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I find journaling indispensable (jborichevskiy.com)
467 points by jborichevskiy 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 171 comments



I've been journaling for several years and have developed a template I fill out most mornings. After telling some friends about it, I put it in a public format and shared as a Google Doc that anyone can check out. I have a very long Google Doc with a more personal version of this template at the top of it, and I copy and paste it to bump down the prior day's journal and start filling it out.

Posting it here in case it's helpful for anyone who wants some structure around the journaling:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AW0xjWJKcxiqXkn72nYIe3pH...


I also have a template. I use TiddlyWiki as I can then quite easily retrieve the data that I'm storing in HTML. If this habit continues, I'll probably create a home server and make sure I can journal online.

My template is more focused on being a daily questionnaire rather than a journal, but it can do both. I've done 2 analyses so far, one qualitative (about what made me most relaxed) and one quantitative (my energy levels currently correlate for 0.66 with my happiness and my stress doesn't correlate with either of them).

However, now that I've read this blog post, I think that I should create a seperate place somewhere to write journal articles (probably just TiddlyWiki as well).

My template: https://imgur.com/a/mJ8nkio


That's really cool! How did you create that in TiddlyWiki?


Here are some code snippets.

I always tried to use fields, but for some things I used a scratchpad tiddler called StoreDailyQuestionaireData. If I would use the same in those case, then I'd get rendering issues.

  ! My happiness levels are

  <$radio field="q-happiness-levels" value="1"> abysmal low</$radio>
  <$radio field="q-happiness-levels" value="2"> very low</$radio>
  <$radio field="q-happiness-levels" value="3"> low</$radio>
  <$radio field="q-happiness-levels" value="4"> medium</$radio>
  <$radio field="q-happiness-levels" value="5"> high</$radio>
  <$radio field="q-happiness-levels" value="6"> very high</$radio>
  <$radio field="q-happiness-levels" value="7"> extremely high</$radio>
---

  ! I slept

  <p class="sleep-time-interval">Time Interval: <$view field=sleep-time-interval_value/> <$edit-text tiddler="StoreDailyQuestionnaireData" field="sleep-time-interval_value"/> <$button><$action-setfield $field=sleep-time-interval_value $value={{StoreDailyQuestionnaireData!!sleep-time-interval_value}} /><$action-setfield $tiddler="StoreDailyQuestionnaireData" $field="sleep-time-interval_value" $value="" /> change sleep-time-interval</$button> <span class="subtitle"> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; (E.g. format: 23:49 - 03:57, 06:37 - 10:47)</span></p>
---

  ! How many cups coffee did you drink?

  <$range field="coffee-amount" min="0" max="10" default="0" increment="1"/> <$transclude field="coffee-amount" />


MoinMoin has templates as well


You can also write journal entries via email, somewordsfor.me sends you an email every day and you only have to reply to add an entry.


this looks really neat


I just wanted to say thank you for your template. It's inspired me to start journalling again and I'm going to make use of it!


This is really cool! I like the increased structure. Have you ever tried doing any retrospective analysis on it?


Thanks! I go back and read old posts at times. I haven’t done anything really formal though.


This is great!

I do something similar in the evening to relax before sleep, albeit more freestyle and I write it down on paper, but doing it at the start of day sounds like a great way to set the mood, going to adopt it.


This is fantastic, thank you for sharing!


Doing what you're doing is incredibly courageous. I would never be able to do it. It would be like walking naked into a gathering of friends.

How do you do it? How to you get past the self-editing to suppress embarrassing thoughts? You are getting naked in front of everyone!


Maybe I'm misunderstanding something but I think he is only sharing the template with his friends, not the journal itself.


Right, I don’t post the journal publicly. Just this template.


I’ve been journaling for about 5 years daily, and actually decided to stop last year. For a long time I felt depressed, and my journal notes reflected that.

Every day I sat to write down another entry, and when looking at a few previous notes (or at “this day 1 year/2 years ago”, which is a feature of many journaling apps), the bad days seemed “normal”, because, well, there weren’t many good days. I believe this somehow helped me stay in a depressed state, helped perpetuate the feeling of normality of something that should be considered abnormal.

I am feeling better nowadays and consider getting back into journaling, but I am wary of this unwanted normalization possibility. It’d be great to have some sort of a basis to compare days to. Or maybe this is a bad idea.

Journaling is supposed to make you more self reflective, to increase meta attention. It definitely does that, but it’s harder for some people.


I 100% agree. I had kept a journal continuously for about 17 years. My decision to stop was intentional and difficult. I loved my journal deeply, and it's difficult to explain how it became an impediment for me and why I believed it was a crutch. Living with a journal was, for me, similar to watching a concert through the screen of your iPhone. My life is less examined now, but it is better and I feel better.

I destroyed that journal entirely. I can never get it back, and I can not see how I felt 8 years ago on this date, or 16 years ago on new years. It does not matter how I was then. The continuity of it prevented me from feeling I could break with the past.


>I had kept a journal continuously for about 17 years. >I destroyed that journal entirely.

Woah! That's one hell of a buddhist exercise. Reminds me of those monks that spend days diligently painting complex pictures with colored sand [1] to later destroy it completely.

I hope your break from the past was successful.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_mandala


Forgive me for speculating, but I believe it's not possible to fully appreciate a mental state when you're in that particular state. The insight power of journaling comes from reading your entries from an elevated perspective, as you have noted.

I also believe that, just like memories change when you recall them, writing down your thoughts will change them. That change isn't necessarily positive when you're depressed. Every thought will be inevitably filtered through the lens of apathy.


I agree.

My comment was one sided in a sense that journaling also helped me notice this condition in a long term. Eventually, at least. Also, I think those records might become valuable in the future.

Your “lens of apathy” statement really hit home for me. I do feel this strongly when reading journal entries from years ago. It all seems so... unimportant, so mundane, even thought I might’ve had very strong feelings at the moment. Not sure if you meant this type of thing.

