One year, I accidentally had a summer of reading memoirs — or memior-like fiction. I picked up several from the library and devoured them for weeks. They included well know works like Lolita and Memoirs of a Geisha. Some of them were long-time must reads like Wintergirls and The Bell Jar. Others were of-their-time impulse reads like Prozac Nation, Wasted and Girl, Interrupted.

(I know this is a dreadfully not-cheery list). The format of these stories left me thinking. How much do I reflect on my own life? I was moderately happy. But, I struggled to make sense of the hard things.

I had always struggled to keep a diary consistently. I had no interest in scrapbooking or photo albums. But, I wanted something to memorialize and reflect on my time in this life.

Around that time, I decided to flesh out my daily planner into something a little more meaningful.

I switched over from a calendar-type planner to using blank journals. Each page was a day where I kept a list of my daily tasks with a date. At the bottom, I would write a few sentences of reflection.

Over time, I switched to dot journals and the format has shifted. Sometimes I don’t leave any space for ideas. Other times, I do a big brain dump.

No matter how I format the pages, I find that using a journal has improved my life. It gives meaning to all those meaningless tasks.

Never Lose Notes

Keeping a list of ideas and notes between your daily tasks creates a diary of the mind. Even if it isn’t narrative, it can show a lot about your mood and focus during a period of time.

“There is thought, and then there is thinking about thoughts, and they don’t feel the same.” – Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

For example, the notes around my daily tasks during my pregnancy were so ambivalent. You could see that I was concerned and excited about all the changes to come. I think if my son were to flip through those pages later in life, he could get a picture of what things were like for me as I anticipated his birth.

Similarly, I’ve noticed my mood shift toward negativity during some toxic work situations. I notice my list piling up with stressful, senseless tasks. I can see more and more fraught words in the notes on the pages. When I see those kinds of frustrations, it reminds me that I need to adjust my attitude or change my situation.

In this way, journals make us more aware of the quality of life. And by putting those notes on the pages, we’ll always be able to reflect.

Don’t Forget Dates

I am pretty good at setting reminders but, terrible at logging them after the fact. The memories are quickly lost because I don’t do scrapbooks or photo albums regularly.

However, I have found that I look back on my notes alongside big events. While some things may be straightforward, the details can be interesting. What gift did a buy for that birthday? What people did I call about an event?

“All my integrity seemed to lie in saying No.” – Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

For example, I threw a party for my husband several years ago where I wanted to serve a special peanut butter pie. He loved one from a local restaurant that had closed. I tried many different recipes until I found one just for his party. He was so happy. The process was kind of recorded in my journal because I kept notes on how I wanted to prepare the dessert. I didn’t actually say I put in all that energy because I loved him. But, you can read between the lines and feel the emotion in those efforts.

It’s interesting to see what I thought was important enough to record.

Sort Your Priorities

Above all, journaling makes you pause and evaluate your priorities. Handwriting is slower than typing, or clicking. So, by the nature of keeping a handwritten journal, you must reflect more.

“An observer can’t tell if a person is silent and still because inner life has stalled or because inner life is transfixedly busy.” – Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted

Sometimes, as I am logging all the things I need to do, I start crossing things out. It makes me realize that so many items on my list are unimportant.

Improve Your Life Using a Journal

The mindfulness of journaling can really change how you experience time. I have found that handwriting what I am doing for each day has turned into a moment of meditation. I think more about what I’m doing and the purpose behind it.

I’d love to hear your stories about how using a journal has improved your life. Follow me on Instagram.