Zettelkasten Forum


Resistance at creating Zettels

Hi everyone. I am pretty much addicted to absorbing new information, so I tend to go look for it a lot. As such, I encounter a great deal of interesting things that I want to remember, i.e. create Zettels of.

I am less motivated to write summaries about what I read, because at that stage it is already "old", and even more so about creating Zettels about it. At that step, I am much more inclined to finding new, exciting information.

As such, it takes quite some willpower to make Zettels. Moreover, I feel some sort of decision fatigue because I have to word my findings correctly and, even more so, go through my Zettelkasten to find connections to other notes.

Does anyone share this sentiment? How do you guys make it easier and more fun?

Comments

  • I can somewhat relate to this. The chore went away when I discovered how I could "play" with my notes, and find the fun in making connections and thinking about old stuff in a new way. It's hard to prescribe anything here, and I guess everyone has a different taste -- I love building things, so making connections from interesting topics and writing about the ideas is a reward on its own.

    If discovery of external sources is more your cup of tea, and you don't enjoy writing, or building up your own projects, than maybe you don't need to bother taking notes at all and can just read, you know? :)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • Thanks, Christian. It is good to think about just reading stuff without feeling obliged to take notes. I often feel very compulsive, in that I have to take notes and put the new knowledge in my Zettelkasten, because otherwise I will have read it for nothing. Besides working on that feeling, and just taking my time integrating knowledge, I may become more relaxed with reading, and just read for fun once in a while.

    Another thing I try to do is limit the amount of information I have to process. I have to process a lot for work already, and noticed that if a lot more comes my way during private time, I am getting enthusiastic but at the same time very drained. So I really need to schedule time in which I do not process any new information (or maybe just from novels). Meditation, I feel, is really important for knowledge workers (I know you guys talked about that already).

  • How do you guys make it easier and more fun?

    I think this question hides the problem. You juxtapose easy and fun. I do not think this is correct. I'd take step back and really decide why you read stuff. Even non-fiction work can be read for fun and some uplifting.

    If you want to read for fun don't bother with processing it deeply. It is totally acceptable. I in contrast process every book I read. I am a quite upbeat person (quite painful for others because I am also annoying..) but I don't approach reading with this easy/fun perspective. In my work as a trainer, clients often assume that this a good thing in itself and they should process everything like me. They then get very suprised when I advice against it. You can listen to audio books on self-improvement without any further processing it and get great benefit from that. It is uplifting, you learn quite a bit, and -- if you take action -- can improve your life.

    Then there is the thinking that you can have your cake and eat it, too. Gamification is such a thing. You can apply its principles to knowledge work. But then you will never build the discipline to work yourself through difficult material.

    Having said that, you wrote that you already process a lot during work. Perhaps, your freetime shouldn't be spend in such a productive manner? If you get exausted by processing why not accept the boundaries of your energy level and give yourself a bit of downtime? Go hiking and unplugg youself instead of bounding yourself to technical devices? Or meet friends and talk about things that you want to process -- while hiking.

    If something is important to have it in your archive dedicate 1--3 session @90min per week and discipline yourself.

  • edited September 28

    They then get very suprised when I advice against it.

    Can you elaborate on that? Why would you not preach what you practice?

    My question had to parts: how and why do you create Zettels? For how, I noticed that making high-quality Zettels and connecting them to what is already in the Zettelkasten takes effort. How do you smoothen this process?

    As to why, I believe one should be clear on motivation (in this case, it could be something like "I get inspired by learning new things, and want to connect them to what I already know"). That is where my "easy and fun" come from (so I agree with you, Sascha, about focusing on the why). I have approached most everything in my life with willpower: if an the activity leads to a desired reward, it is worth going through the effort. But I am more and more intrigued by work like this:

    • Only work that is rewarding in itself can become self-sustainable (DePasque and Tricomi, 2015)
    • The use of systems ("I feel good learning new things") rather than goals ("I want know a lot") (Clear, 2018)
    • Taking the path of least resistance: Luhmann said “When I am stuck for one moment, I leave it and do something else.” (Ahrens, 2017)
    • Top performers pursue a certain feeling, and take a step back to reflect when they encounter obstacles/resistance (Newburg et al. 2002)

    So if I encounter resistance when creating Zettels, this would suggest 1) I am not up to it at that moment and/or 2) I am not clear on my motivation. In any case, I should take a step back for reflection. And resistance can anyway be reduced by smoothening the process.


