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Subjective Reality

Subjective Reality

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    Then and Now

    When I was a teenager I thought thirty-somethings were dinosaurs. Fossils. Relics. Now I think they’re teenagers. In the eighties I wanted to be a hundred kilos of muscle and five percent body-fat. Now I’m more interested in finding the ultimate cheesecake. When I was a kid I worried about my non-Catholic friends going to hell. The last time I went to mass was twenty eight years ago. I guess I’m over that. Once upon a time I wanted to please everyone. Not any more. At one stage, I thought I had pretty much figured out the whole God thing. I now realise how arrogant that was and how little I know. There was a time when I pursued society’s version of success. These days I’m more interested in my version. For a long time I chased happiness. Now I gratefully accept it. At one stage my life was full of problems. Now it’s full of lessons. For a while there I hated silence and solitude. Now I crave it. In my early twenties I thought that situations and other people created stress in my life. Now I know that I am the creator of stress. And calm. I once obsessed about what clothes I wore. Now I spend most of my life in ten dollar flannel shirts and army shorts. At one point in time, standing in front of an audience terrified me. Now it excites me. There was a phase when my body was my identity. Now it’s just where I hang out. Not long ago I had no idea what a blog was. Now it’s the vehicle by which you and I connect. The meaningless has become meaningful. But only because I made it so.

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    Opening the Door to Subjective Reality

    It’s true to say that the world I inhabited in the eighties and nineties is not the one I inhabit today. And when I say world I am not talking about some physical place or point in time. Neither am I talking about our culture. Or economic climate. Or our collective mindset. Or societal standards. Or fashion. Or technology. No, I’m talking about the ever-changing landscape that exists inside my head. The world I create and the world I inhabit day to day. As I sit here alone in my home office, it is silent. There are no people and no distractions. Just me and my thoughts. But where I’m sitting right now is not my world, it’s my location; Craig’s office in Hampton, Australia. As you may or may not know, your house number and street name have nothing to do with where you live. The message I’m now sharing with you is coming from my world. My world being the place from where my creativity arises. My world being the filter through which I observe humanity, process information, consider my observations and interpret the behaviour of others. It’s my escape when the external noise is overwhelming. It’s the place where I can explore, listen, consider, choose, feel and create. It’s a world nobody can visit unless I invite them. It’s where ideas are born and dreams are turned into plans. It’s the one place where my singing sounds good, my jokes are hilarious and my body doesn’t ache.  And while my world is the place where thinking happens, it’s also where I can escape thought and discover who I am beyond the cerebral noise. It’s the place where I can overcome fear and the place where I can transcend the sum of my life experiences in the physical world. In my world I have the capacity to overcome conventional wisdom and to explore who and what I might become beyond the self-imposed limitations, beyond the group thinking and beyond the weight of expectation.

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    My world is unique. As is yours. My world is self-created. As is yours. Knowingly or not. Intentionally or not.

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    The Stories we Tell

    While I am influenced and impacted by the three-dimensional world in which physical me resides, I am not determined by it. I will create and inhabit my own reality because I have that choice and that power. As we all do. Every day people tell themselves stories which help them deal with, process, react to and understand certain aspects of their life. In other words, they manipulate their internal reality in an effort to help them manage their external reality more effectively. Kids alter their subjective reality when they create an imaginary friend. To the adult looking on, the imaginary friend is nothing more than a childhood fantasy but to the child, the friend is a legitimate and very real part of their (self-created) world. So much so that the arrival of such a friend often brings an observable positive change in the emotional state of the child. Without ever being taught the skill, kids somehow find a way to make themselves happier. Now that is clever. That is powerful.

    The Last Bit

    Coming to the realisation that you have the ability to create your own personal reality – despite your situation, despite your circumstance, despite your history and despite your environment – is one of the most important, liberating and empowering discoveries you will ever make. When you choose to create your own reality, the sky is the limit. And no, this is not some weird-ass, abstract philosophical concept but rather, an invaluable skill – if you choose to make it that. On the other hand, if you decide that this message is nothing more than self-help mumbo-jumbo-fluff, that’s exactly what it will be. For you. Can you imagine living in a place where there are no problems, only lessons? Or a place where every day is a good day because you make that decision? Or what about a place where the only approval you need is your own? I know that for some of you this concept of finding your way to happiness and calm by learning to manage your internal environment might seem like an improbable, overly simplistic and somewhat impractical solution to (what appears to be) a very complex problem or situation. For a long time I was of the same opinion.

    Now I know better.

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    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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