A key practice for introspection is journaling. I don’t know many adults who journal, but what you can discover about yourself through journaling is phenomenal.
There are 2 parts in journaling:
The full benefits of journaling are only reaped when you reach step 2. And that is because journaling creates a snapshot of your life at a particular moment , which gives you the ability to compare it to your life at another moment—when you read your notes. That is truly invaluable, because it opens up the time dimension to you. It’s like creating a time capsule whenever you write. A trail left by yourself and for yourself. The self is constantly changing, so you will notice differences. Great realisations can come from seeing your past self in the light of your present self and analysing those differences.
What can you discover through journaling?
You should re-read your writings not too often—otherwise you may not see the patterns appearing —but certainly not wait too long—otherwise you’ll miss on precious guidance to steer your life. Assuming you write every day, you could do a weekly re-read but it’s the monthly review that will start to show you clear trends. You could do a seasonal review as well, and an annual one but beyond that it can be really time-consuming. And, in fact, it’s not absolutely necessary because the same patterns keep occurring in your life anyway. Last year will feature similar patterns than this year, something you will discover for yourself once you start journaling.
The system can be refined. For example, you can create a journal entry after reviewing a full year of notes, and compare such entries from year to year to see long-term patterns emerge as well—without having to read a large amount of text each time.
While journaling, you can be true to yourself because nobody else is supposed to read it. It’s a private space, and one of authentic expression. I see it as a sacred and spiritual practice. I know many people who obviously do not journal, because they are not noticing that they are at the same stage than three months, one year or five years ago. Having long term relationships with people is amazing because it gives you this kind of insight. A good friend, for example, is someone you know enough to notice his own patterns. And I think that sincere friendship is also about that: warning your good friend that she’s falling into the same trap again, opening her eyes. Not everybody is ready for it and you should know your friend’s attitude towards receiving guidance. Sometimes, however, you will get the feeling that you should remain an observer and let her go through a drama on her own because it’s finally time she gets the lesson. That means letting that person suffer, because only through suffering do we learn certain lessons in life.
It’s much easier to spot patterns in others than yourself, because you are external to the situation and you see it at given time intervals. Some things are obvious. In fact, it’s the people you see the less often e.g. once a year for whom the patterns are easiest to identify: you’ll see easily if they reproduce the same scenarios yet with different actors and a different set each time. As your awareness increases, you will notice more and more tendencies in everyone. What you learn about others can benefit yourself because we are all mirror images of each other.
You’ll also notice that progress is clearly not linear in life. We evolve at some times and then we fall back into old patterns. We change rapidly in three months and then stagnate for a full year. These are cycles. Even if you don’t journal, observe others and analyse: one moment your good friend seems to have it all, a year later she’s got a series of personal, sentimental and professional ordeals that happen all at the same time (illustrating Murphy’s law). Pay attention to people’s evolution and challenges. And it begs the question: if all those things happen in other people’s life, do they happen in my life as well? Sure they do, and it’s time you start journaling to find out what they are!
We’re all caught up in the minutiae of our daily existence. That clouds our ability to spot important patterns because there’s a lot to ignore and let go of. That’s human life. But journaling allows us to analyse our states of mind over time through honest and careful introspection. And that gives us precious indications about our journey in life. It helps us to take some distance and identify what’s important—and relativise what is not. It’s a tool like no others to get to know ourselves.