Dialogue with yourself: Keeping a diary
From sheltered child to explorer and researcher
We are all on a research expedition. At least, we all started off this way. As babies, we wanted to taste, feel, see, smell and hear everything around us. We were constantly exploring. And we wanted to know what would happen if … In order to keep us from harm, our parents, caregivers, educators and teachers tried to protect and guide us.
During our childhood and adolescence, we need the protection and guidance of the adults around us. However, these adults are not perfect human beings. They do not know everything. They err and make mistakes. Sooner or later, we figure this out – and have to deal with this disappointment.
One of my favorite adventures is when I have a “lightbulb” moment. It’s like switching from dusky twilight to bright sunshine. Recognizing how things interact, identifying reasons for things, having ideas – these are wonderful moments. Some people turn the experience of cognitive processes into their elixir of life: researchers.
For self-improvement, on the one hand, one must accept being imperfect, and on the other hand, one must be convinced of having the freedom to act. Using one’s freedom to develop as a person leads to the joys of knowing and experiencing. A proven means of seeing and shaping one’s life like a research trip is the diary.
The joys of recognizing and experiencing
We can only experience the joys of recognizing in the long run if we make an effort to acquire them. They do not fall into our laps. And very few of us will be lucky enough to find a teacher who serves as a role model and a guide on our expedition. We realize that ultimately, everyone is on their own journey.
This is what is meant when people say we are all responsible for ourselves. Be that as it may, we do not travel alone, but in groups, as individuals responsible for ourselves. This is the only way that we can complete our life journey, with fellow travelers who help each other. Sharing the joys we experience when we make discoveries makes us happy.
The key word for our life journey is communicating. Not only with our fellow travelers, but also with ourselves. If you do not communicate with yourself, you run the risk of dealing with your fellow human beings on a solely superficial level. Because external impressions are only processed sustainably in our self-communication. This is then like a rudderless boat that drifts aimlessly in the waves.
The way to embark on self-communication is to use your diary. The first step involves dealing with time properly. Chapter 5, entitled “Embarking on self-management: Planning your time”, described this step. When organizing your activities in terms of time, your organizer and your activities journal will help you. Our lifetime is the parameter for our life that we have to fulfill.
Our life’s sequential unit is the day. What all did I experience today? Sit down in the evening and ask yourself this question. Write down what occurs to you, in notes and sentences. You think that you can remember everything and don’t have to write it down. Did you really still remember everything in the evening without having to think about it? That’s great!
Then it’s even more important to write down the daily events – before you lose them. By writing them down, you are quasi placing everything you have experienced during the day on the table before you for you to consider. Spread out in front of you everything that has taken place. Take a closer look at one or two of the events and write down what you discover. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What did I occupy myself with today?
- Who did I encounter?
- What made me happy today?
Just start with this kind of diary. Do it! On the weekend, have a look at what you have written. Then you will notice that you did not in fact write down everything that took place during the week. So what else was there? Right, you were angry about something; you didn’t manage to do everything correctly; goals were only partially achieved or not at all. Write it down! After the fact.
When you start keeping a diary, the system you use is not important. All you need is a blank sheet and a pen. Write the date and start writing. What’s important is doing it! And do it every day, really every day, without exception. It’s better to miss a bit of sleep than to skip writing in your diary. You’ll sleep better afterward! This is because you will have concluded the day.
A systematic approach will develop on its own the more you enter the communication process with yourself. Soon, you will notice that you have gained a certain distance to yourself and that you can see your life as in a mirror.
Moreover, you can suddenly take breaks in your thoughts that are circling. You can let incidents rest that you used to not be able to let go of for days on end. This is because you have written about them. You have written down your thoughts, so you don’t have to keep bringing them up to consciousness again. This is only one of the many healing experiences you will have.
No false modesty and no false shame
After I was finished with school and my learning behavior was ruined, I had to pull myself together in order to keep from falling behind at college. I had a lot of trouble with the recommendation to “keep a diary”. For instance, I didn’t like my handwriting.
While I was in school, I only wrote what people forced me to write. I had never learned to like my handwriting. My handwriting was more like a scrawl. I found it difficult to write letters that were more or less the same size and to write letters so they were legible.
But then I bit the bullet. I realized that I was writing for myself and no one else and that I didn’t have to be ashamed in front of anyone. I didn’t like the idea of being ashamed of myself. I did have that much self-confidence. So, I started writing, messy handwriting and all. After a while, I had taken the first step toward self-discipline: lined paper.
Today, I could use a laptop. But I wouldn’t recommend doing so. When you communicate with yourself, you should do this in a manner that is as close to your roots as possible.
My handwriting, whether it is neat or sloppy, is a highly personal cultural skill that allows me to gather thoughts. Reading and writing are the key qualifications with which we can enter the world. For this reason, we should practice and use them every day.
A second problem: No one else should be privy to my life, and especially not to my world of thoughts. But this would be the case if someone else got their hands on my diary. A terrible thought.
I found a way to deal with this fear: If instead of leaving my diary out in the open, I kept it in a drawer or in a cupboard with my personal belongings, then only a handful of people would be able to find it. What consequences would there be if these individuals were to read what I had written?
First, they would have to be ashamed of themselves if they violated my personal space. When it came to what they read, there wasn’t much they could make use of if they didn’t want to out themselves. In some passages, they would read something about themselves.
