Summary: In this post I am going to outline my system of journaling that if properly adhered to will being you immense value. The "Method" sections are the most important.
III.) The Method
- Journal structure
- What to write
- What to read
- The Most Important Thing: Where it all comes together
- Journal review and distillation
IV. What kind of journals to buy
V. Concluding Lessons
- Most people are content to marinate in ignorance, placated by easy truths and a pervasive narcissism that tells them they are never wrong. “One half of the world laughs at the other, and all are fools.” - Baltasar Gracián
- The application of this method will radically reduce your level of ignorance and help you meet your intellectual potential.
- The mere possesion of knowledge and facts is not enough. Understanding is the ability to see through the inherently subjective lens of human experience and grasp objective reality. All great men, respected by their contemporaries and revered by history, were men who possessed the utmost degree of understanding. The ignorant are hated and then forgotten. If they are remembered it is only to learn from their failure.
- Understanding comes from four sources:
- Personal experience
- The experience of others
- Knowledge from books or other mediums
- The logical connections and commonalities between 1, 2, & 3, which produces new knowledge.
- Your journal will act as the meeting place of all these sources of understanding.
III.) The Method: Journal Structure
- First, divide your journal into 3 simple sections. The first three pages of your journal are exclusively for quotes you found enlightening/interesting/useful/funny ect. Take a ruler and black marker and write “Quotes” at the top the first three pages.
- Second, divide the last three pages of your journal by writing “Principles” at the top of each page.
- All the pages in between are for your regular entries.
- If you want to reflect on a quote or principle more extensively, put it in the body of your journal to save space in the dedicated sections.
- Feel free to adjust/add to these sections as needed.
- Example of a good quote: “He who cannot obey himself is commanded.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
- Example of a good principle: “Value is created through scarcity.” - Rollo Tomassi
- This method is very efficient and allows you to quickly jot down and access important information without flipping through a bunch of pages.
The Method: What to write
- To get the maximal value out of this method there are some non-negotiable things you must write down whenever they occur in your life. Write them down as soon as you can for accuracy, then reflect on them again later.
- Don't write as though you expect another person to ever read it. It's for you, and for you only.
- Obscure nothing. Be honest with yourself.
Non-Negotiables: Things with a "*" are extra important.
- New principles: TRP principles, economic principles, psychological principles, logical/mathematical principles, philosophical principles, etc.*
- New knowledge and notes from books you have completed and reviewed*
- Important experiences, especially ones that caused an emotional response
- Observations of human behavior
- Observations regarding your own psychology*
- LTR failures*
- Failures of discipline, especially repeated failures*
- Failures in any other area of your life
- Reflections on major failures*
- The presence of strong emotions and what could be their cause*
- Your goals and progress towards them*
- Major displays of AFC behavior
- Major successes and what worked
- Your decision procedure for critical choices
- The connections, commonalities, reoccurrences, and patterns detectible in your entries by analyzing all of #1-15 together over time***
Useful Entry Example: "I've noticed that I often feel depressed when I don't do what I am supposed to do (pattern). Today I blew off my work and watched YouTube all day. Going to bed after a day of accomplishing nothing really chipped at my self-confidence. Now I feel even worse and can't get the ball rolling again... I felt the same way a few weeks ago when something like this happened (pattern + strong emotion + repeated failure of discipline). I recall that Benjamin Franklin noted in his autobiography that 'when men are employed, they are best contented...'"(Knowledge from study + behavioral principle)
Wasteful Entry Example: "Today I ate X for breakfast... then I went to Y's house for a game of croquet..."
- Don't get me wrong, you can really write whatever you like. Sometimes its nice just to record some trivial stuff. I do this sometimes too. Occasionally you can learn things about yourself from trivial entries. However, the majority of the value comes from the more significant entries and the reflection associated with them.
The Method: What to read
- You want to read non-fiction books published by eminent men with a proven track record. Works that have stood the test of time should be given more weight. A lot of the contemporary popular books that make the Amazon Top 10 list are merely rehashes of prior classics’ ideas or feel-good rationalizations of popular prejudice. Go to the source. Read the most penetrating and original thought, preferably exactly as it was written by the author.
