There’s a debugging method, common among software developers, called “Rubber Duck Debugging”.
Debugging – finding errors (“bugs”) in the code that prevent it from performing as expected.
According to this method, when a developer is stuck on a problem they can’t solve, they take a rubber ducky and articulate the problem they’re trying to solve to it, and then follow up by explaining how their code solves that problem line by line, assuming (rightfully so) that the ducky has zero experience in software development.
When they see that what they’re saying doesn’t match the code written, or when they struggle to explain a part of their code, it’s a major flag to focus on that spot because the problem is probably in that area. This is somewhat similar to the Feynman technique, or the Socratic dialogue, adopted for the modern realities of software development.
Journaling = Debugging Yourself
What does this have to do with journaling? I have an old theory that journaling is the equivalent of Rubber Ducky Debugging for oneself. The journal is your ducky, and you tell it what happened.
It’s a lot harder to be dishonest with a journal – it’s one thing to avoid taking responsibility in your head, but when you write it down, it suddenly feels wrong. You re-read the sentence you just wrote down, and you realize that it’s not really how things went, or how you feel, or what you want.
To Publish or not to Publish?
I have kept a diary ever since I was 7 years old, and I never let anyone read it. I assume now my mom might’ve read it when I didn’t see, but even if she did – I never knew, so I wrote things just how they felt.
When I was 17 or so, my then boyfriend read my diary (he asked for permission of course, but to be honest I don’t remember if I wanted him to read it or did I just want his approval), and it was a terrible experience. He got really mad about several dreams I described there, and we had a huge fight over this. After this event, I stopped writing for a while. When I came back to it a few months later, I always wrote as if someone’s going to read it eventually. It took me a long time to get over this fear.
What I’m trying to say is, maybe some people write like this. Writing with the fear (or the hope) of it being read at some point. Maybe this is why it is important to “keep the record straight” and deliver an accurate description of events, even if one sided – the reader will only know what is written, won’t they?
On the other hand, keeping a journal entirely private, or even secret, is an incredibly freeing experience. Knowing you can admit to anything you think or feel, your worst qualities and most shameful wishes – and you will not be judged.
I don’t remember where I saw this quote: “The first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think; what you think next defines who you are.” or, as an alternative – “The first thought that pops into your head isn’t your fault- what you do with it afterwards is.”. I think admitting to negatives, even if just for yourself, is an important first step to start working on things that you want to change. Other times, it might become a bridge to accepting yourself as you are.
People who journal tend to slowly change their pronoun usage in journaling. While most people usually start by exclusively blaming themselves (“I did…” “I suck at…” “I’m the worst…”) or others (“They did…” “They hate me…” “They don’t need me…”) – after a while these pronouns start to mix up and the responsibility becomes more and more balanced.
Why does it happen?
There are certain rules for writing that make texts that follow them more readable than others. I find that I’m more sensitive to delicate differences, such as several sentences in a row that start with the same word.
Apparently, even if they aren’t as meticulous as I am about that, people tend to gravitate toward well written texts – even when writing them themselves. This brings us to my second theory – it gets exhausting writing in the same sentence structure again and again.
There’s a TED talk that I think I already referenced in a previous post (but I love it so much I don’t mind giving it a second shout-out) that describes how our language influences our emotions – in particular, if the subject of a negative sentence changes, the blame often switches targets as well. By changing the subject from “I” to “they” or vice-versa, we start thinking from the perspective of the new subject and analyze the same situation from a different point of view.
I don’t know if there’s a “mind sense”, but I believe that just thinking about something doesn’t count as triggering any senses. On the other hand, your senses do trigger your brain.
Everyone has experienced a smell or a sound bringing up a long-forgotten memory. This happens because sensory systems send signals to the association parts of the brain that then make new (or strengthen existing) connections between experiences and sensory signals.
When journaling, there’s at least one engaged sense (usually sight), and often others that follow. It could be touch if you chose pen and paper, or even a keyboard – or it could be hearing if you decide to dictate your entries instead of writing them. Some go as far as creating a whole “mood” for journaling that engages with all 5 senses, but that’s not something I’ve tried.
I’m curious to hear your theories on why journaling is so life changing for so many people.
I find it works so much better for me when I engage in freeform journaling rather than prompted entries, but I’ve heard people swear by the 5-minute journal or other prompt-based system. What are your thoughts on that?
See you next time,
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