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Journaling and the Importance of Feeling Excited

Wednesday September 13, 2017

Almost 10 years ago, I began working on what I now see as a journal-keeping framework. The more I wrote what amounted to terribly boring information in my journal, the more irritated I became, and the more I realized that I was thinking of journaling simply as a plain chronology, and I absolutely hate keeping plain chronologies (I don’t mind logging things, but adding the details becomes tedious).

While I thought a journal was important, I wasn’t quite sure how to make it interesting enough to turn it into a habit. The more I tried to keep a chronology, the less likely I was to write.

I thought forward to what my children might want to know about me, by thinking about what I wanted to know based on my past journal entries. As I paged through a few of them (I can’t do this for long—reviewing old works is not something for which I have a lot of patience), I realized they lacked feeling. What was on my mind? What was bugging me? What made me feel upbeat? I had not written any of it down—it was simply a bunch of sketches of things and people, accompanied by notes about where I went and what I did there.

I gave a nickname to this new idea of including more feeling: “Sadnesses and Gladnesses.” This was my first, if one-dimensional, journaling framework. I took this framework with me on a vacation and kept a legitimate travel journal, something that’s still neat to read. While I don’t remember the details of the flight from the US to London, I do remember, still, that I was excited to learn about the newest version of the Linux distribution I was using at the time. The fact that such things stay with me seems to indicate that I was indeed keeping a journal that was more me, no matter how geeky.

Some years after that experience, I read Jordan Mechner’s Karateka and Prince of Persia journals in e-book form and was captivated. He seemed to be focused on his goals, reflecting on how they were or weren’t going, and included little incidentals about his feelings about people, places, software, and so on. Just reading his journals, I knew an adjusted approach to track my goals and progress would be helpful to me, too.

At the same time, my interest in personality type was rapidly increasing. I learned about extraverted thinking, and the way getting one’s thoughts out and onto paper, or into others’ ears, or into a spreadsheet, can be very helpful.

As a result, I started a “Life Improvement Journal”. This journal is my longest and most earnest paper journal to date (though my most current digital journals contain many times the word count) and contains many mini-experiments in journaling. My point in keeping this journal was to experiment with it until it became a legitimately useful tool that would help me improve my life.

In one journaling experiment, I simply asked myself, “is my life improving?” If it wasn’t—and this seemed a very important ingredient—I researched and thought about ways to improve on my improvement process until I came up with something I could try the next day.

In another journaling experiment, pondering the fact that I didn’t know his exact appearance, I sketched the face of Jesus Christ every day. Each face looks different. One of them makes me laugh; it looks as if Jesus Christ might have been imitating one of the Muppets in order to keep a child entertained. However the more I looked at it, the more I had to admit such a thing was possible and, arguably, probable given some ancient Muppet equivalent. How would allowing for this affect my subjective concept of Christ?

These ideas kept my interest and I kept writing and occasionally sketching. This new journal was an exploration of what journaling could do for me, and it helped me identify key factors in motivation while also exploring new ideas.

About two years ago, in a moment of very motivated anticipation, I had my first big cackle in a long time. It was certainly the first cackle in my life that had actually shocked me and made me stop and think. I love the word “cackle,” because no matter how ridiculous a cackle you make, the point of the cackle only becomes more and more clear—you are excited and you feel very good in your current position, probably with some insight into how things are going to turn out for you.

That first big cackle was interesting to me, and I wrote about it. It felt amazing, and quite the opposite of the depression and exhaustion with which I had become so familiar in past years.

I hypothesized that cackles were a very positive sign for increased motivation, energy, and optimism.

What, then, could I do to cackle more?

I backed up a step and realized that my level of excitement is a big hint at an upcoming cackle moment. Since then—to make a long blog post shorter than it would otherwise be—I’ve become a collector of things to be excited about.

Each day, as I write out my daily plan, I try to guess at and plan for some things that excite me. Yesterday, for example, I was excited to write a program on my Casio FX-750GII calculator. How long has it been since I did such a thing? Almost 20 years?

I made the time in my schedule, wrote out some program ideas and immediately wrote an idiot-level program just to quickly learn my way through by trial and error. It felt great!

Today, my excitement was piqued by the idea of testing a modified daily routine for my business (as unexciting as I’m sure it will be perceived, this routine has a spiritual dimension that I am anticipating with excitement), and also spending some time in each of the three library books I had checked out: Learned Optimism, Change Anything, and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I may post my study notes here, too, because that was fun in the past.

Tomorrow, perhaps excitement will mean a DIY video on Youtube, or a favorite new song, discovered.

As I stalk my next cackle—and these are not as easy to come by as “normal excited moments”, by any means—I feel the way a big game hunter must feel when they have caught a glimpse of the animal they were just meant to encounter. After years of fighting depression and anxiety, this new hunt feels very satisfying. And as a side effect, every day now contains at least a little bit of excitement—before now, the question of any excitement at all appearing on the daily schedule was up in the air.

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