The Ultimate Guide to Recording Your Fleeting Thoughts

Ever find that you’ve got too much going on in your head?  Ever have some unusual and creative idea pop up in your brain only to forget it hours later because you didn’t write it down?  Or you suddenly remember a bill or project is due the next day but can’t do anything yet it so you forget it?  If any of these sound familiar, you might want to check out Ramit Sethi’s Iceberg Method for filing away these thought snippets.

Sometimes, it’s a bit difficult recording these fleeting “Tip of the Iceberg” ideas without completely derailing your train of thought.  You’ll know what I mean when you’re thinking 6 or 7 different thoughts in a trance-like state but end up forgetting them all when you pick up the pen to write.  It’s tough but you can definitely train yourself to retain these seemingly ephemeral thoughts a little longer and better commit them to paper or Evernote.

Dream Recording Exercise

For this exercise, I’m gonna ask you to do something a bit unusual.  For the next several days, you will record your dreams after you sleep at night.  Use pencil and paper, a notebook, Evernote, a tape recorder, etc. – whatever is convenient but doesn’t bother your partner (if you’re married or in a relationship.)  Try to do this every time you wake up in the middle of the night AND also when you get up in the morning.  If necessary, set your alarm back 5 minutes or so.  You may have heard the age-old advice that the best way to remember you dreams at night is to write them down, so do it!


You’ll soon discover that writing down your dreams is easier said than done.  If you get up out of the bed and/or even turn on the lights before you start writing, you’ll likely have forgotten a big chunk of you dream.  To mitigate this drawback, try to move around as little as possible when you reach for your pen and paper or recording device.  Place them on your nightstand BEFORE sleeping so when you wake up, you don’t have to move around much.  And when you write, don’t bother with complete sentences – you’re wasting valuable time and the more you concentrate on proper wording and grammar, the more parts of the dream you’ll forget.  Jot down keywords (aka tags.)  For example, if you dreamed about climbing a ladder up a pagoda and realize you’re above the clouds and feeling scared, just scribble down the following train of thought: “climbing ladder pagoda clouds scary”.  For another example, look at this article (especially the section “1:30 – 2:00 – The Lucid Dream Connection”.)  This is what I call Speedwritingwriting down deep inspirational thoughts using short phrases and incomplete sentences so that you don’t lose your train of thought as you write.

As for recording your dreams, you can make it a new habit if you enjoyed it or stop after a week or so if it becomes a chore.  I actually acquired this art of Speedwriting when I was experimenting with altered states of consciousness back in college.  No, I wasn’t doing drugs but instead was trying to induce Lucid Dreams and Out of Body Experiences  on my own and religiously kept a dream diary in the process.  We all go through these altered states on a regular basis (whether we proactively induce them or not) and end up thinking things we normally would never think of during these moments.   Being able to successfully record these unusual thoughts without breaking this altered state of consciousness proved to be a much more formidable challenge than expected.  Hence, I developed the tactic of Speedwriting.

Crash Course in Brain Waves

(Note to those who have studied neuroscience: I’m being OVERLY simplistic here so bear with me.)

Your brainwaves fall into 4 distinct categories:

  • Beta (the highest frequency): fully alert and awake.
  • Alpha: relaxed, dreamy, feeling inspirational.  Usually awake but not fully alert (i.e. drifting off to sleep)
  • Theta: REM sleep (dreaming) or the first few minutes of being awake.  Usually half to fully asleep.
  • Delta (the lowest frequency): Deep sleep. (I won’t cover this in detail since it’s pretty much useless for thinking and creativity.)

You spend the vast majority of your waking hours in Beta.  Your left brain (the logical side) is dominant when you’re in Beta.  This is the most ideal state for logical thinking, reading books, concentrating, getting things on your to-do list done, etc.  However, when you’re in Beta, your right brain isn’t calling the shots so your creativity takes a hit.

You’ll also spend a minority of your waking hours everyday in Alpha where neither your left or right brain is dominant.  You will feel far more creative and inspirational in this state.  However, once you switch back to Beta, you might not remember all of those thoughts that popped in your head.  So you’re gonna want to write them down.  But if you write the way you normally write (i.e. using complete sentences, correct spelling/grammar, etc.) you’ll likely break out of Alpha and lose focus before you can finish.  So get into the habit of writing short key words or phrases whenever you find yourself in Alpha and your brain churning with creativity.  Examples of situations where you’re likely in Alpha:

  • Fresh thoughts emerging in your head when you’re taking a walk, driving or riding in a car or plane, etc.
  • Suddenly remembering you forgot to do something important as you sit down on a couch to relax or when you’re drifting off to sleep.
  • Meditating or performing Yoga.
  • Listening to a motivational speaker at a seminar and feeling inspired.
  • Working on a project late at night when you’re suddenly struck by the “A-ha” moment.

As for the Theta state, it’s very likely you’re not completely conscious when you’re in it so it’s not easy doing ANY writing or recording without breaking the state.  But your creativity will be through the roof so it’s still worth attempting this feat.  Here are a few examples of situations where you’re likely in Theta for a point of comparison:

  • Dreaming while in REM sleep
  • When taking a nap, nonsensical Hypnagogic images running around as you lose sense of your surroundings including the bed or couch in this half-awake state.
  • Nodding off (aka Microsleep) while you’re in a classroom, riding on a bus, at the movies, etc. and having limited awareness for several seconds while colorful but incomprehensible thoughts fill your mind.  When you “return” to full consciousness in Alpha or Beta, you suddenly become aware of your surroundings again and wonder what the heck you were thinking and whether you had fallen asleep for a few seconds or minutes.

By the way, remember when I asked you to recall your dreams and write them down right away upon waking up?  The main reason why this is so difficult is that dreams tend to occur in Theta.  If you can master this, you can definitely remember your thoughts from Alpha.

Putting It All Together

Since informational overload is rampant these days, it’s important to write your thoughts down quickly yet effectively before your brain involuntarily disposes of them.  Learn to Speedwrite your dreams first and get to know the right level of detail you’ll need for taking effective notes without breaking your train of thought.  Once you’ve acclimated yourself to Speedwriting your dreams, using Speedwriting in your daily life will be less of a challenge.  Get those fleeting thoughts and to-do items down on paper or in Evernote using a few KEY words or phrases before they evaporate!  If you use Evernote for mobile, put a shortcut on the main screen to your smartphone to minimize the chances you slip from Alpha to Beta and lose that thought forever!  You can always refer back to those keywords and phrases and try to reconstruct your thought again in your Daily Review.  Then use Ramit’s Iceberg Method to file these thoughts away.

You may also like...