    Ahrens, Sönke. 2017. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking: For Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace.

    Clear, James. 2018. Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House. https://jamesclear.com/goals-systems.

    DePasque, Samantha, and Elizabeth Tricomi. 2015. “Effects of Intrinsic Motivation on Feedback Processing During Learning.” NeuroImage 119 (October): 175–86.

    Newburg, Doug, Jay Kimiecik, Natalie Durand-Bush, and Kelly Doell. 2002. “The Role of Resonance in Performance Excellence and Life Engagement.” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 14 (4): 249–67. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200290103545.

  • @Garwyx Some of the things you point out kind of sound like "Flow", but you don't cite that concept. I wonder if you're not aware of it, if you want to stress a different point, or something else is going on. Because if you were using "flow", I'd have expected something like "optimum resistance" instead of "least resistance" :)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • edited September 28

    @ctietze said:
    @Garwyx Some of the things you point out kind of sound like "Flow", but you don't cite that concept. I wonder if you're not aware of it, if you want to stress a different point, or something else is going on. Because if you were using "flow", I'd have expected something like "optimum resistance" instead of "least resistance" :)

    @ctietze Yes I know about flow, and that indeed corroborates the point I try to make. Newburg et al. (2002) relate their Resonance Performance Model to flow, too, but focus on the fact that most activities should resonate with what they call the "dream" (i.e. how people want to feel each day). They suggest flow and resonance are parallel (if you are in flow, you are living the dream), but resonance refers to a broader positive subjective experience, whereas flow pertains more to positive subjective snapshots of experiences. Moreover, to get into flow requires a high degree of commitment and energy (Csiksentmihalyi, 1997). That is where I come from with my "easier and more fun" question.

    The concept of flow is not in my Zettelkasten because I have read about it before I had one. So I did not encounter it when thinking about this :smile:. This motivates me to re-read Csikszentmihalyi's papers.


    Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow. New York: HarperCollins.

  • @Garwyx I know what you mean about reading for new information sometimes being easier than processing and wording the actual notes. Reading is fun and fairly passive, and we can do it in a more comfy position than sitting up typing. So it can easily become our default. It's a pretty well known phenomenon for those writing academic dissertations and theses, and our supervisors warned us against it ("You can often get trapped in reading everything you can about a subject and never actually committing to the writing. So don't think you need to read absolutely everything before you can write anything").

    At other times, sometimes I find it easier to do a mechanical task with low cognitive load, like typing. For these times, when I want to do computer work, but for whatever reason I am finding thinking and making connections hard, I have a store of handwritten notes ready for processing. I took them while lying down reading an interesting new book, and I knew at the time I would want to create low-level or 'information' zettels from them.

    So when I think I am too tired or blocked to make new connection zettels, I start by making these info zettels. What has started to happen right from the first day is that this process kind of tricks me into it, and pretty soon I am involved and am making connections, or at least setting up buffers and tags to return to, having forgotten about my mental block. I wouldn't say it is guaranteed to kick me right into flow, but it helps me get over that initial avoidance.

  • @Garwyx Actually, to continue the theme, would you say your problem is a mental block about the enormity of the task? Does it seem daunting to make notes, in the same way that starting a new piece of writing or a drawing on a blank sheet of white paper is daunting?

    In that case, perhaps my previous example (having several different types of task available at any time to suit your different cognitive levels and moods) is not quite relevant.

    If you don't already, perhaps you could try leaving yourself small, clearly delineated tasks as routes into the work.

