Did you know that it’s said that the average person has about 50,000 thoughts every day? And that researchers have said that we process up to 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in a single day? To put it in perspective: 34 gigabytes is three times more than the size of English Wikipedia. And 100,00 words? That’s twelve thousand more than Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (88,942 words) and just a little under Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling (106,821 words).
You get the picture: The amount of information we process on a daily basis in is staggering! You know that saying: It’s not about what you’ve learned; it’s about what you do with what you’ve learned. But, how can you apply what you’ve learned if you don’t remember them in the first place?
So, last year, in an attempt to find out if I could learn and remember better, I ran a year-long experiment where I recorded every single one of my learning (I ended up with 456 learnings and I published the 52 best ones in this post.)
With 2017 coming to an end, I’d like to share my key learnings this year, new insights from my second year of doing this. If you’re keen on doing this for yourself I have an exciting announcement at the end of the post.
Let’s start from the beginning, not just any beginning but…
The Beginning Of The End
A brief thought on reflecting effectively
One of the reasons why I love year-ends is because the “end” of anything always gives rise to opportunities for reflection. We may build an understanding of the world through our experiences, but it’s only through the process of reflection that we develop our understanding more deeply, and convert our intuitive knowledge more applicable.
There’s only one problem: The first step to effective reflection is accurate recall, and the human memory is kind of faulty and unreliable, partly because we’re biologically susceptible to a whole host of cognitive biases, and that memory is largely about perception.
For example, the recency bias is the phenomenon which makes it easier for you to remember last weekend’s events than what happened during the second weekend of February earlier this year. The misinformation effect is another, and studies have shown that it’s surprisingly easy to instill false memories in people.
The list goes on.
When you add all of these things up, you start to realize how challenging it can be to form the accurate and undistorted picture we need for effective reflection. One of the key purposes of reflection is to learn from previous experiences, which means that in order to reflect effectively means that we need to fulfill two criteria.
- During reflection — Remember as accurately as possible what has happened.
- After reflection — Assimilate the information from the reflection in a way that we can remember it in the future.
As you can see, we’re missing a crucial part: before. Or at least, a structured way of ensuring we have all of our learnings and insights.
Which brings me to…
Before we can connect the dots, first we must have dots to connect. I want you to imagine each year as a circle. One that we draw continuously with each passing minute, day and month. One which we’ll complete at the end of the year; a full circle so to speak.
If the goal is to have a fuller, richer, and more durable memory that we can draw from, then, doesn’t it make sense to supplement our memory, in addition to the few big and easy to recall events, with a collection of little moments that would otherwise be lost in our stream of consciousness.
Here’s the central question I was trying to answer:
If it’s a circle we’re drawing, how can we draw a more circular circle? What if our circle, instead of being drawn from connecting 15 points, was drawn from connecting 50, 200, or more points?
I’ve been diving into how memory works this year, and the 30 second summary of what I’ve learned insofar is this:
We remember what’s memorable, and memorable memories are packed with details and emotions. In a similar fashion, we can apply those principles towards remembering everything else in life, no matter how trivial, if we can in one way or another, make it memorable. What’s memorable sticks with us.
Which explains why you’re more likely to forget what you had for lunch forty-days ago then that time when you use a crocodile as a boat to cross the river.
But I don’t ride crocodiles daily (if you do, please call me) so how I was interested in exploring how I can remember what I want to remember (my learnings in this case) with greater ease and efficiency?
Time to experiment.
The hypothesis: By investing a miniscule amount of time (30–60 seconds) to record every interesting learning I come across, I would be able to encapsulate them into a fuller and more contextual story which I can then retrieve more easily, and therefore be able to use.
In essence, a time capsule of my year in learning.
As of the time I’m writing this, 29/12/17, the total tally: 312 learnings.
I’d say 65% of them came from books, 30% from podcasts and the remaining 5% from articles.
52 Key Learnings In 52 Weeks Of 2017
I’ve added notes to my favorites among the lot.
1. “Think lightly of yourself and think deeply of the world.” — Miyamoto Musashi.
2. “If you want to change the way people respond to you, change the way you respond to people.” — Timothy Leary
3. “Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare. “ — Japanese Proverb
4. “You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” — Richard Feynman
5. “He who suffers before it is necessary suffers more than is necessary.” — Seneca
6. “Whatever you practice, you strengthen.” — Tara Brach
Note: Radical Acceptance is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
7. The most important trick to be happy is to realize that happiness is a choice that you make and a skill that you develop. you choose to be happy and then you work at it, it’s just like building muscles. — Naval Ravikant
8. “What you seek is seeking you.” — Rumi
9. “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” — Mexican Proverb
10. “Treat relationships as a place where you go to give, not take.” — Tony Robbins
11. “People are not disturbed by things, but by the views we take of them.” — Epictetus
12. “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you determine how it will be spent. “ — Carl Sandburg
13. “To do original work, it’s not necessary to know something nobody else knows. But it’s necessary to believe something few other people believe.” — Marc Andreessen
Note: Read Why Software Is Eating The World.
