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How to Keep a Journal

Spoiler alert: I’m sold on the idea of journaling. Top to bottom, inside and out, I think it’s one of the most meaningful and impactful hobbies a person can have. Keeping a journal and documenting your thoughts and emotions as you experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows is, in my opinion, an incredible gift and a worthwhile process.

To come back to those pages after years of new memories have been made and new plans have been forged is to feel a unique sense of wholeness I’ve yet to be able to replicate another way. Reading over the pages and moments that influenced the decisions I made to embark down my own roads makes the new highs and lows all the more worthwhile, and reminds me of where I came from.

It will also give me a chance to leave something raw and real for my children and grandchildren, allowing them to know their father and grandfather more deeply and understand more of where they came from. Not all of it will be moving or even interesting. But it will be real.

Those are the rewards that come from journaling. But there’s no doubt about it: starting a journal is difficult. When I first sat down with a journal as an adult, ready to make note of significant things I was sure would change the world, the pen didn’t move. I bounced back and forth between my thoughts and my own judgments of them, and psyched myself out of writing about what came naturally; the small things that happened to me that day, the gratitudes, frustrations, hopes and exciting uncertainty I felt.

It takes time to get into a groove, and the beginning is always the hardest. But there are small places to start that, given time, will help you create a habit of writing freely, just as you think and without so many of the holds that seem to be present at the beginning.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend picking one of the following (or bouncing back and forth between any number of them):

Things you’re grateful for.

Unless you’ve got a knack for genius writing, it can be tough to sit down and tell seemingly common or insignificant stories. The ones that are easy to tell are the ones that are life-changing and dramatic. And let’s face it, those don’t come around every day.

What is always present, however, is a gratitude for something or someone. Even if you have to dig a little to find it, I assure you it’s there. Documenting your gratitude is not only a meaningful thing to write about, but will also get your mind off the hesitation and onto the thing or person you’re grateful for. Let it go from there.

Plans you’ve made.

Whether you’ve booked tickets for a trip, have decided to start a new job, go back to school, move, start a business, end a relationship, or simply have plans to make plans, write about it. The what, the why, the how, the when, the who – they’re things you most likely already know. And if you’ve decided to make plans around them, they’re certainly worth writing about.

Memories you recall.

I spent a lot of time with aunts, uncles, and cousins growing up. And one of my uncles was very dear to me. I could never pinpoint precisely why when I was younger, other than a fondness for his humor and strength.

Before we started Rustico, one of my uncles became a great mentor to me. He was always a source of positive influence with his quick wit, sharp sense of humor, and commanding voice and presence. I admired him and responded to his approach as he helped me vet ideas and harness the passion I felt for this project.

I decided to write down some of my memories of him and our time together after he passed away. As I went from small conversations, to family dinners, to the “ah ha” moments his advice had conjured, it was as though I was getting to know him all over again. I came to appreciate even more the impact he had in my life and in stoking the fire I had for launching this business.  

Whatever memories strikes you, write about them. There’s a reason they resurface.

Goals you’ve set.

Those that give good advice always advise putting your goals on paper. It makes them more real when there’s a written commitment.

I’ve found this to be true and use my journal as a place to document all of my goals. I used to keep these in a separate notebook, afraid that they’d tighten up my other writing in a way I couldn’t reverse.

Then I realized that everything else that preceded the goal was the very reason I set it. They became natural inclusions in my journal – natural side effects of the stories, memories, plans, hopes and priorities I’d discovered by creating a habit of writing.

Don’t shy away from writing goals down, even in a journal that’s filled with a million other things. If they’re important to you, they belong in a place where all other priorities naturally fall into place.

Things you’re afraid of.

Fear is a captivating concept. It can prevent us from doing something monumental, but we struggle to admit that it’s worth admitting, let alone writing about.

Maybe you’re comfortable sharing your fears with someone else. Maybe you’re not. But at minimum, share them with yourself. You can’t overcome a fear – irrational or not – simply by ignoring it. And there are great things to be found when you make a decision not to.

Things you long for.

A family. A job. A partner. A season. An achievement. Recognition. A cure. A conversation. A moment alone.

Maybe you’ve thought that there isn’t a good enough reason to write these things down. You know what you want. You tell yourself all the time. You’re already working toward those things.

Write them down anyway. It will provide clarity now. It will provide meaning later. It will leave a beautiful part of your legacy when you’re gone.

Your day.

Monotonous or the once-in-a-lifetime kind, each day has something worth writing about. A lesson was learned, a truth was uncovered, a frustration was experienced, a step was taken to get closer to something. Regular days will likely account for most of our lives. Write about them.

Maybe you’re the only person that re-reads these entries. Maybe you intend to leave your journals to your children. Either way, revisiting the regularity of your life at a particular time is a big part of the wholeness that comes from keeping a journal. Don’t let yourself leave it out.

While there are a million places one could start, the best part about this is that there aren’t any rules for how to keep a journal. There’s no limit to the number of pages you can write, or how you choose to fill them. There’s no right or wrong way to keep a journal, and no topic that’s off limits.

And isn’t that freedom the most exciting part?

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