The Most Life-Changing $5 You Will Ever Spend



If you have a few spare dollars (euros/pounds/insert your local currency) and you want to do something really meaningful with them, I mean something that will undoubtedly have a greater positive impact on your life than any other way of spending those few dollars, then I have an idea for you.


No, it’s not buying a lottery ticket. You see, when you buy a lottery ticket, you are giving away a few of your hard-earned dollars for a slight glimmer of a chance that you might land the jackpot. This glimmer is very small indeed. As in, microscopic. You are giving away the control of your life to some event that may or may not happen, and indeed will almost certainly not happen. Hey, I could bet you a million dollars that you are not going to win the jackpot, how about that?


In a way, people play the “lottery” every single day, even if they don’t buy lottery tickets. They play the lottery by giving up control of their lives to random events that they have no influence over. They do the same thing every day hoping that someday somehow something will change and suddenly they will be happy and fulfilled and maybe wealthy and even healthy.


Skip the lottery ticket and put your $5 back into your pocket.


That’s not what I’m talking about. So what’s the best way to spend a little money? Here it is:


Buy yourself a notebook and a pen.




Yes, that’s right; get yourself a nice-looking paper notebook. Get one that is small enough to have around you at all times but big enough to let you write comfortably. Depending on how you carry it with you, you might want to get one with hard covers, to prevent the paper from getting creased. Hard covers are also good when you need to write but don’t have a good place to support the notebook. And don’t just get a random notebook. Get one that looks nice, “clicks” with you and, shall I say, calls out for you to use it. As for the pen, buy one that lets you write fast and preferably does not leak, because you will be carrying it around along with the notebook.


How is that a good investment?


It’s all about writing. And sketching, drawing, calculating.


Writing is one of the most powerful ways to start changing your life. Yet it’s so simple, almost trivial, that most of us never think of it.


There is a catch though. Unlike a lottery ticket which you can buy, put in your pocket and forget about until the next draw, a notebook and pen are useless if all they ever do is sit in your pocket.


Your notebook is what one might call an “active investment”. It needs you to constantly do something with it for it to be useful. But if you do use it (and you should), then it can work miracles, even the kind that winning a jackpot wouldn’t.


So, what about the notebook? How do you use it? What do you write into it? And how often?


The trick to using your notebook effectively is simple. Write everything into it, all the time. Well, of course not literally, but you’ll get a feeling for it after you try it for a while.


The most important thing to know and always remember about the notebook is that it is NOT meant to be some kind of organised storage for your information.


Why? Well, first of all, you can only add stuff to the already existing stuff in the notebook. You cannot properly edit, delete or re-order information. It’s kind of a one way street. Plus, there is no good way to categorise information in it, or to “tag” it, or to search for it. Last but not least, the notebook will run out. In fact, if you use it actively enough, as you should, it will run out very quickly. You will need to get a new one every month, maybe even more often. After a while, you will have a stack of used and full notebooks somewhere in the corner of your room.


The organisation of information in a notebook is, at best, chronological. It does make sense to at least add the current date to every entry you make. But that is hardly “organised information”.


So the way you treat your notebook is, pardon the expression, as a dump. It is a dump for anything that goes on in your head.


Whenever you have an idea, a great idea, a mediocre idea, a bizarre idea, an impossible idea, it goes into your notebook.


Whenever you feel like throwing a tantrum, you take out your lovely notebook and explain to it why you want to throw a tantrum. In writing.


You write stuff down whenever you hear somebody say anything of any abstract importance to you; whenever you realise you wanted to say something to somebody but left it unsaid; whenever you get feedback; whenever you feel guilt; whenever you feel lazy; whenever you feel on the top of the world.


And, at least once a day, you take your notebook and just write. Whatever goes on through your mind, write it. A stream of consciousness poured right onto paper. Sometimes it will be boring, other times you will discover amazing things. It’s the amazing things that count. And the boring ones count too, sometimes more than the amazing ones.


Your notebook is not only for text either. Having trouble with wording some very abstract thought that you just had and which seemed rather important? Mindmap it. (Even if “mindmap” is not a verb, it should be.) Draw a bubble with a word in it. Then draw some other bubbles around it, with words in them, and connect them with lines. No “system” or “format” needed, this is not school. Just do whatever feels the most intuitive thing to do.


Sketch things, doodle things. No-one is going to judge your artistic aptitude here. Whatever needs to be put on paper in whatever form is most adequate, do it.


But why is all this so important?


Because stuff that gets put down in writing is much, much more concrete and obvious than stuff that flows around your mind. Our minds love jumping around from thought to thought and most of those thoughts disappear into oblivion as fast as they are born.


But ink is different. Ink is there forever. Ink is a fact. Suddenly thoughts and concepts stop being so abstract and so “floaty” and they take shape. When writing text (or drawing a picture or a diagram), you mind has to go through a process of stabilising and forming the concept into a definite piece of communication, one that can be looked at later and reproduced in one’s (or someone else’s) mind.


Things that are written down stay in memory much better than things that were never communicated. What this means is that whenever life teaches you a lesson, even if a very small one, you will actually learn it much better by writing it down. And when you generate an idea, it will much more likely be there in your mind when you generate a complementing idea and you will be able to connect the two and have your “a-ha!” moment.


By keeping a notebook, you will create connections between ideas, concepts, feelings, situations and so on. You will be way better at it than if you do not keep a notebook.


With rigorous daily writing, you will be more creative and also more observant about everything around you and about yourself, because you will start thinking, “Should I be writing this down?”. You will learn much quicker from your own actions and from those of others. You will become a diligent student of life, and life will reward you for it. You will be much more aware of the inner workings of your consciousness, and develop a certain self-awareness that is so difficult to achieve in our world of distractions.


Yes, the investment is a tad more than 5 dollars – it’s also a fair amount of time and commitment. But, let’s face it, it so simple! The only thing you have to overcome is a tiny bit of your mental inertia to start writing. Buying a notebook and a pen is a good first step towards overcoming that inertia. The payoff is huge.


One last thing about your notebook. It’s private. Its contents are for your eyes only. Even if you are fortunate enough to have people in your life who you fully and completely trust with everything, one thing you want to avoid is to start writing “for them”. Unfortunately it’s almost inevitable: if you know that somebody will or even might read your notebook, it will start affecting what and how you write, if not consciously, then subconsciously. The effect will not be the same. So keep your notebook to yourself.


Have you ever tried keeping a notebook where you write down everything important that goes on in your mind and in your life? Let me know in the comments below.


Photo: It’s Abe… Honest by LASZLO ILYES (CC-BY)

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