It would be good to be able to capture emotions better. Maybe my writing is just not as good. Maybe I should try writing poetry :-)


> Maybe I should try writing poetry :-)

I've been writing poetry similarly to the way journals are discussed here. Your first post resonated with me -- I'd use poems to converse with my conflicted self; give the emotions a free hand to write things that may be painful to read later; get it out of my head -- and I'd encourage you to return to writing (or poetry!) because distance brings freshness.

"When the soul wanes the form appears." - Charles Bukowski

Reading your comment also made me think about how it's harder to write when things are good. Someone else commented about the possibility of writing your thoughts down having an affect on them; I think there's merit to that tied with the power of our thoughts and the reinforcement/feedback that you observed while feeling the opposite.

A reminder to myself, even; consistent writing is as hard as consistent anything else.


Thanks for encouragement!

I'm curious, and I hope that's okay to ask, but could you share an example of your journal-ish poetry?


Interesting, I've been thinking about reflection too. As I've grown older I am a lot more self aware and think about my experiences, what I've done and what I'm doing now. It really helps to critically evaluate what you're achieving. But as you say, the reality is most of us really aren't doing much interesting, creative or ground breaking. Maybe that inspires you to focus on doing great things, but for me its sad.

Maybe just acting like a child and try to have fun is a better solution.


I think you might be right. Although I think depression is a result of the physical state of the body and depressive thoughts are always the symptom, never the cause of depression I also believe that narratives do matter.

Using narrative you can put yourself in a thought loop that prevents you from implementing changes that could improve your depressive condition.


Reading replies like yours I started to wonder about a more systematic approach to journaling in the context of mood, therapy, depression, etc. Quick google search lead to this [1] article, I haven't read it yet, though.

I also remember reading about particular journaling techniques to battle certain mental conditions.

[1] https://medium.com/better-humans/cognitive-journaling-a-syst...


I think journaling could help if you adopted a more upbeat personna for the purposes of writing than what you feel is your true self at the moment.


You know, I think it really depends on how you do it.

I’ve gotten into journaling (though I call it “logging”) as a tool to help me overcome these kinds of issues. Depression is a vicious cycle where you feel like crap, brood on how you feel like crap, do nothing that’s meaningful to you, and then feel like crap because you did nothing that was meaningful for you.

If your journal is just an outlet for this cycle of brooding, it’s part of the problem. If you use it to log information that you can use to “debug yourself”, it can be part of the solution. If I had a paper journal, I would get one with the cover embossed, “NO BROODING”.


Journaling changed my life. I used a mindmap editor called Freeplane. I wasn't trying to change myself; I was just recording thoughts. But the mindmap editor let me decompose and reorganize them, and I spent a lot of time reiewing and reorganizing, such that I eventually had a lot of notes about things like kindness, humor, curiosity, interpersonal dynamics ... anything I thought might be worth remembering.

I think it led me to discover destructive behaviors in myself, and constructive alternatives to them. I remember a lot of it was about how to talk to strangers, which I find pretty easy now.

It was my favorite thing to do for years. Then I stopped. shrug


Man you have hit the nail on the head, thank you for sharing this, it has clarified some thoughts I’ve had for a while.


I hope all is going to be well.


In the early 90s my dad was trying to explain word processing to a young me. We had DOS on a 386 with Microsoft Works. He told me you could keep a journal. I started writing in all caps about my family and pets and school.

I still have the file, and have continued writing in it just once every few months. I love it. It's basically my life story.

Maybe I should write more. Glad to hear from this post that I'm not the only one who likes it.


I've been doing the same since I was 12, just one simple .txt file that I've managed to keep alive since then!

I only write in there when I remember, which is usually 1-3 times a year, usually after an important life event - so it's really fun reading back through it...


That’s so cool, I wish I started that early! I’m sure it’s incredible to look back and see the evolution in the writing and yourself.


> A simple thing, on paper. Get a piece of it out and start writing. Or typing - doesn’t really matter.

On the contrary, I feel writing notes on paper with my fountain pen really different from typing on a computer. Only the former give me the feeling of work well done and some relaxed mind.

I find really interesting to see years later that event X and Y happened on the same day while they are disjunct in memory.


  > I feel writing notes on paper with my fountain pen really different from typing on a computer.  
  > Only the former give me the feeling of work well done and some relaxed mind.
Maybe you need to switch to a font with cursive-letters/extended ligatures :-)

On a serious note, this reminds me of my school-days. At my school, a "Hero-pen" was all the rage; All the "cool" kids had one.

Recently found out (i think from some random HN comment!) that the prized-possession of my childhood - The "Hero pen" was "inspired" by the Parker 51!

Not able to find the HN comment, but here are some links from my browser history for some fountain-pen nostalgia :-) :-)

https://frankunderwater.com/2017/02/20/remaking-parker-45-a-...

https://thefrugalfountainpen.blogspot.com/2014/03/hero-616-d...


The first link is really interesting, thanks.

Actually I'm not a fountain pen nerd. I use a €10 supermarket-sold Waterman for the last ten years. This pen in indestructible and really lightweight; best money spend in my life. In comparison I got a classy Parker as a Christmas gift but almost never use it because of its heaviness and the price of the proprietary ink cartridges.


Found the original discussion!

  Let the Fountain Pens Flow (nytimes.com)
  130 points by CaliforniaKarl  | 8 months ago | 114 comments
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18771984


The problem with pen and paper is that after decades of journalling, you are going to have hundreds of notebooks to deal with. It feels like a burden and the value of the text at that point is pretty low.


You’re right, but those notebooks don’t need backups, they can’t corrupt, and they can’t be hacked into. They work during power outages, when the internet goes down, etc.


A text file on a computer satisfies most of those constraints as well.


As far as I can see they meet only one of the described conditions? (E.g. working when disconnected from the internet)


As far as I can see, the claims are so nonsensical as to be equally (non)applicable to a notebook or a text file.

