I’ve always been attracted to the idea of journaling, but never seemed to take to it. For one thing, I have terrible handwriting, so I’m always unhappy with my output.
Plus, I’ve historically been really good at keeping a bunch of information in my head. Not only would I remember it, but I could mentally move it around and revise on the fly, even with a first draft of an article.
That approach has gotten tougher lately, given that our synapses fire slower as we get older. Plus, it was probably one reason why I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life.
More on that in a second.
First, let’s look at the obvious upside. When it comes to reasons you should journal, there are almost too many to list.
Everyday I write the book
Just the act of writing by hand allows you to retain new information better, improves your writing skills, helps you focus, and keeps your brain sharp as you get older.
Journaling in particular sparks creativity, increases emotional intelligence and may enhance your IQ, boosts your memory and comprehension, and helps you achieve your (written) goals.
But perhaps the most interesting benefit of journaling is mindfulness. Ryder Carroll, author of The Bullet Journal Method, even describes his approach to journaling as a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system.
Author and neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin says it’s because journaling works to externalize your memory, which gives your mind space to process what you have to do at at the moment. Levitin goes on to say, “Don’t just try to keep track of things in your head. Somehow get what’s in your head out there in the world.”
In other words, you can’t be present in the current moment if you’re constantly juggling things in your head, as I’ve done for most of my life. This leads to anxiety and unhappiness, which is probably what led me to try meditation in the first place.
And yet …
Beyond my poor handwriting, there are still things that frustrate me about journaling. Maybe I’m just fussy, but perhaps you feel the same way about some of these:
1. Fear of “ruining” a new notebook
I know this one isn’t just me. You get a nice new notebook, and then you find you can’t start writing in it because you don’t want to mess up it’s perfect state of being.
As Austin Kleon says, the point is to “mess up that notebook and make your marks, whether they’re crummy or not.” That said, I simply bought some fancy pencils to use instead of a pen — it takes the fear right away.
2. Removing or reordering pages
Even once you’re over the fear, it would be nice to be able to remove a page that you no longer want in your journal. But ripping pages out of expensive bound notebooks is a travesty. Plus, you can’t move a page to a different section of the notebook.
The solution is simple, though — ring (or disc) binding. It gives the notebook a different feel from something like a Moleskine, but to me it’s so much more useful.
3. Let’s get digital
Despite the benefits of going analogue by writing by hand, anything I do will eventually need to be transferred to digital format. And it would be nice to be able to tag pages and to search for certain content quickly.
Then there’s collaboration. If I do a sketch of a new website concept in my notebook, for example, it’s tough to share it and get commentary from my designer.
Fortunately, paper notebooks are starting to pair with apps that help with the move to digital, but the collaboration aspect has been lacking. Until now, that is.
Check out the Thinkers Notebook
When my friend and CFO Sean Jackson told me he had a side project that was a journaling notebook, my first reaction was — great, who doesn’t? But then he explained it to me.
Disc binding that makes it a snap to move (and remove) pages. A smart app that allows you to securely store, share, and browse your ideas. Plus, collaboration and commenting on any device. And your name (or other phrase) laser-cut with precision into each notebook cover.
This is Sean’s project — I’m not involved with his new company (although I am a bit envious). But I am a happy owner of a Thinker’s Notebook as a supporter of his Kickstarter campaign.
Check out this new notebook concept here. It’s very cool, and I think you’ll think so too. 🙂
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Is your level of skepticism healthy?
By Brian Clark
Skepticism is an important trait — it’s the foundation of the scientific method, and it can keep you from being duped. We all know someone who is way too trusting, and we have all likely fit that description at some point.
On the other hand, there are those who seem to trust in nothing. The mainstream media, pediatricians, those pesky climate scientists — they’re all lying, somehow.
Which leads to the question, what’s a healthy level of skepticism? And if you tend to be overly cynical, what can you do about it?
Born to trust, learn to not
We all start out as incredibly trusting creatures. After all, we’re born into this world completely helpless, and dependent on others to take care of us. This innate trust carries us through adolescence, when we begin to question a bit more.
