The Importance of Journaling to Capture Memory

Photo credit: Stock Unlimited

It is important to capture ourselves, as we are progressing. Recording a moment in time as it happens is one of the most truthful, yet subjective acts that we can commit to. Some people do it through video, others through pictures, yet still, others capture their moments through words. I have a preference for the written word, but engage in all forms of capturing memory.

I was recently reminded of the importance of documenting ourselves, when I listened to a video that I had recorded more than two years ago. I sounded harried and frantic, and overwhelm was very present as I described how determined I was to be productive, even though I woke up at 7am instead of 5am.

I talked about my teething child and the unpredictability of a morning routine when you have a young child; my want to walk away with a victory at the end of the day, regardless of the things I failed to accomplish.

I talked about how important it was to adjust in life, or to accomplish tasks in the margins of life (when the big space in the middle is sometimes occupied by the big things in our lives), and it was evident (at least to me) how much I was trying to convince myself, that if I did one thing, if I could accomplish at least something, it would act as a life raft, to keep me from drifting away in a sea of my own challenges.

Photo credit: 123RF

First, let me acknowledge that I was very intentional last year about documenting myself, and so while I was truly engaging, there was an undertone of studying self-awareness when I went about my tasks.

That is to say, that it was almost like editing while I was writing–writing for the sake of itself, and then editing, and also narrating why I was editing. I make this disclosure because I know that as humans, if we are at once conscious of doing a thing, while seeking a specific result from doing it, we sometimes find ourselves telling an unknown story, instead of watching it unfold. That is ultimately why I stopped documenting by video and focused more on doing–but more on that later.

Photo credit: Stock Unlimited

When I began documenting myself, I did it as an accountability mechanism, and also one to remove the fear of being transparent with people who did not know me personally, but could judge me anyway. I documented my challenges, the things that I got right and what I thought led me to getting these things right, and what lessons I was learning from all of my challenges, wins, and stagnancy.

I also wanted to generally track my time (at least for a period), so that I could make determinations about the tasks I needed to eliminate from my life and schedule, where I could use the most help and who I could identify as the people who would help me, and which tasks, if I could complete them, would bring about the most reward, or get me closer to my goals and accomplishing them.

Two things occurred to me while viewing this video of myself: (1) how important it is to document our lives, so that we can see our path to growth, and make corrections and adjustments as necessary, and (2) why the written word is more powerful at times, then documenting this process through other mediums.

With the former, I had taken for granted that there was a process to accomplishment. For so long, I had become used to setting a goal, and then whittling away until I accomplished it. With this frame of thinking I oftentimes repeated mistakes, and failed to really see the nuances in learning experiences because I had a singular vision to accomplish that particular goal.

In documenting my life, I don’t just have the ability to speak in the past tense about something I did or completed, but the memory of traversing through unknown forest and how my fortitude was shaped by particular experiences and people and insights.

With the latter, I recognized exactly how important it is to engage regularly by writing. While technological advancements allow us to grab moments of time and watch them and repeat them exactly as they occurred, we sometimes lose a sense of the first person experience.

In other words, with a picture or a video, we get the third person experience and we view an event taking place or people stilled in time in certain dress, with particular expressions, bearing as much as we can determine, a sentiment about the activity they were engaged in.

With writing, however, we can remember how the thing unfolded, how we felt as it happened, what we heard, what we tasted, what we smelled, and all of these things contribute to a memory sometimes more powerfully, than a clear, crisp, non-pixelated image.

Photo Credit: Stock Unlimited

The benefit of writing down a moment in a journal–describing how we feel about a particular circumstance, what we saw, even what we tasted and smelled–is that it evokes such a sense of place and memory, that when we re-read it, we are in that place and time again, re-living and understanding that particular position.

A picture cannot remind you of the air you tasted, or the feel of the sun on your skin, or how wonderfully ripe a fruit was, and how the memory of that smell still lingers with you–no a picture or a video shows, and then you make inference. While this inference is sometimes necessary, and an exciting part of viewing a film, when we are cataloguing our lives, it seems more useful to have a guide that gives brief insights into our sensory selves, captured at the height of these moments.

When I decided to stop video-journaling and capturing my moments through video, it was because I found myself narrating more than I did acting on my own behalf. As I was tracking my time, I saw that I spent a good deal of it on preparation and talking about doing or working on “the thing” (in this case writing), and less time actually writing, or studying writing, or improving upon my own.

I was a test subject in my experiment on becoming better, and I found that I was succeeding at documenting my journey, but failing at pursuing my goal. When the documentation was getting in the way of the work, I had to step aside to evaluate what I really wanted, and what I needed to do to get what I wanted.

It was especially useful, then, to look at the notes of my life, the things that I had scribbled “in the margins” to inform myself of what I wanted, but to also remember, and to use that memory to bookmark a particular point in my journey.

Don’t get me wrong, I still take video of moments, and I take pictures, but I try to engage. I don’t want to be the person that tries to capture every moment through a lens instead of actually living it. This applies to capturing moments with my children and husband, and also capturing myself.

I believe it a useful exercise to document through writing and to use pictures and video as a supplement. For the importance of my own journey I want to be the protagonist, not the narrator. I think journaling is important in helping make that distinction.

Want to journal and write more, to develop your voice?

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