The Power Of Writing Things Down
Writing things down is the key to focused action
I’ve been running an experiment for the past few months. I wanted to track the output of my brain and see if it made any real difference in my life and the things that I manage to keep track of.
I kept a journal with me for almost a year. I would write down my day to day activities, including to-do lists and, most importantly, ten ideas for writing every day.
For the last month, I’ve stopped almost entirely. I’ve noticed a significant difference in the way I approach coming up with ideas and my general anxiety levels. My ideas have grown sparse, and my anxiety has flared up, back to pre-journaling levels.
A higher level of thinking
Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. — Francis Bacon
An idea or thought always starts with the most basic conception. It floats into your mind like a dandelion fluff picked up by a breeze. You reach out, seize it gently, and examine it.
Upon examination, you notice the fine details and maybe even pick at them further. Thoughts like this can become complex and exciting in your mind as you theorize and creatively explore further.
I always used to think to myself, “oh, that’s interesting. I’ll continue thinking about that later.” The truth is, it rarely happens unless I write it down. Once I have it down on paper, I can revisit that idea whenever I want, and fully re-engage my brain on that concept.
Typically, when I don’t write these things down, they are lost forever. I have no record of them and can’t expand on them further. By writing them down, you can keep track of the output of your mind. You’ll be shocked by how much your brain can put out, and how much of it is good.
Of course, I have tons of whack ideas to go with the good ones, but the point is I would have never achieved a higher level of thinking on the good ideas had I not been writing all of them down.
Organizing your time
After writing things down and getting used to having a schedule I could refer to daily, I realized how many important details slipped my mind.
I let essential things slip a few times a week. I used to be hard on myself for it, before I started making to-do lists, but I realized I was blaming myself for no good reason. For the first time in my life, I understood that my brain wasn’t capable of keeping track of a sophisticated schedule without error.
I used to think I was just bad at organization and prioritizing, but that wasn’t true. The brain is excellent at those things, it just needs to write them down for reference. Once you are confident that you won’t forget the important stuff, your mind becomes clear and free for other things.
Otherwise, you think about them constantly. Your poor brain tries to keep track of everything on its own. This is were most of my anxiety and overthinking stemmed from. It only made sense to me after I stopped writing things down and reverted to my old ways.
Writing things down puts you in control
Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but that’s the only way you can do anything really good. — William Faulkner
Your brain is a great outlet. It suggests ideas to you that are greater than you think. Some of my best articles are from ideas I took down on walks and at work. I revisited them later and was able to explore them further.
At the end of the day, when I review my schedule, ideas, and thoughts, I can choose what matters and what doesn’t. I realize that I have re-occurring thoughts that are useless, and by identifying the thought patterns, I have successfully been able to notice them and lessen them.
In a sense, writing things down has allowed me to filter out the good stuff, and focus on producing more of it. For the first time, I feel like I have control over my mind. Control that doesn’t exist without documentation.
It’s like a feedback loop. Think of your brain like a nuclear power plant. Every day, there are hundreds of qualified scientists and engineers writing down and recording radiation levels, temperatures, times stamps on procedures, and results of adjusted parameters.
If this wasn’t being recorded, you can imagine that it wouldn’t be long before things started to fall apart, and we would be living in a toxic wasteland. This toxic wasteland is precisely what happens in your mind when you don’t actively record the output for examination.
Becoming grateful by remembering the little things
It’s the small day to day stuff that we forget about quickly and take for granted. When I go back through my journals, I realize all the day to day things that happened that were crucial to my current well being or success.
Reading them over reminds me of their importance in my life, and how my brain so easily forgets about them within a few hours. Going back over interactions I had with people or how certain things made me feel gives me enormous gratitude.
I am reminded of the time I went for a walk with my younger sister, and it makes me miss her. The next time I’m home, I’m sure to spend some time talking to her and reminding her of that time.
I am reminded of the little wins I’ve worked so hard for that have slipped over the weeks. Whenever I feel unmotivated, or like I haven’t accomplished anything, all I have to do is flip through my journal. I remind myself of all the great things that have happened so far.
So by putting it all together — thoughts, emotions, ideas, memories, and achievements — you are effectively taking a massive load off your mind and freeing up incredible bandwidth for living in the now. You’ll stop worrying about things that have not yet happened, and you’ll stop dwelling on the past.
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. — Ernest Hemingway