From September 2002 through November 2009 I kept a journal, writing each day before going to bed. Every once in a while I’ll pick one of the five thick notebooks I filled during those seven years and read some entries at random.
Why do I do this?
I don’t revisit my journals to immerse myself in my past. Back then, I wrote to capture and reflect on my experience while it was still fresh, to explore how I responded to and felt about the day’s events. I didn’t write for posterity, and there are many raw experiences in these pages that are painful to recall.
Instead, I dip into what I wrote to compare where I was then with where I am now.
Sometimes I discover that life circumstances have changed. Perhaps I’m no longer impacted by certain issues that once preoccupied me (e.g., my financial situation has changed for the better.) Perhaps some issues are still part of my life, but my response to them is different (e.g., speaking in public no longer scares me as much as it once did.) And perhaps I’m aware now of issues that were absent from my journals (e.g., the implications of growing older.)
Whatever I discover, when I look back at what I used to think and do I receive important information.
Often I discover that I am continuing to change and grow in specific ways. As someone who wants to be a life-long learner, someone who doesn’t want to be “stuck”, that is good and encouraging information to have.
I also notice that certain aspects of my life haven’t changed significantly. Frequently, that’s because they are core aspects of who I am and the world I inhabit.
And sometimes, I become aware that I’m stuck in some pattern of behavior or response that I’d like to change. That’s good information too.
Look back to look forward. At the end of a peer conference, a personal introspective allows participants to explore new directions as a result of experiences during the event. On a longer timescale, old personal journals (or any records of past personal introspection) can be a great tool for learning about ourselves and mapping our future path on life’s journey.
Creative Commons image of Janus courtesy of Wikipedia