The Importance of Writing Diary

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana

I have always been diligent in writing a diary when I was little. I have at least five different journals that depict my childhood life from elementary through high school. Those books are safely tucked in my old bedroom.

However, getting older and especially when college life started, I wrote diary less and less. I suspect the busy life of being a student and then jumping straight into the corporate world gives me the reason to spend the time to something more “exciting” than sitting down before bed and write the rant of the day.

However, yesterday, my instinct told me that I need to write about something that has been bugging me recently.  So I retrieve my post-college journal that has entries as old as 2015 and wrote a new page, nine months after the latest entry.

Now here is the thing that shocked me.

After writing what I needed to write, naturally, I would flip back to the older pages to catch a glimpse of what was in my mind several years ago.

Guess what?

The thing that has been bugging me in the past week, has been there since 3 years ago.

The proof is right there.

In the pages, written by no other than yours truly.

Even in one of the days, I contemplate a full plan to combat that particular thing.

Before opening that dusty blue-covered journal, I had no idea that this is a recurring thought!

Then it hits me like a Japanese fast train, what I have missed and why diary writing could be very crucial. Good for the soul, yes, but the activity gives you so much more than a temporary stress relief.

It starts with this simple formula:

Your life = the sum of your decisions

Where we are today is the compound of decisions we’ve made so far.

Decisions about where to go to school, what to study, who to befriend, how money was spent, and what job to apply and take, who to date.

There are circumstances that you cannot control, such as what kind of family you are born into or how you were raised as a child. But I am not talking about comparison and relative success. I am talking about our lives as individually independent entities and how do we get where we are today – relationship-wise, career-wise, money-wise.

Even when those things beyond our control pops up, it is still our decision on how to react to them.

For instance, you need to decide who you settle with. You might be with toying around with this idea during the course of the relationship, but eventually,  at a certain point, you need to pull the plug and determine whether to commit or not.

How do you decide on this?

Let’s analyze how a typical young adult would approach this quest.

Let’s say you have a boyfriend/girlfriend and have been going out for more than two years after meeting on a mutual friend’s birthday party.

Now that both of you are becoming more and more comfortable with each other, the big question then surfaces in the back of your mind: is this person the one? 

You would recall how your relationship feels like so far – whether you are happy or not, or whether there is a red flag you remembered that could caution not to proceed. You would pay attention to how you feel when your babe does certain things; you’d project whether you can or want to deal with those behaviors for the rest of your life.

Also, you will call some friends that have witnessed the relationship, to ask their opinion and give new perspectives you might miss.

What are you trying to do here?

You are collecting data points. Pieces of evidence.

Could be from your own memories, could be from what emotions your is feeling, could be from other’s people opinion.

And then you are using these data points to decide whether to proceed or not.

We have two big problems here.

Problem #1: WE are forgetful

This problem holds true for both our own memories and our friends’.

Consider this: According to the American Bar Association, of the 21 wrongful convictions overturned by the Innocence Project in 2011, 19 involved eyewitness testimony. More than three-quarters of wrongful convictions that are later overturned by DNA evidence were based on eyewitness reports.

It doesn’t mean that we cannot trust our memory or our friends’ opinion at all. However, there are inherent, scientifically proven limitations on making decisions based on memory alone.

While forgetting things are essentially how the brain works and thrives, you wouldn’t want to make major decisions around relationship and career based on wrong memories.

Confirmation bias makes the situation even worse. It is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

The fact that there are tons of people out there that stay in a bad and abusive relationship even though everyone and their mother has warned them to get out ASAP, is an evidence on how all of us can be blindsided. This is the kind of things that you will likely regret later in life.

Problem #2: decisions on relationship, career, and family are very personal

OK, if memory is not a good bet, what about objective research?

You can read articles on the internet from relationship experts to help her make the decision. Or maybe reading what other people have been experiencing out of internet forum, like Reddit.

Yes, those are absolutely good references for making informed decisions. But, here’s the thing:  relationship, career, and family are very subjective.

No matter how many articles you absorb and different kind of stories you listen to, at the end of the day, you are the one that will live with the person. Perhaps for another 50 years. People that give you unsolicited advice based on their relationship experience has made a different set of decisions than you in their own life.

Again, those stories and opinions are good references. Ultimately, though, who you commit to, what career you pursue, when/whether you will have kids is for you to decide.

Because it’s your life.  Not your friends’. Not your parents’.

Now, let’s come back to how writing diary will serve you justice.

We can map life-changing decision-making process into this Time vs Tendency graph. For instance, on the question about your life partner, you will see a pattern of the tendency that can guide you to make a sound decision.

In this graph below, based on what you recall and what your friends tell you, overall the relationship is promising.

Except… it’s more like this:

Because the vivid memory is usually the short term, the data that you use for decision-making is more representative of what you feel recently. 

Sure, you may have some distant memory that you swear by  – some happy memory from last year perhaps. However, how can you be sure that that happy memory is just what happened during the peak of relationship, while on average the relationship itself went bleak?

And are you sure that your recollection is not exaggerated or downplayed by confirmation bias?

This is why the data of your life, the written proof of your thoughts and feelings, could arguably be the most important information you can possess.

In other words, your diary.

That can you make a more sound decision, like this:

Your diary is the primer that can tell you exactly what happened in the past and why you did what you did so you can be wiser and more sure about your decisions today and tomorrow. The diary is the written proof of data points that you can cross-reference whenever you are in doubt.

Here is the problem, though. Not everyone has the time to write a diary. Even before discovering this, spending 20 minutes every day was off-limits because that time I can use to catch more sleep.

At least for me, I feel like there is a burden in writing diary itself, since writing it also means holding myself accountable. Also, somehow it feels like I need to write a full page of diary every single time, which turns me off often.

Which reveals the last trick:

Write anything about the day.

Anything at all. Again, the point is to gather data.

You don’t have to be poetic. You don’t have to be positive. Most importantly, you don’t have to be perfect.

There are no rules either. Just write what stands out to you for the day, in particular in areas that you feel you are still trying to figure out.

Career for instance. How do you feel about your work today? Any plans you want to make? Are you happy about something? Sad about something? Just write it down, and let it be there for your future self to learn.

navigating life

When we reach adulthood, we need to make tough decisions that have consequences. Often, it feels easier to outsource those decisions and make somebody else decide for you. Often, you would like to give in to family-pressure or peer-pressure and decide on something major, such as getting married, accepting a job, or having kids,  because you want to make other people happy.

My friend, remember this:

YOU are the one that is going to live with the consequences.

Not them.

If you follow them blindly and end up in bottom pit of unhappiness, they will say, “well, that’s what I suggest, but ultimately it should be your decision.”


Therefore, get up and help yourself.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Writing Diary”

Leave a Comment

Hi, I'm Sarah.

I'm a geologist who works in the energy + tech space. Yep, I know both Ruby the gemstone and Ruby the language. Here, I post my finest takes on energy, tech, and life at large.

Join my newsletter to get 'em pronto.