The Necessity of Journaling
writing about writing
The past week was pretty rough for me: I had a fever on Friday during CPW, followed by a sore throat on Monday, and then a stuffy nose later in the week. While I got extensions for my assignments, I was still very behind on schoolwork, which made my mental state very bad. For the first time, I started worrying about whether I was going to need to use my flex PNR on one of my classes. To make things worse, the week-long sickness meant no running for a week, which made me even more sad, especially when I saw joggers run along the sparkling blue Charles River under the sun. It wasn’t until I got a viral sore throat that I realized I had grown to love running so much over the past year.
While I can go on and on about how sad my week has been, staying in my room forced me to practice critical self-reflection, something that I hadn’t done in a while. My stuffy nose went away and my body felt better on Saturday, but never had I felt so depressed before. I felt like I was going to have a meltdown soon if I didn’t write down my anxiety-inducing thoughts. At that moment, writing felt like the final solution that would calm down my mind and at least put a pause on my accumulating worries. On my messy desk, I noticed that I hadn’t touched my red pocket-sized Moleskine for quite a few days. The last entry I made was on Patriot’s Day. I hadn’t written an entry in five days. It was time for me to jot down what happened and process my emotions.
Although my journal entry was disjointed as it jumped from reflections about recent academic challenges to words of encouragement, it was relieving to finally have all of these thoughts recorded somewhere. The things I wrote down may not be a panacea, but at least it made me feel better that I was taking some sort of action to resolve the issues in my life instead of mentally running away and ignoring them.
After filling up more than 15 pages in a single day, I wondered why I didn’t do more of this as a daily habit. I don’t mean journaling profusely, but rather practicing self-reflection on a more frequent basis to check in on myself. Was it that much work to sit down and focus on writing for 15 to 30 minutes during my downtime? While I do write in my diary at least once a week, I noticed that most of my entries were about interesting things that happened that day or over the past few days. There’s nothing wrong about recording events in my life — I can’t bear the idea of forgetting my past — but something feels incomplete if there is no element of self-reflection.
In the past, when I've practiced self-reflection, it has been through writing articles for The Tech or occasionally blogging on my website. I am glad that I do this, though part of me believes that writing lengthy articles twice a month isn’t enough because they can’t address everything that needs to be addressed in my life. Small problems get brushed to the side and then build up over time, random ideas get forgotten, and things don’t get documented. In hindsight, the magnitude of my problems like struggling in a class or feeling low self-esteem wouldn’t feel that big and overwhelming had I written about the problem right when I noticed it, instead of leaving it to the end.
The simple solution to the problem of storing all these thoughts in my head is to let them out by jotting them down in a journal.
The problem, however, is that there are times when I don’t want to journal. The task is much easier than, say, completing a problem set, but a barrier still exists. This barrier comes from not wanting to come to grips with my shortcomings. For instance, I have been pretty unproductive in my dorm room for the past few months by entering internet rabbit holes or getting distracted in other ways. Yet I haven’t journaled about this problem. I haven’t journaled about it because while I claim that I believe in journaling frequently, I am tired of writing about this issue over and over again, ever since high school. It’s as if I haven’t quite learned from my recurring mistakes of unproductivity. To make things worse, I feel shame and embarrassment because I was more on top of things before coming to college, causing me to be stuck in some perpetual rut. I still have trouble wrapping my head around that thought.
Instead of constantly feeling disappointed in myself, maybe I should be more forgiving and stop taking my weaknesses as some indication that I am fundamentally a bad person. At the end of the day, I would rather briefly pause my life journaling instead of letting life’s fast-paced nature continue, because ignoring the problem doesn’t solve it; it makes it worse.
Another barrier I need to overcome is becoming more comfortable with vulnerability, as journaling forces me to look at myself in the mirror. Writing down my thoughts is one option, but so is sharing my thoughts with people around me. There are so many caring people on my floor, yet sometimes I keep issues to myself because I don’t want to become an burden to others, even though I am sure that isn’t how they think. I know the statement I just made sounds ironic, given that I have written about very personal topics in The Tech, from being cynical about love to struggling with self-love. These are issues that afflict most, if not everyone here, which is probably why I didn’t mind sharing them here.
But there are some things that I am scared will evoke judgment, like how I wanted to ask for help on the 6.009 lab, but didn’t because I was so behind while others around me were on track to finish the lab. Not asking saved face, but ultimately made me feel a lot more stressed about the class. The reasons I can’t be vulnerable with some important individuals in my life such as my parents stem back to the problem of not wanting to perceive myself as being weak. But being vulnerable is the opposite of being weak. In the long run, vulnerability is going to help me thrive in challenging places like college. Journaling is not the same as asking for help, but it is a crucial first step for me.
To make this habit come to fruition, I plan to bring my notebook with me more often by putting it in my backpack. There are so many random times in the day that can be filled up with journaling instead of finding ways to distract myself, like constantly checking my email or Slack messages. The instinct to take out a journal and write when I am waiting or taking a short break may not be natural at first, but it definitely can become effortless in the end. Not only will I gain more insight and clarity, but my writing for The Tech may also improve by writing down random ideas that could become well-developed future articles.
There are so many things that I haven’t done in college, but one thing I know I will regret the most is not writing enough, whether it's articles for The Tech or journal entries in my Moleskine notebook. Because after I leave this place, so much of college life will become a haze.