- Neither needs backups. In fact, a text file is much easier to back up if you want to.

- Neither is particularly likely to be corrupted these days, but a notebook can just as easily grow moldy as a text file can be corrupted by a disk error.

- A thief can just as well break into your house and steal your notebook as a hacker can break into your computer and steal your text file.

- A pretty large chunk of computing is done on devices with a battery these days. Depending on the time of day, a notebook may not actually work well at all during a power outage.


I'm using notebooks targeted for school students, of 24x32 or A4 size with 98 pages. It hard to fill one a year.


> the value of the text at that point is pretty low

For you. But for your children or some future historian it may not be.


I used to document things in case someone in the future might care. I'm glad I stopped.


I can see what you mean - I love the feel of my favorite pen on paper. If it weren't for my typing speed + digitization I think I'd prefer writing as well. I've also considered perhaps typing allows too much freedom for re-phrasing things while pen is more permanent - requiring a bit more thought before you get it down.


I think I like the fact that pen requires much more thought. Or, perhaps also the contrary: you don't think too much about it while writing, and you can write how you feel, without it later being edited to seem better when you're in a different mood (even if that's later in the writing). I've found that stream of conscienceness style writing is the best for me, as it allows me to more accurately reflect what I feel too. I think that having to type it would end that, and I'd be too apt to edit it later.

As for digitization, there are likely ways you could go about doing that, but I'm not sure I want my journaling to be digitized to be honest. To me, there's something about keeping it in pen-and-paper that's appealing, even though it does lead to lots of things to keep up with.


There are products that digitize pen and paper right? [1] And then there probably are products that would be able to make your handwriting searchable.

If not, you could make your own machine learning algo. as a side project and teach it to recognize your handwriting. I suppose that's a lot of work though :P

[1]. E.g. See the section "Hybrid Tools" at this link: https://zapier.com/blog/digital-and-paper-note-taking-system...


I agree with this. I was never great with journaling (and have trailed off from my daily journal while I was abroad this summer), but I found something about writing with a fountain pen on paper to be extremely soothing, compared to typing it. It also means I don't have the problem that another user mentioned, with an app showing me how I felt X days/months/years ago; I can read over it myself to get the insight, but it's not forced on me.

I really need to get back into the habit of that (and penmanship practice), but my life is kinda boring since I've come back and got back to work (I teach for 8 hours, and have an hour commute each way).


A few years ago I read an article about scientists planting false memories into a mouse. [0]

This got me thinking that people were next. Then I thought: what if it already had happened? What if I've already been planted false memories?

The only time frame in which I can be sure I am who I am is from the time I regain consciousness (wake up) until I lose consciousness (fall asleep). I liked this concept because it freed me from my past and future selves. I am not them.

So, I created a journaling app that uses versions of you instead of dates. This morning, it greeted me with "Good morning, Alexander №10821". I can browse and see what other versions of Alexander (like №9851) were up to. I also understand that tomorrow it's Alexander №10822 who will wake up and not me, so I got to live this day however I like (though as I like the future Alexanders, I'm gonna also contribute to their well-being).

I will make this app public, so if this type of thinking resonates with you, leave your email in the google form I just created. [1] The app will have end-to-end encryption and cost $3/month.

[0] - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/meet-two-scientist...

[1] - https://forms.gle/PX8Aca6TR6cg5S9WA


Reminds me a bit of Diaspora by Greg Egan. I recommend it to you! Post-singularity “people” in the book start to develop interesting ways to distinguish between themselves and past versions. Since they’re immortal and infinitely copyable, their sense of self is naturally quite different from our corporeal on one. You might be into it!


Egan’s best book IMHO. Genuinely mind expanding ideas.


> The only time frame in which I can be sure I am who I am is from the time I regain consciousness (wake up) until I lose consciousness (fall asleep).

I don't see what's privileged about continuity. All of us are pretty different in the evening from in the morning. And in theory you could have been created at noon with a memory of the morning. You might not even exist yet.


Not that I'm saying those are particularly useful possibilities to be aware of. To the contrary, my point is that the self, despite being a fiction, is generally too useful to see past.


You can not be sure you have ever had consciousness prior to the present moment. All you have are memories of it that may or may not reflect reality.


A subset of the ol’, “God created the entire universe 10 microseconds ago arranged so that everything looks as if it were around much longer”.


A superset, as it does not presuppose anything supernatural at all. The possible explanations that involves a God is a subset.

E.g the simulation argument is another solution. So would cloning be. Or simulation of just an individual. Or we might just fundamentally not understand what gives rise to consciousness - for what we know consciousness may only arise for brief moments punctuated by long periods where we're just acting as automata. Or we might fundamentally not understand the passage of time.

It makes sense for us to act as if consciousness is an ongoing consistent process, because we can't really tell if it is not. The same way as the classical materialist (in the philosophical sense) response to philosophical idealism is to point out that whether or not idealists are right (that we can not trust our senses and our physical reality could just be an illusion) doesn't matter - if we have no practical way to detect it or influence it, we just have to live with it.

Point being that drawing a line between asleep vs not sleep is totally arbitrary, because we can't tell.


> The app will have end-to-end encryption and cost $3/month.

Why does the app need a network connection? Why not just store everything locally?


That was my first thought, but I don't want to lose years of journaling if I lose my phone.


Put the file on Dropbox or Google Drive or set up a shortcut to save it to PDF every night.


Great idea, please share the app here once you go public


I keep a similar thing in Org mode (yes today _I'm_ going to be the one mentioning Org Mode). Every day I create an entry into my DayNotes org file with the date in reverse order e.g. 2019-09-01 and with where I am and the weather etc. I usually have three sections, a catch up of yesterday, what I'm probably going to do today, and my actual day notes. This usually includes my current theme, something Im focusing on for a certain period, this week it is creativity.

