Dear diary...

22 Nov 2022

In the 1970’s diaries were pink vinyl notebooks the favorite of schoolgirls, with a built-in padlock any dextrous younger brother could pick in a few seconds. Today journaling is a surprisingly useful tool for organizing your thoughts and debugging your life.

I keep a daily journal, calendar, and todo list in a small paper notebook that fits in my pocket. Before bed I review the day and note what happened and how I handled it. Then every few weeks I review the journal and it’s surprising how often I see patterns in my thoughts and actions and say “Oh I need to fix that.” Or “I handled that pretty well.”

We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.

John Dewey, philosopher

Research shows that reflecting on what you learned that day makes you more productive1 and writing about negative experiences reduces intrusive thoughts2 (writing it down offloads your thoughts onto paper, stopping you from ruminating).

Basically I treat my journal like a server log for my brain: every event and its response are written to the log, then reviewed from time to time for patterns and anomalies. My journal is the same.

And just as a server rotates (deletes) old logs, when a notebook is full I copy the good stuff—if any—to my note taking app, then shred the notebook—very cathartic, allows me to let go of events and my reactions to them.

Maybe I’m too much of a geek. Anyway thinking on paper instead of out loud is quiet and doesn’t disturb others.

  1. Di Stefano, Giada, Francesca Gino, Gary P. Pisano, and Bradley Staats. Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning. Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-093, March 2014. 

  2. Carpenter, S. A new reason for keeping a diary. Monitor on Psychology, September 1, 2001.