Memory Mastery – Journaling

Memory Mastery – Journaling

In this article, I promise I will jumpstart your memory, allow you to recall details faster, and with more precision and to become your own survival mentor. And I won’t make you sign up for anything, pay for anything, or take elaborate steps to deceive you in any way.

Step 1: Make A Journal

A bit of a let down isn’t it? Did you think I would tell you about some new smart pill, or a 12 step mnemonic pattern? Nope, just start writing stuff down.

Here is the caveat. You have to do it all the time, it must be hand written / drawn, and it needs to be only for you.

Who Journals?

I have been “journaling” for my entire life. Not a diary or one of those artsy watercolour scrap books you find on Google. I just wrote or drew anything that I found interesting in note books. It started with Mead spiral bound books of varying sizes and colours, then I tried 3-ring binders, mini notebooks and finally settled on The Large Ruled Notebook by Moleskin – they never change and I can always buy another of the exact same type. Also, hardback Moleskins are quite robust and can take a moderate amount of beatings which is going to happen when you carry around a journal all the time.

Years of Moleskin Notebooks

At first I didn’t know that I was writing to my brain, I was just putting things down that  were cool. Cool words that I wanted to remember like lucid, or images that I wanted to come back to, but slowly the stuff that I was interested in stuck. At jobs, people would ask me questions and often I had some cursory knowledge of it, or if I researched the subject, then I could go into a whole dissertation on the subject. And this was coming from someone who was mediocre in school. So what gives?

The journal is a powerful medium. It has expanded my range of thinking, analyzing and has allowed me to become my own mentor. And all it costs is the price of a notebook.

Don’t believe me? Do you know who else has journaled? Mark Twain, Albert Einstein and Di Vinci all journaled.

In the survival community, both Dave Canterbury and Tom Brown Jr. keep journals. Dave’s entire Pathfinder course centers around building a journal. Why? Because it will drastically increase what you will retain. Tom Brown has a whole lecture devoted to journaling.

Pathfinder Deliverables Including Notebook

Writing To Your Brain

So why is journaling so powerful? In simplistic terms, you are physically writing to your brain. When you write something down, or draw a picture, the act of physically using your hand and eye to record information creates neural pathways that strengthen the information that is coming into your brain. And only physically writing / drawing will do this. Computers and pictures and photo copies won’t do that:

New research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer demonstrates that students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more.  Across three experiments, Mueller and Oppenheimer had students take notes in a classroom setting and then tested students on their memory for factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information.  Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand.  As in other studies, students who used laptops took more notes.  In each study, however, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.  – Source

Journaling is a form of brain dump. All those ideas that float around your head, occupying your brain instead of thinking of new things. Write it down, and move on. Once that idea is on paper, the brain can rest and fill itself with new information. Eventually you will get a spark of something great where ideas mix, creating new original thought.

Self Mentoring

After a while of filling up journals on survival, I started to notice patterns in survival. The rule of 3’s showed up again and again, the dome structure in modern, indigenous dwellings and in nature, even the flow of information became apparent. Who said what, became as important as what was being said. What I have learned is who is informing who on a subject. It seems trivial, but like broken telephone, the original saying can become distorted or changed subtly. In an effort to learn true survival techniques, I found it necessary to have real information. And nothing is original. Everything is borrowed or modified from something existing.

Ballistic Patterns in Journal

This has become a mentor to me – the shortcut to cut out the crap. If I look back at my first moleskin, I filled it up with gear lists, and whenever nonsense that I thought was important at the time. Now unless it is new, I don’t need to record it because I probably already have written 3 or 4 variations on the same subject.

The journal will never replace a physical teacher or class – I went to the Tracker School because I wanted to hear from the horses’s mouth. But the journal will keep you on the right path. There is only so many times you can write down about knives and saws and the like. Eventually, you will start to want more substance. And the core theory of survival informs all the other fluff you find out there.

What To Record

Don’t limit yourself to survival topics, history topics or tactical subjects. Record everything in the same book –  where things overlap is where you will find the greater picture.

Don’t Share Your Journal

People can see a page or two of your journal, but your journal is for you. Don’t worry about messy chicken scratch handwriting, terrible pictures or crossed out things. Sometimes I go back in the same book and fill in the margins, and all over an existing page. Also, I take point form notes, not in order. It doesn’t matter as long as it gets on the page. Later you can organize on another page and create a structure which can help you share your information with others. I use arrows to link different thoughts and I doodle little diagrams if my writing isn’t getting the point across.

Sharing your journal will cause you to self-censor. You will only draw pretty pictures and eventually, you won’t journal the right stuff or at all. Journaling needs to be a habit you keep up.

The Size Of The Journal

This seems strange to talk about, but your journal size is critical to getting used. If you pick a format too big (like a 3” 3-ring binder), you won’t have it on you all the time. Pick a format that is miniature and a single topic will take up half the book – which is no way to re-evaluate a single idea. I settled on a size of book that is slightly larger than a paperback. Just big enough for a cargo pocket (it will fit into your jeans back pocket if you try) but small enough that you might as well bring it along. If you are worried about it getting wet out in the wilderness, wrap it in a ziplock bag and pull it out as soon as you have a thought.

Moleskin Journal fits perfect in a Propper cargo pocket

Journal in a waterproof Ziplock Freezer Bag


Journaling using your hands and eyes will literally write information to your brain. Create a habit of journaling all the time. You will be astounded by what you remember. Keep your journal to yourself and write whatever you want – don’t limit yourself.

What do you write your journal on? Leave me a message below in the comments.

1 Comment

  1. Great stuff Lee. You are way more desciplined than me. I have a ton of composition notebooks with random notes, workout logs, and studies in them. Not to mention I keep sketch books for my artwork.

    I have looked at getting a moleskin for journaling and general note taking. I generally retain an insane amount of information I read.

    Even though it is the opposite of what you are talking about I have been using Evernote on my phone and computer for years now. For quick jotting things down anywhere, it is great. Not to mention being searchable by text and tags makes old ideas more findable.

    Or you could be like movie director Robert Rodriguez He videos and journals everything. He has all his notes searchable and tagged. He has taken it to the next level with notes on everything. If he is going to have lunch with someone he hasn’t seen in a while he will read his notes on them to have a better conversation.


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