To boldly go where no journal has gone before…
I was so excited to share these two resources that I had to make a video about it right away. If they can help me with my procrastination and motivation issues I think they can help you too! Keep them on hand. More energy than coffee.
New videos every Friday, at the least. Depending on how much I procrastinate.
Follow me in this video as I explain some of the ideas that have emerged while I’m dealing with recent surgery to my wrist. As an artist, writer, and nature journaler, any setback to my dominant hand is a big deal.
On my website I share what I’m going through right now, my learning process, and my own personal challenges. As usual, email me if you have any interesting experiences or ideas around this subject matter. If you find this video helpful or valuable please share it with a friend.
Here is a great little video by one of my favorite youtubers:
I listened avidly to the audiobook version of Michael Pollan’s new book and finished it in two days ( I got it the day it came out). This book is worth a read (or listen) for anyone interested in the mind, philosophy, death, and the treatment of mental illness. The book is especially useful if you or someone you love is dealing with anxiety, depression, addiction, or the recent death of a loved one. Here is my review:
For more about Pollan and the book check out his site: here
Michael Pollan is one of my favorite authors to take up the task of examining human-nature relationships. He examines ways in which nature and culture intersect on the most basic physical levels hence his interest in gardening and food. In his new book, “How to Change Your Mind” he looks at the “food of the gods,” psychedelics, and the role they may play in a better understanding of the human mind and the treatment of mental disease such as anxiety and depression. I will definitely do a video review of this book once I have received and read it.
Before you order the book listen to this great interview where Pollan describes some of his thought process and excitement around the topic of psychedelics with Tim Ferriss! In this interview he asserts that despite the fact that he has often been pigeon-holed as a food writer that he is in fact a nature writer. If you want to skip adds, start about five minutes into the podcast below.
Here is a practical technique that you can apply to learning almost any new skill but is especially useful for nature artists and nature journalers!
I have been unintentionally doing this for a while and have only recently recognized the value and started to conceptualize it.
Do you have information dense places that you seek out to accelerate your learning?
Do you have trouble drawing, painting, or journaling in public places? If so, my next post is for you!
There was once a ceramics teacher who did an experiment with his students. He told half the class to make as many pots as they could over the course of the semester, focusing on quantity not quality. He told the other half of the class to put all their energy and inspiration into making the single best pot they could. He told the first group they would be graded solely on quantity and the second group on quality.
At the end of the semester the teacher compared the pots of the two groups. Guess which group had produced the best pots?
Those students who had focused on producing as many pots as possible were free to practice without fixation on a finished product. They were able to learn and improve their skill. Ironically, the group that was told not to think about quality ended up producing finer pots. It appears that we learn better and faster when we are focused more on the practicing then on the outcome, a concept beautifully described in the book “The Practicing Mind.”
Simply put, sketchers learn faster.
Let yourself scribble, jot, sketch. Just fill up the page. Just keep your pencil moving and your eyes observing your subject. Just let your brain ask questions about what you see. If you do this regularly, you will learn much faster, you will improve. Ironically, you will begin to produce the superior images whose elusive promise inhibited your learning in the beginning.
This learning principle applies to most physical and intellectual pursuits that I can think of.
Try it out. Leonardo da Vinci did.
Journaling is the most powerful toolkit for dynamic human learning. It is affordable, accessible, democratic, and it can be modified and specialized in almost infinite ways. All you need is a pad of paper and a pencil.
Whether your learning is emotional, scientific, or artistic, journaling should be an essential part of your toolkit. Some of the greatest minds of history relied heavily on diaries, journals, and sketchbooks as a substrate for their thought process. Notable examples include Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, and of course Leonardo Da Vinci.
How it works: I have done my best to break down journaling into what I see are the 7 major benefits.
Commitment and Attention : When you sit down to draw a flower in your journal or write about an idea you make a commitment to focus on that thing. This is very different from daydreaming where your brain might briefly consider something in passing. By writing about something or sketching it in your journal you show your brain that this is something important and you give your brain a chance to actually work on this subject. You will notice more about your subject, be more creative, and have better problem solving ideas when you attend to something by working it out on paper.