I also keep a paper journal, which has longer term themes and thoughts and planning. This usually ends up being a brain dump of all of the crap that goes around and around, just like in the original article. I take things from here and try to expand on them in the day notes. For the paper journal I use a Cross fountain pen, like the one that Obama had, or often cheap Fountain Pentel pens which Ive used for decades now. The fountain pen I fill with archival quality ink, the stuff that registrars use.


Thank you for being The One to bring up Org Mode. I've also been returning to Org Mode after a year or so of bullet journaling in a Moleskine (yes, with a fountain pen).

My procedure of late is:

- keyboard shortcut + a snippet of Emacs Lisp to create today's journal entry (e.g. 2019-09-01.org) in a "journal" subdirectory;

- YASnippet to fill out a daily journal template with two-column LaTeX export styling the way I want;

- Write down any dreams I remember in the morning;

- Write down a simple to-do list in an Org table, moving items up and down; rather than TODO states, I put a space between items already done and those remaining; if I don't get everything done, I can strikethrough the item to indicate that;

- Find and copy or type in a quote or a poem for the day (usually at the end of the day);

- Occasionally, paste in a small snippet of code that I wrote or saw that I liked;

- Any interesting things that happened or felt noteworthy that day.

Finally, and this is perhaps one of the more important steps:

- export as LaTeX to PDF, then print, three-hole punch, and stick it in a binder on my desk.

The format and what I put in changes daily and it's kind of neat to see that unfold in the printouts. I find that having the printed journal makes the older entries (each a single page so far) a pleasure to look over and gives me a sense of what my time has been like recently. If it was just on the computer I probably wouldn't ever look at it again, and I wanted something that gave me easy access to the feelings of the recent days that otherwise seem to disappear completely.


If you ever feel constrained by the tree data structure, you might like Semantic Synchrony, which hosts a graph, editable from Emacs:

https://github.com/synchrony/smsn

(I'm a minor author of the project. It's kind of in a state of disrepair; Josh and I are both working on replacements for it. But it works!)


I have been writing down what I do every day since 2002. So 17 years of daily notes about what I did, how I feel, what I was excited about that day. One cool thing about the journal is that it is electronic. So its searchable which is kind of cool. Its always handy to look up stuff you did in the past and when you did it, who you were with, when you went on that great vacation to the beach etc... I highly recommend keeping a journal, for people who are into it.


What tools are you using to manage all the data/indexing it for search/etc? I've gotten into journaling just this year, and have honestly been contemplating building my own proprietary system for managing them because of how crucial I feel it's become to my lifestyle, but I'd obviously love the opportunity to use something that's already useful.


I have been using pass[1]. Lots of git hosting providers out there and mobile apps. I just have an alias that runs

  pass edit journal/$(date '+%Y-%m-%d')
And I run the alias when the mood hits me. Then

  pass git push origin
[1] https://www.passwordstore.org/


I use `pass` to manage my passwords, and I have a git repository where I run "vim `date -I`" every day to make a daily journal of what I'm doing at work.

But I never thought of combining the two to get encrypted files. Very neat.


That's a really good idea. The format is simple and will probably be readable for many years to come. And it works with the user's preferred editor.

There is also gopass[1] who is compatible with pass and has a few more nice features like the git auto-sync and templates. `gopass template create journal`

[1] https://www.gopass.pw/


I was just thinking of how best to do journaling in an encrypted way and figured pass might work, but then I realised it probably isn't easy to search across notes. Have you found a way to do that that doesn't involve just dumping everything to intermediate plaintext?


It isn't fast but `pass grep SEARCHTERM` works great.


Nice system. Simple and ergonomic. I've used a similar system before but 1) stored locally (never persisting to git) and 2) not using pass + `date`. This streamlines that for me.


So my interface to all of my text files is Redis.

I use the simple Redis data structures to store the data and with a common interface I am able to populate all sorts of different tools for indexing and search.

Then from there I use the following tools...

elasticsearch

https://github.com/blevesearch/bleve

Recently I have been experimenting with...

https://github.com/meilisearch/MeiliDB

By maintaining Redis as my interface engine, I can experiment with all sorts of different tools in different programming languages...

Over time I have grown to love Redis as my data store...

Of course I have a simple way of getting the common text files that I write my daily journal in into Redis.

And then from there its just a matter of the common interface into the different indexing / search technologies.


People have these crazy custom systems, and more power to 'em, but I just use Apple Notes connected to my self-hosted mail system (it doesn't need to be self-hosted, just standard IMAP). It stores your notes essentially as pieces of mail in a "Notes" folder, and you can search within the Notes app or any email client (Apple Mail hides the folder, though). Then you get a nice desktop/mobile/tablet apps, rich text editing, and your data stays yours.


I use OneNote. Search is fantastic, I have a section for each year, and a page for each week. I tend to move sections into an Archive notebook when they are a couple years old, but there's no real need to do that.


On iOS, OneNote has a completely broken search experience. That's a showstopper for me.


I've used Penzu for my one-off journaling (https://penzu.com). Their basic free tier worked out perfectly for me.


Minimalist Journalling [1] for a more visual journalling experience

[1]: https://medium.com/better-humans/draft-how-to-hack-your-brai...


Thanks for the link. I started using this method in the last few days because of it.


Out of curiosity, what encrypted notes app do you use? I’d be interested in a simple notes app with a clean UI, cloud sync, and encryption. I’ve played with cryptpad [1] a little bit and it’s good, but maybe a little too feature-heavy. It’s closer to google docs.

[1] https://cryptpad.fr/


I have been using pass[1]. Lots of git hosting providers out there and mobile apps. I just have an alias that runs

  pass edit journal/$(date '+%Y-%m-%d')
And I run the alias when the mood hits me. Then

  pass git push origin
[1] https://www.passwordstore.org/


Also use pass (for passwords). That's a clever hack, thanks.


You should probably look into https://standardnotes.org, it was mentioned here a while back.

Free editor is quite clean and simple.