14. “We are not creatures of circumstance, we are creators of circumstance.” — Benjamin Disraeli
15. “Existence is fundamentally playful. It’s less like a journey, and more like a piece of music or a dance. And the point of dancing isn’t to arrive at a particular spot on the floor; the point of dancing is simply to dance.” — Alan Watts
Note: Watch Life is not a journey.
16. “Say less in conflict resolutions.” — Amanda Palmer
Note: Simple, but powerful.
17. “Don’t fear moving slowly. Fear standing still.” — Chinese proverb
18. “Mindfulness is just the quality of mind which allows you to be attention to sights and sounds and sensations and even thoughts themselves without being lost in thought and without grasping at what is pleasant and pushing what is unpleasant away. “ — Sam Harris
Note: If you haven’t heard of Sam, you should check out his book Waking Up or his Ted Talk.
19. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” — Anaïs Nin
20. “A window is a hole in a wall. It’s the emptiness in the wall that makes it useful. A window peers into the landscape. It’s empty yet it gives full meaning. “ — Lao Tzu
21. “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” — Henry David Thoreau
22. “Failure isn’t durable.” — Francis Ford Coppola.
23. “To walk a thorny road, we may cover its every inch with leather or we can make sandals.“ — Indian parable
Note: HT one of my favorite books of all time The Art Of Learning By Josh Waitzkin
24. “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensure. One must have a reason to “be happy.” Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy.” — Victor Frankl
Note: Get some perspective on life with Man’s Search for Meaning
25. Time is not something you find; it’s something you make.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
Note: If you’re in need of some creative inspiration, I highly recommend you check out her Ted Talk or her book Big Magic.
26. “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” — Norman Vincent Peale
27. “Giving people what they want isn’t nearly as valuable as teaching people what they need.” — Seth Godin
Note: Seth Godin has the uncanny ability to make the new, familiar, and the familiar, new.
28. “Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed of things that people on the edge see them first.” — Kurt Vonnegut
Note: Go to the edge. Peer over it. Dance on it.
29. We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when things are not.
30. “If you have everything under control, you’re not going fast enough.” — Mario Andretti
31. “What is Success? To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded. “— Ralph Waldo Emerson
32. “The people who mind don’t matter, the people who matter don’t mind.”
Note: Stop trying to impress or gain the approval of people you don’t care about.
33. “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” — Joseph Campbell
34. “You must be slow in deliberation and swift in execution.” — Napoleon
35. “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same. “ — Rudyard Kipling
36. “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” — Pierre-Marc-Gaston
Note: Sometimes it’s not about what someone knows, but what they’re curious about that is more revealing of who they are.
37. “Love tells me I am everything. Wisdom tells me I am nothing.” — Nisargadatta, Indian philosopher.
38. “Normal is an illusion; what’s normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.“
39. “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you. “ — Gospel of Thomas
40. “Information will never replace illumination.” — Susan Sontag
Note: Check out The Conscience of Words on Brain Pickings.
41. “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” — Ernest Hemingway
42.”The best ideas don’t have to tackle dramatic problems, only neglected problems.” — Reid Hoffman
Note: Master Of Scale is a great podcast for entrepreneurs. Fantastic guests and format.
43. “Enlightenment is when the wave realizes it is the ocean. “— Thich Nhat Hahn
Note: What is Mindfulness?
44. Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding than opposing the flow of life. — Eckhart Tolle
45. “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” — Roald Dahl
Note: One of my fondest childhood memories is about reading his books.
46. “You’ll see it when you believe it.” — Wayne Dyer
47. “Some people conceive well but give birth badly. Without clarity, children of the soul — concepts and ideas — become stillborn.”
Note: A reminder to every creator.
48. “From sacrifice comes meaning. From struggle comes purpose. If you’re to create something powerful and important, you must at the very least be driven by an equally powerful inner force.” — Ryan Holiday
Note: If you’re a creator, check out Perennial Seller. If you want to learn how to live like a philosopher king, go read The Daily Stoic.
49. “Do not be concerned about whether or not others know you; be concerned about whether or not you know others.” — Confucius
50. “The best of our stories are those that transform and redeem us, ones that both ground us in ourselves by reminding us what it means to be human and elevate us by furnishing an instrument of self-transcendence.” — Maria Popova / Writer
Note: Every creator should listen to this podcast she did with Tim Ferriss / check out Brain Pickings.
51. “You must want to be a butterfly so badly you are willing to give up being a caterpillar. “ — Sekou Andrews / Poet
52. “The mind is the source of all experience and by changing the direction of the mind we can change the quality of everything we experience.“ — Buddha
Bonus round! Because who doesn’t like good surprises.
10 of my favorites
53. “”If you argue for your limitations, you get to keep them.” — Jim Kwik
54. “Copyright your faults” — Dan Carlin
Note: Dan’s Hardcore History Podcast makes history come alive. Go listen to an episode. You won’t be disappointed.
