Would you be better or worse off for being less scrupulous about your self-improvement and idea archival?
This is interesting to think about considering how many of these habits I have (and have had since I was a teenager).
I'm sitting here trying to think about the different things I've tracked and the ways I've attempted to look for behavioral patterns and better myself over the years. Some random fun things I've sporadically tracked/noted over the years:
- Metrics on guys who replied to my dating profile
- My mood, weight, fitness level, habit activity
- Ideas for businesses/projects/stories/games
- Journals going back to 15
- Notes on hundreds of books
I also made an earnest attempt when I was 16 to work my way through the entire body of books worthy of having a SparkNotes page (circa 2000) and made it halfway through the list before getting distracted... figured I should read "The Classics."
But when I think about my returns on all this expended energy, I'm not sure any of it was worth it except for the journaling. I actually do go back and read my journals and it's interesting to reflect on ways I have and haven't changed over the years. I would definitely not recommend trying to read "The Classics" unless you're doing it for fun, because I don't think I got anything out of it except the ability to make injokes with other book nerds and some weird language quirks from internalizing outdated speech patterns.
Not sure why I didn't learn that lesson in AP English while being forced to read boring books that were relevant to someone else's life a long time ago. As a focused study with a clear goal, maybe, but not random sampling for self-improvement purposes.
But you can read smart books from modern authors that will challenge you similarly and be more relevant to modern life too, if all you want is to luxuriate in quality prose and take a spin through someone else's brain-space.
As for all of the notes I've taken on various non-fiction and fiction books over the years, I don't think I've EVER revisited them and got anything out of them. Not once.
I'm torn though because the act of note-taking itself may have improved my recall/integration of material.
I think this is kind of like how lots of people drag their college textbooks around with them forever "just in case" they want to reference something from their oChem textbook a decade hence but no one ever does.
It's an intellectual security blanket.
All of the metrics I've kept on myself and my life were fun to play with but ultimately didn't tell me anything useful I wasn't already aware of. I have dozens of discarded/forgotten spreadsheets buried on my computer with no real use. The most utility I've gotten from those exercises is the fun of seeing people's reactions when I tell them I built metrics to look for personality patterns in guys who messaged me (no strong correlations except intelligence unfortunately, which wasn't surprising).
As for all of the story/business/project ideas I have, I've rarely acted on notes I've kept about them because the best ones keep rattling around in my head until I do something with them whether I write them down or not.
The only time notes like this have been useful is when I went deep on an idea I didn't have time or focus for at the moment and sketched out a bunch of supporting info so I could revisit later, but that's more than noting.
And I've started (and abandoned) SO MANY side projects that sounded fun as a way to learn a new skill or do something cool but that I wasn't really "fuck YES" passionate about.
I'm not sure if this was wasted time since some did come to fruition.
Trying stuff out to see if it sparks passion might actually offer an okay return, except that the ones I stuck with (writing, making a card game) were things I already knew I was passionate about and had skill in. I probably could have predicted the ones I'd finish. Spending more time with loved ones (not just family, but specifically people who energize and delight me) has NEVER felt like wasted time, not once, and I cherish many of those interactions, whether in-person or letter exchanges.
I used to think that if only I could track myself better, have personal metrics, I would find some deep knowledge that would let me Change My Life. This was more of a felt assumption than a conscious plan. I don't think I had a vision for what would actually change. Or even an understanding of what I wanted to change. But spreadsheets are probably not the path to better self-knowledge and self-awareness, generally speaking.
Honestly a few months of regular meditation has been better for that than years of spreadsheets. Seems like I could have shortcut the whole process by asking myself what differences I wanted to have in my life and then focusing on bringing those about.
"Thing makes me sad"
Unfocused self-improvement on its own is such a nebulous and insidious goal because it trains you to think that you're not good right now.
Sure, work to better yourself if you want to.
But also, consider that it's okay to be happy with where you're at if you want.
I think the happiest periods of my life have been times when I've focused on doing things I enjoyed and spent time with people I liked and wasn't really taking notes or planning much at all.
Just being a little human and doing my life thing.
I wish I'd had the self-awareness and emotional intelligence to realize how easy the solution to the problem was earlier in my life. I used to be so mad sometimes that my ex was just happy where she was at and didn't feel a drive to self-improve as much.
Looking back though, I think that was the galaxy-brain take. Like, why not just be content and follow your passions for fun and let the self-improvement take its natural course as you absorb new ideas that your nose leads you into.
I don't think I'm going to be attempting any more systems for myself or take a bunch of notes, going forward. I'm really trying to lean into skimming on flow states in my life for a while and seeing how it goes. My expectation is that I'll be much happier and less anxious as a result, and I'm already seeing that.