Journal like da Vinci, think like da Vinci

Journaling facilitates thinking. If you want to think like da Vinci, start to journal like da Vinci!

The notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci combine observations, ideas, and explanations all made visible with drawing, diagrams, labels, numbers, and written notes. It is not simply that da Vinci was smart and we are lucky to have these notebooks to see the way he thought, but that the process of journaling itself allowed his creativity to flourish. Without these journals, he would not have been able to contribute as much to art, science, and culture.

Da Vinci recorded his every observation, question, and explanation in his journals. He also used his journal to run thought experiments without fear of being wrong. In this image from his notebooks, he explores using a water screw to make a perpetual motion machine. His conclusion was that it would not work.

In the biography Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Isaacson suggests twenty habits that we all can use to “learn from Leonardo”. These have direct applications in nature journaling.

Learning from Leonardo

  1. Be curious, relentlessly curious (I wonder…)
  2. Seek knowledge for its own sake (an investigation does not need to be useful, just interesting. Use may come later.)
  3. Retain a childlike sense of wonder (you will never know it all)
  4. Observe (I notice…)
  5. Start with the details (record the little things, see what you have never seen before)
  6. See things unseen (stimulate your creativity and imagination with literature, art, music, and theatre)
  7. Go down rabbit holes (geek out with anything that is cool, get lost in it)
  8. Get distracted (follow curiosity chains)
  9. Respect facts (change your mind in the presence of evidence)
  10. procrastinate (fill your head with observations and ideas and let them sit, see what comes)
  11. Let the perfect be the enemy of the good (do not settle for easy answers)
  12. Think visually (draw and diagram your ideas)
  13. Avoid Silos (seek other points of view)
  14. Let your reach exceed your grasp (don’t be afraid to play with challenging subjects and ideas)
  15. Indulge fantasy (be imaginative, playful, and creative)
  16. Create for yourself, not just your patrons (or parents, or teachers)
  17. Collaborate (learn to work together, share ideas and credit)
  18. Make lists (to do’s, I wonders, etc.)
  19. Take notes on paper (externalize your thinking)
  20. Be open to mystery (face the unknown, you do not need to know answers, exploration is the thing)