Updated: Dec 9, 2019
I have been writing notes on myself for years, and I now realise how invaluable a tool this has been in my ability to assess my general wellbeing at any given time. I never set out to do this; it happened by chance when I started writing lists to combat my anxiety.
When I left university I really struggled with anxiety. I found the shift from student to actually having to get a job and support myself a hard one to transition. I began to feel overwhelmed by life decisions, and I did not feel equipped to deal with the small stuff. This is where my anxiety plagued me—it was never the big things, because the big things invariably take care of themselves, it was the really small things—the minutiae of everyday life that caused me distress.
Somewhere along the line I started writing lists to keep on top of my growing responsibilities. I found the act of writing everything down cathartic. Seeing the words and having something to refer back to made it easier to start doing, rather than just thinking about, what was on the list and stopped my anxiety from getting the better of me.
Over time, this developed into me writing lists about how I felt about certain things. If I needed to make an important decision or I was unsure about why something happened the way it did, I would bullet point what happened, how it happened and the feelings I had towards the situation. This helped me to process my experience, but there was a secondary, unexpected benefit I had not anticipated.
All this note taking or self-inventory as I like to call it, provided me with a detailed emotional tracking system for years of my life.
We forget that our thoughts, feelings, as well as life itself, are transitory. When we are caught in a moment, we can get stuck in thinking things will remain like this forever. By keeping a journal or other note-taking system, we can in fact see exactly when things change, how they change and how we change with them. It helps us to identify what is environmental and what is personal.
This can be a huge game-changer in the fight against anxiety—learning to recognise patterns in our behaviour. What makes us anxious or sad or ill at ease? What inspires us, lifts our spirits or motivates us to change? It's a simple emotional equation: do less of what makes you feel bad and more of what makes you feel good.
Thoughts and feelings are often forgotten with time, and we have no reliable way to remember exactly how things are, or at least how we perceive them to be, unless we write them down. Likewise, as we come to realisations about ourselves and form a deeper understanding of who we are and how to live optimally, the act of taking self-inventory commits us to our development.
It seems this simple tool has worked for even the greatest minds of our time. Below are images taken from one of Bruce Lee's handwritten pocketbooks, dated 1968, when he was twenty-seven years old.