At the end of every month, I host a link up called What We Learned for all of us to share what we learned in the past 30ish days. One of the most common comments I get from people is Oh! I keep meaning to join you but I have no idea what I learned this month!
Let’s be real – most of us most of the time are just trying to make it through the week without running out of clean underwear. How can I expect us to learn things, much less remember what they are!?
Enter today’s post.
The problem isn’t that we aren’t learning. The problem is we forget.
I tend to make things super hard and think I need to have elaborate systems in place to do things. But simple is good and right and just my style.
So today I’ll share with you how I keep track and remember what I’m learning.
And you’re gonna be all, Duh, why are you even wasting my time with this?
And I’m gonna be all, I know! It’s so obvious and dumb right?!
And you’re gonna be all, yes and I have a way better way of keeping track of what I’m learning.
And I’m gonna be all, of course you do! Please tell us in the comments!
But first, this.
Why is it important to keep track of what you’re learning?
I once wrote that my job as a writer is to pay attention to what’s happening around me and to pay attention to what’s happening within me.
True, but that’s also our job as humans.
When I go through life in survival mode for too long, I feel like I’m only half-human – forgetting appointments, forgetting to laugh, forgetting my name. I basically walk around with a list of to-dos scribbled on the back of a crumpled receipt in the bottom of my purse and a low-grade panic in the pit of my soul.
Have you been there?
The practice of paying attention serves as an anchor for the soul in a fast-moving world.
Instead of waiting for the world to stop so we can catch up, we slow ourselves, look around, and name what we see.
“In a profound way, our intentionality is a key ingredient determining whether we notice God everywhere or only in church or only in suffering or nowhere. It all depends on how we choose to fashion our world.”
Elizabeth Dreyer, Earth Crammed with Heaven
When I’m paying attention to the public road I’m walking and my private world within, I tend to be more patient, more kind, more willing to give myself and others grace.
Looking back in a sort of monthly version of The Daily Examen, we imperfectly practice paying attention to the things we’re learning. Sometimes they are profound and life-altering. Other times they are simply fun facts or silly tips. Either way, recording them is evidence of our living.
Here are 6 ways I practice paying attention – good for both my writing and my soul.
If I had to estimate, I would say ninety percent of my note-taking I do with pen and paper. I know technology and robots have made our lives so much easier with apps and capturing lasers and memory gadgets and what-nots, but I learn best by actually writing things with my hand in my janky handwriting.
The Bullet Journal isn’t a specific journal, it’s a note taking system created by Ryder Carroll. My friend Kendra told me about it and we both use this Miquelrius soft bound black journal with graph paper lines, although you can use any journal you like.
I keep it with me always, which is key for keeping track of what I’m learning.
In it, I record daily tasks, books I want to read, and other kinds of to-dos, always with an antennae up for a new thought, a different perspective, or a fun new fact I didn’t know. When something comes, I jot it down using WWL (What We Learned) as a signifier. At the end of the month, I look back through that month’s notes for WWL.
I told you I’m holding nothing back. All my secrets are out!
If you have a favorite robot mind-reading Jetsons app you use for note-taking, tell us in the comments! The point is not the particular capturing system, the point is to do something that works for you.
When I’m crafting my post for What We Learned at the end of the month, I always browse through my Twitter / Insta / Facebook updates for that month – this always helps to trigger moments or thoughts I had throughout the month that may be worth remembering.
I’m usually reading several books at once – fiction for before bed, some kind of memoir, and a few non-fictions. At the end of the month, I’ll thumb back through the books I’m reading and take note of what I underlined.
This one is from John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping, a book I finished last week and keep going back to. I usually read with a pen or pencil close by and have no problem writing in books. But if the book isn’t mine or is from the library, I use my Bullet Journal to capture quotes.
If a quote really sticks out and I want to for sure remember it, I also record it in my bullet journal and mark them with a Q. If it makes it to the journal with a Q then it’s important.
Tip: ALWAYS put who said it, where they said it, and on what page. I didn’t do this in college and I have journals filled with quotes from people that I can’t use and can’t go back to because I have no idea who said them.
Browsing through the photos on my phone almost always reminds me of at least one thing I learned that month. If something is lovely, fun, thoughtful, or significant in some way, I generally snap a photo of some aspect of it. So my phone photo album is a good trigger to help me remember the past month.
The Morning Page
I have an on-again off-again relationship with The Morning Page. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, describes them this way:
“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning . . . They provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.”
I’ve written about how the Morning Page can become a sacred space and I believe it’s true. It’s a good way to uncover things that are hovering just beneath your awareness. I don’t do them every morning, but when I do I will browse back through them to see if those sloppy pages offer any insight to something I’ve been learning.
While I use my Bullet Journal for most of my note-taking (sermon notes, book prep, to-do lists, blog planning), Morning Pages is the only writing I do in a separate notebook to keep my mind focused on writing without the distraction of flipping through yesterdays to-do list.
Also if I lose my Bullet Journal, the strangers won’t have access to my crazy, which is basically what comes out in The Morning Page.
So there you go, six ways I keep track of what I’m learning. I do use my phone occasionally to record thoughts or bits of thoughts – either with the notes app or the voice recorder. But mostly I just use pen, paper, photos, underlining, Morning Pages and good old fashioned window-staring-outing.
We’re all at different spots on the journey, and these end of the month posts are a way to reflect, share, and celebrate on purpose. We’ll do it again this month (usually the last Friday of the month) and I hope you’ll join us. It’s never too late to start paying attention.
On a monthly basis I also write a letter from The Bench, a newsletter-like secret note of hope and courage for the weary soul. I typically include one thing I’m learning but elaborate on it more deeply than I do in the monthly What We Learned posts. February’s has already gone out, but if you want to be sure to get March’s letter and every month after, simply sign up here.