Ideas & Debate

Why keeping a journal of events is a good idea

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The writing helps to distance me emotionally from the experience, as I become more of an objective observer, and the worse the situation the more therapeutic is the writing. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • I particularly treasure writing about the hardest of times, or engaging with a really unpleasant character.
  • The writing helps to distance me emotionally from the experience, as I become more of an objective observer, and the worse the situation the more therapeutic is the writing.
  • In my coaching work I sometimes suggest to my clients that they keep a journal as a way of keeping tabs on the progress they are making relative to what we will have discussed and agreed together.

I’ve been keeping a journal for nearly 16 years and each day, no matter how tired I am, I key in the day’s activities and my reflections on them into my laptop. I even did so during my time in hospital with Covid earlier this year, including when I was at my weakest.

I started writing such journals while I was in London undergoing several weeks of radiotherapy treatment. I was told I would feel increasingly tired, so I thought it would be a good way to keep engaged that didn’t require much energy. As it turned out though, my strength sustained and I became an enthusiastic tourist around town, offering me much to write about.

When I returned to Nairobi I continued journalising my life, and it simply became something I did each day, like checking my mails or brushing my teeth. Every three months I design a cover page to the volume covering the previous quarter, with a suitable title and picture, and I write an introduction. I then take it on a memory stick to my “publisher” in Sarit Centre, where I have it printed and spiral bound.

The quarterly volumes – now 64 in number – have evolved over time, with more pictures and more elegant and varied layout and content. They have also tended to become longer, typically now exceeding 200 pages.

So for whom do I do it, and why? I do it for me, which means that what I write can be uninhibited and personal. As for why, there are multiple benefits, the most obvious of which is not forgetting anything I’ve been up to or my reactions to it. So if I ever get round to writing my memoirs, at least this period of my life is trapped as raw material from which a finished product can more readily be produced.

I particularly treasure writing about the hardest of times, or engaging with a really unpleasant character. (Extreme cases drive me to poetry.) The writing helps to distance me emotionally from the experience, as I become more of an objective observer, and the worse the situation the more therapeutic is the writing. Travel writers (and I have enjoyed being one) find that awful journeys result in the best scripts. But awful or wonderful, what is a journal but an account of one’s journeys through life?

Many of my articles for this column result from what I do in my professional life, and my journal entry on the subject is likely to be the first step, which I then adapt (and sometimes sensor!) appropriately.

The idea for writing this article came from Josphat Mwaura, who recently posted on his LinkedIn page the link to a Harvard Business Review article titled The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal, by Dan Siampa.

In it Siampa writes that he started keeping a journal when he took over a manufacturing research, software and consulting firm.

“I was very young, we were in crisis facing a challenging market, and I wasn’t sure whom I could rely on,” he remembers. “I kept a journal through my 12 years as chairman and CEO and have since recommended it to people moving into any senior position for the first time.”

Like me, he found the quiet reflection that occurs during journal writing to be very valuable, allowing for calm analysis and creative thinking.

“Journal entries should provide not only a record of what happened but how we reacted emotionally,” he agrees with me, adding that “writing it down brings a certain clarity that puts things in perspective.” It can also be “a form of mental rehearsal to prepare for particularly sensitive issues where there’s no one to talk with but yourself,” he says.

In my coaching work I sometimes suggest to my clients that they keep a journal as a way of keeping tabs on the progress they are making relative to what we will have discussed and agreed together.

So if you are not a journal writer do also consider becoming one – however busy you may be. Indeed the busier you are the more beneficial standing back from the 24/7 pressures of deadlines and dilemmas and decisions is likely to be.