Why I Journal – Traffic Control for the Mind

Reading Time: 8 minutes

I have suffered from Papyrophilia for most of my life. Despite several therapeutic interventions it appears to be incurable.

For those of you who are unaware of this condition, it presents itself in the uncontrolled need to accumulate paper, notebooks, sticky labels, and all things stationary.

It all started when I was emotionally touched by the writings of one of history’s greatest diarists, sharing their anguish and pains that so resonated with my developing mind.

I refer, of course, to Adrian Mole, aged 13 and 3/4.

Such emotive musings. Such struggle and attempt to find meaning in a world of confusion.

For example:

I have never seen a dead body or a female nipple. This is what comes from living in a cul-de-sac.


Nigel is a punk at weekends. His mother lets him be one providing he wears a string vest under his bondage T-shirt.

And the awaking of my own sexual revolution….

Nigel says that Sharon Botts will show everything for 50p and a pound of grapes.

From that moment on I wanted to document my life for the benefit of humanity’s future generations.

And from that moment onward my love affair with notebooks and journals began.

For the next three and a half decades I would buy myself a new journal, eagerly anticipating the moment my pen would drip liquid nuggets of wisdom onto the page and into the desperate minds of the future’s youth, only to give up after five entries, never again to look at said tome of percipience.

Fast forward to my 40s. Being faced with a bookshelf of mostly empty journals and an autobiographical career spanning mere minutes, I knew I needed to gain control of my addiction.

If you look at the Collins Illustrated Dictionary you’ll find a picture of me below the entry for ‘Procrastination’. I’m not looking directly at the camera as I got a bit distracted.

But in my constant pursuit to not do the work I really needed to do, I stumbled upon the use of journaling as a means of being more productive.

Doing something else in order to get the thing I didn’t want to do done sounded right up my street.

But how to stop falling at the first hurdle as I had every time before?

The answer was as simple as it was obvious.

I scheduled it into my day. Where? Into a second journal. Yes, I still have stationary issues, but more on this journal in a bit.

I made journaling a part of my new morning routine. I get up, hydrate, meditate, brew my coffee, do some mobility, then I journal.

I also made it non-negotiable. Taking a leaf out of Julia Cameron’s book (pun intended), I set myself the daily minimum task of completing at least one A4 page of writing.

This last point I took away was the concern of what I should be writing. It really didn’t matter what I wrote, as long as it filled an entire page of my journal.

When we write, it is very easy to concern ourselves with the reader. But for my own personal development and use of a journal as a tool for growth, worrying about someone else reading it would change the voice I wrote in. And so I wrote in a way that was entirely for myself.

Many’s the day that I sit in front of a blank page with ‘absolutely nothing to say’. It’s on these days that I usually write the most.

The blank page seems to act like blotting paper for my mind. It literally (another pun) sucks the thoughts out of my head. The moment I commit pen to paper the words just flow. This is symbolic of all of life’s endeavours, I feel.

Some day’s it’s simply me organising my thoughts and plans. Other day’s I will explore some notion I have been pondering. On the really good days, and there have been many, I have full on ‘Eureka!’ moments, when all the disparate pieces of my mind and psyche seem to magically fall into place.

I can honestly say that between my meditation practice and my journaling, I have harnessed the greatest tools for understanding myself and personal growth. I put these two practices down as the major contributors to gaining control of my debilitating anxiety.

What Journaling Does For Me

1. Creates mental space

Let’s take the analogy of traffic.

selective focus photography of cars
Photo by Aayush Srivastava on Pexels.com

Traffic jams are not caused by how quickly the cars move. Nor are they caused by the number of cars on the road. Not even by the narrowness of the lanes.

What really causes a traffic jam is the driver’s inability to keep sufficient distance from the car in front. If everyone kept ample distance from the car in front they would have ample time to react to the changes in traffic conditions; they would be able to slow down or take a diversion, and keep on moving.

My thoughts and emotions are the cars, and I was tailgating these suckers, one after the other. My mind was a daily, fifteen car pile-up.

I couldn’t distinguish one thought or emotion from another. It was just a mash of twisted metal and mayhem. The only outcome here is anxiety and desperation. I was drowning in my own thoughts.

The joint practices of meditation and journaling allowed me to leverage some space between the cars of my mind.

Same roads. Same number of cars. More space.