Visual-Verbal-Manual: Words are abstract and language is a recent innovation that uses a limited part of our brain. Many problems can not be solved in this part of the brain. However, when we put words on paper, when we write by hand, and especially when we combine images with words, more and more of our brain is engaged in the task. Even off-topic doodling during a lecture has been shown to improve retention of information (doodling).Visual thinking in general is a very powerful tool and incorporating graphic facilitation or sketch-noting into your work can be very beneficial. Sketch-noting
Externalizing your thinking For Objectivity: Another huge benefit of journaling or keeping a diary is that it allows you to get ideas, feelings, and emotions out of your head and down on paper. This is a powerful way to break cyclical thinking, unproductive rumination, and downward depressive thought spirals. If you are feeling super frustrated about a team that you work with and you start to write down how you feel on paper you immediately put some distance between yourself and the emotions. Now you can be more objective. Even if your only goal is to record your feelings you will find creative solutions start to bubble up on their own. For more artistic projects or group projects, externalizing your thinking is essential for feedback. And you know how I feel about feedback! Put your logo idea, business model, or permaculture design on a piece of paper where you can stand back and evaluate it. Now, it is not so personal, now, you can see the strengths and weaknesses, now, you can learn, now, you can move forward. Your journal can document these feedback loops and revision cycles.
Externalizing your thinking For Mental Space: Another benefit of getting your ideas out of your brain and onto paper is that it frees up mental space for higher level thinking. One of the main weaknesses of the human brain is our inability to simultaneously hold many pieces of information in mind. The more you are trying to hold the less freedom you have to make connections between the pieces or solve problems in a creative way. Get that stuff out of your brain and you will find new energy and inspiration to take your ideas to the next level.
Venting: People have used pen and paper to vent their emotions for a long time. This is another form of externalizing your thinking and your emotions. Just by expressing the emotions onto paper you get more relief than cycling it through your mind. The paper won’t get exhausted, judge you, complain, or resent you (some of the common drawbacks when venting to friends or family.) Venting in your journal or diary is healthy and can be emotional or intellectual. For example, when I am nature journaling at an aquarium and I am trying to accurately draw the subtle profile of a salmon I might get frustrated at my inability to quite capture the look. In my notes next to my sketches I will often write something such as: “This curve is tricky! Gah!” Or I might write a funny expletive next to an indelible mistake that I made. This helps me get over it fast, not take myself too seriously, and not get to precious about the appearance of the page.
Chronology and Trajectory: The human brain is weak when it comes to remembering precise dates, times, and chronologies. It is also weak at noticing (or caring about) long trajectories and big patterns. Journals and diaries by their very nature become valuable sources of chronological information. When a journal keeper looks back at a journal from 3 years ago they are often able to see connections and recognize patterns. Is the snow on the mountains melting earlier this year then it has for the last 10 years that I have been keeping a journal? Am I noticing a pattern in my romantic relationships over the last decade since I have been journaling? These are the types of insights that by themselves make journal-keeping infinitely valuable because they are precisely the things that our human brain would often miss.
Record: Last of all, a journal provides a record. Do you need to double check how you conducted an experiment last year? Do you want to remember the name of someone you met or a secret waterfall you found? What about once you are dead? The world would be a much poorer place if Leonardo DaVinci and Frida Kahlo did not leave a piece of their brain behind on paper.
If you are already keeping a journal I commend you. If you are thinking about starting a journaling practice then I remind you: all of the great geniuses had a journal.
If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.
The zen master Shunryu Suzuki deftly summarizes the concept of beginner’s mind in the above quote. The concept is familiar to many who have studied zen and is recognizable in many Eastern philosophies from Taoism to Kung-Fu.
However, in the West the idea that “knowledge itself is power,” a quote from Francis Bacon, has had more influence. This exaltation of the accumulation of bits of knowledge has become the dominant perspective in the modern world. People confuse this finding, memorizing, and reciting of information with learning, understanding, and wisdom. We marvel at computers’ ability to store countless bits of information and we apply a digital memory metaphor to the workings or failures of our own minds. This is a mistake.
The ancient philosophers of the East recognized that the accumulation of knowledge and expertise can lead to the fossilization of the cognitive processes. Humility, flexibility, and openness to observation are often hampered by knowledge. Thus, the concept of beginner’s mind was expressed as an antidote, an ideal, a teaching metaphor.
When a child is learning language for the first time their mind is not cluttered with preconceptions, social anxiety, or prejudices. They are sponges, sucking up learning in the most efficient and flexible way. Adults can emulate this, we can use the metaphor of beginner’s mind to help us refine our expertise and learn more while being careful to avoid the pitfalls of the over-cluttered and fossilized “expert mind” where possibilities are few and learning is stagnant.
Have you ever done really well the first time you tried a sport or art form only to lag and flounder later on? Beginner’s luck? Perhaps, but luck is over-rated; I think this effect is a result of beginner’s mind.
If you really want powerful cognitive abilities focus on learning not knowledge, observe children, enjoy the day to day wonders, practice humility and restrain your inner expert. For more on this idea, see my post on knowledge as an obstacle to learning.
Why am I obsessed with learning? See my post on learning how to learn.