How to Start Journaling: A Lesson From Leonardo da Vinci
Use performance journaling like a genius
Use performance journaling like a genius
Travel with us to a sunny Italian morning in the 15th century, as we peek into a day in the life of a young Leonardo da Vinci. He’s scratching furiously on dirt-smudged paper, recording his thoughts:
“Dear Journal. Today I showed Master Verrocchio the renderings of my latest invention called a “Steam Cannon.” He said it was impractical, obtuse, and ugly — but those words better apply to him! He has taken to calling me Leonardo da Fool. And so, tomorrow, I’ll show him an invention I call… a jar of biting ants…”
Suddenly, he’s interrupted in his daily practice by his mother. “Leonardo! Come on down — your Aunt Lisa is here!”
Aunt Lisa…Aunt Lisa… Inspiration strikes, and he begins writing again.
“Aunt Lisa…hmmm…. She has good bone structure in her cheekbones. Seems part Neanderthal. Possible portrait subject — ?”
”Get your butt DOWN HERE, young man!” his mother interrupts, meaning business. And there, the day’s journal entry ends.
Now, is that exactly how the world’s most famous painting, The Mona Lisa, came to be? Probably not. But was Leonardo’s notebook responsible for his enduring greatness? Yes, no question. Okay, maybe. At least partly.
I mean this is a man who hauled bodies out of cemeteries, dissected them and made drawings of it all — all to get better and more realistic as an artist.
That is how he grew. It wasn’t so much the notebook itself — that was just paper. But the disciplined process of self-study and continual improvement helped our man da Vinci improve over the years to become one of the most prolific and influential artists and inventors of all time.
The science of the high-performance mindset teaches us that making a habit of specific journaling exercises helps us achieve our goals, track our progress, and express our emotions. And you don’t need to be a “good writer,” or focus on style in order to get the benefits from it.
All you need is to collect the data of your experiences, and be willing to reflect on it.
Now, there are some specific, proven journaling techniques used by high performers — techniques like the balanced critique, the performance journal, expressive writing and gratitude and optimism journals. Mastering these give us the tools to sustain personal growth — without having to dig up any bodies.
Da Vinci’s practice of examining his ideas, work, and people’s response to it led him to paint such a famous picture there are always approximately one hundred thousand people between you and it at the Louvre.
How Journaling Helps
By taking a detailed catalogue of the things we’re doing, evaluating their effectiveness, and adjusting for the future, journaling in its various forms:
▸ Holds us accountable
▸ Helps prevent burnout
▸ Motivates us to keep pushing forward
▸ Helps us reflect on factors that are contributing to our success or failure
When we do it consistently, with structured prompts, and then reflect on past entries at key times — we learn from what we thought at any given point in time.
You can think of your journal as a “scale” for your mind and emotions. A place to check in and “weigh” your thoughts about the past, present and future.
Leonardo Da Vinci had over 20,000 pages of journals. And he wasn’t the only one. Marie Curie used hers to work through scientific quandaries. President John Adams kept 51 journals across his life. And elite athletes, Olympians, investors and leaders have all used the core techniques we’re about to share.
If they found it useful, so will you!
The Performance Journal
Today, we’ll get started with some basic performance journaling.
Performance journaling, at its essence, is about tracking how a performance went after the fact, in order to make changes to your behavior next time. It lets us take an event in our life and use it as data to move in the direction we want to be heading.
Here’s one way it can work:
STEP 1: TRACK — write down the things you did throughout your day.
STEP 2: HYPOTHESIZE — write down some things you think could help you improve.
STEP 3: EVALUATE — reflect on which actions helped, and which ones didn’t.
You can do this with anything from a speech at work to how you played in your pickup game at the YMCA. No matter what the performance, active reflection is a key driver of growth. In fact, one could argue it’s the main driver of growth.
It’s the stage in the process when learning and development happens. It’s where we evaluate the steps we’ve taken and strategize our next moves.
If you’re ready for an even more structured type of journaling, you can check out the Balanced Critique. Read more on that form of journaling here.
Among his many talents, Leonardo da Vinci sculpted in clay — and we can use a tool like journaling to sculpt our minds and habits to change our future. High-cheekboned Aunt Lisas not included.