A quote that I use a lot comes from Viktor E. Frankl.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor E. Frankl

The thoughts and emotions (the stimulus) were still there. The only difference is that I have gained a little bit longer to decide how to respond to them. This space between stimulus and response has allowed me to observe what’s happening from a perspective of cognitive distance.

If it’s a thought arising, I am able to see it as simply that; just a thought. It’s not reality nor does it define me.

If it’s an emotion bubbling up I am able to let it pass through me, being attentive to the sensations it brings, identifying where in my body I feel it, and thereby viewing the whole thing with curiosity and interest.

Rather than being swept up in a tidal wave of emotion that doesn’t allow me the chance to decide my response, or frantically trying to shove down said emotion thereby locking it inside myself, I can let it pass through me. It’s still uncomfortable, but it’s a just a moment that has passed.

The bigger the gap between the cars of your mind, the more chance you have to see the speedbumps and pile ups coming. This often allows you to drive around them altogether, or at least minimise the disruption.

2. Pattern recognition

Some people will never read their previous journals. For some the point is to get the shit out of their head and onto a page, and that’s it. Some will go even further and destroy the pages immediately after writing them.

I’m glad I didn’t do this.

I don’t read my previous journal until it’s finished and usually only as part of my yearly personal review process.

The first thing that struck on reading my first finished journal was the repetition.

I would see the same themes coming up again and again. Or the same issue or complaint.

I would see patterns that occurred on the same day of the week, or with the same person involved, or doing the same task.

When we are in the thick of our own dramas it can be like standing with our nose touching a brick wall. All we can see is that one brick.

brown wall cladding
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Reviewing the journal is like google earthing your own mind. You get to take the thousand mile view, and in doing so you start to notice the patterns. You see the whole wall and all it’s bricks and mortar.

If these patterns are of something that is causing you pain or harm, that trigger a negative response in you, then you can’t hope to sort them out if you can’t identify them.

You need to read the text book to understand the subject: YOU.

Give yourself the gift of the bigger picture.

3. Perspective

Another type of perspective is one of importance.

When we are in the full throes of life everything can seem like a life or death situation.

The great thing about reviewing your journal is realising that you had completely forgotten about some of the events that you were sure were earth shattering at the time.

Things that you were convinced would bring about your own demise passed without the cataclysmic ending expected, and sometimes even failed to occur at all.

By mindfully bearing witness to the fact that today’s hysterical despair often becomes tomorrow’s hysterical laughter helps us put our current situations into perspective.

Remember, you’ve made it this far against all odds. The chances are you’ll get through whatever is going on now.

4. Reminds me to celebrate my wins

In today’s fast paced world, we can quickly forget the little wins in life. In fact we can often not even notice them.

Reviewing my journal allows me to revisit my wins and successes.

We live in an age of hustle culture where everything is about the drive to reach your goal. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but when we are solely focused on the horizon (which never actually gets closer) we can often feel like we are falling short of the mark.

The answer is to turn around and see how far you have come. This way we can see all that we have gained in pursuit of the goal, independently of the goal itself.

Reviewing your journal allows you to spot the marginal gains that culminate in huge victories.

My Other Journals

Yes, that’s plural.

I use a number of other journals in my day to aide my productivity. The journaling I do in the morning is to help get better at life in general, but for work and task related productivity I like to use a Bullet Journal.

A bullet journal is more of a system than a physical thing (although people sell bullet journals). It is essentially a second brain.

For most of my life, I have only used my actual brain to store everything. It’s pretty good, but prone to periodic failures.

My bullet journal is in a rather fetching Filofax, with dot grip paper, dividers, and numerous sections. (I’m like the Keith Richards of stationary).

In it goes all my tasks, dates, notes and ideas, all handily accessible via a clever reference system. Yes, I could have gone for a digital version, but the act of writing out by hand helps to cement it into my brain.

The other type of journal that I use regularly is a workout journal. No nonsense, just a simple day per page diary where I document every movement session I have done.

This allows me to easily keep track of my progression and training cycles and to monitor any declines that may be (inevitably) occurring as I age, and to adapt my programmes appropriately.

Again there are ample workout log apps available for your phone, but my fear is that I will disappear down a funny gibbon YouTube hole mid set. Writing out my day’s training by hand also gets me to really ponder the quality of my session too.

So there you have it, the reason why I journal.

For those that say they don’t have enough time to write a page worth of thoughts out, I’d say that this means you need to write 5 pages. For me the returns have exponentially outweighed the input.

If you already journal, let us know what works for you.

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