Have you noticed how thoughts have a habit of evaporating? Journaling, writing down thoughts and observations, can deliver valuable insights. In other words, journaling is the conversation you have with yourself.

Keeping a journal or diary isn’t a new occupation. Business and political leaders keep notes of events for posterity, or at least as something to give their biographers.

I learned the word journaling from Julia Cameron’s 1992 book, The Artist’s Way. I’ve kept handwritten notebooks for a long time, and the other day I read a few of them.

A practice of self-discovery

I learned that what seems obvious today, was yesterday’s revelation. How easy it is to be a victim of the curse of knowledge, a cognitive bias where you can’t imagine what it’s like not to know what you know. And it really is a curse because it suppresses empathy for other people.

I expect you occasionally find yourself in a situation where you’d like to say what you feel but you can’t. Yet you can say what you like in your journal. And that can provide some relief.

No one can judge what you write if you keep it private. Taking the time to write down your personal responses to events has surprising benefits.

Journaling has even been associated with strengthening the immune system. Whatever the health benefits, you have absolute freedom to be yourself. And there aren’t many places to do that unless you’re a Master of the Universe.

And even the Master of the Universe kept a journal.

It’s lonely at the top

For a while, the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius ruled the known world. He had no friends. He had no equal. That meant he had to watch his back.
His short book is translated as Meditations. It could just as easily be called My Private Notebook. 

The book was never meant to be published. The reader gets a rare look into the mind and heart of a highly cultivated leader. Marcus Aurelius shows gratitude to those people who helped shape his life. He asks himself questions about life itself, and how much of it is enough.

In the 1980s, Hugh Prather wrote his book, Notes to Myself: My struggle to become a person. It made an impression on me when I was struggling with my own relationship with uncertainty. And who doesn’t struggle with that?

Uncertainty is the human condition. And journaling can be a confidence builder: a meaningful way to engage with what life throws at you.

Writing your perspective on events, facts, and ideas can help clarify your thinking. Your notes don’t need to be pretty. But they do need to be private if you’re going to avoid too much self-censorship.

Think of your journal as a sandpit and an idea bank. The sandpit gives you the freedom to write anything at all. But once in a while, you’ll come up with good ideas you’ll want to bank.

Your thoughts are your own. Why let them escape? You never know when you’ll need them.

Journaling is something everyone can do, even for just a few minutes.