What Is A Commonplace Book?

David Fernández
Apr 1, 2019 · 3 min read
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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

For a long time, people needed sharing their interests and passions. During the Renaissance, it was a big deal among the top intellectuals. Philosophers like Francis Bacon and John Locke had journals that served to collect thoughts, experiences and moments of reflection. They were personal diaries written for a small audience of friends and family.

The roman stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger was the first to mention the practice of commonplacing:

We also, I say, ought to copy these bees, and sift whatever we have gathered from a varied course of reading, for such things are better preserved if they are kept separate; then, by applying the supervising care with which our nature has endowed us, in other words, our natural gifts, we should so blend those several flavours into one delicious compound that, even though it betrays its origin, yet it nevertheless is clearly a different thing from that whence it came.

What was true centuries ago it is still today. Social media platforms allow us to share all anything from personal experiences to someone else content.

A commonplace book is where you store anything valuable to you, from quotes, notes, and thoughts to anecdotes and experiences.

They are repositories of knowledge, experiences, and self-improvement.

Ryan Holiday explains in his article what a commonplace book is:

A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits.

This practice is a form of self-definition. A reflection of your character and personality. The subjects you are passionate about and the ones you ignore.

What you chose to share says a lot about you.

The benefits

Here are the benefits I found critical:

  1. Learning: It makes easier the review of themes or topics. You saved valuable information to use in the future.
  2. Creativity: it helps you synthesize information quicker. Creative thinking comes from connecting disparate ideas from different areas of knowledge.
  3. Organization: It helps you categorize your knowledge base. This saves you a ton of time when looking for answers.
  4. Introspection: It can help you reflect on yourself. If you are facing a moment of self-doubt, this can be a manifest of who you are.
  5. Compound effect: It helps you build your knowledge base. After years, every piece of information, no matter how small, adds up.

Over time, you will document your world-view and how you understand things. A true masterpiece worth sharing.

Keeping a commonplace book is an essential system for learning and creative thinking. Like the stoic philosopher Epictetus once said:

Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind.

Want to learn more about commonplacing? Check Why you should consider a digital commonplace book.


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