I’m a serial journal abandoner. I like the idea of keeping a journal, but I just never remember to actually keep one.
I still remember my first journal, one of those fluffy pink “secret” diaries with the flimsiest lock ever. I ran upstairs on my 9th birthday ready to spill my secrets into it, but then I came up blank. It turns out you don’t have a lot of juicy gossip besides “Jodie told me my presents before I opened them again” when you’re nine. Sisters, amirite?
Over the years I tried to keep a journal, or simply a diary as it’s known here in the UK, but again, I bored myself. I was already living my crap life, why would I want to remember it?
As I got older, I realized why I thought it was boring. I was a storyteller and happy things made boring stories. Where’s the drama? There was nothing I ached to get out, nothing that was tearing me apart. And then, when the bad things came, I couldn’t bear to write them down. I didn’t want to admit they were real; have the words burning into my soul, the book a constant reminder of the pain I’d gone through.
When the good times came again I tried every way I heard about to capture my memories in ink. I was a writer, after all, surely this was the best way to preserve it all? I tried bullet journaling, line a day, poetry — none seemed to keep my attention.
When I got sober, I wanted to document my journey. The most popular way to do this was my old nemesis, the journal, and one particular incarnation — the gratitude journal. I was doing great with all the other things that the sober community loved too; tarot was helping me tap into my intuition, yoga meant I could connect more with my body. I’d gone back to therapy, I’d even tackled meditation and remembered how to breathe without holding my breath in for too long.
I still struggled to write about the good, but gratitude journaling sounded different. Specific. Surely this meant that I’d find something to write about now?
My previous experience showed me that notebooks were a waste of trees since I’d typically write on a few pages and then consign them to the draw of forgotten journals. Of course, I could reuse them but then it wouldn’t be a new fresh start. It’d be like starting from a place of failure.
So, I got one of the many apps that lets you keep a virtual gratitude journal. The one simply called Gratitude displays all posts as little post-it notes and encourages you to make multiple posts a day every time you feel grateful for something. This seemed easy, like “today I’m grateful for lovely pals to go dog walks with” or “I chatted to a friend”.
But then a bad day came and I would struggle to find anything to write about. Typing “I had chocolate in the house” seemed silly when it didn’t solve anything. The next day, I avoided the app, which meant I fell out of the habit and didn’t want to go back to it. I kept trying but it just didn’t stick. Why didn’t I feel a rush of endorphins and feel great? Was I an ungrateful person? Was I not enjoying life enough?
I knew this wasn’t true, so instead, I did what I always did when the writing got hard. Rather than digging deeper, I pushed it down and filed it away.
It was only when I began working as a social media manager for a life coach friend that I found a new reason to journal. One of my jobs was to upload graphics to inspire and start a conversation and, on this particular day, the post said: “What will your future self thank you for doing today?” It was instantly one of my favorites and one I heavily suggested we included in that week’s schedule. It stayed with me all day. So it made sense when another friend told me that she was going to use it as her prompt for that day’s page in her gratitude journal.
As I didn’t have a notebook or app on hand, I made a note on that day’s box in my organizer: “I hope that future me will be thankful for taking a moment for myself today”.
The next day, I downloaded the app again and didn’t take myself so seriously this time. I was determined to just live in the moment and appreciate the changes I was making in my life and tracking my sobriety.
As I grew in my awareness as a sober person, my mentality shifted. I went from “f*ck it, YOLO” to appreciate what I can do with my days. Whenever I was unsure about something, I would stop and think about whether my future self would thank me for doing it. At the end of the day, I sat down with my drink of choice — a berry and apple green tea — and shared it all with my secret diary.
“What will your future self thank you for doing today?” became my personal mantra. It was my armor and super strength.
Because I had protected myself, it meant that the bad days didn’t feel like so much of a failure. They were a part of my life and an important part of healing. So when I’d had a bad day and wanted to pick up the bottle, I didn’t feel silly about writing that I was glad I had chocolate, even if just in the near future me would thank me for that. In my darkest moments, I felt proud to write “future me will thank me for not drinking today” whereas before I would have hesitated to write anything at all.
My gratitude journal now can’t be contained in one app or notebook. I write what my future self is thanking me for on my organizer page, on my Instagram stories, in the margins of report notes, and in text messages to best friends. I even have it set as my desktop wallpaper on my computer for a little reminder when I need a boost.
It’s also evolved from “what will my future self thank me for doing?” to “how can I make my past self proud?” Because while working towards becoming more is great, it’s important to acknowledge how far I’ve already come.
Of course, there is no correct way to journal and that’s something I know now. Whatever works for you is the right way to journal. I also learned that I was clinging to a certain result and had expectations about how journaling should make me feel, instead of allowing myself to feel my feelings and let it all out on the page.
Journaling can give you a sense of catharsis, make you feel at peace with the world, make you cry so much it smudges the ink. You also don’t have to do it every day, you can do it as much or as little as you like; your journal will always be there. However you do it, the most important thing to remember is that it’s yours.
Now… what will you do today that your future self will thank you for?