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The Underutilized Power Of Recording Your Actions

The Weekly Takeaway is a short weekly digest sent to subscribers every Sunday about the biggest learning of my week. It's as much an internal log as it is public facing. Though, often I feel the process is something everyone can learn from — no matter the endeavor — so sharing here on the interwebs, as well.

Photo Credit: Woody Kelly, Upslash

The Weekly Takeaway: Record What You Do (Simply); You'll "Magically" Get Better

I was thinking this week about skills in which I have been impressed with how I have progressed more quickly than expected. One common denominator between all of them has been the act of recording the process. We're not talking about anything crazy here. It really can be as simple as "here's what I did today." Two sentences max. Let me give you an example.


There was a time when I had a friend stare at me in shock as I presented a plate of salmon with sweet-n-sour sauce dumped on top, laid over spaghetti. At that point I finally became self-aware that I really had no idea what I was doing in the kitchen. Up until that point, I had never really stopped to think about what I liked (pretty much everything, if we're being honest), nor what goes into making each thing. And so when asked to create my own version of food, I sort of grasped for a random amalgamation of things. (Making room for some randomness has also served me well, which I'll likely cover in another post). At this point, I still didn't have interest in spending much time perfecting the craft of cooking, but I knew I wanted to be better than sweet-n-sour salmon. So I just started keeping a log of everything I cooked in my iPhone notes. Nothing crazy. Just the name of the dish, a list of some main ingredients, and a sentence about what I thought about it. I was amazed how this simple act changed me into not only a proficient, but also eager, home chef. (It's widely known, you can officially call yourself a Chef when you buy yourself an apron.)

In retrospect, here are some inner-workings as to why this simple process worked:

It Kept Me Engaged:

  • When I dedicated to the simple act of writing things down, I unwittingly signed myself up for more practice. I would see my list of meals cooked grow in my notes and become excited to make sure I'd add to it. The more you do something, doesn't necessarily make you better at it, but it's an essential first step.

It Made Me Think Critically (But Not Hard)

  • Again, we're not talking about a treatise on the use of copper cookware for searing delicate aquamarine flesh. It was just one sentence. These are real phrases I jotted down:

    • "I really enjoyed this one, the mustard saucey stuff just sang to me."

    • "Rice stuck to bottom of pan while cooking initially - maybe needed to rinse it before? Or some light oil?"

  • In each case I subtlety taught myself something. I began to identify what I liked and what I didn't like. Sometimes I tried to solve it. Sometimes I just took note. Eventually this practice built a bulwark of internal observations that became useful. "Oh, if you dry the chicken thighs with a paper towel before cooking they tend to crisp better in the oven!"

A Rolodex Of Ideas Formed

  • If you ask most people what they had for dinner a mere two, three days ago, many struggle to find the answer. Seriously, ask whoever is in your quarantine-bubble right now. It's harder than you might think. Eventually, I had this grand list of a year's worth of meals (some that I didn't even cook, I just liked them enough to write the name of them down and a sentence about what I liked). And whenever I got stuck with the common "what should we cook tonight" question, I just flipped through my notes and was instantly reminded of my fav meals, the ones I thought I could do better, and ones I always wanted to try. I had a roadmap.

A Second Brain

  • Seeing all my meals written down allowed me to more easily make new associations that I might not have made before. I was looking through my October and November meals and realized I made an excessive amount of meals with ground beef. I don't think I ever realized that when I was in the throes of day-to-day life. But seeing it all written down, it was plain as day. It gave me a quick way to analyze myself objectively, since when my actions were written down it removed some of my ego.

All this to say, I felt likeI got exponentially better, and I didn't really make much of a concerted effort beyond recording what I was doing. If there's a skill out there that you feel like you haven't really made a dent in, try just recording it. In the most simple way you can, so that it's not a huge effort to do. You might be amazed at how it transforms you without you even knowing.

More Inspiration On This Subject:

Lyric Of The Week That Stuck In My Head: "How did it get so complicated

When getting into bed feels like I've made it" Song - Seaside by Blanks

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