3 Questions to Journal and Why

Have we told you enough times in the last week that everything is different this semester? Did you see the emails over the summer? The news? Perhaps you’re ready to stop talking about it. If that’s you, I’m happy to help. Let’s think about you. Why?

Even if everything weren’t different in the world this semester, your life would be different now than it was this time last year because you’re in college. Your reality changes at least a little every few months with new classes, internships, friends, jobs, etc. Even if this semester weren’t wild, you would still have a lot to process.

Plus, you change too. You learn new hacks for how to manage your time, how to make your budget work, how to to go through hard things or be a good friend for others in hard times. Your abilities are malleable– meaning practice makes progress and growth is possible. At the same time, you are interesting and complex; you’ll keep learning about who you are and who you’re becoming over time. How in the world can you keep track of it all??

Journaling may not sound as cool as some other things you could do with your time, like getting a tattoo or running across the Brooklyn Bridge. But it’s one of the main ways I’ve found to make sense of life. And the substance of your life is one of the most interesting things you’ll ever get to cultivate. If you fit journaling into the day, a little each day, you’ll see a return on your investment in the form of insights about who you are and who you’re becoming. That’s at least cooler than memorizing your grocery list.

The function of journaling serves as a good reminder of what motivates us. The act of writing our thoughts helps us synthesize everything that’s going on in life and to make meaning of it all. It also helps us reflect on things that happened in the recent past or to connect them into the larger narratives of our lives. Where there is no vision, as the Proverb says, the people perish. Another translation says, without a vision the people are discouraged. It’s motivating to know the small choices we make today are building up to the kinds of life we’re aiming for.

A sense of vision can also help you discern how to spend your time in the long term. When you’ve noticed the themes in your life for months or years, you’re better positioned to make big decisions when they arise. Conversely, it will be more stressful when you need to make a big decision about which elective class to take or which internship to pursue if you haven’t been following the narrative of your life until that point. It will be a surprise quiz: who are you and what do you want?? But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are lots of ways to journal (long form and exhaustive; a bullet-pointed chronology; a the start of the day or the end). No matter the form you choose, I suggest answering three questions as a regular, perhaps daily, rhythm.

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. Why am I feeling this way?
  3. What is one thing I can do about this today?

The first two questions are pretty straightforward, though it may take some practice to be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling on the fly if you’re new to this kind of reflection.

The third question can take you in lots of directions. It’s exciting really. If you realized you’re feeling a certain way after a comment made by a friend, you may want to reach out to get on the same page, but you may also choose not to if your connection with that person isn’t as strong yet. If you’re feeling stressed about a paper, your response may be to make a timeline for when you’ll tackle each step– reading/research, outline, draft, craft, etc. There could be many examples here about what you may feel and how you might choose to proceed. But the gold here is that you’re aware of your felt reality, and your’e incorporating it into generative steps forward, rather than ignoring how you feel or persevering like a machine.

Can you imagine what will happen over time if you journal these three questions most days each week? You will make progress. Even though each day may look similar to the last one, perhaps like going around and around on a ferris wheel, you will incrementally be different as you reflect and adjust, reflect and respond, reflect and feel grateful…

Journaling these three questions not only helps you see your progress over time. It also helps you generate progress. You pay attention a little at a time, act on what you observe, and in doing so, you become who you’re becoming.