    For example, when you finish one work session, jot down right there what you want to do next. Make a few easy bullets. When you come back to it, it will be easier than staring at a blank page. (I heard somewhere Hemingway used to stop for the night half way through a sentence, even. That's drastic). I make little to-do lists like that when I'm on the bus or somewhere else, so when I actually sit down to work I have a roadmap to follow to get me going.

    Anyway I am waffling, sorry, I'll stop now :)

  • @Garwyx said:

    They then get very suprised when I advice against it.

    Can you elaborate on that? Why would you not preach what you practice?

    I also train multiple time a day and don't recommend it to others. It is quite simple: You should only preach what you practice but not all of it. Not everything is needed for everyone.

    I'll concentrate on the why:

    Counter Examples

    As to why, I believe one should be clear on motivation (in this case, it could be something like "I get inspired by learning new things, and want to connect them to what I already know"). That is where my "easy and fun" come from (so I agree with you, Sascha, about focusing on the why). I have approached most everything in my life with willpower: if an the activity leads to a desired reward, it is worth going through the effort. But I am more and more intrigued by work like this:

    • Only work that is rewarding in itself can become self-sustainable (DePasque and Tricomi, 2015)
    • The use of systems ("I feel good learning new things") rather than goals ("I want know a lot") (Clear, 2018)
    • Taking the path of least resistance: Luhmann said “When I am stuck for one moment, I leave it and do something else.” (Ahrens, 2017)
    • Top performers pursue a certain feeling, and take a step back to reflect when they encounter obstacles/resistance (Newburg et al. 2002)

    So if I encounter resistance when creating Zettels, this would suggest 1) I am not up to it at that moment and/or 2) I am not clear on my motivation. In any case, I should take a step back for reflection. And resistance can anyway be reduced by smoothening the process.

    I can come up with a lot of counter-examples with no problem:

    You can’t be disturbed by anything. There’s no emotion involved. You can’t feel sorrow, you can’t feel pity, there’s nothing you feel. The job has to be done. - Mike Tyson

    You feel the pain [...]. If you do this over and over again pain becomes part of your life. You can adapt to certain degrees of pain. But it's basically all in your mind. [The pain] doesn't matter. - Mike Tyson

    Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline. - Jocko Willink

    Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working. - Pablo Picasso

    Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. - Stephen King

    I only write when I am inspired. Fortunatly I am inspired at nine o'clock every morning. - William Faulkner

    Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up. - Elon Musk

    Adding to that:

    Maintaining the focus and the effort required by purposeful practice is hard work, and it is generally not fun.[^ericsson2017]

    And:

    Everyone from the very top (violin) students to the future music teachers agreed: improvement was hard, and they didn't enjoy the work they did to improve. In short, there were not students who just loved to practice and thus needed less motivation than the others. These students were motivated to practice intensely and with full concentration because they saw such practice essential to improving their performance.[^ericsson2017]

    You think you are not reading self-reports with enough care. Does this look like fun to you?

    Yet, I did it with great passion and would reported this phase of my life as very rewarding.

    And if Luhmann says that he moves on after being stuck: Do you know what he does mean by that? Perhaps, pounding his head on the desk for three hours before he really decides to move on?

    Make a decision

    I say: Make up your mind what you want. If you want to have fun set up a system for knowledge work that aims towards fun. It is totally fine! It is totally fine not to always go to the primary source of a claim. It is not as scientifically sound but who cares?

    To me, it seems that you are more in the game of knowledge work for fun, novelty and satisfying your curiousity:

    I am pretty much addicted to absorbing new information, so I tend to go look for it a lot.
    I am less motivated to write summaries about what I read, because at that stage it is already "old", and even more so about creating Zettels about it. At that step, I am much more inclined to finding new, exciting information.

    You are not alone. We all are like that. It is no coinsidence that many people fall into the same traps -- including me, of course. :smile:

    Still, you have to make a decision if you want to get serious about your knowlege work in your free time or not. The reward is out there but might not looking like you assume it does.

