3 min read

From Scattered Notes to a Cohesive Mind: Reflections on One Year of Building a Second Brain in Obsidian

It's been a blast.
From Scattered Notes to a Cohesive Mind: Reflections on One Year of Building a Second Brain in Obsidian
Photo by Anshita Nair / Unsplash

I started using Obsidian about one year ago(April), and here's my experience so far.

Studying made Easier

I started this journey by learning about The Zettelkasten Method from a good friend and previous teacher José Edil. He told me how he would take notes and feel lost when trying to find them later until he read the book How to Take Smart Notes. He said the name of the esoteric method: Zettelkasten.

And damn if that hasn't changed fundamentally how I think about studying, notetaking, and learning.

In summary, the Zettelkasten Method helps one retrieve any note one might have written down. Zettel = note, Kasten = box, and the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann was the creator.

Basically, it comes down to addressing notes, and the motivation behind it is the "Path to Finished Product" illustrated below:


So to not break one's flow during the course of a study session, one needs to address all the byproducts coming out of it in a way to find them easily after.

The byproducts, after all, are the building blocks to further projects.

Pleasure of Taking Notes

So after you get the hang of addressing notes (or use a software that does it for you, like Obsidian), taking notes becomes a breeze, and you are able to find what you found interesting enough to put down on paper, or a digital note.

Now you don't have to worry about creating folders and using a bunch of wizardries to get the right notes in the right places. You just write, knowing at a later date, all you have to do is find the references to that note.

Pleasure of Writing

Once the fear of having to organize notes before you take them goes away, you can focus on what's interesting, which is writing, expressing yourself, and immersing yourself in whatever subject you're studying.

Pleasure of Reading

And once the creator's juices run dry, you can read others' creations, great books, novels, and articles and take notes on them.

Or you might take a different route, go inside your vault/second brain/zettelkasten, and follow a thread of particular interesting notes that all link each other in a meaningful way. You might be astounded by what you will find there.

Pleasure of Connecting

I've touched on this a bit in the "pleasure of reading" section, but there is a very special thing when you navigate those interconnected notes. You really go down a journey of rediscovery of interesting notes, thoughts, and ideas.

We call this a Second Brain precisely because following a bunch of notes connections might help you think of new ideas, rediscover past thoughts and connect different ideas in a new way. The second brain becomes more valuable the longer you use it.

I see a lot of creators talking about Obsidian as a perfect tool, but only if you use "these 33 plugins" or so. And I feel almost like a Luddite when I think the most valuable thing about it is precisely what makes it simple, a bunch of notes connected, without any more fancy stuff than that.

Sometimes it's easy to let yourself be enamored with a tool so much and with its endless possibilities. But we must not forget that the greatest tool for thought is our brains, and all others must abide by it.

The original Zettelkasten was implemented with physical paper and real boxes. Not having the "perfect list of 33 plugins " didn't stop Luhmann from enjoying following a trail of thoughts written down and writing books with them.

Don't let that stop you. Second brains don't need to be fancy, they just need to be authentic.

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