April 15th 2020 was a special day. More than 100 journal entries have been written since the 2020 New Years’ day on that day. While the new year resolution isn’t fully complete yet, 100 consecutive days in a row is a milestone worth celebrating and good place to reflect back.
How did I get here? Well, you see it’s quite simple. All I had to do was to block time on the calendar every day, then start writing when the clock hits 6 pm. After day 3 of writing quickly becomes second nature.
… If only that was the case. Truth be told this is the 3rd year that I’ve attempted to write daily. In 2018 I wrote for 110 days (30% of the year), and in 2019 I wrote for 145 days (roughly 40% of the year). You learn a thing or two once you do something for 100 days straight.
Why do it anyway?
For me the act of journaling functions in three ways: documentation, comprehension, and repetition.
Documenting emotional highs and lows
The act of writing a journal is akin to carving out new tuned teeth for a music box. Each entry added is a new tooth I can use to create a note and relive moments in my personal history. Significant life events (such as the first day on the job or the university graduation) may have a longer mental shelf life. In comparison, the day-to-day is quick to be the target of human memory’s garbage collection. However, I would say that each day that led to the said memorable events should be cherished as any other. As Ralph Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination”.
This works especially well for moments of intense emotions. For example while backpacking through Asia after the graduation, I made sure to record the excitements and discoveries as I entered a new country. Just as planned, I’m able to relive the day I got chased by hotel employees in Ho Chi Minh City by reading the old journal.
Recording thoughts over the years also unlock the answers to questions such as “What was I doing exactly a year ago?” These questions have been lingering in my mind but never had enough data points to give myself an answer. Is it as interesting to know as I made it out to be? Only time will tell.
Comprehending my own feelings
Life is full of hardships, and we all have our ways to cope with them. While some may resolve issues by talking it out with another human being, I’ve always been the type to bottle feelings up. When things got rough back in high school I picked up writing it down as one of the coping mechanisms. Since then writing became therapeutic and helps me process waves of emotions. These artifacts of the emotional dump are fascinating to revisit in the future where reflecting back highlights the self-growth over the years.
Repetitive writing exercise
One of my favorite contents is thought pieces written by everyday individuals published on their personal website (discovered frequently through Hacker News). There’s been an urge to contribute to the conversation in some way but have been two mental barriers - finding a topic worth writing about and being insecure about my writing style. The daily journal offers a place to write in a low stake environment with content interesting to me like no other - the details of my day.
Writing set up is worth a separate post so I won’t go too much in detail, but I rely heavily on vim-wiki plugin with a custom template. Short Vimscript to load a single new vocab into the doc every day has been complimentary to the writing practice as an effective way to build vocabulary over time.
What did I learn?
The biggest takeaway so far is learning to be patient. Building a habit from scratch time takes time, and it’s too easy to blame yourself at the moment of failure. What started out as a daily Todo list soon morphed into a place of self-reflection. As the list of journal entries grew over time, it helped me visualize a simple fact that each day is part of a bigger time unit, and to accomplish something significant you really have to take it one day at a time. Compared to the time prior to writing journals, each passing day feels more like part of a bigger narrative that is unfolding as I go.
It’s definitely been a fun ride! Can’t wait to see how I’ll feel after after the next milestone (365 days?). If you write a journal as well, please feel free to reach out! Would love to hear about how your experience and how your journal template is organized.