Writing down your thoughts is one of the most effective ways to remember and reflect.
It’s the reason why we take notes while listening to a lecture — the act of writing down what we’re hearing creates a place for it in our mind.
Yet the act of writing itself isn’t enough if you want to truly reap the benefits of your knowledge and continue to build on it.
For most of my life, I was like the majority of people who keep journals. I had a collection of unrelated notes from meetings, half-hearted daily reflection attempts, and underlined passages in my favorite books.
But there was nothing to bring all this information together in an understandable way.
So, about a decade ago, I began creating what I call my Best Current Thinking documents, or BeCTs. I now have 48 of them captured in my Evernote. Instead of passively jotting down thoughts and then abandoning them, I began to consciously write down my thoughts on a topic, reflect on them, and then revisit them as I learned more.
The act of revisiting and reflection is the step that most people fail to take, yet it’s the most crucial to really understanding a subject.
It’s not easy, but if you can begin to organize your thoughts in a purposeful manner, I promise you’ll notice a marked difference in the depth of your knowledge on a host of subjects.
Here’s how it works:
Many people use journaling to keep a record of their lives or simply write down thoughts they have throughout the day. And there’s nothing wrong with journaling by itself.
Still, if you want to get the most out of what you write, you have to return to it from time to time — reread it, reflect on it and make additions or changes where necessary.
As in any learning situation, it’s essential you keep yourself off autopilot mode. When it comes to journaling, this means writing something down and never looking at it again.
Think of it this way: if you were attempting to learn a musical instrument, you wouldn’t play a song once and then move on to the next one. While you might gain some skill over a long period of time, it would be incredibly inefficient to learn that way.
Going back to what you wrote and synthesizing the information provides you with the extra focus you need to truly internalize what you’ve written — then expand on it.
A lot of authors will tell you the book that changed them the most wasn’t something they read in high school — it was the one they wrote.
By taking the time to reflect on your knowledge, then construct paragraphs and chapters about that knowledge, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the subject at hand.
If you do this with any of the subjects you have expertise on, you’ll find that your knowledge expands in many directions, often crossing paths with other areas of understanding.
There are connections and revelations to be found that you may have otherwise missed.
My “BecT.Project Management” doc was my original one — it’s now 15 years old and has gone through hundreds of revisions and iterations. I can now go to it and clearly understand what my current practices are in Project Management and how those thoughts developed. Other BeCT documents I have constructed over the years include: Writing Process, Media Training, DP (Deliberate Practice) Techniques, and Culture.
As you continue to learn and think about subjects in new ways, come back to the documents you’ve created and update them.
Push yourself to continually reevaluate your own thinking at regular intervals.
This is simply a method for reflecting on what you already know and examining why you think that way about it.
Remember, reflection is a version of practice. And like anything in life, the more you practice it, the better you’ll get.
It may initially seem like this technique isn’t immediately applicable to your life. When you’re younger, the skills you need to practice for your career are likely more technical. They relate to the tasks you have to accomplish throughout the workday.
As you get older, you’ll likely find yourself in more senior positions. And at that point, the work you do is evaluated differently. You’re not necessarily judged on your technical acumen, but on your judgment, your intuition and your ability to make sound decisions in the face of a complex set of facts.
Reflecting back on your writing is a great way to practice your mental skills and hone your ability to analyze a situation and make the best decision possible.
I know it’s not easy to return to something you’ve written and judge it based on new information, but it will get easier with time, and the benefits are well worth the minor discomfort that comes with changing routine.
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Originally published at artplusmarketing.com