Journaling for Reflection

Posted on 2019-08-15, it was a Thursday

Recently I’ve picked up the habit of Journalling. It’s not like some long-form Samuel Pepys style tome with well structured essays and accounts. More like a stream of consciousness. Like written rumination.

Why have I maintained this habit? In short, to solidify a more abstract habit of reflective practice. What is this? A very general method for very general self-improvement. Reflecting, acting, reflecting again, acting again, etc with a short feedback loop. It seems well suited to the way that I learn.

To illustrate this, say I read two-thousand books. Once I believed that just doing this would intrinsically make me a better person, but eventually wisdom prevailed here. Reading such an enormous library may make me a genius but gathering knowledge isn’t intrinsically good. Unless the knowledge isn’t part of some authentic intellectual pursuit, then it must have some extrinsic practical value.

To gain some practical knowledge isn’t valuable in itself for me unless some attempt is made to apply it. When applied more and more, the practical knowledge becomes assimilated. Second nature. It hardly requires thinking about to locate it. Whereas digesting a textbook wholemeal without providing the time to apply the knowledge in each area, the knowledge is likely going to disappear from the back of the mind. But even when you apply it once or even many times, it can be hard to structure your thoughts about what went well about the application. If one just ruminates over in the mind, the conclusions and insight are likely to become lost or obfuscated.

This cultivating of wisdom, feeding back to yourself about how some action went, this is where deliberate reflection finds its value. Take for example an incident in a personal relationship. You may ask: how did my actions lead to the current situation? What were their motivations? What were my motivations? How did those lead to the series of actions causing the incident? Over time I think many people will learn these lessons without conscious reflection, but the mistake will likely need to be made many times for the insight to sink in. By consciously and deliberately practicing reflection, you may reduce the number of times you make a mistake before learning the lesson the mistake provides.

Lastly, it makes sense to write down these reflections because it forces you to codify your thoughts. To write something, you have to be able to express it externally to you. This makes it less likely to fall victim to issues such as availability bias, lack of commitment (since the commitment is tokenised) and thinking too fast on issues that aren’t suited to fast thinking.

All of this is subjective of course, based on my opinions and hunches. But so far it has provided me with more peace of mind and structure while taking committed action.