I don’t regularly post on social media because I usually prefer to keep my life to myself. With people sharing so much online nowadays, it somehow feels good that no one knows what you’re doing. That, good or bad, your days are secret moments that only you get to share with the select few people that happen to be with you when they happen.
However, in light of some recent events and experiences, I find myself in a reflective mood and compelled to let out some of my thoughts from the shackles of a mind that often prefers to remain hidden in privacy. Digital ink seems to be the perfect avenue for this great escape!
A couple of weeks ago I was browsing Reddit and I stumbled upon an interesting thread in the “Showerthoughts” Subreddit. It’s a place where users share random epiphanies that usually come to our minds when we’re doing the most mundane things or daily rituals — like taking a shower (and casually wondering about the mysteries of the universe). The thread in question had the following title: If everything goes smoothly, you probably won’t remember today.
The thread ultimately received more than 82 thousand upvotes and 1400 comments. It implied that we only remember the extremely good and the extremely bad days of our lives, with the unremarkable ones passing into oblivion …
I thought about it for a while and figured it would serve as a perfect intro for this blog post because I kinda agree (but with a twist).
Sometime near the tail end of 2014, I decided that I was going to make a New Year’s resolution — something I’ve never really done before in any meaningful capacity. My goal was to start writing a daily diary. It’s an activity that doesn’t seem to be too popular in today’s fast-paced world, but I wanted to give it a go.
I don’t remember what exactly prompted me to make this decision, but I do recall that I was going through a sort of confusing period of my life. I was working hard towards a clear career-oriented goal of finishing a degree in electrical engineering, but at the same time, I was unsure about the future for a variety of reasons.
It’s safe to say that I was struggling in multiple areas of my life, so — in my Spock-like logical way of thinking — I figured that I needed to develop some good habits. This need was amplified by the fact that I had just stopped training athletics. Looking back at it now, I can definitely say that this was a loss of a regular activity that helped me remain disciplined.
In any case, writing a diary was never intended to be a solution for anything, but it was an easy & no-cost way of doing something that would probably help me stay focused on my goals and at least partially sway my mind away from the murky future.
So when we rolled into the 1st of January 2015, I opened a blank Word document on my computer and started typing. It was a Thursday and I wrote no more than 151 words about my day, just enough to fill up about one-fifth of an A4 size page.
I went into it with no expectations, and like all first steps, it felt kind of awkward. I dreamt of a time when I’d be able to look back through hundreds of pages, but as you can imagine, writing only a couple of paragraphs every day felt like it was gonna take forever to get there. It was like building a house by laying one brick a day.
First and foremost, I thought it would be extremely cool to have a written account of my life and the ability to look back and know exactly what I was doing on any given day. But as the weeks went by and pages started to pile on, I slowly started to realize that it was going to be much more than that …
Most adults would probably say that I was always a good kid, but I have to admit that I was never really an honest person growing up. In fact, I would say that I used to be quite a good liar. I was ashamed of my failures and very afraid of disappointing the closest people in my life.
It took me quite a long time to gradually change some of these destructive behaviours, despite the fact that — time and time again — when the truths finally surfaced, I hurt myself and the people around me.
So when I was a couple of months into my journaling journey, I realized that I had to be extremely and brutally honest with myself. Was I slacking when I was supposed to be studying? Was I being dishonest? Did I lie to someone?
When I sat down at the end of the day, I had to confront these questions and write down the answers. There was no hiding from the one person that did know the objective truth.
On the one hand, I wanted to write about everything I was doing, but on the other hand, I had a tendency to want to sweep certain things under the rug. Sometimes I caught myself thinking, “what if someone read what I just wrote down, what would they think of me?”
Some people might say that no one should be ashamed of anything because ultimately, every past experience and action shapes who we are today. To which I say yes, but I also think that this argument is sometimes used as a lazy way of justifying bad decisions. I believe that you should be able to recognize when you’re doing something that you’re not proud of and adjust your behaviour accordingly.
There were times when I wasn’t quite sure if I was comfortable putting something into my diary, but I came to the following realization: no one was even reading my posts, so if I didn’t write something, I was actually hiding it from myself. It was an eye-opener that helped me improve in many aspects of my day to day life.
