I’m going to begin a new feature, inspired (for me) by Matt Cutts in this TED talk, to try something new for 30 days.
At the beginning of each month, I’ll pick something that I’ve been meaning to try or that others suggest I should try — hint, hint readers — and document my experience.
I’ll explain the parameters in a post at the beginning of each month, write a mid-point check-in and then share the results in a closing post. If you want to join me in the month’s experiment, I would love to hear in the comments, Twitter or email how your experience is going!
Experiment #1: Journaling
If you’ve ever listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast, chances are you’ve heard about the magic of journaling and how every successful, smart, top producer apparently does it religiously. OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.
Ferriss’s guests more often than not journal, mediate or both. I’ve tried the meditation before (and may pick it up again) but have never really been good with journaling.
I have this notion of journaling as a catharsis of writing your deep secrets and dark thoughts in a book like some kind of mental health exercise. I really prefer to work that stuff out in my head. But I know that idea of journaling is BS. It’s a story I’ve created to make it easy to justify why I shouldn’t even bother putting pen to paper.
It’s time to see what journaling really is to me.
What’s worked in the past
My memory isn’t what I’d like it to be. In some ways, I have a really good memory. I can recall a bunch of random, useless things. In some ways, it’s a mess. I can’t remember the last names of co-workers I spent years working beside in some cases.
I’ve found that writing things down, even just spotty notes, helps jog my memory and takes me back to what was going on and fills in the gaps.
My wife and I went to Vero Beach, Florida, for our honeymoon in 2010. A couple of days into it, I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and started writing down what we did each day, and the little things that happened that, while insignificant, seemed worth noting.
My wife took that account and the pictures of our honeymoon and had a booklet printed, giving us a chronological retelling of a weeklong honeymoon.
I wrote down where we went to eat, what we did, funny moments. I wrote how we watched the sun go down from a waterfront restaurant, how we rented bikes and rode them over the bridges, or how our room was so close to the ocean we thought one night the waves were hitting the walls.
When we ordered “Jack’s pizza” from a local pizza joint and asked them to add jalapeno and pineapple, the pizza chef came out, introduced himself as Jack and wanted to know how long we’d been ordering jalapeno and pineapple together on pizza because he’d never seen anyone order that before.
In the big scheme of life, that’s not even a blip on the importance radar.
But here’s the thing, by reading those small details, I can relive that whole thing in my mind. Not only can I see what we did, but I can recall the emotions I had at the time we did them.
That’s amazingly powerful!
Photographs and memories
I’m not going to get all Jim Croce “Time in a Bottle” on you (all six of you who get that reference).
I’ve also found pictures can do the same thing if I have enough of them. One random shot from somewhere doesn’t bring back the flood, but several shots that walk me back through an experience are almost as good as having written it down.
In 2011, my wife and our boys took an epic road trip. We went to Mount Rushmore on July 4, visited a cousin in Iowa, stayed a couple of days in Chicago, spent time in Michigan with my family, did amusement parks in Ohio, went to the St. Louis arch and saw one of many of The World’s Largest Ball of Twine locations. Along the way, I took a ton of pictures. They weren’t all pictures of Important Things, and they weren’t all pictures of us. There were scene-setters, monuments, funny moments, signs, random things. When I scroll through that folder now and look at all those pictures, I can vividly remember so much more of that trip than I can of others.
That’s the type of experience I’m hoping to capture with the journaling experiment.
I want to feel more like the days matter, and that doesn’t mean I want to do big crazy things all the time. I just want to fondly recall the little things. If my past is any indication, the way to do that is to just write it down and look back on it every so often.
What gets measured gets done
I need some kind of structure around this to know that I’m being true to the experiment. So here are the rules for me — and you can make up your own if you want to play along.
Day one will be today, Sept. 28, so I act on my momentum, but the experiment will last until the end of October.
I’ll write for at least five minutes every night in the same notebook. I’ll jot down any big events for the day, any particular feelings, any of the little mileposts that would help me remember more about the day, and my general mindset. If I decide I have some goal or action item, I’ll write it down on a page in the front specifically meant for that purpose.
If I took any pictures that day, I’ll make a note of it so I can reference them later.
If for some reason I forget to write at night, I have to write the entry first thing the next morning.
When I get to the end of October, I’ll review all the previous journal entries to see how I feel about the whole thing. If it’s a positive experience, I’ll keep doing it. If I doesn’t seem to work for me, I can stop and know that I gave it a good effort.
If you keep a journal, what has been your experience? Any suggestions for how to approach it differently?