A Small Yet Powerful Daily Habit

I didn't used to do this. But ever since I started, I've noticed a profound difference in, well, just about everything.

What is this habit I speak of, you ask?

Writing. Writing something every day.  Or, to be more specific: documenting. Documenting something every day.

Roughly two years ago, I began keeping a small black notebook cemented to my person, which has become a repository for a wide array of things: quotes, ideas, words, phrases, passages from books, notes from recent conversations.

What drives the entries in the book? Well, the point is to capture anything worth taking note of, things that you'll be able to use later in life. This will vary depending on the person. An author, architect, film director, pastor, and strength coach will probably all have different choices in what they choose to record.

Personally speaking, I have an odd fascination with wordplay, metaphors, description, and learning new words, so these, along with pieces of wisdom I learn, or advice I receive from other people, make up the lion's share of my book entries. I also record Scripture verses that I either want to memorize, or verses I know I'll need to be reminded of later when I'm acting like a fool.

My notebook. Nothing fancy in terms of organization, just a header at the top to highlight the theme for the page (ex. Description, Quotes, Wisdom, etc.), and each entry listed as its own bullet point.

My notebook. Nothing fancy in terms of organization, just a header at the top to highlight the theme for the page (ex. Description, Quotes, Wisdom, etc.), and each entry listed as its own bullet point.

I ensure the notebook is with me primarily when either a) reading, or b) having a conversation with one of my mentors, family members, or friends, as these are the most common sources of the notebook entries. However, I find it worthwhile keep the book in tow whenever possible, as I never know when I may read, hear, or experience something that should go in there.

Sometimes I may unexpectedly hear something in a presentation, speech, or podcast. And other times I'll need to snag a random burst of insight or creative idea that sprouts forth in my brain when I least expect it to. (Not that this happens super often....)

So, what does this writing and documenting process accomplish, exactly?

A few things:

First, it provides an ever-swelling treasure trove that you can continue to open and use for application.

Once you make a concerted effort to actually make use of the gems in your book, you'll discover countless avenues through which to infuse them into your life: business, writing, negotiations, public speaking, coaching, teaching, etc.

Even day-to-day things such as casual conversation and email. Sometimes I find myself in an unplanned consoling situation with a dear friend or family member, and something that I've written down is able to aid the person who's approached me for comfort or guidance.

Or, maybe one day you wake up all doom and gloom and you need a reminder about what really matters, or a slap in the face to help you regain proper perspective. It will help with all of that.

Second, it helps you become more aware.

Paraphrasing something I read in Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird, (and something I wrote down in my notebook):

"Writing motivates you to looks closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.....Writing teaches you to pay attention."

You'll become more engaged with your reading. With the people you interact with. It will help to ensure the awesome conversation you just had or that priceless piece of advice imparted upon you doesn't soon vanish like a wisp of smoke.

Third, it will act as a catalyst for your creative and problem-solving processes.

As Maria Popova put it in this article: "To create is to combine existing bits of insight, knowledge, ideas, and memories into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos."

Now, you don't have to use a book. You can use notecards, a notepad. Not a computer, though. There's a more indelible and powerful effect elicited from using ink and pen compared to a keyboard. I guess it's because it forces you to slow down. Not to mention, it makes you step away from the mind-numbing screen you spend so much of your time in front of.

And, as much as I'd like to hold claim to the invention of this practice, it'd be laughable if I even attempted to do so.

As it happens, countless people throughout history - Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Marcus Aurelius, to name a few, along with hosts of less famous individuals - have kept these books. The Art of Manliness published a fantastic piece titled "The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook." Other people refer to them as commonplace books; you can view many examples through searching them on Google Books.

So, if you haven't already, get started on your own pocket notebook or commonplace book. If you're paying attention, you'll be able to find something as early as today to make your first entry.