A Reflection on Journaling

As a single mom who’s been actively dating, I was recently posed an interesting question. “What do you do to refill your cup?” It’s a great question, and something that I think most parents struggle with on a regular basis. When the demands start to pile up, how do you press the mental reset button for yourself? My answer was probably not as interesting as they expected: I exercise and I journal.

“You journal?” they asked. “That’s dorky.”

I won’t get into why this response told me everything I needed to know about compatibility. That would be a blog post in itself. I laughed it off, but paused to reflect on my journaling practice and why it’s been a game changer for me.

I’ve attempted to journal a lot over the years. Most of my attempts never stuck. I would write a page or two about my current woes, read the pages over, and throw the journal out in sheer embarrassment. I viewed it through the lens of someone else reading over my writings and judging me, and it felt uncomfortably vulnerable. I also tried more than one type of journaling. I would do traditional journaling, as described above. I also tried daily one line or one paragraph journaling, gratitude journaling, bullet journaling, and so on. Every time, I would be overcome with perfectionism and give up the practice within a week.

A bullet journal key | Photo credit: Chelsea Cross

When I first started the divorce process however, I gave journaling another try. This time, it stuck. I felt overwhelmed with all of the frustrations and sadness I was facing at this stage in life. I had a lot of fears about this major change happening, and venting to friends or going to therapy wasn’t going to cut it. I needed a way to get my thoughts out of my head so that I could work on addressing them.

For the first week or so, I journaled daily, or every other day. This was how I always viewed a journaling practice. It needed to be incredibly consistent. After the initial burst of inspiration though, I started to approach journaling differently. For me, the value in journaling is in being able to get my thoughts out of my head. Like most people, I tend to have a lot of competing thoughts going on at any given time. Sometimes, those thoughts are half formed and not coherent. Sometimes, I’m not ready to address them. Sometimes, journaling feels like another task in a lengthy list of tasks to complete.

Past journals | Photo credit: Chelsea Cross

A little more than two years later, my journal practice now has very little structure. I go through spurts of journaling for several days in a row. Some days, I find myself journaling in the morning and again in the evening because of the way that my day has panned out. Sometimes I go a week or more without writing a single thing. My journal entries also never look the same. While I like to see a page filled with cohesive thoughts, sometimes that’s not exactly what I need. I may bounce around from topic to topic. I may rant on and on about one particular topic. I may draw myself a helpful illustration, or start to write out a thought and give up halfway through. I’ve had entries go on for four or five pages, and I’ve had entries that barely filled half of a page. 

I’ve stopped reviewing my entries the second they’re written as well. I don’t find it particularly helpful to read over and interpret what I’ve written. Instead, I find myself re-reading every six months or so. I was shocked the first time I did that, because I found all kinds of patterns in my life that I wasn’t aware existed. I also saw tangible evidence of my growth over that period of time.

My 2022 journal | Photo credit: Chelsea Cross

In January, I will be starting my third journal. This year, I’ve invested in a notebook that brings me a lot of joy, as opposed to the cheap notebooks I’ve used in the past. While I’m looking forward to being able to write in such a pretty notebook every day, I’m also excited to see how I grow and evolve over the course of 2022, through the documentation in my journal.