How to Capture Life-Changing Principles
A lot of people read with a pen or highlighter in hand. We eagerly mark what touches us. We finish the book and have a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, we typically recall a negligible fraction of what we read or mark. We forget the rest, even those ideas or thoughts that gave us an ah-ha moment. We move on to the next book. And in most cases, we never come back to look at what we marked…or what marked us.
The same happens with inspirational sermons we hear, intellectual lectures we attend, and even motivating seminars we pay to participate in. If we are to maximize our learning opportunities, we must have a better system of retaining what we are exposed to. We must recognize what we truly need to internalize, become intentional to capture it, and then effectively think on it and incorporate it into our lives. After all, if what we are learning does not produce change in our lives, we have done little more than entertain ourselves.
I recently accompanied my parents to their church, NorthPointe. I had my journal in hand and took notes. Pastor Jordan was speaking on spiritual leadership. I looked around. No one else around me was taking notes. It was sad to me, that for most people, the moving lessons from today will not be remembered. And I have to admit, this is a lesson I had to learn when I started my personal growth journey about 6 years ago: if I am to grow, I must capture life-changing principles. In this article, I will share with you how to do just that.
Whether reading or listening to great oratory, if we want to grow from the ideas we are exposed to, we must start by recording certain principles and concepts, but not all of them. Then, we must have a system to review them and apply them. Let’s start by discussing what principles or thoughts we should capture.
What principles should we capture?
I am not a proponent of writing everything down that you hear or read. Here are three criteria I employ to filter the principles I choose to write down and keep:
- Principles I want to think about. Admittedly, over 80% of what I hear is simply not ready for me to apply right away. Even if an author or speaker thinks others can apply their great ideas into their lives immediately, we usually have to process them first, and see how they fits uniquely into our lives. I’ll give you an example from my own journal. Yesterday, I recorded, “When you expect something in return, it’s not love.” Now, when I heard this idea from a colleague, I thought, sure, that sounds like it’s true. But I really need to think about it, to marinate on it to see if this is a principle I agree with and one I want to incorporate into my worldview, or the way I think about love. Whether its reading a book or a listening to a mentor, isolate those key ideas that make an impression on you, but need further exploration.
- Principles I want to apply. A minority of principles, or ideas, are ready for me to apply immediately. Most often, when I come across these, they become “to do” items. For instance, an author or speaker recommends a certain book to read. Since that doesn’t require me to simmer on the idea, I quickly add it to my reading list, if it’s of interest to me. Sometimes, I may hear ideas about teamwork or other leadership topics that I feel comfortable to apply right away, without much thought or analysis.
- Principles I want to file. There are some great nuggets I hear or read, which I already know to be true. I don’t need to further analyze these, and I really don’t need to apply them more in my life. But I may want to share these truths in future writing, speaking, or teaching. For example, I like to file away stories and illustrations. I may hear a new way to define leadership or teamwork that just makes perfect sense to me. Though I don’t see a benefit from thinking about it further, I would like to preserve it for future use.
So, as you read a book or hear a talk, instead of just writing everything down, ask yourself the following simple questions about the new ideas you hear. If your answer is yes to any of the following, write them down. Why? Because these ideas are like soap bubbles that will pop into oblivion from our conscious mind if we don’t capture them.
- Do I want to think on this further?
- Do I want to apply it now?
- Do I want to file for the future?
What should we do with principles, once captured?
You come from a conference or seminar, and have ample notes of life-changing ideas you captured that end up in some pile in your office. And that’s where they stay. The same happens with books. We mark them up, then we stack them up, or find a place for them on a shelf. Once captured, we must have a next step in place to maximize the information we have been exposed to.
Here is what I do.
- Use one note-taking method. I’ve tried typing things immediately in my computer or tablet, but that proved impractical for me. I honestly do not want to go to church with my computer in hand. I don’t want to go into professional meetings looking at a screen and typing, while I should be engaging with a person. So, I use a journal. Here is the link to my favorite kind of journal. It looks professional and gives me enough space to write anything I want. And it goes with me everywhere. Seminars, church, meetings with staff and business partners, or even having dinner with friends. I do my intentional thinking with it. I use it for planning and sketching. I do not use scraps of paper, legal pads, or notebooks. Instead, I fill up a journal every two to three months. It’s $11 well spent. When you do that, you guarantee everything you collect will not become scattered.
- Create an electronic “growth file.” The principles I want to think about end up in a computer document I call, “Personal Growth.” I read those often to let them soak into the depths of my thinking. The principles I want to apply and wish to execute immediately are kept in Nozbe, a great project management tool I use to keep all of my projects and “to do” lists.
- Create an electronic “filing” document. Mine is called, “Principles of Life.” It’s a 650-page document filled with quotes, thoughts, and principles I have collected over the past six years. These are grouped together topically. This is where I place what I’ve learned that I don’t need to think about or apply immediately, but I’d like to keep for later use.
I hope this gives you an idea of how to navigate the myriad of enlightening principles that come your way. Your system may not look like mine. I would encourage you, however, to come up with one that serves you well. If you don’t have a system for capturing meaningful concepts, you will soon become stagnate, as you stop looking for life-changing principles altogether.
You can do it!
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