This looks fantastic, I will definitely check it out. Thank you.


It's very barebones, but throwing jrnl (https://jrnl.sh) into a dropbox/[insert synced directory] works well and is very minimal. Encryption is supported. It's also easy to maintain multiple journals, like one for work, one for your personal life, one per project, etc.


1Password by Agilebits. Though the UI is a little clunky for long-form typing the cross-platform sync works well enough.


For Mac and iOS, DayOne is really nice and supports sync with client side encryption. https://dayoneapp.com


Vim has an encryption feature. But I can’t sync my notes with my mobile device. An encrypted notes app that can be accessed from a desktop and a mobile device would be nice.


If you know emacs: it works well with gpg mode. The default (~) auto-save won’t work though in this mode.


OneNote


I'd be interested in this too


I used to journal a ton in college, which is going on a decade ago. It helped my mind so much to be able to have my internal dialogues; I was learning and practicing so much, so having a built-in feedback loop made my life so much easier.

For some reason, this all changed when I entered the work world. Perhaps I simply didn't have the time or energy to do it anymore; for some reason, as hectic as college seemed, I sure did have a lot more time and energy than I do now. Some of this must be age, but some of it seems to be me having fallen off the horse and lost the mental muscles. I noticed the same thing in physical form when I fell off the wagon exercise wise a year ago.

Has anyone experienced something similar?


I found journaling useful when I was younger, and developing my first pass of thinking loops and algorithms.

As I've gotten older, I have found that I can do the same work faster just in my head. I've spoken with others who feel along similar lines. I don't feel that I've fallen off a horse, or atrophied any mental muscle. I simply think that journaling served its purpose at the appropriate time, and I have since moved on to other techniques.


This is a good point. As I've gotten older, it's gotten way easier than it used to be to work with complex constructions in my head without needing to do it in writing -- at least with things that I've practiced quite a bit and have a base level of competence with.

I still find that this is not always true with new things that I learn. In contrast to when I was younger, the learning new things part happens less and less frequently, to my chagrin.


It’s never about the tool or process. It’s always about the questions.

What’s the most uncomfortable thing you encountered today?

What’s the most uncomfortable truth you said out loud today?

What did you think about most today?

What did you mentally push aside today instead of thinking it through and openly saying your conclusions?

If there isn’t a tension, a resistant, a sorrow, you didn’t make a break through.


> If there isn’t a tension, a resistant, a sorrow, you didn’t make a break through.

Sounds masochistic. How can you determine whether this is helping or hurting? If you are regularly searching for things to make you sad and tense, you could be conditioning your mind to seek and find those things.


I think both you and GP are right. I think there's a sweet spot in between where you're both regularly seeking out the tension/load that comes with growth and simultaneously leaving space and room to reflect, relax, rest and repair.


Resistance.

If you’re resisting then it’s counterproductive. Borderline trauma.

But if you’re ready to face it.. that’s therapy.


Good mental health therapy is emotionally difficult, so you may be onto something. There is even some evidence that shows that self therapy can be effective (e.g., reading Feeling Good).

However, journaling as therapy is not very structured, and there is no compelling reason to continue when the going gets though. I wouldn't recommend it just yet instead of seeing a real, capable therapist.


> If there isn’t a tension, a resistant, a sorrow, you didn’t make a break through.

For some people maybe this works. For others like me this is a sure fire formula to make me drop the habit sooner than later, no matter how motivated I go into it.

If there is resistance, over time my mind will consider if what I'm doing is actually necessary, what are the consequences of fuck this, etc. That's its natural automatic process, which I believe is the healthy state (for myself). I know how to push through, just make it come up with more reasons to continue than to stop, but experience has taught me that when I do that I'm actually slowly hurting myself. I know I can over-exert myself, badly. Because it does not, in fact, get easier (for myself), and my life is not about setting up myself for failure :)

On the other hand, if I formulate the questions as a positive thing, I find I can keep it up for stretches of weeks or months. Even just a simple single thing like "write down 3 things you are grateful about". And I found it has great positive consequences. Evidenced by the fact that I started having to dig my mind to come up with 3 (I try to write genuine non-obvious things--I'm grateful having my limbs but I'm not writing that down each day), and after a while had to stop myself from not writing down 8+ every day. So achievement: more positive thoughts, unlocked :)


Highly recommend using paper and pen. The act of writing on paper seems to store memories better for me and make me more thoughtful. Plus no digital editing if you find something embarrassing or are in a better mood later.

I use the hobonichi Techo which is a cool Japanese journal: https://unsharpen.com/paper/hobonichi-techo-cousin/ . The notebook has nice features and some structure to it to keep you interested in the journal. Their 2020 models are dropping soon.


It also a very effective technique to reduce anxiety and very useful for people with ADHD. This is one of my 3 goto methods when in distress: write for 30 minutes, go for a run, or meditate.

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/331/6014/211.full https://www.additudemag.com/benefits-of-journal-writing-for-...


A journal is typically structured by date. I often find it more useful to have it by theme / project to see the progress easily and find things. Unfortunately I end up having a date journal because not everything fits in a project and more or less one journal for every project. I want access by date and project at the same time. How do others handle this?


Tags. In the paper journal I write dates but if I create a section for a project, I add page number(s) of it to the alphabetical index at the start of the journal e.g. R: Renovation: 12-15, 25, 49-52. In the electronic journal I have a directory structure like ~/Journal/YYYY/MM/YYYY-MM-DD.md and use tags. Tags not a part of the Markdown but I use convention from Bear app.


I have been using plain old email as my first point of contact for all of my journalling, todo and personal information store. Each new topic gets a new email with a date in the subject line to remind me when it started or how overdue something is. Updates become replies on previous emails to myself. When a thread gets too wieldy, I review it and re-format or delete or promote it to git. I take time to analyze, introspect, cross reference and index stuff in my personal git wiki.

