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How To Use Your Journal For Learning

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Do you want to know how to turn what you learn into practice? Ever attended a seminar or conference, taken a course, generally wanted to improve yourself or learn something new? You take all these notes ready to start making real changes in your life and then…nothing. Those notes stay where they are on the page and don’t make it to the real world.

How can you change this? By journaling.


Building on Existing Knowledge


Think about it – it’s one thing to take notes, and another to reflect on those notes, to tie them to your existing knowledge and experience. This is how we turn short term memory into long term memory. This is how we learn in school. The previous grade is the foundation for the next year.


For example, in math you learn how to add and subtract. Then you learn multiplication and division. This knowledge builds with each successive year until we're doing algebra and following the BEDMAS method.


As adults, we can still learn this way. The wonderful thing is, our existing knowledge base is much larger than when we were kids. Therefore, there is more to pull from and connect to.


My Personal Experience


I am very much a life-long learner. For as long as I can remember I’ve always been learning something. Origami, fashion design, interior design, jewelry making, photography, capsule wardrobes, the KonMari method, and so on and so forth. I had no shortage of hyperfixations and special interests. But how did this knowledge become a reality for me?


Let’s start with my origami era that started in fifth grade.


I bought a book from a museum and took some printer paper I had at home and started working through each design. But I didn’t stop there. I turned to Youtube and not only watched the videos, but followed along, pausing, playing, and rewinding when necessary.


This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but how often do we listen to a presentation and nothing comes of the information you learned after it ends?


Let’s look at another example.


Step 1: Take Notes and Use Signifiers


A few weeks ago, I attended the Neurodivergent Navigation Summit. I took notes on each speaker’s presentation often recording how I related to the content through my personal experiences.


One presenter spoke briefly about coming off the wrong way, be it through their tone or body language. This caused a strain in their relationship with their partner. I related this to a moment, to one I’d experienced myself with a family member.

When taking notes it’s best to connect the information to existing experiences or knowledge as it allows us to remember it better (i.e. we’re connecting it straight to our long term memory).


I also took note-taking one step further.


I used signifiers in the margins to mark important points.

  • A question mark (?) = learn more about or look up.

  • An asterisk (*) = to remember/important.

  • An exclamation point (!) = an idea.

Step 2: Review Notes


Once I’d completed each video, I went back through my notes, reviewing each and adding signifiers where I needed to. Simply re-reading your notes instead of shuffling them away one more step in the right direction.


Key Takeaways


Now, I had some key takeaways, as is standard for events like this. Except, I didn’t really have to write them down, as each important point was already marked with a signifier. Though, if listing or summarizing these key points again is helpful to you, by all means go for it.


Step 3: Create Action Items


I then took these important points and created corresponding tasks in my journal. I acted on the items right away. The exclamation points marked ideas mainly for blog posts. So, I started a new journal spread to write them down and brainstorm key points for each.

Andrew and Michelle, the first speakers, wrote a book on their experience as they navigated Andrew receiving a late diagnosis of Autism. So, I added the book to my StoryGraph TBR list. I also took the time to follow any speakers that had TikTok and to go to their websites and bookmark them.


Each of these action items helped me to actually act on the information I had gained, even if it was simply marking it down for later.


Final Thoughts


My journals aren’t just a record of my daily life, they embody what I’m learning and working on. This is possible because I’ve learned how to take notes in a way that works for me. More than that I’ve found a system, the Bullet Journal Method, that gives me the flexibility to interconnect ideas and collections.


How do you use your journal to help you learn? Leave a comment below!

 

Journal for Learning New Things


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