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Do You React Consciously and Responsibly?

Do You React Consciously and Responsibly?

    Carnage in the Toy Store

    This morning I went to a local shopping centre (mall) to buy a birthday present for my two year-old pseudo-niece (my business partner’s daughter. Happy Birthday little Jessie!)  It proved to be quite the eye-opening experience for the childless (and somewhat clueless) alpha-male. While the shopping part of the trip turned out to be something of an enjoyable adventure for Yours Truly (who knew toy stores could be such fun?), the same couldn’t be said for the six (or so) year-old who was test driving trucks in the next aisle. As the excited young truck driver lifted the object of his desire above his head to show the Chief Financial Officer what he needed for his next birthday, his chubby little fingers somehow lost their grip and the rather-costly toy (over a hundred bucks) came crashing down on to the concrete floor, transforming it instantly into a jigsaw puzzle. Which, of course, is a euphemism for… an expensive pile of crap.

    For a nanosecond there was silence.

    I knew it wouldn’t last. I looked at the little boy. I saw terror. I looked at the mother. I saw wild rage. I felt a bit nervous for the little fella. I think I had some kind of deja vu moment. Sympathy pains. Or something.

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    For a moment I thought she might actually kill him with what remained of the truck. Simultaneously it started: his crying and her screaming. For what seemed like an eternity, the mother bellowed at the distraught child. Oblivious to her own disgraceful behaviour, the out-of-control woman ranted and raved like a lunatic.

    If not for the ever-growing audience, I am sure she would have hit the boy. Leaving the broken toy on the floor, the woman dragged the screaming child out of the store and left us spectators stunned. I said something to the shop assistant who informed me that such scenes are a regular occurrence in the store.

    Life: A Never-Ending Series of Reactions

    In many ways, our lives are a series of reactions. It’s unavoidable. And while we do our best to create our own destiny and to live proactive and productive lives, the reality is that we all live in a dynamic and unpredictable world. Reacting is a fundamental and necessary part of the human experience. It’s a required skill. It’s what we do hundreds of times a day. Consciously or not. Positively or negatively.

    We hear the weather forecast, we react. The guy in the Mazda hits his brakes, we react. Our partner says something, we react. Our child spills milk, we react. The boss walks in, we react. We hear good or bad news, we react. One way or the other. Somebody lets us down, we react. The lights change, we react. Somebody gives us feedback, we react. A song comes on the radio, we react. An opportunity presents itself, we react. We’re confronted with a challenge, we react.

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    Today you will react hundreds of times and many of those reactions will happen on auto-pilot. Some reactions will be incidental and for the most part, meaningless (scratching an itch, stepping over a puddle, swaying to some music). Some will impact on others (reacting to the woman who cuts you off in the car park). Some will affect your personal relationships (an argument with a friend). Some will be life-impacting (dealing with a tragedy). Some will create positive outcomes. Some negative. One reaction could even involve a child who has accidentally broken a toy.

    In reacting the way she did in the toy store, the mother created numerous (undesirable and unnecessary) outcomes. She:

    1. Terrified a child that (I assume) she loves.
    2. Humiliated him (by dragging him through the store by his shirt).
    3. Taught him that mistakes are not okay.
    4. Drew unnecessary attention to herself and made everyone within fifty feet feel uncomfortable.
    5. Put herself into a negative and destructive emotional state. And no, the demise of the truck wasn’t the problem: her reaction was.
    6. Made herself look like a complete idiot!

    In this life there are many things (most things, in fact) which will happen despite you and me. They will happen to us and around us. Some good. Some bad. However, there is one thing that will always be in our control – unless we choose to hand over that power –  and that is, how we react. Life is not fair or unfair my friends; life just is.

    A long time ago I made a conscious decision that situations, circumstances and events wouldn’t define me or determine my emotional and psychological states; I will do that myself. Consciously and intentionally. I will choose my mood, my attitude, my behaviours, my reactions and therefore, my outcomes. And therefore my reality. I will be influenced by – but not determined by – the events of my world. To the best of my ability, I will consciously and thoughtfully choose my reactions. Will it always be easy? No. Will I do my best anyway? Yep. I will be ever-mindful of the likely consequences and potential impact of my reactions – on my life and the lives of others. Consciousness and awareness (of how I react and the likely consequences of my reactions) are things that need to be worked on. Forever.

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    Our reactions can be relationship-enhancing, or relationship-destroying. They can put us in a solution-focused headspace, or a problem-obsessed pity-party. They can make people laugh or fill a room with tension. They can empower people or discourage them. They can make people feel safe and secure or terrified and confused. They can lead to learning and personal growth or bitterness and anger.

    Someone much smarter than me once said:

    In the context of life, it’s not what happens that matters, but how we react (to what happens) that matters.

    I tend to agree.

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    Today I’m encouraging you to be more mindful, more conscious and more aware of your reactions (big and small) – and the likely outcomes of those reactions – on your life, and the lives of the people in your world. Sometimes, a better life is the by-product of better reactions. So choose to react consciously and responsibly.

    As always, love to hear your ideas, thoughts, feedback and stories.

    More by this author

    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    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:

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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

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