They key to journalling for me has been 1) consistency and 2) reviewing what was written. The oh-so-obvious secret to consistency is to reduce friction between the thought ('I should write this') and the act. I got rid of my friction by using a separate email account and a dedicated email app with just this account configured on it. And keeping the inbox small is a good incentive to keep reviewing what I write. I take my git repo seriously. I keep reviewing it anytime I get a chance or when I need to refresh my thoughts and memories.

This simple method has worked wonderfully well for more than a year.


I have toyed with leaving journal-like blurbs of thought in my regular notes system, sort of like Architectural Decision Records (https://adr.github.io/) for my life, but the habit never stuck. The format never felt free and unconstrained enough to facilitate the sort of raw thinking-on-paper that tends to be useful a year later. I found myself self-censoring much more than I would in a regular journal.

A key benefit of using a date journal is that many tools (incl. Day One and Dabble.me) have a "remember this day" feature that surfaces entries from the past. While the simple act of writing does clarify one's thinking, I find further benefit from the regular review and opportunity for reflection this sort of feature provides. And while I do sometimes deliberately seek out a particular entry, 90%+ of my review comes automatically from this sort of feature.


If your journal is digital wouldn't this be solved by some sort of tagging system and some helper scripts? Journal primarily by date, but tag entries with a project name, and have a script to filter on tags.


Yes I tried this with org-mode, but my tags should be hierarchically nested 3 or 4 levels since some projects are quite large and need structure. This gets unfeasible with tags.


How about something like org-brain [1] or simply an index, using headlines like you would otherwise use hierarchical tags?

[1] https://github.com/Kungsgeten/org-brain


todo.txt has `+project` and `@context` fields, you could either follow that format (different leading characters) or use `@main@sub1@sub2` or `@main/sub1/sub2` for hierarchial project tags.

I mean, anything that's well formed and won't clash with typical project names is going to work.

Or rely on the file system. `journal/` as the root non-project folder and then `journal/project/sub1/`.


You can put slashes in Org tags. I think OP is looking for tooling that actually understands that they form a hierarchy.

There is something like that in Org though as I just found out.[1]

[1] https://orgmode.org/manual/Tag-hierarchy.html


I've been sending myself a letter to future for a few years now via https://www.futureme.org

This has been quite extraordinary, and doesn't take too long. Sadly I'm not motivated enough to write regularly but having at least one day a year when I think about things, is wonderful.


For those interested, Morning Pages are pretty great as well (3 pages each morning of quick, freeform writing):

https://www.chriswinfield.com/morning-pages/


If you have any health issues, a journal where you talk about symptoms, diet, etc can be an enormously valuable tool.


Curious if any sort of data analysis on such a journal would be of use to a doctor (securing this would be a nightmare, of course). Perhaps combined with the notes a doctor takes to validate/disprove expected behavior or effects from medication or simply provide insights otherwise difficult to glean from a hurried conversation.


I have no idea.

Anecdotally:

A mom of someone with cystic fibrosis traced her child's lung bleeds to exposure to chemicals used in a dark room to develop photographs. They were then able to prevent further bleeds, at least from that source. (IIRC, her child was a teen or young adult taking a class or pursuing a hobby.)

A woman who works at the CDC was undergoing cancer treatment. Her husband took photographs regularly of her arms, I think. Photographic evidence convinced them her symptoms were getting clearly worse. They used this to convince her doctor to change her chemo drug sooner rather than later.


O good website for things like this is: https://www.patientslikeme.com/


And if you are a cancer patient, https://www.smartpatients.com is great.


No and yes. No doctor will take the time to read through your original raw log full of narrative and commentary. But if you're recording instrumented values like daily blood glucose, blood pressure, temperature, etc, and you extract those into a dated table, that's different.

My primary care doc took a big interest in seeing my daily numbers when I mentioned that I'd (systematically) tracked a recent change to my health into a table of readings. If you create a graphical plot of a relevant metric, I bet that'd be of even greater interest to any competent health professional.

IMO, if your doc isn't interested in such data, get another doc.


It's important to me to measure my own intellectual growth. Which opinions have changed? Which opinions have stayed the same?

A simply example: Back in 2008, another era of the Web, I wrote "How Much Do Websites Cost?" For years, this was the most popular thing I had written. It is interesting for me to look back and see which parts of it have gone obsolete. The types of websites being built has changed dramatically, and the focus has shifted to phone apps, but the stuff at the end of the essay, about how to build a startup, and what kind of leadership is needed, remains true.

http://www.smashcompany.com/business/how-much-do-websites-co...


It would be fascinating to see an update to your original article especially on the costs these days.


Now and then I get the urge to write a log-structured filesystem...but I never got around to it.


I liked his post. He discovered something similar to my own discovery that I reflected on below. Although the write does not highlight the journaling technique, it is invaluable to rationalize.

https://medium.com/hackernoon/the-manager-stew-dd59cd653728

I am still trying to figure out proper structure, right now it's still time based. I have found patterns forming in journaling:

1. Always write it out. Typing is good, however with writing I remember better and it sticks longer. Having a large stack of pocket moleskins has weight I cannot seem to fully describe.

2. The more I write, the more I realize that threads/channels of thought are working on different things continuously.

3. TODO's naturally form. Write them down as they come has serious potential for getting things done. Keep checkmarks and reflect back after some time. Watch for patterns.

4. Rating myself on how I feel personally and professionally daily has lead to some deep discoveries.

5. Letting people know exactly how many days you've been at your job (yes, writing down the number of days since starting on each entry) has interesting side effects in conversations.


> Enough of the wishy-washy: time for the practical. I use a simple encrypted notes application on my laptop, accessible from my phone (super handy when out and about).

Anyone know what app the author uses, or have any recommendations?

I've been using Joplin a lot lately, but not the encryption feature. I've also been getting back into org-mode and thought about using it for journaling, but I don't think I could access encrypted org notes on my android phone.


