If I’m ever feeling overwhelmed, lost, or in a negative state overall, this is the ritual that never fails to help me through it.
It is simple, free, and anyone can do it.
As you’ve probably guessed from the title, this tool is journaling.
What is journaling?
For me, it consists of writing everything that’s on my mind, from past issues that haunt me to future anxieties. No filters, no editing.
Just the rawest version of my current thoughts and emotions.
To my surprise, every single time after I’m done, it feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can think with much more clarity, while simultaneously, coming to terms with the “bad” emotions.
I first started doing it, after learning about the drastic number of people, throughout history, who shared this experience:
Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Marcus Aurelius, and so many others.
One of the most popular stoic books, and one of my personal favorites is a compilation of the emperor of Rome’s journal entries. This book is, of course, “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius.
In it, we have a look inside the mind of the most powerful men in the world at the time.
Surprisingly enough, it’s not ego-driven or exaggerated. In reality, it is the opposite of all of that.
In it, Marcus Aurelius writes advice to himself to deal with the struggles of his everyday life. For anyone who has read it, you know how sobering some of these passages are, especially considering they are more than 2000 years old.
Here are some of my favorite quotes that help me deal with…
“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”
- Waking Up:
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
“Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer.”
Why is this important?
If you’ve never done it, then perhaps it will sound like I’m overhyping a very simple task.
After all, what is the difference between thinking my thoughts and putting them into paper? Isn’t it all the same?
Well, if you are skeptical about it, I recommend you giving it a try and see for yourself. However, if I had to find an explanation I would say it’s this:
When we start writing, we actually allow ourselves to dive deeper into these thoughts and emotions, we dive into the rabbit hole and see how far it goes.
As a consequence, at least personally, I’m forced to truly experience these feelings. In turn, this allows me to let go of them, moving on with my life.
On top of that, sometimes I’ll notice that the problems I’m writing about are recurrent. To me, this signals that there is something in my life that I must work on.
Above all, I believe journaling to be an awareness tool.
It’s almost like “written meditation” in the sense that it’s only you with yourself, observing what is happening and putting it into the paper.
How do I begin journaling?
Quite simply, you just start.
There is no course or guidelines needed for this one. However, I know that’s not the answer you’re looking for so let’s take a look at 2 of the most popular approaches.
#1: In the morning
This is the one Marcus Aurelius appeared to stick to. Mostly giving himself advice on how to tackle the struggles of the day ahead.
He wrote about dealing with anxiety and how it was in his control, about what to do if he couldn’t seem to get a grip of the challenge at hand, and even, about how he should stop every once in a while to marvel in the beauty of life.
Done like this, you’ll be fully conscious of what’s to come and how you should deal with it.
#2: In the evening
Following this approach, you would reflect on the day that just passed.
This is the approach of Seneca who, at the end of the day, would critically reflect on everything that happened. What he did well and how to keep doing it, where he failed and how to avoid it in the future, and finally, how to go about the next day.
This is a more structured approach that also dives deeper into our own actions.
Or, you can do it in the middle of the day, or maybe, not even scheduled at all…
The important thing is that you try it and find what best works for you.
Personally, I only use it for emergencies, to deal with moments when I feel like I’m losing control.
Now, is this the best method?
I have no idea because I don’t know how you work best, only you can figure that out. However, one thing I know for certain, this is an exercise that will change your life.
Whether you’re nervous about a job interview, having a tough-talk, proposing to the love of your life, or any situation that you are struggling to come to terms with, putting those fears and anxieties into paper will prove to be some of the best counseling you can get.
But hey, there’s only one way for you to find out…
…so go and write.
I recently opened my course on the step-by-step process to deal with procrastination once and for all.
There are only 10 spots so check it out here before it closes!