That’s how we learn to be skeptical. “Our skepticism and suspicion often begin when something goes wrong or when we have been let down,” says Rachel Botsman, author of Who Can You Trust? and an Oxford business school lecturer. “It can be something that happens directly to us or to someone close to us.”
Sometimes, though, things happen that cause us to stop trusting at all. And that’s when the “healthy” part ends.
Fortunately, anything you can learn, you can unlearn. If skepticism is leading you to bad results instead of protecting you, it may be time for countermeasures.
Get your oxytocin rolling
Research shows that higher brain levels of oxytocin — the neurotransmitter that is linked to social bonding — also correlate with higher levels of trust. Short of administering synthetic oxytocin up your nose via nasal spray, you’ll have to find other ways to boost your levels.
Practically speaking, this translates to a simple rule of thumb: If you want to be more open to an idea, person, or experience, hold off on making a decision about it until you’re in a happy mood — or artificially push yourself into one.
That could mean watching happy YouTube videos (research shows watching an emotional clip on YouTube raised oxytocin levels 47 percent over the average baseline). Also try gratitude exercises, making eye contact with another, or even the simple act of touch (consensual, of course).
Neuroscientist Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, sums it up this way: “You have to know how to turn it off. Some things you should be skeptical about, and some things you should just let go.”
An unsentimental look at the power of nostalgia
By Trudi Roth
Today, yesterday is everywhere. Insta-nostalgia — like the #2009vs2019 challenge or a Facebook quiz to find out what 90s’ indie band you are — is hellbent on planting the past in your present.
Frankly, I don’t love having my memories repackaged as click bait. Then again, being skeptical and questioning conventionality is something our generation is known for.
Now here’s the part where I tell you that our YouTube viewing habits show that 75% of us watch videos that relate to past events or people. Maybe we’re sentimental after all.
As a marketing tool, though, nostalgia can feel like a cheap trick. Listening to Cheap Trick at Budokan, on the other hand? Now there’s a clue as to why nostalgia can be a useful emotion.
Don’t look back?
Despite its early roots as a 17th century psychopathological disorder observed in homesick Swiss soldiers, today nostalgia is largely seen as a positive adaptive tool.
Take for example Dr. Constantine Sedikides’ pioneering research into the science of nostalgia. He found that reminiscing increases feelings of belonging and connectedness, and decreases boredom, anxiety, and loneliness. It’s also shown to boost self-esteem, positivity, and tolerance.
Still, it’s hard to credit an auto-generated Spotify time capsule playlist as an effective trigger of positive emotions. So what levels up nostalgia for a happier, more resilient you?
True nostalgia smells like your teen spirit
While data algorithms may not accurately hit your specific sentimental sweet spot, research using MRI brain scans to study the makeup of nostalgic experiences reveals what does. The combo platter of “emotional and personal significance and chronological remoteness” is key to having the past truly pay off.
And therein lies the X factor for our cynical yet nostalgia-loving generation. This New York Times article hits on how effective reminiscing can alleviate our existential homesick blues:
There’s a model here for nostalgia that doesn’t wish away the distance between past and present; doesn’t romanticize the past as tragic and heroic; and doesn’t simply trivialize it (as so much 1980s nostalgia did) as trite and silly. Instead, it highlights our compulsion to interrogate our ghosts in search of meaning — and the inexorable way they slip our grasp.
In other words, for those of us who may be experiencing midlife dissatisfaction, nostalgia is a good way to mitigate the doldrums because it makes life more meaningful.
So ignore Boston’s advice — go ahead and look back. It’s always good to check the rear view mirror as you pull into the next lane of your life.
Photo Credit: H. Michael Karshis under Creative Commons 2.0
Boston – Don’t Look Back
Don’t Look Back, 1978
Speaking of nostalgia, listening to Boston reminds me of my carefree preteen years in the late 1970s. That said, Don’t Look Back may not be good advice, and neither are the hairdo and mustache choices these guys made. (YouTube)
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