Write down your thoughts

Aug 25, 2020

Memory is not so much a camera as a filter—the particulates it holds on to are nothing compared to what leaks through.

– John Green

Our experiences are ephemeral. Like a sandcastle on a windy day, our memories will slowly but inevitably erode and distort over time, leaving behind only a vague impression of all that we once remembered.

We are constantly confronted with the fallibility of our memories. When was the last time your were chided for not emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash—not because you didn’t mean to—but because it slipped your mind? How often have you forgotten to submit an assignment or send an email because you told yourself you would have no problem remembering?

We are experts at deceiving our minds into thinking that we can remember anything we want, yet we rarely do. This is why life speeds up as we age. The past is compressed into a highlight real—all subtlety is lost and enormous lengths of time can pass in the blink of an eye. We are all aware of this phenomenon, yet we continue to press our feet firmly against the gas pedal, accelerating and accelerating, not understanding where all the years have gone until it’s too late and we in turn have been forgotten.

Write down your thoughts

The solution is simple: if you want to remember anything, write it down. You are undoubtedly used to writing notes, but very few people take the time to record the thoughts and ideas that actually matter to them. For some reason, writing down our personal thoughts is unsettling because it forces us to reconcile with our emotions—the very forces from which we spend so much time hiding.

Nevertheless, what we record in the present is all that we will remember in the future. Photos and videos capture experiences yet they are not personal. Words are the only medium that allow us to store memories from our own perspective.

Two years ago I started a journal. Almost every day, I write a note detailing how I feel and what made the day special. Here is an example from an entry I wrote in April after finishing the Stanford Cleantech Challenge:

It’s short and it’s simple but it allows me to remember that day with a clarity that would otherwise be impossible. Writing these notes is easy and fun, and going through old entries never fails to bring me joy.

Writing down my thoughts decompresses my life and is the most valuable habit that I have adopted in many years. I recommend that you do the same.

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