I decided to keep my diary in my desk drawer and when I am gone for longer periods, I either take it along or lock it up. I have a right to my privacy. If I lock the drawer, no one can be suspected of violating it.
Do not allow anyone, no matter how close they are to you, prevent or disturb your self-improvement! Only people who want to be superior to you, and who want to control you, will seek to keep you from having your personal space and to thwart your selfimprovement.
You need to set them straight or stay away from them. Anyone who wants the best for you will support your development. Anyone else doesn’t matter to you – just as you probably don’t matter to them.
The second step: Specification
If you take the pages you have written down spontaneously for the first few months and read through them, you will most likely be able to distinguish two levels:
- the level of the facts you have observed and
- the level of thoughts and feelings.
Depending on the words you have used, these levels may be more or less interwoven. The statement that during a meeting, the same bores kept monopolizing the discussion does not describe the fact that a meeting has taken place but rather expresses the fact that you are not particularly fond of the key participants.
As you read what you have written, be clear about what is a fact and what is your assessment of a fact or what your feelings express in connection with the fact. For your future diary entries, try to record the facts without assessing them and then write down your attitudes toward them.
With respect to the above-mentioned example of the meeting, you should first write down the topic, the participants and how long and where the meeting took place.
Secondly, you should write down how you experienced the meeting, both in terms of the results and the course of the meeting and what insights were gained.
Finally and thirdly, you should write down what feelings predominated and what triggered them. What was satisfying? What was hard to take?
You should use a three-part method for specifying what you have written:
- Name the facts,
- Describe the insights you have gained and
- Describe the accompanying feelings.
You should present all important results using this form. At least one event per week. This advances you a giant step forward in your self-improvement. You can make the other entries spontaneously as you have been doing.
Over time, your perceptual pattern for the day will become more refined on its own. Your personal radar system will pick up more and more. You will remember more and more details from your encounters, your reading, your telephone calls, your actions and special occurrences.
The third step: Your diary of insights
At some point in time you will reach the point at which writing in your diary on a daily basis has become one of your daily needs. At the same time, however, it takes a lot of time – more than an hour.
Therefore, a cell division should be carried out: The two and three steps of the three-step system should be summarized in a knowledge diary.
To do this, you need to purchase a ring binder or a hardbound notebook with lined pages. For each day, first write your insights and experiences that you gained and would like to take to heart and apply in the future.
Secondly, write about the feelings and moods that predominated during the day. Answer the question as to which occurrences and events were responsible for your feelings.
- Whywere you filled with joy?
- Whywere you close-lipped?
- Whycouldn’t you concentrate?
- Whywas work fun?
Don’t be afraid to write down your secret desires and dreams, your fears and anxieties, your longings and disappointments, your goals and intentions, your hopes and prayers. Do not leave anything hidden! Write down everything using the words that occur to you. “It would have been great if …”, “I will .… by”, “In the worst case …”.
There is no binding system for this kind of diary of insights. In fact there cannot be one, because it is about your very personal communication process. For this reason, here are just a few suggestions that can help you to find your own method and your own style:
- Begin every day of the diary with a new page.
- Write down what events occur to you.
- Write down important thoughts on a separate sheet of paper during the day.
- Do the exercises for improving your possibilities to express yourself in words.
- Evaluate books and magazines using the method of active reading.
- Each weekend, rewrite a diary entry from the past week, making it better.
Why blogging is no substitute for keeping a diary
If you communicate on the internet, allow others to share in your experiences and make no bones about your views, feelings and ideas on this platform, you are actually keeping a sort of public diary. You are presenting yourself to an imaginary audience, writing for your friends and acquaintances.
But you are not engaging in dialogue with yourself. Instead, you are putting yourself on display. What is important, however, is to first communicate with yourself. And you cannot find yourself through impromptu speeches. The only way to do this is by means of the intensity of keeping a diary.
The danger of haughtiness
The diary of insights is the direct route to self-improvement. You get to know yourself; you can see inside yourself better and better; you become calm, content and self-assured. You even learn to love yourself – albeit imperfectly.
If you want to improve not only your intellectual skills, but improve your character and better yourself as a person, you have to love yourself. Accepting your imperfection lovingly is the prerequisite for self-improvement.
Since we live together with other people, their imperfection plays a role in our life. In some cases, quite fiercely, so that we have to decide whether we want to love or hate them. Hate leads to killing and murder. Love is the only thing that makes imperfection bearable. If mothers didn’t love their children, the human race would have died out long ago.
If people can suffer each other just as much in their coexistence as everyone can suffer themselves, if everyone lives self-improving both for themselves and as a group, then that can lead to a lot of happiness and joy. Can – does not have to; because there is always the risk of arrogance, haughtiness and overconfidence, for the individual as well as for the group.
People who are aware of their imperfection despite all their efforts to improve themselves avoid the risk of becoming arrogant and having delusions of grandeur. The diary dialogue helps develop an attitude toward life that is in tune with reality. On the one hand, you are always recognizing your imperfection. On the other hand, your yearning for perfection grows.
To know everything, to be able to do everything, to be absolutely free, totally just, totally peaceful, eternally faithful, boundlessly true — we can imagine and wish all this. But the humanly possible measure of inner freedom and inner peace is only gained by those who live with the modesty of one who knows, on the basis of his daily experience with himself, that he can only approach the Absolute — that is: God — in a hint.