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Why Every Man Should Keep a Handwritten Journal

TR writting at desk

How often does this happen to you? The day goes by — or the week(s) — and you can’t remember anything of significance that took place. We find ourselves saying, “ Is it really December already?” or “ Where did the year go?” Worst of all we may take a look at our kids, recognizing they have grown and to us it has been a complete blur. Life has washed over us like a rock on the shore; we stayed wet, had a little time to breathe before the next wave, and thought that was living.

I have been reading the Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (actually listening to the Audible version) and was really impressed by Roosevelt’s habit of journaling, even at a very young age, even before he could spell adequately. Perhaps being confined by illness on so many days made the outside world all the more amazing to him and when he was well enough, he would soak in as much as possible. Or, rather, it could be, and I think it more likely, that he was just an outstanding person of character from very early on. Either way, it has challenged me to think about journaling in a way I had not before, and I have come to realize that journaling helps me enjoy life by slowing down, replaying, and recording the day.

Dear Diary…

One doesn’t have to go back too far to see that the great men of history were religious journal keepers, yet somehow this practice has rapidly faded among men. One of the first images that used to come to mind regarding keeping a written journal was of the poufy-haired school girl of the 1950’s, sitting on her bed, and opening up her pink diary and beginning with those words, “ Dear diary,…” I bring this up because there is a chance you have that same image as well and we need to abolish it. Journaling is quite the manly thing to do.

Journal or Diary?

The “Dear diary” example above, where some girl is going to write about the boy she likes and how rotten Cindy so-and-so is for liking him to, would actually be a journal entry, not a diary. According to Webster’s:

Diary:

1. a personal record of daily events, appointments, observations, etc.

2. a book for keeping such a record

A diary is more of a technical listing of events. For example, the famous opening line “ Captains log. Stardate…” from StarTrek would be considered a diary format. However, things get a little mixed up when we get into nautical terms and any sort of recorded entry is considered a log or a journal.

A journal, on the other hand, is a recording of the day or weeks events along with the feelings or loose thoughts of the writer. Journals can also contain drawings, photos, newspaper articles and other artifacts whereas a diary is basically a written log.

The Effects of Journaling on the Mind of a Man

Keeping a journal has a number of benefits to the mental and emotional well-being of a man.

Journaling Orders the Events of the Day and Eases the Subconscious

Have you ever heard that when you dream your mind is trying to process information taken in during your waking hours and make sense of it? I feel there is some truth to this, as I often dream about the random things that come up in conversations, momentary thoughts, or cares that have been weighing on me. Journaling can help us organize the events and thoughts of the day and draw out the lessons to be learned.

Writing the events of the day is a form of self-narration, where the events are taken and ordered to make sense and solidify them in the mind. The process of taking the events of the day that came to us in the form of our five senses, evaluating them, defining their significance, and writing them down creates spacial links between the auditory, emotional, visual, and other areas of the brain. In short, if you have goals or significant life events, they are more likely to be achieved or remembered when written in longhand.

Journaling Affirms a Sense of Worth (Even in the Mundane)

Journaling affirms a sense of value in our day. It tells a man that even the mundane things of life are significant enough to be recorded. Often times we will find little gems throughout our day to write down. Some days, particularly bad days, simply need to be recorded because they matter to us. They are, after all, our days, and good or bad, we only get the ones allotted to us.

Every man who writes a journal hopes it will one day be read, maybe only after he is dead, but believes all the same that some one will care enough about him and his life enough to value the things he valued and concern themselves with the things for which he was concerned. This reaffirms his significance as an individual, but also his relevance to the lives of others: his friends, wife, children, and perhaps, history.

Journaling Helps us Know Ourselves

There are not too many places in the life of a man where he can safely and uninhibitedly practice understanding his own nature and the ability to communicate his inner thoughts and feelings. When I say practice, I mean that, for most men, there are a few layers to go through before we can really get deep and it takes some practice to learn our way around. Perhaps Shrek put it best when he said, “ Ogres are like onions.” Yes, men are like onions.

Journaling can be structured, but can also be free-flowing unimpeded thoughts and feelings. As already discussed, writing in longhand cultivates a special connection — think of it like a secret door — between our hearts, minds, and the words we used to express ourselves. There is a great sense of relief when you are able to find just the right words to express what it is you are feeling.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Journal Entries

Roosevelt is and was the man’s-man if ever there was one. It was well-known that he had an insatiable vigor for living, warring, adventuring, hunting, trust busting…hell, I heard he even slept with enthusiasm. While he was passionate and outspoken against laziness, corruption, and all sorts of moral failings, without his journal it would be hard to know just how much he was affected by the loss of his wife. It is humbling to read his entries knowing this was a man of such strength and character it spilled over onto others, and yet broken to the point of there being no words to express.

The first entry is from February 3, 1880, courting his soon to be wife. A snippet from the journal reads:

“I drove over in my sleigh to Chestnut Hill, the horse plunging to his belly in the great drifts, and the wind cutting my face like a knife. My sweet life was just as lovable and pretty as ever; it seems hardly possible that I can kiss her and hold her in my arms.” – Theodore Roosevelt, February 3, 1880

teddy roosevelt journal entry

Journal Entry by Theodore Roosevelt regarding his soon to be wife.

Only 4 years after their marriage, his wife Alice Hathaway Lee, died shortly after childbirth (His mother died on that day as well).  Struck so severely by the event, Roosevelt can only bring himself to write an “ X” and “ The light has gone out of my life.

After burying his wife a few days later he writes another entry: “ …For joy or for sorrow, my life has now been lived out.

teddy roosevelt journal entry wife death

Roosevelt’s Journal Entry the day his first wife Alice died.

What About Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and Instagram “Journals”

Social media is a great way to capture life’s moments, but they are done in short burst, often disconnected from the events of the day. In fact, I think it tricks most people into thinking that they are journaling, but really they are just recording events in an almost instinctive manner without the exercise of really slowing down and looking at the day as a whole.

You could, however, use social media as a form of journaling, but there is a tendency to write for the sake of other people and you will likely be tempted to choose your words rather than just writing from the heart.

Final Thoughts

Journaling helps us slow down and take in the day. It can be a tough habit to begin and even tiring if you are used to typing (as I am). But, before too long you will begin to feel the release of the weight of the day, a more organized and clear mind, and best of all, life will not seem as if it is rushing by.

Update 5/27/2015:

Since writing this article I have stayed true to my journal writing commitment. I don’t write everyday but usually don’t go more than a day or two without writing. I have a corner in the house where I can have a cup of coffee, sit in a manly chair, and scribble down some thoughts about the past day and upcoming things. This has worked out pretty well and I have encouraged my sons to start this practice early rather than waiting as I have done.

Also, my friend Bryan from Manturity has written an article about keeping a quote journal, which is just a grand idea. Check it out.

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