my children. 

Journal keeping has helped me see what others might not see. Notes of seemingly mundane days have produced some pretty big insights sometimes, making me see these everyday situations in a new light. I have been able to see patterns, understand differences and draw conclusions to keep making better decisions. 

The structure and organization of my notes, as I try to get better at indexing my thoughts and subsequent actions has helped me also bring in meditation in a big way into my life. As a result I reap the advantages of having all my thoughts aligned and find myself more present and giving in any situation. And because I easily write a few thousand words a day, it’s helped me to hone my writing skills and not forget the fading art of handwriting. 

When I am having a particularly rough day, thoughts of momentous events of the past that I have captured in writing soothe me. It has been my vehicle for self discipline, where I find new areas for improvement. It’s a testimony of my emerging adulthood and will be a showcase for the younger generations if they choose to read it. There are lessons in them that they too can rise after a fall, many falls. They can learn how enormous shifts in mindset are possible especially if the desire to improve and achieve a self-transformational goal are in place. 

I start my mornings with affirmations, and with the hopeful anticipation that the day is going to be productive. Writing before going to bed has made me capture in my heart what went well any given day. And that alone is a source of great happiness. 

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I am embarrassed to tell you that my journals in the rawest form have absolutely no hint of creative writing. To make better use of them, I copy contents of these notes into private online documents. I catalog, add tags and keywords to all the findings of the past week or so (I am usually 7 days behind in converting my paper journals to computer.) so that way “Googling” my way through my indexed content is easy. 

I need these journals mostly because I want to hold in my hands the laughter from all the jokes that my little ones have told me. I want to remember the betrayals of age and my girlfriends and their effects on my life. I want to remember how I have challenged my own preconceived notions to grow as a person. 

Through my journals, I understand how my priorities have shifted, and how my pursuit of relationships has evolved. Pain and shame pierce me when I bear witness to how I had behaved a certain way when I had the advantage of complete privacy. It shocks me that I would have reacted completely differently to words from my sister that have irrevocably broken our relationship. 

My journals are too personal and can’t be published “as is” because I don’t want to hurt people who feature in it. When my family loses me, they will have something that is the voice of my heart. They can choose to do whatever with it, publish it after I die, or better yet, after all the people who have featured in it have passed on. 

Through my journals, I look back at the banality of it all to see that real life is funny. I can see my shifting love affairs with technology and social media. I see how experience doesn’t guarantee that we will become less vulnerable and most days can be painful lessons in coming of age. Words have become my life’s work. They also hold the ultimate truth. 

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3 Comments

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  1. U can see the world around u as a third person…………try!

  2. V V Ramanarao Vijayawada April 7, 2017 — 7:55 pm

    Good luck

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