An Eclectic Human
A newsletter about design, community, and being a human

1.12 Keep on nodding terms

During the week, I tweeted a link to a few quotes from Virigina Woolfe about keeping a diary. Another post on that site talks about Joan Didion’s thoughts on the matter:

Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle.

She offers this insight about how a notebook can help you keep in touch with your former self:

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.


It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

Back in November I wrote about how current-day Steve is a rather different person from youthful Steven, but I would still agree with Joan that it’s useful to remember my past and keep in touch with it, because it has made me who I am today.

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Matt wrote this in response to last week’s prompt:

Nah, I don’t keep a journal. I keep a Rachael. And by that I mean my interest in any given daily occurrence is generally fairly short, so rather than using up that interest trying to put it on a piece of paper (or other medium), I share it with my wife to help maintain our relationship.

Interestingly, though, video journaling is what motivated me to make a YouTube channel. In hindsight the idea of making any substantial amount of money off of the Internet in such a short amount of time was incredibly naive, but it did build confidence in my researching ability. If I did ever start journaling, it would be for a similar purpose: improving my writing ability. I would probably highlight the coolest stories each week, giving myself time to make it look like professional writing rather than a haphazard stream of consciousness.

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As a bit of follow-on to our discussion on goals, I’d like to mention some advice from Leo Babauta: Delay.

I often have the urge to go check email or one of my favorite online sites. Now that I notice this urge, I can tell myself, “Sure, you can go check them … in a minute.” So I’d get back to writing my book, and delay. The urge went away. It came back later, but you can guess what I tried then. Delay.

This is part of mindfulness: being able to notice what your mind does but not necessarily succumbing to its every whim. At first it seems like self-deception if you always tell yourself, “I can do that later”. The reality is that while you may not put off a bad habit forever, being able to postpone the temptation just for a little while is sometimes the key to overcoming it and being free once and for all.

On the other hand, the important things that are truly deserving of our time should get it right away. Don’t put off helping a friend or stopping to enjoy a moment or listening to someone. As Leo says, “For the things that matter, act as if your hair is on fire, and brook no delay.”

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What practices have you found effective for forming a good habit or breaking a bad one?