I recommend checking out Standard Notes!

https://standardnotes.org/


It could be DayOne, which, afaik, offers end to end encryption. But it’s an macOS/iOS only product, unfortunately.

I had been using it for several years on my iPhone and Macs, and it’s pretty great.


I’ve been using a self-hosted Wordpress install. It works great. Set it in private mode and you got all you need really

My template is writing what happened during my day, event by event, before I go to sleep. More of a narrative than anything

If I feel esoteric that day I write it backwards, recounting events from end of day to start of day

As for permanence, I figure Wordpress will be there long after me. I’ll definitely die before Wordpress does, of that im sure


I noticed that a lot of days/weeks/months started to blur together as I got older (and I’m not that old).

I started keeping a very factual journal each day.

Every hour or so, I write down where I was and what I did—subjective impressions are optional.

It’s been really helpful in jogging my memory and seeing where my mind was at a few months prior.

I just do it in a note program on my phone, so I can fill it in while walking, in the bathroom, etc.


This is what I do. It's very dry and terse but I find it useful to keep track of time spent and achievements completed. It's very easy to feel as if I've been doing nothing, whereas in reality that's very rarely true.

I tried emotional/confessional journaling for a good few years but I really didn't find it helpful or insightful.

The things that work for me include exploring my surroundings, almost any kind of creative work, napping, and talking to friends/partner.


Yup. I find it's awesome to experience the rich emotional things, and then write the boring dry things so that you can recall the former easily.


I've been using https://jrnl.sh/

Uses a plain text file.


I like to think of my journal kinda like a sprint retrospective. What went well? What didn’t go well? What could I improve and how?

I also built a journaling system that works via email and sms to lower the barrier to writing https://somewordsfor.me


Vimwiki has a very handy setup for journaling.


could you link to it directly please?


Also do a lot of journaling with VimWiki. Works well

https://github.com/vimwiki/vimwiki


What I'd like from a journal (which I don't presently keep) is insight into, or to confirm my belief of, which projects/ideas/goals I'm spending most time (distinct days) thinking about.

Any recommendations for a tool that'll let me heavily tag my entries, and then visualise them as #occurrences vs. time?

Second best would be a good search and JSON or whatever output from it, so that I can do the graphing myself.

My only other 'requirement' would be that it's not some proprietary system, seems silly to trust something like this to someone else's format and disk exclusively.


Jrnl.sh has a basic but pretty powerful tagging system. Any word that starts with @ is a tag and you can filter tags using and/or. Doesn't really do the visualisation but should be easy to build on top


> It’s helped me realize just how few of the things I worry about turn into the worst-case scenarios (so much wasted brainpower) but on the flipside just how easy it is to forget the essence of the very experiences that make me, me. Most importantly, it’s helped me keep an eye on the important things in life - my goals, aspirations, and the people I love in my life - and I hope it helps you too.

This hit it home for me.


I am starting a small journaling web app: www.quidsentio.com focused on mental health

Still a long way to go, so would appreciate feedback on what direction to go


I do journal too for my own sanity. It really helps when you're not a person capable of express your emotions openly.

Chatting with my future self, allows me to assume that most of my worries are lame and realize how those are compromising my behavior.

Also, I do now understand that people around me do speak out their own troubles in the conversations that bored me in the past...


Yes, this! I don’t mean to make light of people’s conversations whatsoever but in my experience sometimes a good conversation is simply a back and forth friendly and unbiased exploration of a worry or struggle, future or past. The ideal outcome is not figuring out the next 5 steps - or even coming away with any sort of conclusion about whether it should be solved. It simply provides space to voice aloud thoughts, theorize, and empathize with the other(s).


For me, I can't trust computers for that and I can't physically secure a paper journal well enough to where I can pour my deepest thoughts and intentions on it.


Do you all feel like sharing certain journal entries with close friends?


I’ve shared snippets but not entire entries, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I do at some point. The desire to share is there at times but I think it’d have to be a particularly interesting/insightful entry- which is usually much better discussed in conversation with close friends anyway.


i write very differently when i consider that others might read this or not. at the moment the only one i'd consider reading my journal some day is my wife and my children, maybe my brothers or parents. people that i am very close to. but even that is a factor that effectively prevents me from moving to level 2 as the author put it.

one of my friends shares his journal with a few close friends. i don't know if that is his only journal. he might have another one. he does write semi-regularely, but shares some of his most deepest thoughts and troubles, to the point that when he would write for a few months i'd start wondering if he was ok.

another friend for a while seemed to live out their private life on twitter, and i had to cringe how much intimate and private stuff they were revealing there.


Isn't it how blogging started long ago ?


hey OP, can you post a link to that hugo blog? Its so sick.


Here it is! I can’t take the credit at all- that goes to panr.

https://themes.gohugo.io/hugo-theme-hello-friend/


I misread this title as "I find journalists indispensable" and thought "yeah! Too right!"


Whenever I hear people talk about picking up journaling I come away a little annoyed.

They publicly describe a habit that they claim is useful. To me that implies that they're suggesting others invest time into the habit.

But I've never been compelled by the arguments. I haven't seen someone try to make (even qualitatively) refutable claims. If you don't make refutable claims, how can I experiment in order to see whether the habit makes sense for me?


I won't call these claims because I don't know whether it's true or false for you, but I will offer you some hypotheses you can test. My hypotheses are:

1. If you journal daily for a year about your short (today-this week), medium (this month-this year), and long (next 10 years-life) term goals, you will a) notice ways in which you could be working toward your goals, b) notice behaviors which are counterproductive to your goals, and c) notice how you feel about the goals you've consciously or unconsciously set for yourself, which will result in adding, removing, or re-prioritizing some goals.

2. If you journal daily for a month about what you're grateful for and something beautiful you experience each day, you'll notice what a rich life you have and experience a slight subjective improvement in your overall mood.

3. If you journal daily for a year about the problems you're facing in your life, and spend some time every month reading all the journal entries from the previous month, you'll identify recurring problems you didn't notice before so you can start to address them.

