Since I can remember, I have kept a journal. Well, not a journal (I never used to call it that). I wrote a diary. In the early days it was a ‘Dear diary…’ account of my days at school, friendships, boys, first kisses, feelings and how I felt about myself (usually disgusted).
Those diaries came in the form of Christmas gifts, a 5 year diary to reflect back on over the years, with a lock and key. Or a shiny new notebook, some with lines, some without. A ring-binder or not. All shapes and sizes.
I also exchanged many a letter with friends at school, secret notes of tales and teenage gossip. I recruited pen pals from across the globe and wrote to friends who lived closer to home (this was long before email and mobiles, Whatsapp and social media).
Over the last 25 years I have collated a detailed log of my thoughts, feelings, experiences, doodles, travels, relationships and struggles. I have always written things down. I really don’t know why or when this became part of my make-up. Perhaps my parents suggested or encouraged it.
At the tender young age of 12 or 13, a diary was a companion. A secret friend to listen without judgement and, although the content was quite repetitive (‘why doesn’t he fancy me?’, ‘when will I be skinny?!’), it felt a relief to air the th0ughts that consumed my mind.
They have been kept, mainly untouched and added to over the years. The thought often crosses my mind to destroy them - the idea of them being seen is cringe-worthy.
But I never do.
They are a story. My story. And reading back through the messy scribbles, I’m reminded of my naïve innocence and simpler times, and of funny stories and experiences in my youth that shaped my future self. I’m also saddened as I read through the narrative, harsh words and comments of low self-esteem. It was clear I did not like who I was. I’m happy that I have learnt to like myself now.
I now journal to understand, to reflect, and interpret. But I still ‘Dear diary’ too. It is my way to process, to see, to analyse and to capture the events of the day, the week, the year or the years. And what a year to capture.
Writing is a companion. The blank page sits in anticipation without judgement. Waiting to capture and hold the story in a safe place. It is a record or it can be destroyed. It is a story and you never know when you may want to re-read your own story and see the journey unfold.
Recently, ‘journaling’ has become another thing we feel pressure over to do a certain way or get 'right’. But my 12 year old self did not care about these techniques or structures. The benefit was in simply putting pen to paper.
Writing is known to have positive impacts on your mental health. As well as reducing stress and anxiety, it helps you find clarity from jumbled thoughts. Overtime, it can help you process and understand your behaviours, as well as spot themes and patterns to learn and grow from. Writing can boost your mood, enable you to be more rational and improve your general well-being.
Indeed, there are some great techniques to help you get more from your journaling, but you do not need them to start.
You can start any time, anywhere, at any age. It costs nothing. It may help.
Gemma Brown is an associate certified coach with the International Coach Federation, working with people to navigate successfully through transitions - be it career, relationships or life in general. Her belief is that when we confidently bring our whole selves to all areas of life, anything is possible. Transitions exist in both our personal and business life, and so often, the two fiercely overlap. Coaching with Gemma focuses on you as a whole, enabling you to identify your strengths, build confidence and to live a life with increased purpose and direction. Gemma is based in Cambridgeshire and carries out face to face coaching in the area as well as 1-2-1 coaching via Skype and Zoom. For more about Gemma, visit her 'About' page or contact her directly.