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Written Thoughts: Perennially Useful or Better Just Discarded?

Tuesday June 27, 2017

Back when my life was about to take a huge turn for the better, I started a “life improvement journal.” Every day I wrote about what sucked, why it sucked, and wrote a little about what I might do about it. I was inspired by Jordan Mechner and his Karateka & Prince of Persia journals, which can be found in print or in e-book form and are recommended.

Maybe it was that particular journal that did it, I’m not sure. But two years later, having lost over 35% of my body weight, and having become a healthier, happier, and more responsible human being, I was addicted to journaling. I still can’t get enough of it. (I don’t keep a chronology, which I find really boring—there are more enjoyable ways to journal)

A while back, someone asked me: “When you write in your journal, do you keep your writings around, or discard them?”

The question really resonated with me. I have thousands of journal text files and well over 50 notebooks in which I’ve done a lot of journaling. Sometimes I think, “should I just delete all of that; throw the notebooks away? Those problems are now solved.”

For an INTJ, one of the key problem solving modes is “extraversion of thought.” Basically, we just need to blab somewhere, or to someone. Get our thoughts out. Otherwise we tend to hang out with our intuitions too much and we become these grumpy fortune-tellers who “just know how things are going to go.”

So a lot of my most impactful journal entries simply read like this: “I have this problem, what am I going to do, it sucks, oh wait here’s an idea, what if I tried X? OK yeah I should try X. BTW I have an appointment at 3 today. Also so-and-so’s phone number is…”

On the surface, that’s some fairly shallow journaling, or at least that’s how it can appear when I read it now. But there’s a very important step in there. Between “what am I going to do, it sucks,” and “oh wait here’s an idea” my brain kicked in and helped me solve the problem. It’s shocking how little thinking I actually do sometimes, in comparison to say, intuiting or sensing. And a little thinking is often all we need in order to find momentum again.

Journaling is mainly, for me, a way to think in this extraverted way. And most thoughts are not worth keeping around.

However, as I’ve explored the cognitive functions, spending quite a bit of time with Ti, I have this extra thing going on in my journal entries: I’ll start to build a framework. There is a meta-process going on around the journaling, and that process asks:

  • Do I have any frameworks or sets of rules with which to attack this problem?
  • If so, can I use them right now?
  • If not, will this problem happen again?
  • If this problem might happen again, can I write down what helped me solve it this time and reuse it later?

So I periodically review my old journal entries, looking for little points of leverage. How did I solve the problem? What did I think would help? Did I try it, and did it work?

I try to extract these points of leverage into their own text files. But I may never complete that gargantuan task, so I keep the journal entries around for now.

Also, perhaps due to its sensate nature (Dario Nardi associates it with our 8th and weakest function, introverted sensing), the journaling-as-collecting-things-from-the-past activity will always be a little bit awkward. INTJs aren’t the best at keeping collections of things. We sometimes swing violently from “I have the BEST POSSIBLE collection of things” to “I just gave them all away to my friends.” From a ridiculously materialistic bent to zen minimalism. Such a black or white tendency doesn’t say much for our maturity on the topic of keeping and storing things, or knowing how to attach importance to things.

Learning to maintain a healthy collection of things, then, can be good. And this is my life’s writing. So while it’s not exactly an amazing work of literature, I’m probably keeping it around.

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