What I Learned After Journaling for Over 15 Years

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 highly 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!


  1. As soon as I got the notification that a post of yours went live, I ran over to my laptop so that I could read it and it never disappoints!

    This post (like all of yours) really hit home for me. When I was in the first grade, we had a period of time given for us to journal each day. We were handed these (horrendous) mucky-colored “exercise workbooks” lined with fresh sheets that we got to fill up. Now looking back, I find it interesting that we were never given any prompts or options about what to write. We were only given a notebook, a pen, and one hour. We didn’t have to hand anything in or face the scrutiny of our teacher reading our innermost thoughts. They were all private and now, I’ve come to realize that’s where I really learned the discipline of writing and it’s still a practice I carry with me to this day!

    Like yourself, I’ve kept a journal ever since then, holding on to the habit even when I entered the second grade, third, and so forth. It’s something I’m so grateful for because though my “deepest thoughts” at that time often consisted of new crushes, ranting about my family, or not having anyone to sit with at lunch, what I’ve also noticed in retrospect is how my priorities shifted with age. It allowed for me to reflect on what I wish I cared about and what I should focus on now. There are so many parts of me that were in pain and I didn’t even know it, but now, I’m better able to recognize what thoughts start my spiraling or what habits lead me to feel at peace within myself. It’s like I have full documentation of “what not to do’s” and “how-to’s” for my life listed in an endless stream of notebooks. It’s pretty glorious!

    As you said, it made me appreciate small moments of my life that I didn’t recognize as important at the time. It’s always the little conversations, the small gestures, and tiny fragments of time that we wish could have back. Journaling really helped me recognize those events in my life in the present moment, as they happen. I never knew how important a skill it was to be able to feel gratitude in the moment rather than only in retrospect, but I’ve learned that on my journey of journaling.

    Thank you for sharing this – it made my heart so warm and want to take a dive back into the pile of journals stacked inside my drawer from all these years.

    1. It’s funny, I don’t think I EVER had a journaling exercise in school? I can’t remember a single time we were encouraged to keep a journal. And if we did, it was DEFINITELY not for a whole hour! Hahaha It’s nice to hear that all that repetition ingrained such a wonderful habit in you, though!

      I’m glad you can relate to this, because honestly, no one else in my life keeps a journal as diligently as I do. A lot of my friends did when we were younger (the whole girly lock-and-key trend was alive and well during my childhood), but none of them maintained the discipline throughout high school and definitely not into adulthood. It’s nice to have people I can talk to about journaling as a whole since it does reveal a lot about yourself.

      If you do happen to go back and read over some old journals now, be sure to flag anything that sticks out! I began doing that here, in the photo above, to save for future blog posts or a massive journal collection I’m working on. It’s been fun to read back, but also difficult. A lot has changed, but at the same time, a lot hasn’t. xx

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