Advertising
Advertising

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

Birthdays, Self-Reflection, and a Better Year Ahead

    I recently had a birthday. As I’ve gotten older, birthdays have become for me a time of intense self-reflection: where am I in my life, where do I want to be, what could I improve? They don;t depress me, like they do so many others, but they do make me think.

    Advertising

    Birthdays are also natural times for me to make new resolutions. New Years Day has never felt like much more than an accident of the calendar, but birthdays – especially with mine falling right at the start of the academic calendar that has dominated most of my life, when I really am making a new start in much of my life with the dawn of a new academic school year – seem like a natural time to start making choices about the year ahead.

    Now, I said “resolutions”, and we all know resolutions fail. My fellow Lifehack writers have written about the failure of resolutions over and over again, as for instance in Steve Errey’s post entitled pretty unambiguously New Years Resolutions Don’t Work – Here’s Why. But I think we need to reframe the idea of resolutions, to think about them not so much as goal-setting but as problem-solving.

    Advertising

    When we think about resolutions, we tend to think of them as a matter of resolve, that is, of willpower. “I resolve to do x, y, and z.” Of course, if we had the willpower to work on our novel, pass on rich desserts, or be more outgoing at social events, we wouldn’t need to resolve those things in the first place. And so yes, they fail – and often leave us bitter and disappointed with ourselves.

    But what if we thought about resolutions not so much as a matter of resolve but of solutions – that is, as a re-solution to life’s problems? My father, a great collector of quotes, likes to repeat Einstein’s dictum that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”; it seems to me that most of life’s problems remain with us because the solutions we’ve adopted don’t really solve them – and so we try the same solutions, over and over, harder and harder, thinking eventually those problems must give ground.

    Advertising

    Consider, for example, this situation which many of us are or have been in:

    • Problem: Your aren’t advancing in your chosen career.
    • Resolution: Work harder, put in longer hours, apply for higher positions more often.
    • Re-solution: Are you still committed to this career? Maybe you don’t have the passion and drive you had when you entered it ten years ago. If money weren’t an issue, would you still want to do what you do? What would you do? Inventory your skillset and your passions today and start looking into changing careers.

    Maybe that isn’t how you’d address the problem, but you get the idea: a real re-solution needs to address the problem not in terms of what you aren’t doing often or well enough but at the very core, questioning the assumptions that the problem itself is grounded in. If you’re stalled out in your career because you no longer have any passion for it and are just putting your time in to collect a check, then a career change may well be in order – and if so, then it no longer matters that you’re stalled in your current career.

    Advertising

    Let’s try applying this to a personal matter:

    • Problem: You’ve been dating for months/years/decades and can’t seem to find someone with whom you’re interested in a relationship.
    • Resolution: Get out more. Join an online dating service. Visit a professional matchmaker.
    • Re-solution: What are you really looking for in a partner? Maybe you’re spending too much time and energy dating people because you should be interested in them, not because you are. Or Maybe you’re dating anyone who seems interested in you at all “just in case”. Take time to figure out the pattern in your past dating life and then act to consciously break that pattern.

    Again, this may not be your re-solution, but the principle applies: whatever you’re doing isn’t working, so don’t do more of it, do something entirely different. And you can’t know what to do differently without really examining not just the behaviors that make up your current practices but the reasons you are behaving that way in the first place.

    For the last few weeks, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – re-thinking my goals, my choices, and my habits to see what simply isn’t helping to solve the things in my life that I’m not quite happy about. And, at the same time, the things I am – this  isn’t about self-flagellation, but about an honest inventory of strengths and shortcomings, so that the one can be applied to the other.

    Two years ago, that process led me to embrace a fledgling second career as a writer; last year, it led me to seriously rethink my approach to relationships and what I wanted in a partner; this year, who knows? I think I have some answers I didn’t have a month ago – and I have another 12 months to figure out what to do with them.

    More by this author

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

    Trending in Featured

    1 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 3 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 4 How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life 5 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

    Advertising

    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

    Advertising

    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

    Advertising

    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

    Advertising

    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

    Read Next