My Broken Engagement Taught Me to Journal. I learned these six things along the way.

I discovered journaling at one of the lowest points in my life.

I didn’t start because I thought it would make things better. I started because it was my only option. About three years ago, my then-fiancé chose to end our relationship. Her decision was abrupt, jarring, and immensely painful.

I was fortunate enough to have a great group of friends that rallied around me. They offered tremendous support, let me talk through it with them, and allowed me to ask the hard questions. Yet, when push comes to shove, you can only ask people to be a sounding board for so long. The story eventually gets old and the empathy eventually ends — usually much sooner than you’ve dealt with everything.

That’s when I started journaling.

I was sitting in my car, motionless, another long car ride completed. The engine was quiet but my mind was still firing at 6000 RPM. There was so much I wanted to say and no idea what do with it. Then, almost subconsciously, I began to journal.

I pulled up the notes app on my phone and simply emptied myself. Words, sentences, paragraphs, obscenities, and questions exploded onto the page. The previously blank, cheery, little virtual notepad was under heavy assault, vandalized by my thoughts and emotions.

Minutes went by before I struck the last period with finality. Everything that had been swirling around in my head was now fastened to the page. I exhaled a breath that I’d been holding for far too long and for the first time in a long time, I found some release and relief. What I didn’t expect to find was progress and growth, but there it was staring back at me.

What do I mean by progress?

I don’t mean that my problems were solved, far from it. I don’t mean that things suddenly made sense, far from it. But I did feel like I had finally taken the first step of a new journey. I wasn’t leaving the comfort of some cozy, little abode. I was abandoning a fragile shelter that had finally gone up in flames. I felt like I had made progress in understanding where I was, but more importantly, understanding where I wanted to be.

Yes, I discovered journaling at one of the lowest points in my life, but there’s beauty in that statement. It indicates that a change of direction happened. My first journal entry was an inflection point.

Just a few entries later, I began to do more than ask questions — I started working through the answers. I felt a sense of confidence in the direction I was going. I felt aware. I started to experience healing and growth.

Journaling is much more than therapy

Journaling certainly played a role in my recovery, but I didn’t abandon it when things got better. I used journaling as an avenue to take the next steps and start something new. And when the new things started happening, journaling was there to help me work through those things as well.

Journaling isn’t just something to use during the hard times. It can serve as a catalyst to change your entire life. It’s an amazing tool to help you work through, not just the lowest valleys, but also your grandest achievements.

At some point, journaling becomes less about your current circumstances, and more about where you’re going. It’s in that transition that major life-change happens. Your daily writing will provide a way to track your progress, contemplate your options, and make decisions. You’ll see things start to move. You’ll have a narrative of what’s happening. You’ll be on your way.

The catch is, you’ve got to start. You’ve got to take the first step. My recommendation is that you don’t wait for a low point. Start wherever you’re at, right now.

How to start:

Proponents of journaling will say that it’s as plain as putting pen to paper, but I realize it may not be that easy. The task of documenting your life can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to start. If you’ve never journaled before, or haven’t in a long time, then here are a few things to consider as you get started.

1. Journaling is Messy

Too often, we sit down to write and think it needs to be the next great American novel. Guess what? It doesn’t need to be that, and it won’t be that. Your journal doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, if you’re erring on the side of perfection, you’re doing it wrong.

Journaling isn’t about crafting a pristine illustration for others to enjoy, it’s about exposing the broken shards of your life and softening them. It’s about doubt and confidence, pain and joy, life and love. These things are messy. Be honest, be blatant, be argumentative, and wrestle through them.

2. Journaling is for Yourself

You can be honest because you’re the only person that’s going to read it. The point of journaling isn’t to entertain others, so forget all about creating interesting plotlines, a sense of conflict, thematic elements. Just spill it. If privacy is a concern, then find an app to journal in. Day One is a great journaling app that offers password protection as well as lots of other features. Once you find a way to be honest, you’ll find a way to make progress.

3. Journal with Reckless Abandon

I’m of the belief that every journal entry should remain a first draft — raw and unabated. Sometimes we have the tendency to go back and review what we’ve written halfway through the session. Don’t do that. It doesn’t need to be edited.

Sure, you can be thoughtful and consider the ideas you’re writing about, but the motivation should never be to forge some immaculate final draft. Journaling isn’t an elegant beauty, it’s a brutal confession.

4. Journal through the Right Medium

Choose a tool that works for you. A simple composition notebook might be enough. Maybe you want something leather-bound. Personally, I prefer typing over writing by hand simply because I can do it so much faster which allows for better stream of consciousness.

Writing electronically also means your work is also “searchable.” Eventually you’ll get to the point where you’ve written hundreds of entries and you’ll want to return to a particular event. It’s in those instances that you’ll praise the heavens for Command-F.

5. Journaling can be Conversational

Your journal is your story. Descriptive exposition is a necessary element in story-telling, but the action happens in the dialogue. Think about what your favorite books would be like if you stripped them of conversation — descriptive as hell and utterly bland.

If you really want to take advantage of journaling, approach it conversationally. Talk to yourself. Ask yourself questions. Openly contemplate ideas and concepts. Work through your struggles and give yourself advice. Pretend you’re at a brewery with your good friend and you’re engaged in a meaningful and vulnerable conversation.

You can also utilize journaling as a way to pray. I’ve seen immense spiritual growth in my life since I started to journal. It may provide you with the same.

6. Journal from a Prompt

Sometimes the hardest part of journaling is starting. If the above tips aren’t enough to get you going, then try working from a prompt or a big question. Here are few ways that I sometimes start my entries.

  • I am working through…
  • I need help with…
  • I’ve been thinking a lot about…
  • Today was a _____ day. Here’s why.
  • I’m feeling _______ today. Here’s why I think that is.
  • I’ve learned that…

Keep Going!

You will experience much more growth and satisfaction from journaling a few minutes a day as opposed to telling your life story in a single sitting. The reason for this is that your journal is meant to grow with you. It’s not static. It’s a dynamic reflection of who you are and where you’re going.

Writing just a few sentences a day can change your life. Commit to pulling up your app a few minutes before you go to bed and just document the day. Eventually writing will become a habit and the words will flow onto the page. Sentences will turn into paragraphs, paragraphs will turn into pages, and pages will turn into growth.

I recently did a word count on all the journals I’ve done over the last eighteen months. The result was overwhelming. Writing just a few words day equated to over 120,000 words in total.

You don’t need to perceive journaling as a mountainous task. It’s a simple act. You’re reflecting a little bit every day. Before you know it, these little bits of reflection will add up to much more than 120,000 words — they’ll add up to massive life-change, and that’s really what it’s all about.

Don’t wait for journaling to happen to you. Start today. Your inflection point happens now.

Questions to Consider:

  • Have you ever tried journaling? If so, what inspired you to start?
  • Did you encounter obstacles during the writing process?
  • Has journaling provided any growth or progress in your life?

If you’ve got answers to these questions, or questions of you’re own, I’d love to hear from you. Take a second to write in the comments below.