I have used journaling to cure my rumination, gain a better grasp of my emotions, process my emotions quicker, express myself more completely to others, and significantly increase my bandwidth for introspection and growth. Overall, journaling is the closest activity I can currently call to be “doing personal growth” or “doing self-reflection”. This essay outlines my process.

I’ve attached a few examples below and I’ve written the rest of this essay chronologically.

Example journal entries

Example 1: emotional journaling

Example 2: emotions during one week

Example 3: personal development

More examples

  • Example 4, mission/career (long): "something something insecurity about ambition/work/career area?"
  • However, I expect that everyone will journal differently. E.g.: Example 5: a friend's reflection one night

How I developed my practice

2020 Fall – 2021 Spring

  • I used journaling to cure my rumination. I noticed that I would often ruminate at day’s end. Eventually I realized that I was ruminating about thoughts because I had to think about them more. I noticed that I would often try to think through a topic in my life, but as I would do so I would run out of working memory and forget my earlier thoughts, and thus I would think in circles. I also noticed that I was inclined to ruminate on what I was worried I might forget.
    • To address this, I co-opted my existing journaling practice to write about what I would otherwise ruminate on.
    • (I was also surprised to see how many of these rumination thoughts were not logically coherent!)
  • I had been journaling for a few years at this point, or at least I thought I had been journaling— I now know that I had been merely logging the events of my day.
  • Context on the topics I journal about: I journal about my growth, social interactions, emotions, and ideas/essay drafting for this website. (I do not currently use journaling for research or ‘personal knowledge management’.)

2021 Summer

  • It was during this period that I realized that I didn’t care about journaling for the purpose of remembering the past, and that I didn’t care about the “how my day went”-type details that had comprised the majority of the mass of my entries so far.
    • Instead, I now believe that journaling is about reflection.
    • From then on I vowed to only write about the thoughts that I already found myself ruminating on.
  • I also drafted a lot of content for my website during this time, and though I published relatively little, I observed that writing seemed to have a cohering effect on my ability to speak. As I had already written about almost every idea I was thinking about, it became easy for me to articulate my ideas succinctly in conversation. And, or the first time, I felt like I knew what my thoughts were. Moreover, I could clearly point to uncertainties that were on the edge of my understanding and ask about these in conversation. I felt like I had rapidly become much more articulate. And I didn’t know I hadn’t had these abilities before now.
  • It was during this period that I found journaling to be a rich way to have conversations with myself.

2021 Fall

  • I noticed that I often ruminated on recent social interactions, so I began to journal in more detail about this in order to help me process my thoughts.

2021 Winter

  • I took analogy from how I was journaling about social interactions and started journaling in chronological format in notes like the following:
    • [[feelings I’m having, log]]
    • [[my personal development]]
    • [[my social skill]]
    • [[my aesthetics and enjoyment of experience and life]]
    • [[my mission and focus, my future, my path, (and my career)]]
    • Here are some of the self-oriented notes I use frequently:

  • Journaling about emotions became a central focus.
    • For the first time I was able to pay attention to how I was feeling, and could so in an organized manner. I don’t think I had a grasp of my emotions until this point in my life.
    • I’ve found that when I write my negative emotions, I often write them so completely that it drains the emotion out of me, and I feel like my mind has a new order. I still have the uncertainties that I wrote about, of course, but it seems to make a difference for me to consciously acknowledge them.
      • My sense now is something like my emotions aren’t hard— but denying them is hard. So I use journaling as a way to acknowledge my emotions and understand myself better.
      • Practically, I have been able to use journaling to process even strong emotions in just a few hours, and I wasn’t able to do this before.
  • Via journaling I can now get to a “mental inbox zero” where all of the activity in my mind feels processed. The emotions I have, the intuitions I feel, and ideas I want to organize?— they’re all finished.
  • Journaling allowed me to significantly develop my ability to know what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling.
    • Additionally, I found a greater ability to express myself to others— I finally felt like I knew myself, at least a little bit.
  • I continued to use journaling to help me keep track of everyone I speak to. In the eight months since starting this and posting this essay, I now have 250 individual notes about individuals I’ve spoken to.
  • During this period I also experimented with sharing my journals with others, but I don’t think I’ll be doing this again. I now write all of my journals as if I’m the only person who is ever going to read them, though sometimes I cautiously share excerpts with friends.
  • I gained the ability to cite examples in my personal development. Because I was journaling so much, I was able to use prior entries as evidence for hypotheses in future entries about how I’m feeling and how I’m growing, see example below. This was significant for me because by default I have an almost nonexistent ability to recall examples for anything.

  • Overall, journaling has allowed me to track many more aspects of myself at once, and has thus increased my bandwidth for reflection
  • I also gained a sense that articulation of my confusions is the main bottleneck in my personal development. I suspect that most personal problems of mine can be solved easily, but I have to notice the problems first.

Technique

My main ‘technique’ for journaling is as follows: I pay attention to where my attention goes and I look for where my mind ‘catches’, or is inclined to ruminate. I look for uncertainties, and then I explicitly declare those uncertainties. Afterwards, I re-read the journal entry until it feels ‘done’ and I have nothing else to add.

Conclusion

I will spend an hour or two journaling on some days, and sometimes more— and I consider this to be a small cost for the clarity I gain. Journaling has been one of the best interventions in recent years for improving my emotional wellbeing, intrapersonal intelligence, and growth. Journaling is the closest activity I can currently call to be “doing personal growth” or “doing self-reflection”.

I will update this essay as I continue to develop my journaling practice.

Warnings if you try journaling yourself

  • There’s a way of reading an essay like this and then concluding “Ok, I will journal now.” But “journaling” isn’t real— I think what’s real are the intentions like caring for, paying attention to, and listening to yourself. Journaling is just one way that I carry this out, and maybe for you this looks completely different.
    • I also expect that one day I will outgrow journaling; I would not be surprised if I later decide that this was a temporary crutch for me. (Maybe at which point my life will begin to feel like journaling?)
  • I am hesitant about using anyone else’s process for journaling. I created my system from scratch and I think that’s in large part why it has been so useful for me. Still, I have created a separate page with the details of how I organize my notes.

I will end with a pretty image of how my journaling notes interconnect:

If this essay influenced your journaling practice, I’d like to hear from you! And maybe I can add one of your examples to this page:)