March 11, 2020

Second-Time Journaling: the Art of Revisiting our Unfinished Goals & Dreams.


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After a decade of being paper-free, I went back to journaling this past year, and it’s made a noticeable, qualitative difference in my life.

I’ve achieved more milestones, I’ve become more mindful, and life has become more meaningful, on many fronts.

There’s something magical about writing our goals down—not simply typing them out, but the concrete act of writing them down. We become more invested, somehow. Things become more real, as both cause and effect of concrete commitment. There’s science and data supporting all this.

In uncertain times, writing things down gives us clarity. We have an intrinsic need to hold onto tangible things; this need becomes greater when we have less tangible things around us, aka being in the digital world.

When the calendar year ran out, I wasn’t in a rush to get a brand new journal. There was enough blank space in this journal to continue using it. But it wasn’t about saving paper as much as it was about not forgetting the things I set out to do. Because forgetting has happened before—regardless of how many lists were kept running on the smartphone, or how many task apps were installed, perhaps even used.

Day in and day out, our dream lists are slowly but surely replaced by lists of to-dos that occupy our time and exhaust us. Our lists make us busy for no good reason, because our everyday task lists and dream lists don’t intersect that much. Why is that?

Because somewhere along this busy life, we forgot what’s most important to us. Because life gets in the way, the way it does best. Because when we build our own dreams, we are not instantly rewarded with a buyout. It feels good to be getting paid. But we also pay. We pay in expired goals and forgotten dreams, and time we could have spent shaping our lives differently.

At the beginning of last year, I took self-inventory for the first time in years. I looked at the goals I set years ago, when I had a career coach guiding me, and I had let myself down—I never finished the work in that binder. I put my own goals on the back burner for other life-demanding tasks, and I promised myself I would never let years slip by like that again. So, I started journaling again. I looked at my goals and dreams every single day, so I would never forget them again.

Instead of new pages to fill, I found myself flipping back to last month’s pages, and “catching up” on what I hadn’t yet completed. I thought I would just spend a few more weeks to “finish up” the year, and then move on to a new book, except, the more I wrote in this old journal, the more I didn’t want to get out of it. The second time around the same journal; it was like a journey of “before and after” that mapped out so much that was deeply insightful and valuable, things that I couldn’t see or uncover the first time.

The added value of second-time journaling wasn’t simply using up the extra space for extra things to be written down. It was this side-by-side comparison of where I was a year ago and where I am today, continuing on the path of making these dreams come true.

Goals often take (much) longer than we give our impatient selves to accomplish. When we experience friction toward our goals, it’s not the goal that we should change or scrap, it’s our process and approach that we should tweak and improve. It’s like being fitted for something that’s tailored to and for us. If we gain or lose weight during the process, do we just throw out the suit completely? Or do we make changes where they are needed, and get the dream “fit”? Second-time journaling allows us to check in with ourselves, take these “measurements” again, and reevaluate where we are.

Sometimes, we don’t need to start over, what we need is to try harder. Do new beginnings truly fulfill or simply distract us? What becomes of life if it’s mostly a series of clean slates? What would we have built if we only celebrated starting over again?

I’m not going to buy new journals this year, and I probably won’t next year either. Instead, what I will do is add pages to the current journal, so I can look at the pages, side by side—where I’ve been, and where I am now—to truly acknowledge and appreciate the journey. Because isn’t that what life is about? The journey?

Second-time journaling is journaling at a deeper level:

  1. It forces us to self-reflect.
  2. It makes it easier for us to confront, therefore manage, the hard things. Are we truly in touch with our emotions?
  3. It maps our habits in a visual way, habits we may not have been conscious or aware of.
  4. It gives us a chance to check in with our goals and dreams. Do we still want the same things?
  5. It naturally conditions us to self-assess.
  6. It forces us to come face-to-face with our process—whether it works or doesn’t, pushing us to tweak it.
  7. It gives us something solid to connect to.
  8. If we must compare ourselves to something, then second-time journaling gives us something healthy to compare ourselves to—where we have come from.
  9. It documents growth, and how things have changed or remained the same.
  10. It gives us access to our younger, more naive selves. What have we learned that we would tell our younger selves? This is the value of the year that has passed.

Repetition is a key component of the process of achieving mastery. If all we repeat is starting over again, then what do we really end up with?

So, find your old journal, look at your dreams once more—and if they are still your dreams, don’t let them fade away. Recommit. Go deeper. See you on the other side.


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