1. 40
  1.  

  2. 13

    I find the single most useful thing has been using it as a place to ask myself questions, and answer them.

    This has been a revelation for me over the past few months. I’d heard people say things like this in the past, but I never quite clicked that they actually meant “ask yourself a question” rather than “think about something”.

    If I ask myself a question, out loud if possible, and then attempt to answer it, I’m often surprised by the outcome. Half of the process is iteratively refining the question itself, the other half refining the answer.

    1. 6

      There’s probably psychological research on this but I’ve been thinking that maybe thinking itself is meant to be collaborative or competitive, at least in a lot of contexts, and that’s why language is such a big part of thought. And if dialogue is linguistically, rhetorically, communicatively a good way to explore a topic or question, then I should probably have dialogues with myself too. Like, why would an inner monologue be better than an inner dialogue?

      1. 2

        Dialogue is a very natural thing as well, have you ever argued with yourself over a purchase? How about an implementation?

        1. 2

          I think this technique ties in to the same brain machinery as Rubber duck debugging, with similar good effects.

          1. 1

            As far as I’m aware, thinking evolved from language, so it being “naturally” collaborative absolutely makes sense.

            Part of it (at least for me) is that it’s far easier to stay on topic when I’m participating in a dialog; even when that dialog is with myself.

          2. 6

            It also reminds me of one of my favorite papers that I re-read often (although not often enough): https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/uploads/prod/2016/12/State-the-Problem-Before-Describing-the-Solution.pdf

            1. 2

              Good callout. I thought this was one of the key insights in the article as well.

            2. 8

              I recently started writing such a diary, and if nothing else, it calms me down to “page out” random thoughts to non-volatile storage. Any long-term effects require more long-term practice, so it’s too early for me to comment on those.

              My setup: a self-hosted blog on my server (that has a backup routine anyway for the other serious things stored there), the entire site is password protected. Each day a new entry with just the date as title.

              Starting today, in response to this article, I’ll also use the blog software’s tags (or categories) feature so I can look up entries by topic. While this means that a “family matters” entry may also contain notes on “work” (as I still write one single entry for each day), I consider that a good thing: each of those don’t happen in a void and when looking back, there’s probably some signal to find in common correlations.

              1. 6

                Quick tip:r !date in vim inserts an OK timestamp in your plaintext file.

                1. 3

                  I can attest to the importance of reflecting on life in form of some kind of diary.

                  I’ve been journalling for a bit over 4 years. Initially through cards I got as a present and later digital day evaluations.

                  And now I journal online: https://wiki.nikitavoloboev.xyz/looking-back

                  Mostly as a way to reflect on where I was in my life at any given time and gain appreciation for where I am now. For example I was quite depressed studying in university but have I not put those thoughts in writing, I wouldn’t have more proof to this little fact that nothing is permanent in life and everything goes away. Journalling helps me be present and mindful of the moment. And it lets me flex my writing skills and my ability to express how I feel and think.

                  1. 2

                    “I hear this is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy — and I’ve been meaning to learn more about that. “

                    I first learned of these techniques in the book Learned Optimism. Top reviews seem pretty accurate, too. Many people were being diagnosed with depression, told it was inescapable thing (esp neurological), given drugs or years of therapy, and so on. Some people are unlucky enough for that to be true. However, experiments on animals and people showed people also learned to become helpless/anxious/depressed due to how they explained things to themselves after certain life experiences or due to natural habits.

                    Although he described optimism, he was really saying something general: we had to identify the stories we were telling ourselves about our life, specific events, and so on. He found we over-did it in inaccurate ways for lots of negative events. So, we would critically assess what we felt, apply skepticism to see other possibilities, come to a more logical conclusion, and then tell ourselves that conclusion believing it with evidence. Way different than repeating affirmations we know are BS.