Try any of those claims out and see what happens! I've personally tried all three (though never as consistently as "every day") and seen each of the results for myself. But again I'm not claiming you will see the same results, only hypothesizing.

I think part of why you're not hearing many refutable claims is that most people who journal are aware that there are a lot of reasons to journal and ways to journal, so it wouldn't be wise to make universal claims. I think you can come up with what you want to get out of journaling and come up with a journal plan that might achieve that goal, and just try it, but what you want is going to be personal to you.


I don’t think you need to be quite so methodical.. Just try it. If you don’t like it, adjust a bit or stop. Or don’t try it at all. The blog post isn’t meant to be insulting or some kind of assault on people who don’t journal.


What does the ctl stand for in your name?


journalctl is an executable from the Linux systemd suite. It is used for accessing logs stored by journald. It stands for control.


Indeed! I wanted to comment on a post about journaling so it seemed like a clever username. :)


You may be reading beyond the words that people are actually writing.

It’s just journaling. Try it. Don’t try it.


Okay, this is one very simple thing, and the only one I can personally speak of having at least a qualitative and even sort-of quantitative positive effect.

Someone once gave me a little hand-made note book that said "Each day I write down 3 things I am grateful for'. So I started doing that.

I didn't want to write down obvious things like being grateful for having limbs, eyesight or such, mainly because you can write down the same every day. So at first I found it kind of hard to come up with three genuine novel things to be grateful about. But after a while (3 weeks or so?) I found that I had to stop myself from writing down more than eight things :-) (that is eight new things each day)

I mean, it's not a full journal, and the effect is relatively small (or is it?). But it's also something very easy to pick up, and you can actually evaluate its effectiveness somewhat by paying attention to the effect I described above. Which is what you asked about :) All in all, I suppose refutable claim is that if you do this simple exercise you will find it becomes easier to have positive thoughts and be more grateful about life.


Anecdotally, I really like the Bullet Journal system of combining todo lists with reflection. It's useful to compare the things you'd like to be doing to the things you're actually doing, and to actively contemplate the difference and changes you can make.


I’ve come across it before but never considered it that way- I too find the delta in what I’m doing vs want to be doing very important to keep in mind for achieving goals and maintaining focus, so it sounds like this might be a way to do it more effectively. Have you ever tried doing it digitally?


I mix and match a bunch of systems, some of which are digital, to create something that works for me. I think personal productivity and reflection systems have to be unique to the user. The part I personally find useful to digitize is the small annoying tasks I have to keep track of, e.g. "talk to Bob about the x, get y and z from the grocery." These tend to move around a lot and I will push them from day to day, and they don't really reflect any underlying structure or goals. At best they tell me the various sources of all the shit I have to do and could serve as indicators of things to cut out.

I prefer handwritten systems for more long-term goals, daily reflection, and projects. You get a lot more stability and emotional connection to your tasks and thoughts when you write them down in my experience. That's what I want when I'm really planning and thinking about my life. Digital doesn't seem to have the same effect. It's too easy to delete and edit yourself.

If you're really interested, this is what my system looks like. It's a mishmash of the following:

• Pile of Index Cards - I use it as the "single source of truth" for tasks and projects. I don't use the stuff about thoughts and discoveries, but I like having discrete cards I can move around and prioritize for todos.

• GTD (Getting Things Done) - I mainly use the idea that each task should have a clearly defined "next action" or a specific trigger if you're waiting on something. Ensures I'm not subconsciously avoiding a task because it has some undefined prerequisite.

• Bullet Journal - once per week, I populate pages of the days for the week ahead with tasks I expect to do from my index cards. I use that page to notice when I'm pushing tasks back and also to reflect and write down notable events from the day.

• iPhone Notes - I duplicate the task list for the day, and I move one into a "WIP" (work-in-progress) slot. This is the first thing I plan to do. It ensures I'm not trying to multi-task and do too many things at once. Over the course of the day I will peek at that list and move items around or push them back into an "Inbox," which then circles back to the Index Cards at the end of the week. New tasks go in there too. At the end of the week I re-prioritize and throw away any index cards I realize are not necessary or I no longer care about.

It sounds like a lot, but it's actually a reasonably fluid system and I'm fairly happy with it. I refine the bumpy parts when I find they aren't working.


Thank you for writing this out, this is helpful! And agreed about an effective system being pretty unique to the individual.


Not every statement needs to contain refutable claims. Where do you think hypotheses come from?


I'm misunderstanding this comment. A hypothesis is, by definition, a refutable claim. It must be testable, falsifiable.

... what do you mean?


Why couldn't you refute the supposed benefit by doing the activity but not benefiting?


I suppose a refutable claim that could be made by this post is “People who regularly journal gain more self awareness than those who do not”


Is there an experiment that can compare the level of self awareness between two individuals? If not, then it is not refutable.


It does appear that people have attempted to create such an experiment.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5114878/


that won't help. people can be self-aware through a number of ways. and unless you can measure the self-awareness of any one person and find people with a similar level of self-awareness then how will you measure the effect the journal has?

you need to compare your own self-awareness before and after the experiment. only that matters. you can do a study where you let a number of people start a journal and then measure if they report increased self-awareness. but depending on how self-aware they were before, the change may vary from a lot to no change at all without proving or refuting anything.


If you need hard core science proof that journaling is worth it, maybe go on to a different activity like mime or surfing that you'd like better. For me, it lets me be more objective about what I'm doing and helps organize things and sketch out new ideas. I've been journaling since the 70's so I'm a bit of an outlier.


Here's a refutable claim for you: if you try journaling you will enjoy it and find it, in your own personal subjective opinion, a worthwhile use of your time.


i use the journal as a memory bank. i write stuff down, and when i search for some specific information that i might have noted, i go back to look for it. i write down what i feel is important that day, things i want to remember, and i use it as a way to reflect on the day and observe whether anything noteworthy happened.




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