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How thousands have learned to transform their lives

How thousands have learned to transform their lives

Simple ways of discovering the hidden, inner drivers that twist and control your life

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When someone asks any of us to make a decision, we bring all our prejudices, opinions, likes, dislikes, fears, hopes, antagonisms, and bits of knowledge along. The human mind is like a committee—and a pretty bad tempered and cantankerous one too! Like all committees, the mind has some members who have greater clout than others. They hog the floor and shout twice as loudly as the next person. They get together and rig the committee elections so they’ll hold all the power. And once they have a taste of power, like politicians the world over you won’t easily part them from it.

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The only way to break the stranglehold of our habitual behaviors and opinions is to take charge and ignore the baseless fears and anxieties they will erect to try to get their way. Until you do, your life is being run for you, whether the outcome is what you want or no.

Here are four steps that will always transform your day:

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  • Stay alert and make sure you make all choices that matter consciously and in the way that best fits your hopes and dreams. The more deliberately you choose your actions, words, and opinions, the more influence you will have over your life at work and everywhere else.
  • Work to know yourself and then act on that knowledge: the two most basic steps in discovering and realizing your potential. Discover everything about yourself that you can. What do you do best? What gives you most pleasure? What matters to you most? What makes you feel worst? Act on what you find. The only sure way to change anything is to change what is causing it to be the way it is.
  • Be clear that every choice—large or small—is an opportunity to change. Every decision contains the possibility of altering the future. If you ignore chances to influence your life, you must put up with whatever comes along.
  • Don’t let your fears control you. Don’t imagine so many problems that you become distracted and stressed. Instead, look carefully at one option at a time. Follow it through and see where it leads. Then take another option and do the same, directing your attention where you want it to go. If you don’t let your fears make you confused, you can stay focused on positive possibilities and avoid anxiety and stress.

Here’s what to do instead:

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  • Take time to uncover the unconscious patterns in your life. Everyone displays certain automatic, recurring patterns of behavior. They are usually the behaviors that other people think of as “typically you.” Most will have become so automatic and habitual that you may not even be aware of them, yet they govern perhaps half (or more) of your actions. Discover what they are and replace them with conscious choices. That will immediately give you more positive influence over your life.
  • Work out what part you are playing in any situation that you don’t enjoy. Once you see how you’re contributing to each negative situation, you’ll know a good part of what you need to change to alter the outcome. It’s easy to make the comfortable assumption that most of your problems are caused by external events or other people. It’s also almost certain to be untrue.
  • Take some time to decide clearly and specifically what you want from your life at work and outside it. Set firm intentions to make the changes you want. Focus on them with complete concentration. Don’t let anything else get in the way.
  • Use every opportunity to move towards your goals. Don’t just let your attention wander wherever it likes. If you direct your attention consciously and deliberately, you can focus it where it will do most good. Never allow important choices to happen without careful and conscious thought.

Here’s a simple exercise to get you started.

  • Ask yourself if you’re totally happy about your life. If you are not, note down—now—two or three things you want to change.
  • Consider each, in turn, and plan what you can do to change them. Find as many ways as you can to get back in charge of your own destiny. You will need a wide choice, since some will not work and others won’t turn out as well as you wish.
  • Make a start. Don’t wait. Pick an area to change and a set of plans to use. Jump right in. If those plans don’t work, try others. Keep going until you make the changes you want and are happy with them. Then pick the next area for change and do the same.

Take your time. Think! Make careful, rational choices. Do what you can see is best for you, regardless of any attempts to control your behavior from outside. It’s your life, and you’re accountable for it. You can’t avoid that, however much you wriggle. Life is uncertain and you have to deal with it as best you can. It’s up to you whether you do that well or badly . . . or give up altogether and drift along like a jellyfish.

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Have you noticed how many people around you behave like jellyfish—drifting through life at the mercy of chance currents? And how many of them sting too, if you brush up against them? Don’t blame them. That sting is just caused by their misery at their situation, which they wrongly believe they cannot change. You know better.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to find a more way of working and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics include How many precious moments are you wasting? and Are you in danger of using work pressures as an excuse?. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective 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 effectively.

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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1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Theories or Frameworks

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

4. 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.

5. 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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6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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 Note-Taking Tips

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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