                    So, they came up with a system for applying this cognitive therapy for patients claiming some people that were depressed for years got over it in months to a year. Others had marked improvement or just significant to them since the mental part was addressed. Some couldn’t benefit… The takeaway for me was that many people were negatively, placebo-effecting themselves which, through disciplined self-examination, could be countered gradually overtime to make their lives better when that was the cause. I started spreading awareness about this in case someone could benefit from it and applying it myself. I half-assed it as usual with good and bad months but…

                    “have found CBT alone to be as effective for treating less severe forms of depression and anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”

                    Yup. Two on that list. No meds. Works most of the time. I used it in conjunction with some tricks I read in a book on stress management. I can’t recall the book. A few that work are a thought-stopping technique to freeze a worrisome mind (esp fast-paced) before switching gears, breathing exercises, taking a long walk, doing things that stress/relax you at appropriate times when possible, dietary changes (esp less caffeine/sugar w/ more good stuff), and exercise (esp cardio).

                    All together dramatically reduce what I was told was irreducible without meds. They were just repeating shit they heard without evidence cuz medicine and psychiatry is run like a for-profit, assembly line these days with lots of follow-the-leader effect on top (see opoid crisis). Many want the easy, repeatable fixes, too, vs putting work into their patient. Note there’s exceptional people doing what they can, too. They just don’t seem to be majority. That true in all fields. Apathy, greed, and culturally/systematically-induced ignorance about some treatments just causes more damage in this one.

                    1. 2

                      I’ve started doing this too as of two months ago, but have it in the form of daily posts on a hugo-generated public-facing blog, all generated from yyyymmdd.md files in a git repo. The practice has been great for a number of reasons:

                      • Accountability: Since I temporarily have a lot of free time right now that I want to spend being productive, I can record what I’ve all done that day. If the entry is just “watched two seasons of Atlanta and drank three beers,” who would want to read that? Might as well actually be productive and write a summary or thoughts on a book or project. If it’s a personal or boring day, I can just skip writing for the day. This accountability is the biggest benefit in my opinion.
                      • Thought externalization: I believe that we don’t always necessarily think in language and words, but since we use language to communicate it helps to get the thoughts down in language so it’s easier to talk about it later. Plus if I take notes about a book or other material, I can do it on the publicly-facing entry so I can review them later or other people can benefit from a summary/analysis and maybe look further into the subject if they’re interested.
                      • If I enjoyed something like an article, youtube video, or open source project, I can record it there for my memory and other people’s discovery.
                      • Writing is important in nearly any professional job, and journaling like this for a public audience is practice.
                      • Since I’m not using facebook/twitter, it’s one way family members or friends can see what I’m up to.

                      Like the author of this post, I use headers like “Chess,” “Movies,” and “Things I’m Liking” in most entries, so it should be trivial to scrape the journal entries to generate a time-series list of all the text or unordered lists under the headings into a data structure to generate a master list, for searching, or for later analysis.

                      But the biggest downside to this is that it’s public, so I can’t post anything ethically questionable, illegal, or too personal in fear of open source intelligence collection or future employers. So I think I’ll adopt the same method of a bunch of plain text documents on different topics for more personal notes.

                      I find the single most useful thing has been using it as a place to ask myself questions, and answer them.

                      Never thought of this myself, seems like a great strategy for more in-depth analysis of a topic than what I’ve been doing.

                      1. 2

                        I have wanted to do this for about a decade but have yet to be disciplined enough to do it regularly. The closest I’ve come to success has been with DayOne but it’s a proprietary app in a proprietary format (You can at least export to plaintext.)

                        I think that part of my problem is frustration with the available input methods and media. When I’m at an actual computer / keyboard there’s always something I feel is more time critical than journaling, and paper / pencil are super attractive but because I’m partially blind I literally can’t read my own handwriting reliably when I want to come back to my notes.

                        I should put some more effort into this though since in recent years I’ve found this kind of unpacking and introspection can be orders of magnitude more valuable than it might seem.

                        1. 2

                          I’ve been keeping an (almost) daily dairy for around 4 years. I use Trello (as part of a loose Bullet Journal setup I have there) and at the end of each month, export the board to JSON and import it into my private blog. It’s certainly interesting to look back and see where I was a few years ago. It’s easy to lose track of progress otherwise.

                          Mostly though, I find it a useful discipline to organise my thoughts and to keep myself on track.

                          I also like the idea of leaving it behind for my kids one day, though who knows if they’d be interested in reading it. One of my relatively few regrets in life is that I don’t have the daily dairies that my Dad kept. As I don’t have him to ask directly, I would love to be able to read through how he approached various parenting and life decisions.