How to Go From Notes to Growth
As I mentioned in my last blog, I recently attended a conference called Ransomed Heart, a gathering of about 600 men around a book called Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge. Many were taking notes, including myself. But I wondered where these notes would end up for most of us. And more importantly, will they result in personal growth?
Consider this statement with me:
Without a system, growth is improbable.
Without a system and plan of action, our personal growth is random and scattered. Let’s specifically consider the notes we take at conferences, while we read, or when we are with a mentor. Many of us engage in growth activities and are exposed to great thoughts, which is a vital first step. But it is far less common that we adopt a system to ensure the new ideas result in actual growth. We take notes. But we see no growth.
How can we change that? Today, I’d like to share three steps to increase the chances that growth will take place beyond the notes that you take. This is how I go from notes to growth.
Step One: Record
First, as we are listening and receiving wisdom from others, we must record these ideas. But which ideas do we write down? In this particular conference, only about one third of the attendees were taking notes. There is simply no way to review what you’ve learned if it is not written down. Here are three types of ideas to record:
- We should write down ideas that we are ready to apply. These are ideas that immediately strike us and resonate with us profoundly.
- We should capture the ideas that appear to have depth, but we don’t quite understand yet, or those that we are simply not ready to apply. When I am at a conference, most thoughts I write fit in the this category. They appeal to me, but I don’t completely understand them yet. Or I am not ready to apply them until I’ve given them further reflection.
- We should record ideas that we know and may already be applying, but would like to file away for later use. Especially if you write or speak, it is essential that we are always collecting ideas, quotes, and thoughts to share with others.
For many years, I couldn’t seem to make it past this first step. I had a deep desire to write thoughts down and reflect on them later. But no matter how sincere my intentions, in most cases, I would record them but never look at them again. Do you know what I mean? You go to church, and take notes on the church bulletin. Or you are with a friend, and they suggest an amazing idea, so you jot it onto a napkin. We must write it—but, we must write it somewhere we can find it. I carry a journal with me almost everywhere I go. I fill up one journal a month with thoughts I’ve recorded. If I don’t have my journal, then I email ideas to myself.
This is my system. If this does not work for you, create your own way of capturing what is worth remembering.
Step Two: File
For many years, my detailed notes from sermons and lectures remained right there—on the page. On rare occasions, I may glance at them. But the vast majority of the time, they remained untouched. I finally discovered the key to getting the notes off the page and into my life.
Fifteen minutes before I go to sleep each night, I file my notes. Not in the traditional way you may imagine, with loose papers and file folders shuffled into a file drawer. Rather, I have two simple Microsoft Word files I place these thoughts under, as I will describe below. During this fifteen minutes, I review any notes I have taken that day in the area of personal growth, whether it be from a book or a lecture, a thought I had emailed to myself, or a new idea from a mentor.
As I read my notes, I place the ideas that connect with me into two separate files on my computer. The first is the file I call my “Principles of Life,” a growing 650-page document categorized by topic, thoughts, quotes, and stories that I have accumulated to use for writing and speaking.
Next, I place the most important lessons that I want to apply or reflect on into a document I call “Intentional Personal Growth.” Here is an example:
One of the speakers at the Ransomed Heart Conference made this statement: “Worship is what you give your heart to, hoping that it will give you life.” Now, in my journey, the area of worship connects with me. I want to grow in my understanding of worship. So during my filing time, I placed that statement under “Worship” in my “Principles of Life” document. I also placed it in my “Intentional Personal Growth” file under “Faith,” under the sub-category of “Ideas I Want to Think About and Apply.”
Are you still with me? There is only one more step. And this is the one that positions us for change.
Step Three: Reflect
I dedicate an additional fifteen minutes before I sleep to my “Growth Time.” During that time, I read and reflect on what I have written in my “Intentional Personal Growth” document. Growth happens in the reflecting. I read ideas I want to marinate on day after day. I may skip a few days, and then I reread it. It may be months before an idea really sinks in. But that’s when I can begin effectively applying it into my life. Over time, if it is not resonating with me, I delete it from the “Intentional Personal Growth” file. But it remains in my “Principles of Life” file.
So, this is how I go from notes to growth: Record, File, Reflect. Fifteen minutes to file and fifteen minutes to reflect each night. It’s only one example of a method to process what you learn. If my method doesn’t quite fit for you, adjust it or create your own.
Actionable step: Create time to file. Create time for growth. Choose a consistent place to collect your notes. Any time you take notes, don’t leave the learning on the page. Juice out what you’ve learned, and capture what you want to apply. Keep reviewing new principles until they result in application and growth.
About me: My evening routine consists of the two fifteen-minute sessions I described above, and one thirty-minute time blocked for reading.
For Further Reading: