Dear Diary

This past June, I turned 40. Forty isn't very different than 39, but I do find myself reflecting a lot on family and friends and the other important things in my life. One of those friends, Benny, gave me a journal as birthday gift. I had been thinking about getting back into journaling, so the timing of the gift was great.

I have an on-again-off-again relationship with journaling. I started around 13 years of age, keeping a diary-style journal, much like I'm doing with the one Benny gave me. My journaling has taken many forms; I've had stints with tiny notebooks and large notebooks, cellphones and computers. I've written daily poetry, dream-tracking, professional reflections, gratitude lists, blogs, and running logs. To me, all of the above fall under journaling – the regular recording of things happening in my life.

I am far from a perfect journal keeper. I have lost several journals. I have gone long stretches of time, maybe years, without journaling – but I am always happy when I return to the habit. The benefits that journaling provides always surprises me.

Obviously yet importantly, journaling provides a record of my past. Reading old entries gives me clues as to who I was (both what I wrote about and how I wrote about it). Reading what I did last week, last month, or last year, is not just insightful, it is also fun. I enjoy how journaling helps me remember events, whether it be life-changing event, or silly things my kids say. Writing my thoughts on paper helps me to focus on what is important; sometimes we have to unplug from distractions in order to plug in to our lives. Journaling helps me to remember the highlights of my day, and to work through the lowlights. My memory, mindfulness, and goal-setting improve. Plus, having the journal and knowing that I had the self-discipline feels good. I feel my sleep improve too; writing out my thoughts and worries and reminders helps me to "let go" and enter a more sound sleep.

I am far from being a journaling expert and the process is very individual, but I have learned some things that might help any readers thinking about getting into (or back into) journaling. First, realize that finding the balance between flexibility and commitment is on going. Realize that lapses don't need to be full-blown relapses; realize that lapses can be part of the process. Be gentle on yourself, yet be demanding too. Demand that you journal as often as you want to, but be gentle in allowing yourself times when you only scribble down a few key words rather than long, beautiful paragraphs. Second, find your fit. There are so many choices: apps, technologies, pen or pencil, lined or unlined. Don't let the choice overwhelm you. And that leads into the third and most important tip... Start. You can always adjust. Start today. Habits are like airplanes: changing direction requires less energy than the initial take off. Start now. You don't need to write neatly, you don't need to fill pages, you just need to start. Three words are better than none. Start.

As I have mentioned, I've stopped journaling countless times. Thanks to Benny, I have started again. Maybe this is the time I keep it going. Maybe not. Perhaps I'll still be going on my current streak when my fiftieth birthday arrives. Perhaps not. For now, thanks Benny.