I have kept a journal since I was 12 years old, and over the years, I have learned a lot about myself. Journaling isn’t only about self-preservation: it is also an opportunity to look back and see how your old decisions affected your life. It gives you a chance to study how you react to things, how you process information, and how you grow over time.
I’m so grateful I started journaling at a young age—and kept up with it!—because it’s so invaluable to me to read my thoughts when I was younger. We often remember key moments, but we don’t always remember exactly how and what we were thinking while growing up. If you treat your journal like the ultimate thought-processor, you, too, will end up learning quite a lot. And I learned plenty.
I learned that I am hyper-sensitive, and that’s never changing.
I’ve always been a sensitive person. Ever since I was a kid, I was prone to tears, felt everything deeply, and was extremely empathetic. I soaked in everyone else’s pain and tried to solve everyone’s problems. Growing up, I hated this about myself. I was often called “not fun,” “not cool,” and a “crybaby” for being sensitive, which only wounded me more. I wrote about this constantly in my journal and I tried to change this about myself.
Nothing worked. It wasn’t until adulthood that I accepted this part of myself. I didn’t choose to be sensitive. There was nothing I could do about it. No amount of violent movies or tragic books would make me “used” to it. No amount of feigning apathy in public would make me not care about something in private.
Journaling helped me process and understand this about myself. Looking back, it pains me to see how much I struggled with it. I wish I could have come to this inevitable conclusion sooner. A lot of people in my life still view my sensitivity as a negative trait, but I believe I couldn’t be the writer, or the woman, I am today without it.
I learned that finding and keeping friends isn’t easy.
Between the ages of 18 and 25, the topic I wrote about the most in my journal was friendship. I particularly had trouble with male friendships and wrote about this constantly as male classmates and coworkers entered and exited the revolving door of my life. Looking back on my journal, I realize I was naive at times; I didn’t want to acknowledge something that was probably true, so I pretended it didn’t exist.
I wanted real friends more than anything and constantly wrote about new introductions, unwanted confessions, and then the fallout constantly. It’s strange to read these experiences back because I know how they ended, but watching them unfold from the beginning helped me realize all the things I was doing wrong.
I made a lot of changes in my life regarding friendships because of journaling. I was able to pinpoint specific problems and try to avoid them going forward. It has helped me weed out potential issues before they begin and also helped me avoid unwanted drama and even more pain. Although finding and keeping true friends is still something I struggle with, journaling has helped me learn a lot.
I learned that journaling helps me slow down and appreciate the little moments.
Aside from major events in my life, I also like to record the little moments that I would surely forget if I didn’t write them down. When people ask me what they should write about in their journal, I always say there’s something worth documenting each day. No matter how boring you think your day is, I guarantee the little moments will seem like gems five years from now.
In my journals, I’m always recording moments that make me smile: a neighbor who cut roses from his garden and brought them to my family, a stranger who stopped me to compliment my outfit, a moment in class where I received positive feedback from my classmates.
This process can be akin to daily gratitude. It allows you to slow down for a moment and look at the little things that matter, too. A lot of people think they can’t keep a journal if their life isn’t exciting, but trust me: your life doesn’t have to be “exciting” for it to matter.
I learned that journaling doesn’t always have to be about you.
A lot of people get caught up in journaling because they feel pressure to constantly write about themselves, but there are no rules here.
You could write about a friend or an event that is happening in the world. You could be writing as a bystander, a wallflower, a spectator. These things may not be directly about you, but they ultimately affect you. Situations and worldly events reflect how you react and how you feel.
From writing about daily little moments to your deepest feelings, journaling helped me learn more about myself than I realized. It’s a habit I’ve sustained for over 15 years now, and I can’t imagine how I would cope or wrestle with my feelings without it.
Do you keep a journal? Have you kept one for a while? What have you learned about yourself? I’d love to know!
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Megan Portorreal is a professional writer, editor, and creative in the New York City area. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books, writing about her life, and playing video games.