55. “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
56. “You can’t force other people to change. You can, however, change just about everything else. And usually, that’s enough. “— Aaron Swartz
Note: Go watch The Internet’s Own Boy
57. “I actually love being wrong, even though it cracks my confidence, because that’s the only time I learn. I actually love being lost, even though it fuels fears, because that’s when I go somewhere unexpected. “ — Derek Sivers
Note: Check out Derek’s TED talks here. Or better, check out his writings here.
58. “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” — Mark Twain
59. “A great failing is to see yourself as more than you are and to value yourself at less than your true worth.” — Goethe
Note: A special message to “I am my own harshest critic club.”
60. “The notes are right underneath your fingers, baby. You just gotta take the time out to play the right notes. That’s life.” — Ray Charles
Note: “Patience you must have, my young padawan” *croaky Yoda voice*
Circling Back To The Beginning
Image By John Flores
So, did I succeed? Did I manage to draw a more complete picture by planting more dots?
It sounds counterintuitive but I remember more (in greater details and more vividity) despite having much more things to remember. Since this is my second year of doing this — plus a deeper exploration into how memory works — I now know it’s definitely because I took the time and effort to deepen my connections with them.
Guide To Doing-It-Yourself
How I do it and how you can do it.
I highly recommend that you try it out yourself in 2018. You’ll be surprised at how micro-investments of time — 30 seconds here and there — can make a world of difference in your entire year.
How I do it
I use three apps for this, IFTTT’s Do Button, Evernote and Google Sheets, all of which are free and available on both iOS and Android.
IFTTT (If This, Then That) is an a free web-based service to create chains of simple automations. For example you can set something like this up:
If Spotify Updates Your Weekly Playlist, Then send an email to you with the new selected tracks.
In this I’ve set up: If I record a new learning on The IFTTT Note App, Then send add the new learning to an evernote.
My 2-step process
1. Capture— I capture all my learnings on the Note App by IFTTT , which then automatically adds it to a note on Evernote.
2. Review — I review my weekly learnings at the end of the week, spend a few moments thinking and relating to them.
How you can do it
Step 1: Pick a tool.
I recommend that you follow my workflow → Do Button > Evernote / Google Sheets. The Note app encodes the timestamps, which is very helpful.
Whatever you decide to go with should be easily accessible at all times whether you choose a physical notebook or an app. I use an app because I’m paranoid that I’ll lose the notebook. Doesn’t help that I instantaneously get a little depressed whenever I see my handwriting which resembles looks like the scribbles of a 3 year-old. If you’re going with a physical notebook I’d recommend using a special notebook specifically for this.
Step 2: Pick a backup tool.
If your primary tool fails you. I use a note app on my iphone. Or I scribble it on a piece of paper.
Step 3: Set a time of the week where you’ll review your learning.
Pick out your favorite. Bonus if you elaborate (mentally, vocally, or written) in 1–2 lines what it means for you and how you relate to it.
Increase your chances for success by following these 3 rules.
1. Make it as easy and simple. I can’t stress highly enough how important this rule is, especially in the beginning. The key to forming any habit is to sustain the momentum, no matter how small, and the best way to do this is to build it organically within your existing routine.
2. Do it soon and do it often. Start now and commit to recording one learning every day for the first thirty days. Jot down your thoughts as soon as you’ve have it otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll lose it. Set a reminder on your phone every morning, have an intention that you’re going to record whatever learnings you’ll encounter throughout the day. The beauty of a habit is that the stronger it is, the less effort it takes.
3. Do it with someone. In my experience, accountability can dramatically increase your rate of success when it comes to building habits. Plus, you’ll get to review your learnings together and learn something new. And that’s why I’ve decided to set up a challenge for those of you who wishes to do this together with me for 2018.
New insights from doing this for a second year running
By now, recording a new learning is second nature to me, almost effortless. The cool thing about this is that it has freed up mental space for the process to breathe: I’m more deliberate about what learnings I record and I spend more time meditating and relating to them.
As you can see, this year, I’ve started adding tags to them, the ones visualized below (Think, Do, Feel) are the top level categories.
In general, I have also noticed a shift of the project’s significance and meaning for me personally.
2016 was about exploration: I was feeling my way around the process, getting used to the system, experimenting with tools and resources for inspiration.
2017 has been about organizing and creating more space: With a solid habit formed, I’ve been devoting more time towards meditating on the collected truths, sorting and organizing them by adding tags and differentiating them into categories.
2018 will be about establishing new grounds and finding like-minded people: I would like to set up a place for consolidating and accessing the learnings, as well as seeking out like-minded curious learners who want to be a part of this.
Want to do this? Join me and other and make 2018 a Year Of Insight.
Original Image by Jeremy Perkins
Imagine this time next year, instead of struggling to remember what you’ve learned, you’d actually have a record of what you’ve learned. Almost like a time capsule of your most important insights. Pretty cool, right?
I know I’ve been calling them learnings so far but I think insight captures the essence of the project better. So, if you’re interested, go to YearOfInsight.com and you can register your interest to participate or subscribe to updates about this project.
I hope that you’ve found my learnings useful, and that you decide to try it out yourself! Which ones above are your favorites? What are some of your own? Drop me a comment below, I’ll love to know!
Special thanks to Dora Visky the visualization of my learnings.