While doing my water fast this past week (today is day 8), I spent many hours rereading some of my old journal entries from the 1990s. I’ve been journaling for many years, but I rarely go back and review what I’ve written. For some reason I just had the intuitive feeling that I should do it this week.
by Steve Pavlina, from stevepavlina.com
This was harder than I expected since the 90s were a turbulent time for me. I read a journal entry I wrote shortly after being arrested for felony grand theft when I was 19, describing how badly I needed to fix my life and how difficult I thought it would be. I read entries from the years I was sinking into debt, leading to an eventual bankruptcy. I read stories of stressful dealings with publishers and unrealistic deadlines while running my computer games business. As I read these entries, I felt surges of anxiety. Sometimes my eyes welled up with tears. I wasn’t just reading stories. I was reliving the memories.
There were also many positive experiences to review. I read entries from 1997 about the wonderful benefits I experienced after going vegan, like having lots of stamina that enabled me to progress through the belt ranks faster in Tae Kwon Do and getting into distance running, which eventually led to running a marathon. My relationship with Erin was stellar back then, and I expressed many positive feelings about our relationship before and after the wedding in 1998. My programming skills were better than ever, and I was excited about how much I was learning and how much my skills had evolved since I was younger.
In my journal I would often conduct a quick life review, where I’d rate each part of my life on a scale of 1-10. It was interesting to see how some of those numbers changed over time, while other number remained relatively fixed for years. I saw my health ratings improve, especially after going vegan and taking up Tae Kwon Do (after which I kept seeing 9s and 10s), but I routinely rated my finances a 1 during those years. I’ve continued this practice ever since, so I can look at any period of my life and see how I rated its various aspects.
I liked seeing that even under great stress and adverse conditions, I had a constant drive to keep growing. I was always thinking long-term, trying not to get beaten down by the problems of the moment. I never gave up on holding the vision that my future would be better. Sometimes I seemed delusionally optimistic and exceedingly impatient, but that still kept me going.
From reading years of journal entries, I could see (plain as day) patterns in my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that didn’t serve me well. I was incredibly naïve about trusting the wrong people. I overworked myself and barely took any vacations, leading to an imbalanced lifestyle. I was much too impatient, and I often set unrealistic deadlines where a more relaxed and sustainable pacing would have been superior. I put way too many goals on my plate. I put too much blind faith in material I read in various self-help books. I was obsessed with trying to make money, so I could at least cover my expenses without sinking further into debt. I was still growing, but I kept oscillating between doing it in a delusionally optimistic way and then in an uptight and stressful way. I was missing a sense of balance.
Some journal entries made me proud of my past self, like reading an entry about how I nailed my testing for red belt. I couldn’t pass that same test today. Other entries made me want to shake him and scream, “No! You idiot!” It’s one thing to write about those experiences the first time. It’s quite different to read about them with the perspective of hindsight, knowing where each decision would eventually lead. It was emotionally difficult to see my past self making a decision that I knew would lead him into a trap, but the trap wouldn’t be sprung for months or even years later. It was also difficult seeing him succumb to worries that I no longer have today, mainly because I’ve already lived through the results.
I especially enjoyed seeing seeds of future changes sprouting in my past. Even back in 1997, I journaled about wanting to get into personal development as a career, including doing my own workshops someday. I really liked the idea of contributing to the world in a bigger way. In 1998 I was already thinking that I should eventually transition out of the gaming industry, even though I didn’t do so until 2004.
I smiled when I read a list of countries and cities that I wanted to travel to someday. I’ve now been to about a third of the places on that list. It was good to see that by expressing those desires, I was planting seeds for real future experiences.
I saw character weaknesses that I overcame, such as overworking and overstressing myself. I saw other weaknesses that I’m still working on, like taking on too many projects at once. I saw patterns of circular thinking, where I’d cycle through different problem-solving approaches over the course of a year, but none of them actually worked. I saw where my thinking helped me and where it hurt me.
This review changed my perspective on the present. It helped me see that I can make big changes in my life when I desire to do so, but they’re usually going to take time, persistence, and a lot of patience. Stressing myself out doesn’t make the process go any faster. Anxiety only causes me to make poor decisions that cause further delays. The same goes for delusional optimism. In the long run, patience and persistence can make many goals a reality.
If you’ve been journaling for a while – a habit I’ve been recommending for years because of the tremendous personal growth benefits – I encourage you to review some of your past entries when you intuitively feel it’s a good time. It was a powerful experience for me, and I expect it will be so for you as well.