Truly unforgettable days can often be few and far between. The beauty (or irony) of life is such that they are either the days when you’re having the time of your life or when you’re having an awful time of it. This is also the underlying assumption of the Reddit thread mentioned in the intro of this blog. These days stay with you whether you like it or not, only that you don’t ever want to forget the good days, and you probably want to forget the bad ones.
But is that true? I’m not so sure. Just like everyone else, I also experience awful days or periods, so how should I approach them when writing a diary? Do I write about them or just leave an empty page? What would you do? Would you write down something that might become (and remain) a painful memory? Something that would peck away at your brain every time you’d go back and read it? I didn’t think much about these questions at the start, but I was quickly going to be confronted with them.
And sure enough — just as I was getting into the groove of writing — the first half of 2015 represented a major turning point in my life. I still had my ups and downs, just like any other year, but the low point was probably one of the worst in my life.
“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” – Confucius
I didn’t think about it like that at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can distinctly pinpoint that, for me, the moment of realization described in the quote above was the 14th of April 2015. I’m glad that I persisted through that tough period and that I still wrote my diary every single day because it was the perfect therapy session.
So whenever I’m going through hard times, it helps me to write it down because it gives me a logical flow of the reasons that I’m feeling these emotions. I start to think more clearly and I’m able to process my thoughts, both positive and negative.
Fast forward to today and I’m very happy that I have a blueprint of what my headspace was like at any point during the past five years. So much of what would otherwise be at the mercy of an unreliable memory is now permanently accessible at the touch of a button.
Whether we like it or not, every year of our life brings new lessons. Some of them can be hard to swallow as they make us question or maybe even completely change our world-view, while others merely expand our knowledge and broaden our horizons. I’d say that the latter ones ideally make us grow while the former ones truly have the power to change us (for better or for worse). I can now extract positive lessons even from negative experiences when I look back at them with fresh eyes.
Okay, so what the hell am I trying to say? Well, hear me out. A detailed diary is the closest thing I have to a time machine. I love having the opportunity to go back in time and know exactly what I did on any given day as it gives me an invaluable perspective tool. I’m finally at a point where I have nearly 1000 written pages with more than 590k words (The Lord of the Rings books have around 480k).
And my perspective is this:
You probably won’t remember >99% of the days gone by, but they are the days that truly count. They represent the foundation that defines you as a person. Without a solid foundation, your general state of being will always be at the mercy of the great or awful experiences. Having an awful time? It’s gonna be hard to pick yourself up. Having a great time? You’re gonna be in search of the next high like a junkie.
This just my view and I could be wrong, but I can honestly say that I’ve really become to internalize the idea that it’s about the journey, not the destination. I like to make comparisons with sports, so a good day (the destination) is akin to winning gold at the Olympics, but the days before represent years and years of training (the journey). Reaching a destination is always a joyful moment, but it is also a fleeting moment.
And I don’t think life is all about these moments like we’re being told through advertisements in the Western world. I think these moments are merely the dessert or the cherry on top, but it’s not healthy to live like that (in expectation of those great moments). I know that nothing will make me happy (or happier) in the long run if my foundations are not solid. And I really doubt that the constant pursuit of going on a vacation, getting those new clothes, that new TV, or that new car is a healthy foundation.
I think this is perfectly described in the theory of hedonic treadmill (“the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes”).
I have become fairly adept at recognizing these moments when they come and appreciating them while they last.
My personal foundation is this: surrounding myself with positive people and having a mission where I don’t live for weekends or vacations, and where my source of happiness isn’t derived from buying things I don’t really need. I’m not saying material pursuits are bad, but for me, they are just the cherry on top of everything else. A dessert after the main course if you will. The foundation is the main course and if I don’t like it, I have to change the diet, not comfort myself with sweets.
Changes, whether deliberate or not, are rarely comfortable, but almost all of the best moments in my life were a result of putting myself in situations outside of my comfort zone.
As a result, I want to be less comfortable. Happiness, for me, is to embrace the grind in all meaningful endeavours, whether it be at work, in the weight room, or in pursuit of some other goal. Create actionable plans and make them happen. Accept that life is and will continue to be hard, but it is also beautiful. I know, for certain, that I will do everything I can to be a better person. For my own sake, and for the sake of the people around me. In order to achieve this, I have to make sure that every day counts :).