Zettelkasten Forum

should i start a journal?

edited January 4 in Random

My apology for this random off topic, but i feel comfy in this community and i don't know a proper place to find help. I hope that's ok :neutral:

Journals and stats have been mentioned here a couple of times so i became interested in the topic. There is also lots to be found on the internet but perhaps i am too dense to grasp the idea. In essence, a journal is easy, personal and there are no rules. So, everything i read so far seems to assume i've understood what a journal is in beforehand :disappointed:

Finally I found a good overview here. It compares different types of journals. Most relevant for a Zettelkasten should be the "Idea Journals".

Here is a comparison between journals and diaries. It seems that a diary is more useful than a journal. It focuses on what has been done and what should be done. But the scope of a single day is insufficient for me. A scope for life, part X would be more useful. A journal doesn't seem to focus on taking actions, compared to a diary it seems less useful.

my first Zettel uid: 202008120915


  • Hi, again @zk_1000:

    I'd say you are already a journaler. Just not a journaler with routine practice. This post is part of your journal.

    Like any habit/routine you want to try out, I'd suggest starting very small. Take an old notebook that is just laying around, even if it is half used, and put today's date on the top of the first blank page and grab a cup of tea and sit with it for 10 minutes. Whatever spills out onto the page, call it journaling. It might be a to-do list (I'm a list maker so this is a natural behavior), a doodle, a mental observation, you might try to writing a 30 sec. 25-word description of the tea or your cat.

    Just do it and see what happens. This is "me-time" and no one else needs to see it. If it feels good repeat. (Maybe the first few times it might not feel great, but give it a week's chance. If it doesn't' get interesting and fun, abandon it for knitting.)

    @zk_1000 said:
    It seems that a diary is more useful than a journal. It focuses on what has been done and what should be done.

    Diary/Journal, Has been done/Will be done. Who cares? There are no Diary Gods or Journaling Gods. Mix and blend, be your own self.

    ...scope of a single day is insufficient for me. A scope for life, part X would be more useful. A journal doesn't seem to focus on taking actions, compared to a diary it seems less useful.

    This breaks down if you journal about taking action. And who says you can't? Remember that your life is made up of what you do each day.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing

  • edited January 4


    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • edited January 4


    I don't know if English is your native language or not, but permit me to tap into my experience as a (native) English teacher.

    The words "diary" and "journal" really mean exactly the same thing, and actually have the same distant origin. The former comes from the Latin word "dies", meaning "day", and denotes a daily record of things. The latter is from Old French "jurnal", from late Latin "diurnalis", meaning "daily" (it is easy to see the connection with the modern French word "jour"). So a journal is also a daily record of things. What a person puts into their diary or journal is up to them -- but the basic idea is that an entry refers to a day -- what a person did on that day, what they thought on that day, what happened on that day, etc. Naturally, the words have been hijacked for other uses over the centuries, but their basic meaning is retained among native English speakers (among some more than others!)

    Edit: having looked at "the difference between" -- it is a load of rubbish in my view. Like so much of what can be found on the internet.

    Post edited by MartinBB on
  • edited January 4

    @MartinBB i was about to comment on that same thought :smiley: ! I am not a native speaker, plus as someone that doesn't practice either, my understanding of keeping a diary is heavily influenced by preconception. When i was reading about journaling the question arose how this is any different from a diary (something i am more familiar with). Articles like the one i linked in the beginning of the discussion are probably comparing diary and journal solely to answer that question. I have to say that the article is not convincing at all, whatever the intention of the author was is unclear. I suppose it is important to keep things separate when different outcomes should be achieved.

    However, not all journals are daily records. For example, journals are a recommended practice in psychology to process traumatic events. It's practice hold for 3-4 days has positive effects but for a longer period can lead to rumination. I don't know if diary and journal are used interchangeably in this context.

    The original concept emphasises the daily practice but has since found a wide range of application that the basic meaning is no longer of relevance. As for the English language, are both words used interchangeable? I suppose when describing a practice and its outcome there is a preference for the words "journal" and "journaling" compared to "diary" and "keeping a diary". For example, searching for disadvantages i can find 10x more results in Google for journals than for diaries.

    but yes, it is the same thing and the misunderstanding is part of the struggles of a non-native speaker.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • @zk_1000 Have you ever heard or read about "bullet journalling"? It's an interesting idea and allows you to focus way beyond the one-day period.



  • @zk_1000
    In my copy of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, one of the definitions of "diary" is "a journal". Among the definitions of "journal" it states "now usually implying something more elaborate than a diary". Probably the usage of "journal" has been influenced by the fact that it was often used in commerce, trade, and travel, and not just for a personal record (so you might see a "ship's journal" or a "journal of march" for an army unit). But there is no getting away from the fact that the words basically mean the same thing.

    My branch of psychology is social, not clinical, but I have trained as a counsellor, and the use of journals/diaries (most, if not all days!) seems to be quite common for trainees. We never really discussed their use for clients. But obviously something that could be useful in certain scenarios. I have an interest in narrative psychology, which is not wholly unconnected.

  • To tackle this discussion's eponymous question, "should I start a journal?", I'll wholeheartedly say: it depends!

    In reaction to one of the posts by @Massimo_Curatella in December, I noticed that I still have a diary-like note-book from when I was about 12 years old. It's fun to look at these things sometimes. It's also humbling to find out what I worried about in my first long-term relationship, and all the doubts and questions I had, and how far (or how little :)) I've gotten past the core questions that linger below all this. So I am glad I often kept a journal of sorts! Should you start one? Maybe it'll be worth your while in 10 years time, too!

    And as @Will said, you're already participating in the practice. I'd argue that feeding your Zettelkasten leaves traces that delineate your way of thinking of today in such a way that your future self can reminisce on what he'll dig up.