  • @Garwyx Just two pieces of personal advice:
    1. Try asking written questions, many of them, even nested hierarchies of questions, subquestions to your own questions: about what are going to read, about what you did read, about what you are going to write, about the problem to solve, about the issue at hand, about the difficult interview ahead, about your own feelings etc. You will probably quickly notice, that this is a much more smooth and elegant way to immerse yourself into “stuff”, penetrate to the essentials from your own point of view and to develop an intrinsic interest in the matter.
    Since I started doing that, I see more connections and links and triggered much more interest and ideas in subjects, to prepare my speeches, talks, panels, memos, etc. My “Zettelkasten” now is filled with questions, answers and annotations to them and became for me a magnet rather than a centre of disinclination.
    2. For easiness use a smart outliner for writing, to connect and link fast and find everything you are looking for on the spot. I personally use and love Dynalist (pro) on my Laptop and mobile, which gives me full command of my ideas, questions and notes, (or at least the illusion of mastering their infinity). But there are many other good programs/apps as well, e. g. Workflowy, Notion.
    Maybe it helps, good luck!

  • @De_rerum_naturis said:
    Try asking written questions

    I think this is a really useful suggestion, in that it gets at the heart of what makes a Zettelkasten particularly useful---namely, that it is a tool for developing ideas, rather than just for storing information.

    When I'm writing literature notes (processing a book or an article) before I even start reading, I write "QUESTIONS:" at the top of the note, like a header, and quickly jot down what I think I might find in the text, or what I hope to find. These questions/thoughts/hopes guide my reading, and help me to more easily recognize what in the text is important to me, in that moment, for my current thinking. That way, I'm not feeling like I have to write everything down, just in case it might be interesting later. By reflecting on what my questions are before I read, I find that I'm less concerned with the truly painstaking work of producing a general summary of the text. That kind of work feels so open-ended, I might just end up re-writing the whole book word for word.

    I was thinking about this as I watched @ctietze processing David Epstein's Range, and I wonder if you, Christian (or any others), write down your questions, or if you have any formal process for setting up some guiding parameters or frameworks before you start out start "processing"? Or do you just keep your questions in mind as you work?

  • Small addition:

    Of course there are better ways to work with the Zettelkasten Method. One culprit of your approach is: You seem to think that all the knowledge and learning magic happens while reading. But it doesn't. It happens when you think in written form. That is the mode of Zettelkasten work in a nutshell.

    The above tipp by @De_rerum_naturis is a subset of this mode. Asking questions means to think about a matter.

    If you work in sync with your archive you have the feeling to just think while your fingers are moving. This is how good sessions actually feel. Processing is not done before and after that you integrate. Processing means actually processing it.

    Recall the article by Luhmann: Communications with Zettelkästen.

  • edited October 3

    Thanks for all the wonderful insights, guys. This helps a lot. First of all, I don't think I mentioned I am still recovering from what is not really a burn out, but has some common ground with it. That is what the willpower-thing comes from: the last couple of years I have acted mostly on willpower and to fulfill obligations towards goals (that may not have been realistic). I am now in the process of re-discovering what truly drives me. Hence the link with flow and the Resonance Performance Model.

    @argonsnorts I have started doing that for papers, and I fully agree that it narrows down what I am supposed to get out of the read. The feeling you describe open producing a general summary, because everything is important, is very real to me.

    At the moment, I encounter many things that are not in my Zettelkasten yet. So I am mostly collecting facts, and connecting them to other facts. It does not help that the subject currently is statistical methods in R, which is very dry and un-opinionated.

    @sfast I have done less knowledge absorbing this week, and more mindful activities. That makes the sessions of reading, thinking and writing much easier.

    Edit: what also really helps me is to just read a paper, chapter or book first, without any kind of note-taking, and writing a brief summary afterwards. I know Ahrens also suggests this technique.

  • @Garwyx said:
    @sfast I have done less knowledge absorbing this week, and more mindful activities. That makes the sessions of reading, thinking and writing much easier.

    Perhaps, this triggers me as a trainer, but still: I wouldn't try to make anything easier. Instead, make yourself stronger.

  • @sfast said:

    @Garwyx said:
    @sfast I have done less knowledge absorbing this week, and more mindful activities. That makes the sessions of reading, thinking and writing much easier.

