Rereading Your Journal

by Ruth Folit

Periodically, rereading your journal is an excellent way to step back and take stock of your life.  You have captured the subjective views of your life in your journal entries, and, with the aid of a wide-angle lens of time and a little detective work, you can gain a big-picture perspective of your life–like reaching the top of a mountain at the end of hike and looking back to see the route you have traveled. Rereading your journal thoughtfully can be an important step in the process of your evolution.

Before embarking on a journal rereading, it’s imperative to have the right attitude. The review process is about gaining greater understanding of yourself, NOT about beating yourself up. Reading past entries can bring up all sorts of feelings–surprise, admiration, embarrassment, boredom, respect, sadness, and scorn. The trick is to approach the re-reading with self-acceptance, openness, compassion, humor, and non-judgment.

One technique to maintain a positive and non-judgmental attitude as you are reading your journal is to imagine that you are listening to a good friend. Good friends can help each other look for the silver lining, the positive spin, life patterns, and lessons learned from an experience.

Another crucial point is to remember that keeping a journal is about process, not product. Don’t judge your writing ability or style, or even basic spelling and grammar skills. Keep your interior red editing pen out of the picture.

Also, keep in mind that journal writing serves different purposes for various times in your life–to record facts and events, to vent feelings, to confide secrets, or to sort out meaning. What was momentous for you a month ago, may not be today. Remember, too, that your understanding of your journal will be based on your feelings of the moment and in successive rereading you might see things differently.

Occasionally rereading a journal will allow you to see more than you may want to know about yourself. If you can’t maintain a constructive perspective, talk to a good friend and/or see a professional counselor.

You can approach your journal review in several ways.  You can read through it, with an open and inquisitive mind and see what your impressions are. This is an intuitive, non-structured process in which impressions and flashes of insight surface as you re-read the year’s entries. You may want to add comments as you read. Create a topic in the Topic List called “comments” and then select and assign that topic to your annotations.  This will enable you to differentiate between what you wrote initially and what you added later. You may also want to include a date in the highlighted commentary text.

If you are looking for a little more structure while you reread your journal, you can keep some questions in mind:

  • What are my dominant emotions?
  • What are the areas of conflict, challenge, and growth that I write about?
  • Did I learn something valuable from difficult situations that I was in?
  • Are there recurring themes, subject, or issues that I visit? Is there a pattern to when the subject or issue re-appears? Am I making progress understanding and dealing with these issues?
  • Do I repeatedly reference health, physical, stress, or sleeping related problems?
  • Is there a part of my body in particular that keeps causing distress in my life?
  • What accomplishments have I achieved? What new skills have I mastered?
  • How did I overcome obstacles?  Am I bumping into similar obstacles?
  • What am I feeling as I reread different sections of my journal?  Do these feelings give me clues about areas that I am still working on, that I have moved beyond, or that I am ready to change?
  • Who or what has strongly influenced me?
  • What loose ends or unanswered questions do I have?

Here’s another aspect to consider when reviewing your journal entries: What’s missing from your journal? Are there times when you can tell that you are censoring yourself? Are you asking questions instead of puzzling out the answers?   Insert the word “censoring,” so that you can go back and search later for those areas. You may want to highlight the text where you know you suppressed information and assign the topic “censored” to it, so that you can go back and see where you self-censor.

Another approach to reviewing your journal focuses on questions that you may want to ask yourself after your reread your journal.  Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What are the highlights of my year?
  • Can I summarize my year, encapsulating it in several sentences?.
  • What would the headline or title of my year be?
  • If I had goals for the year, did I reach them?
  • Is my journal representative of the year?  Is there anything meaningful that I omitted? If so, can I add it now?
  • What did I learn this year? What did I wish I had learned?
  • What was my tone of voice in my journal?
  • What mood am I in when you write in my journal? What is my motivation for writing?
  • What have I gained or lost this year?
  • What is left unfinished that I want to work on in the future?

You might also want to create a journal entry or series of journal entries to summarize the portion of the journal that you are rereading.  Make it clear what the entry is by giving it a title that you’ll understand  in subsequent years, like Summary, 2006. Or, you may want to create a topic in the Topic List, called Summary or Review that you assign to any journal entry that reflects your reaction to reading a chunk of past journal entries. With time, you’ll be able to compare these entries from one year to the next.