    So that's about the product, the journal, and your future self. Could be fun, could be worth it!

    Present-me believes that writing personal or other, seemingly insignificant stuff down in an orderly fashion helps to get clarity. I wrote a lot in December about family matters. That didn't give me Zen-like detachment from emotional trouble, but it stopped circular thoughts and helped me advance from one thought to another over time.

    So that's about the practice. I find it helpful to write. And some things don't belong in my Zettelkasten. Still they trouble me. Having a journal of some sort (really just a nested list item for the day inside a diary.org text file file) feels like it improves my overall situation. That's why I usually recommend friends to find some journaling groove that works, whatever "works" means.

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

  • @zk_1000 One of the purposes of my ZK is to capture personal memories so that in a year or two I can put together a personal history. "Capture" is an apt description - when a memory pops into my mind, I'd better capture it, before it disappears for another 10 years.

    Memories are often prompted by some sense - sight, smell, sound, taste or even touch - or by some thought or something I read. Some of them are quite random and/or I haven't thought of them for years. I expect it will take some time to fill in a lot of the gaps in my memory. From that perspective, a journal might be useful.

    However, I must admit that despite a number of attempts over the years I have never been able to sustain the effort to keep adding information to a journal. The best I've done recently is to scroll through photos taken by my phone over the previous 6 months to a year and port over any noteworthy ones into DayOne, with a brief description. I look at this as "cheating" in regard to a journal, as I am making entries from memory rather than as I live them.

  • I'd say i am journaling only from the perspective of an observer. I still don't consider myself journaling because i cannot explain how i do it nor why i do it.

    The reasons given here are helpful but again, only valid from an outsider's perspective. I'll have to come up with an answer for myself.

    i see applications in project planning, meditation and storing personal ideas or memories.

    Compared to GTD bullet journaling is much cleaner and easier to learn. I especially like how much overview it provides for all tasks and projects. One disadvantage is the moving of tasks which is demotivating and frustrating. I've struggled learning GTD and would have wished to start with bullet journals, instead.

    There are large lists of psychological benefits in journaling, but simply writing for the sake of writing does not sound convincing to me. Feeling good is too vague of a motive for the practice. I think it'll quickly turn into procrastination, rumination or i simply loose interest over time. There's only one way to find out, but at this point i do meditation, instead.

    The reason why i was ignoring the practice for so long is that i don't see how i access what i write in the future. I've read some more blog articles on journaling and some do suggest that it might prove valuable in the future, without explaining how to do that. Even for something as low-cost as a one-line-a-day-diary, doing something that might be useful someday doesn't seem a good reason to do it.

    Even though they can both collect ideas and memories, I think that a Zettelkasten is the better alternative to a journal. A journal is an archive, it puts a date on a note for long time storage. A Zettelkasten is a living work, you don't simply collect ideas but work with them, reformulate them and reuse them. One side effect of a Zettelkasten is the ever growing amount of "dead" notes that do exist but are no longer reused. For a Zettelkasten i'd consider it as trash, for a journal as valuable.

    Journals really are fun to look at sometimes. Someday / maybe i'll start one myself. I like drinking tea but am allergic to cats.

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • @zk_1000 I just remembered a type of journal that my daughter keeps that has some interesting aspects. The journal is arranged so that each double (facing) page represents one day of the year, e.g., January 1, 2, 3, etc. That double page is then divided into 6 sections, for 6 consecutive years. So, you start on a particular date (say January 1), in the first section you write the year (say 2021), and then you must complete your day's entry in the allotted number of lines (obviously, depends on the size of the journal; she gets about 8 lines). The limited space forces her to focus and be pithy in her comments or limited in her topics.

    She's been doing this for 5 years now and really likes it. After she's made an entry, she reads back over the previous 5 years to get a snapshot view of what she was thinking on the same day in the previous years.

  • @zk_1000 said:
    Journals really are fun to look at sometimes. Someday / maybe i'll start one myself. I like drinking tea but am allergic to cats.

    Tea drinkers unite!
    Sorry to hear you are allergic to cats.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Attention Horizon, Dzogchen, Non-fiction Creative Writing

  • zk_1000 you may be over-thinking this. I'm a painter and I've kept an art journal for the last ten years. Not every day, just when I have something to write about. No one else sees it - it's just for me - a record of what I've done and what I hope to achieve. It's messy and its purpose is fuzzy but who cares? It helps me to think things through with regard to my art practice. Sometimes I write about other artists that I like or dislike. My journal is sprinkled liberally with images as you'd expect. But I never ask the question, "why am I doing this?" It seems irrelevant somehow.

  • Hi @zk_1000
    writing by transcribing your thoughts is one of the most powerful personal development activities.
    Don't worry too much about labels, format, and tools, write what you think, and do it daily.

    When you have collected one year of writing (one month? one week?), stop, and reflect. Look at what you have written as a researcher, an investigator. What can you observe?

    That's exactly what I did, and you can find my lessons learned in this thread:

  • edited January 7

    @Will said:
    Tea drinkers unite!

    I am looking forward to it! The world is small, maybe we meet someday :blush:

    @GeoEng51 this is a very nice idea :smiley:

    @Massimo_Curatella should i focus on personal development while writing? For this exercise do i order stuff during writing or when i stop and reflect?

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • @zk_1000 said:
    @Massimo_Curatella should i focus on personal development while writing? For this exercise do i order stuff during writing or when i stop and reflect?

    Know yourself, first. Listen to yourself, very carefully. Do it long enough to let emerge the will to work on some of your aspects. That is the intentional part of the development.
    But writing and listening to yourself it's the implicit and much-needed aspect.
    Don't theorize too much. Journal, daily, for 100 days. Then come back to talk.

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