- If you hate philosophical, scientific, academic, or historical books then go for non-fiction books with more adventurous subject matter. The British explorer Ernst Shackleton had his ship destroyed and had to survive horrid conditions in the artic. He and his crew were stranded on ice flows barely surviving for nearly two years. Eventually he led his starving crew to safety. Some men will learn more about leadership and endurance from works like this then from 1000 pages of psychology texts.
- Important: As you read you should always have a stack of sticky notes and a highlighter/pen next to you. Highlight every interesting/relevant/enlightening passage you come across, then mark it with a sticky note. Try to summarize the main ideas, even if you disagree with them. Once you are finished the book flip to the beginning and begin transferring the highlighted marked passages to your journal. Put the best quotes in the "Quotes" section I discussed earlier. Put the best principles in the "Principles" section. For all the other info put it in the body of the journal. The "Quotes/Principles" section is only for the best of the best. Understand that this takes time.
- Examples of appropriate books:
- Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – The life and times of one of America’s greatest men. Politician, inventor, philosopher, and keen observer of human nature.
- Miyamoto Musashi: The Book of Five Rings - A legendary Japanese swordsman shares his views on conflict, the way, and the warrior mindset.
- Peter Thiel: Zero to One – Billionaire, chess master, and serial entrepreneur Peter Thiel shares his views on how to create revolutionary technology.
The Most Important Thing: Where it all comes together
If you follow the method above, after about \~2 years you will have in front of you a well-worn journal packed full of your deepest reflections on yourself, observations of others, significant events and analyses, and notes distilled from a variety of mediums.
After \~600 days I fill a 220 page journal. This doesn't mean that there is 600 entries, only that between the first and last entry approximately 600 days passed. Keep in mind not every page is book notes or deep philosophical reflections. Some of it is just trivial stuff or pictures with friends.
Now that your journal is complete your "Quotes/Principles" section will be packed full of the distilled knowledge from thousands of years of wisdom in additon to your collected experiences.
This part is the key to the whole process. Journal Review and Distillation
- You must now buy a new journal and set up both side by side.
- In your new journal copy the structure outlined in "The Method: Journal Structure".
- Create a new section in your new journal titled "Journal Review: Date X - Date Y"
- Begin reading your old journal from the very first entry, copying down all the most important lessons, notes, experiences, behavioral patterns, and knowledge of your own psychology. You must also copy down the best quotes and principles. If you can, copy all the principles from the old journal (you will see why).
- Now, your new journal will contain the distilled knowledge and lessons from the old one.
- Repeat the process. After \~600 days you will now have two journals.
- Buy a third journal. Now you will have three journals. Begin the process again with the first. Review the first journal from the first entry all the way through to the end of the second journal's last entry. This could span approximately 1200 days of your life or roughly 3-4 years.
- Until you do this yourself you will not comprehend the enlightenment gained from reviewing four years of your life compressed into the period of a few days. You will detect deep patterns in your character that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and forgotten. Take a picture of yourself everyday and you will notice few changes. Compare all the pictures from 1200 days and you will come to know yourself a little better.
- Copy all the information into the new journal. As you do this more you will gain insight into fundamental principles of human psychology and of reality itself. After many years your "Principles" section may be accompanied by one titled "Laws" containing the deepest truths known to you.
- After years of following this method you will begin to see links between different fields of knowledge. These links are powerful, see if new principles can be deduced from old ones.
- Because you have been doing this process for years, you understand which principles and ideas apply and function well versus ones that don't.
- To save time, it is acceptable to skip over some of your earliest journals. It takes good judgement to know when this is appropriate.
- This process can be painful. Reading the early entries can make you physically cringe. Over time, you will learn to smile at your youthful ignorance. You are coming up against things most humans shut out and forget. They never learn. Skip over nothing. Be harsh with yourself and practice the discipline of self-evaluation. Take comfort in the noticeable improvements.
Basic example of the interconnected nature of principles and knowledge:
- "Value is created through scarcity." (General Truth) - Rollo Tomassi
- "We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things." (Psychological Truth) - Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents
- That which is given freely diminishes in value. (General/Economic Truth)
- If that which is given freely diminishes in value and we derive little pleasure from a state of things, then constant attention which is freely given is both low-value and provides no pleasure. (Sociological Truth)
Can you see how these truths and principles bear some mutual relations? What further truths can you infer from them?
