It’s been quite a long time since my last blog post, but…life happened. First I was sucked in by the Christmas craze, then had to reconnect when I got home, then the Little One had an incredibly hard time with upper canines (yeah, one night she got up at 3 a.m and did not go back to sleep), then I was sucked in by the formative assessrise like the break of dawnment whirlwind and I have basically started to breathe again just two weeks ago. Of course, since life can never throw that much on me I made a serious and committed plan to eat healthier and to exercise because the “I just had a baby” excuse is getting old when the baby is almost two years old. And on top of everything, I thought it would be a good idea to do something more artistic and have taken up hand-lettering. And here I was telling myself that I am a laid-back person.
I will start by addressing those of you sneering in the back of the room and saying: “Right, like I have time to journal”.
I get it.
You run around every day, maybe you have insane deadlines to meet at work, maybe you have a cohort of children clinging to each of your limbs and demanding your attention. Maybe you have both, in which case, I salute you. How are you supposed to scratch out some time for journaling when you have to wait for planets to align just to read for 20 minutes straight? I totally get it, believe me.
And yet…you can journal. Seriously.
I journal about my readings five to six times per week, it only takes me about five minutes per day, and then I have my thoughts noted down for future reference, which is very valuable. You do not have to journal every day, you do not need to keep a perfect record of everything. In the past, whenever I have tried to keep a journal or diary, I was always discouraged by my own perfectionism and wanting to keep everything exactly in its place. Perfectionism is a great habit killer: you cannot do it perfectly, so you just give it up because who cares.
In this sense, for all the perfectionists out there, journaling is an excellent medicine to cure this crippling disease. While journaling, you become acquainted with your feelings and your reasons, and it is an excellent way of spotting where things went south or when your expectations were definitely higher than necessary. It is as easy as grabbing a notebook, writing “Mood: ________”, the date, and then proceed to explain why you feel like this. Bonus: if you do it while you are in a great mood, later you will be able to recall that feeling and it may help you overcome a bad day.
There are also other types of journals that can be more suitable for students, aside of the classical one that allows you to connect with your emotions.
Maybe you have heard about Bullet Journals or BuJos, for short. If you do a quick search on the Internet, you can see beautiful and crazy things done with bullet journals. However, for a simple and pragmatic approach, you can refer to the original Bullet Journal site and see how simple and effective the system is. You only need a pen or pencil and a notebook (not necessarily a dotted one). This is wonderful for organizational purposes, like keeping track of your activities and as a future referral of what you did on a certain day. It is great as a planner too when you want to see everything at one glance, especially when dealing with multiple deadlines and tasks. It differs from a regular planner in that it is completely adapted to your needs so you will not have unused pages, and if you leave it for some time you can pick it back up and use it right where you left off, hence diminishing the guilty feeling of having left it in the first place. I am a very visual person, so an organized and pleasant-looking bullet journal helps me in staying motivated and keeping track of things.
My other faithful companion is my reading journal, which I have already mentioned. There are many ways to keep a reading journal. Mine is very simple and purposeful. I jot down the date, the remaining pages of my total number of pages at the beginning of the reading session, how many pages I have read that day, and lastly, how many pages remain at the end of the reading session. After that, I write a paragraph (at most) with impressions of what I have read, if something has caught my attention and if there is something I would like to research. On the whole, this takes me five minutes, maybe a couple more if I have many ideas fluttering in my head after reading. And with this brief activity, I build a precious thing for a student: a record of what I have read as well as when and what made me think.
This is great as a future reference for essay writing, as it contains your stance and your opinions about a book, which is half the way into a good outline for an essay. It is also a physical source of motivation: when you have kept at this for two weeks, you will start looking back and feeling proud of yourself. Whenever I feel a bit down about not having progressed a lot with my reading, I just re-read some of the entries and instantly acknowledge that we all have good days and bad days, and the bad days do not in any way diminish the value of the good days (rather, the contrary is true). In addition, a reading journal allows you to keep track of your pace and thus keeps you in tune with your Big Picture Plan.
With these two journals I could go to the end of the world. If you are not converted to the journaling religion nor convinced of the positive effects of journaling, there are still more advantages. First, it is inexpensive. Whatever you see on the Internet, you do not need either expensive notebooks nor expensive stationary to make the most of journaling. I bet you already have a notebook and a pen somewhere in your house, and those are just perfect. And second, I see these journals as testimonials of a moment in my life. Studying independently is a huge thing, and whoever tells you it is easier or has less value than face-to-face studying certainly has no idea of what studying independently really means. Having a record of your ups and downs in this momentous stage of your life is a memento of your bravery and of everything that made you choose your studies in the first place.
So if you are feeling down or are not sure about yourself, just put pen to paper and let it flow. Chances are you will find something interesting about yourself in the process.
Ana is studying the BA English by distance learning in Luxembourg.