A year ago today I was struggling. I was working in a toxic environment, living in an expensive, cramped apartment, and my relationship was on the rocks. While I don’t remember being depressed per se, I do remember feeling hopeless. I remember many sleepless nights, and I remember doing what I could to make my situation bearable, yet feeling so exhausted by the effort it took to remain as positive as I could. That was where I was in February 2016.
Fast-forward to February 2017. I have a new job, a new home (that I love), and my relationship, while still fragile at times, is a bit stronger than what it was a year ago. I sleep like a rock now. I worry less. And I am much happier. A lot can sure change over the course of 365 days. (Thank God!)
While it tends to be easier to see change in the big picture, have you ever wondered what change looks like at the micro level? For example, have you ever been curious about what you were thinking this very day a year ago, down to the details?
As part of my self-help exercises from the first part of last year, which was a period of time full of challenges for me, I started a five-year diary. It works like this: For each day of the year, the diary asks you one question, which you are to answer in 1-2 sentences. Very brief, very in-the-moment. For each entry, you will see a place for you to answer that same question the next year, and the year after that, and so on. The idea is that you will be able to see just how much (or how little) your life has changed over time, and you will also be able to track how you have gotten to where you are today. There are no expectations and no rules (except honesty, which I recommend in order for you to truly reap the benefits of this journal).
I’m now starting my second year of this exercise, and it’s been fun to see how drastically my life has changed from a year ago today. I feel energized by the fact that my life seems extraordinarily improved now compared to how things were a year ago, yet I am also struck by the things that have not changed. (For example, one entry asks who I live with: that has not changed from last year; nor have my feelings about my career.) 🙂 Even the mundane are fun to look back on. For example, a year ago today the weather was rainy, damp, foggy and chilly whereas today it was sunny but cold.
I highly recommend the five-year diary as an introspective experiment on personal growth and as a way to form an awareness of the world around us. This is a great way to visually see what makes you feel one way or react another on a day-to-day, year-to-year basis. I use the Q&A A Day 5 Year Journal, which is perfect for my busy schedule as it doesn’t require a lot of writing. And it’s small size makes it easy to take with me when I travel (which I have done).
As Søren Kierkegaard once said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” That is very much the spirit of a this exercise.