The Effects of Increasing Understanding Through the Method:
- Your journals will progressively increase in value until they are one of the most valuable things you own, especially the most recent one. In economics this is called compounding interest.
- You will refine your judgement because you are reflective and not impulsive. You know yourself better than others so you perceive reality more accurately. You do not confuse your own personal state with reality itself.
- You become less emotionally volatile with people who wrong you. Everything is an opportunity to learn more about human nature. An experienced dog breeder feels little irritaiton when small, yappy dogs bark. Yappy dogs yap because they are insecure. He understands this, and because he understands he views it like any other physical process. Only fools feel resentment towards clouds that bring rain.
- Because you know yourself better you know what really satisfies you. Fleeting pleasures or what is fashionable will not be as tempting. You strive to aquire genuine and meaningful sources of happiness because you see patterns showing when you are deeply satisfied vs. merely contented.
- You give the impression of greater depth, something universally viewed as attractive.
- You actually retain and internalize lessons because you review and apply them. How many of you can remember all the information from the last 5 TRP posts you read?
- You detect and avoid toxic people because you have far more familiarity with dysfunctional beliefs and behavioral patterns then the majority of people. You recognize the pathologies because you've seen and eliminated similar traits in yourself.
- You will become more grounded and possess self-certainty. You know who you are. You've spend years answering this question.
- Perhaps the most exciting thing is when you come to new knowledge that very few (if any one at all) is aware of.
Your knowledge will become syntopical, meaning that it not only covers many different texts, principles, and experiences, but also the relationships between them.
In time, you will begin to surpass your friends and acquaintances. While they repeat the same mistakes, and the same dysfunctional patterns of behavior, you are constantly improving in a way that is much more fundamental. You are acknowledging the deepest patterns of your character that are detectible only by looking at things on a yearly basis.
- Understand: This will take a lot of time and effort. There are very few men who will have the ambition, discipline, and intellect to do this fully. In my experience, the rewards will only begin come after about 3-4 years of doing this. That is enough to put off the vast majority of people. They want instant gratification. Instant rewards. It takes time and experience to appricate the significance of the following law of reality:
- The most valuable things in life take time and investment.
- I'm not saying you can't be knowledgable, successful, or self-aware without using this method. I am saying that it will greatly assist you.
4.) What kind of journal to get
- You want to buy as nice a journal as you can reasonably afford. Around 50$-80$ should get you something sturdy, hardcover, leather bound, and with good quality paper. You can spend more for even nicer ones if you have the cash. Durability is important. With regard to size the max you should go is one the size of A5 paper, otherwise it gets too bulky to travel with. Too small and it will be more of a notebook and will cramp your ability to write substantial reflections.
- It should be plain and inconspicuous. Do not buy one of those glittery or grossly embroided and decorated journals. They look terrible, are not durable, and cost more.
- There are websites dedicated to selling handmade books.
- Use pen. Pencil will fade. Use a ruler to make headings and highlighter for crucial lessons. Use sticky notes to bookmark major sections you return to often. Ie. The 10 pages of notes you took on The Rational Male.
- Finally, DO NOT USE YOUR COMPUTER AS YOUR JOURNAL. If you do this you will get easily sidetracked, distracted, lost in the sea of information and temptation, and fail.
5.) Concluding Lessons
- Things do not occur by accident. Reality is structured in accordance to reasons, principles, and laws. Everything from the motions of planets to why your relationship failed has a set of reasons that caused that state of affairs to exist. We can discover these reasons, but they will yield only to dedicated searchers. Enlightenment, erudition, prudence, and good taste are developed over years and decades of study, reflection, and experience. You will never gain enlightenment from a 5 minute YouTube video on Nietzsche. There are no shortcuts.
- Following this method will not fix all your problems, but it will help you recognize which problems you have.
Over a period of years you will gradually increase your understanding- far beyond what you initially thought was possible. You will aggregate, distill, and infer knowledge, lessons, and patterns both of your own character and of reality. Combined with your study of great works you will begin to see the larger picture. You will be humbled by the constant discoveries of your own ignorance. As you come to know more, you will realize that you know only a little. It is in this process of being humbled that you become wise.
I have gained immense value from both this forum and its contributors, many pages of my journals contain the distilled wisdom here. I hope that this post contributes to that wisdom, and most importantly- helps you become a better man.