    Perhaps, this triggers me as a trainer, but still: I wouldn't try to make anything easier. Instead, make yourself stronger.

    And to get stronger you need lots of rest. What I meant with easy in this case is actually getting something done, not fighting physical pain (literally) to try and create zettels.

    Sounds like you want me to bench 150 kg on an off day with DOMS whilst my max is 100. I have used that mentality for years, and it does not work.

  • @Garwyx said:
    And to get stronger you need lots of rest. What I meant with easy in this case is actually getting something done, not fighting physical pain (literally) to try and create zettels.

    You have physical pain while creating zettels? Sounds a bit dramatic to me.

    @Garwyx said:
    Sounds like you want me to bench 150 kg on an off day with DOMS whilst my max is 100. I have used that mentality for years, and it does not work.

    No. I say: DOMS is no reason for rest. You need more activity to increase bloodflow.

    But I'll end my trainering here. My main job is to pull people out of there stuck state (sometimes because of depressiv episodes, sometimes athletes who are stuck in their ways). I listen to a lot of people and almost everyone who is stuck has one problem in common: They believe they know how to get out of this stuck state. And they frame their problem similar to this: "I know what to do. But I just can't do it."

    The example is quite touching for me, because many times people did something and where actually suprised what they can do while at the same time still holding on to the believe that they can't do it.

    Anyhow: If you are right and I am wrong I cheer for you.

  • edited October 5

    @sfast said:

    @Garwyx said:
    And to get stronger you need lots of rest. What I meant with easy in this case is actually getting something done, not fighting physical pain (literally) to try and create zettels.

    You have physical pain while creating zettels? Sounds a bit dramatic to me.

    Indeed I do. I experience tremendous tightness/pain in my upper back, neck and cheek muscles during static activities, like computer work1. This is not because of a physical issue, but because I tense up because of stress. After stress release it always goes much smoother.

    I have the tendency to push through because I want to finish things, which only makes it worse. It works better to work mindfully, hence my reference to the RPM. I am now working on being more aware of my feelings/emotions and letting them flow with a therapist, because I have been having this issue for almost two years now, and am only able to work at about 50%.

    Reading usually goes well (until I get too tired), because at that stage I am curious and learning new things, hence pretty mindful2. But when I create zettels from what I have learned, I feel rushed and focus on getting finished so I can go back to reading. So I am not mindful, and my muscles tense up.

    So I don't need creating zettels to be "easy and fun", but mindful. I think allowing myself the time to create zettels and invoking curiosity is the way to go.


    1. Also during dynamic activities that are stressful, but making the muscles move removes at least that barrier. ↩︎

    2. Although a common pitfall is the conviction that I should have already knew what I read, which will lead to stress and hence pain ↩︎

  • Oh. That's totally different game.

    Do you implement regular movement breaks? This could assist the process. With my own clients, I sometimes need to go a bodily way. Also: What helps is bio energizer.

    Still happy that the solution is not fun and easy but mindful. I am fully onboard. :smile:

  • I am glad that we finally reached consensus :smile:. Mindfulness sounds appropriate.

    Moreover, I discovered I do not adhere to the Principle of Atomaticity (blog by Christian). Rather, I tend to create zettels about wide topics. For instance, I created one called ANOVA, but then I am not clear what should and should not be included in that note. Apparently notes like these contain knowledge I have known for so very long that I do not consider it relevant to include. But they are needed as a baseline to build other notes on.

    It works much better if the title has a concise statement, such as "ANOVA is used when explanatory variables are categorical". These "tier 1" notes are much clearer to me, and can be included in an overview about ANOVA, which in turn can be included in an overview about statistics.

    This alleviates much of the stress I encountered when making notes. Combined with acknowledging when I am too tired, I can attain flow.

  • edited October 14

    @argonsnorts and @De_rerum_naturis: I agree completely with what you write about question-centered approaches – think I made a similar point in the discussion with Sascha here. Thanks for writing that – good to hear that I'm not alone ;)

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