New Year’s Resolutions, Revisited: What Keeping A Diary Has Taught Me

New Year’s Resolutions, Revisited: What Keeping A Diary Has Taught Me

It’s just over halfway through the year, and miraculously SL’s Lifestyle Editor has managed to keep a diary from 1st January until now. Seven months in and counting, here’s what she’s learned…

Growing up in the late 90s, it felt like Bridget Jones’s Diary was everywhere – from writer Helen Fielding’s 1995 column in The Independent documenting Jones’s life as a thirty-something singleton in London, to the debut novel in 1996 and its follow-up in 1999. Being just eight years old at the time the original book came out, it was the 2001 film, starring Renée Zellweger and that Celine Dion song, that really pushed Bridget into my line of vision.

Bridget Jones continues to fascinate: in 2016, she was named on the Woman’s Hour Power List as one of seven women deemed to have had the biggest impact on women’s lives over the last 70 years, alongside Margaret Thatcher, Germaine Greer and Beyoncé – not bad for a fictional character.

When Bridget began chronicling her life, she was famously 32 years old, chronically hungover and had just consumed two packets of Emmental cheese. When I finally decided to document mine, I was 29, and tentatively peering over the cliff-edge of 30. Although I was inspired by my mother (who’s meticulously kept a diary since the age of 11), rather than Bridget when it came to buying my own blank notebook, I can’t help but feel as though there’s something about entering your 30s that makes you suddenly sit up straight and want to take a stock-check of your life while you’re still young(ish), unmarried, childless and mortgage-less.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written a diary. I recall attempting the exact same thing at the ages of 12, 14 and 16, my daily entries falling by the wayside at about the two-month mark each time. The excitement of choosing a bright notebook and fresh gel pen to start the year anew faded once exams and Hollyoaks took hold. This year, I chose to attempt my fourth round on 30th December, meaning I ended up with the only one left in WH Smith: a plain black, corporate-looking Moleskine.

But it’s what’s inside that counts. Unlike Bridget, I don’t record my calorie count and weight every entry (too depressing), but I have seen patterns emerge when I occasionally flick through the pages of months passed. Given that I usually write my diary on the train each morning – so I can analyse the prior day before putting pen to paper, but also because I’m half asleep by the time I think about doing so – I’ve noticed that I usually begin by documenting how I slept the night before. As someone who struggles with sleep, it’s been interesting to examine what I’ve been doing in the weeks when insomnia’s hit – and unsurprisingly it’s usually the holy trinity of work stress, not exercising enough and a long slog back on the train that’s precluded a bad night’s sleep.

"It’s only when you read everything you’ve achieved right there in black and white that you realise that, actually, you’re doing just fine."

It’s also helped me manage my anxiety and stress levels. Following a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) last year, I found writing down my problems helped me to organise my feelings and thought processes. I started to sporadically type scenarios on my laptop and found a lot of my anxiety melted away once I’d committed the words to the screen, then filed it away. Now, I find myself doing this automatically in my diary, but this time it’s scrawled and unedited. As someone who writes for a living, I don’t always get to produce a piece purely for the fun of it, or write something for myself and not for others. This freehand, occasionally disordered form of writing has turned out to be extremely freeing.

Another resolution I made over the festive holidays was to take a break from social media. While I still trawl Twitter for news and follow my favourite writers and publications, I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts in December 2017. Initially a one-month thing, I discovered I didn’t miss either site at all, so have remained unconnected for seven months. And while I can no longer use Instagram to look back on what I’ve been up to, on the plus side, I won’t have one of those terribly chosen ‘Year In Review’ videos that Facebook likes to bombard you with come Christmas.

While these two resolutions were in no way connected to begin with, they’re now combined as I use my diary to record exactly what I’ve been up to this year – right down to the most mundane moments (how else am I to remember what a sweat-fest summer 2018 was?). Later this month, I’ll be going on my first big holiday in three years with my five best friends. I’m hoping that years down the line, when I look back, my written account will prove an even better way of remembering what happened than poring over staged photos.

I’m already glad I began my diary this year. At the end of January, I was offered a new job here at SheerLuxe, my younger sister is expecting a baby, and one of my oldest friends is planning her wedding. It already feels like a momentous year – and one I’m keen to keep reflecting on paper. After all, it’s only when you read everything you’ve achieved (even, and sometimes especially, the little things) right there in black and white that you realise that, actually, you’re doing just fine.

And yes, as per Bridget and Mark Darcy, sometimes I do worry that someone will discover my diary and devour it. Then I remember: my handwriting is absolutely abysmal, so no one will be able to read it anyway.

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