I’ve been told that I used to be a very curious person. Somewhere along the line I lost it, and now I’m trying to get it back.
Since my early childhood I’ve been a very curious person. My mom told me that when I was a toddler, they would call me the “future surgeon,” because where most other kids would pick up a toy and play with it, I would thoroughly examine it. Maybe that was just a nice way of calling me a weirdo, why couldn’t I just enjoy the toy? But, if we fast-forward to my career and my current job where I research emerging consumer experiences, I’ve again been complimented on my curiosity — now translated into the “Learn and Be Curious” and “Dive Deep” leadership principles.
But where my curiosity was apparent in my career, I realized that I had completely lost it in my personal life. I used to feel like I was super knowledgeable, but in the past few years, I noticed that when I’d poke around on Twitter in the topics that I was interested in, I would become jealous of how much smarter and farther along everyone else seemed than me. I’d wonder how in the past 5 years or so, how the world had passed my by. What was I doing wrong?
Sure, I would listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, and pick up the occasional book, but I felt like everything I learned became fleeting thoughts. I’d immerse myself in the content for the period that I was consuming it, and then once the next distraction came along *poof* it’s all gone.
Planting the Seeds
I recently read two books recently that really made me think about my future and my outlook on my life and career: Reboot by Jerry Colonna and Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. With Reboot, I had never engaged so much with a book before. I had highlights, underlines, notes in the margins, iPhone notes, you name it. Similarly with Shoe Dog, I had a few highlights which I knew that I would want to revisit when the time was right.
My problem: Both of these books were transformational for me, but how would I remember them long-term? How would I know what my thoughts were? How could they not become another fleeting thought, like everything else?
I thought about the note-taking apps that I’d seen people become obsessed about over Twitter. I had never really been one to take notes before. Whether in college, my career, or my personal life, I really only used notes to answer “What do I need to do?” and “How do I do it?” I thought that note-taking was for “people who were good at studying,” but that it didn’t have any real-world application to intelligence. I had never ever imagined taking notes for my own personal thinking, but I was felling a little desperate, so I picked one of the apps and gave it a shot.
Turns out, that was exactly what I needed to do. Once I started writing my thoughts down on paper, solely for the purpose of my own memory, everything changed for me.
Slow and Then Very Fast
I started experimenting with Roam Research. Among all of the Twitter conversation that I saw, Roam seemed to be the most hyped among people I admired. People reported having “mind-blowing” experiences from its bi-directional link feature, which helped you link your thoughts together, so I figured “lets go for it.”
When I started out, I thought that “connecting my thoughts” would be the big breakthrough, as it was for many others. But, mine was different. The other people I was following already had structured note-taking habits, so Roam was a plus to the work they had already been doing. But for me, starting from zero, my breakthrough was in my personal habits, and something that all of these other people had likely experienced many years ago.
I could now commit my ideas to long-term memory.
When I had a thought or an idea that came from a book, podcast, newsletter, etc, I had a place to put it. I saved my idea “to the cloud” and could link back to it whenever I wanted to, or have it organically re-appear when I‘m thinking about that topic in the future. Whatever I typed, and whatever I linked, it would be there for me… FOREVER.
My concern about my thoughts becoming “fleeting” were now gone. Since I had a central place that I was continually adding to, I felt like I was no longer wasting my time. Now, when I’m reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, or watching YouTube videos, I feel like I’m doing it with a purpose. I don’t feel like I’m wasting my day by reading a bunch of articles and watching videos that I’m going to forget about tomorrow. I know that anything that I learn or pick-up, actually has a chance to stick with my for the long-term. No more fleeting learnings.
Building a Long-Term Filter
This breakthrough was exciting for me personally, because it also made me WAY more conscious of the content that I choose to consume. I’m no longer just looking for entertainment, or what I think I should be interested in. I’m looking out for: “What is something that has a chance to be so impactful or so influential or me, that I would want to commit it to my long-term memory (save it in my Roam)?” Of course, I love (and need) entertaining YouTube videos, but when it comes to purposeful consumption, I now have this framework to apply a “long-term filter.” I may pass on the trending Twitter topic for a potentially less popular area where I see exciting opportunity. In other words, I’m working backwards from “What do I want to store in long term memory?,” to help me be more conscious of what I choose to consume, and maybe more importantly, what I choose not to.
The Path Forward
I’ve effectively created a system where I can choose what stays with me in the long-term. Having a reliable method to actually keep track of everything, rather than forgetting everything after a week, makes me so much more excited to discover and analyze new things. For one of the few times in my life, it makes learning, and following my curiosity, actually fun.
I already feel more knowledgeable, and like I’m on the right track to regain the curiosity in my life. I also hope that learning more, and creating a system that encourages me to be curious, will help me become a more interesting and thoughtful person, and maybe even help me notice exciting ideas.
In just a few weeks, I probably have more notes in my Roam than I’ve ever taken in the rest of my life combined. It’s like the concept where there’s been more data and information created by humans in the last few years than in the entire history of the world. This is like my own little cloud storage solution for my brain, rather than trying to keep everything tucked in my head, and eventually losing it.
It’s so hard to stare at a blank screen and try to come up with ideas. But, with the excitement to be curious, and to build a long-term memory store, you’re already starting way ahead. Want proof? I typed most of this post by using personal notes from my Roam database:
It Takes Work
One of my hesitations to use note-taking tools, was that there would still be a huge mental pressure on remembering where I took my notes, how I referred to certain topics, and that if I don’t do this properly, I would still risk losing my thoughts forever. I didn’t want to put in all of this effort, just to wind up exactly where I started… a mess of a mind.
In my experience, there’s partial truth to this. Yes, you can make things way easier on yourself by remembering these things, and it can get a little messy when you don’t, but everything is at least in one searchable place.
(A “smart search” that helps relate synonyms and other notes that may be similar to each other would be super cool @ Roam Research team 😁).
But, another slightly-smaller breakthrough I had was that I shouldn’t be relying on Roam or any tool to make connections in my brain for me, that’s my job. As our own individual people, we’re not differentiable by saving articles, or copy and pasting highlights from a book. We differentiate ourselves by our ability to think on our own, synthesize information, and relate ideas and concepts to each other in ways that are unique to ourselves. So, maybe our note-taking tools shouldn’t ever make these links for us, or think for us, but rather stay as-is. Sure, it can help you search for those connections, but it’s on you to establish them, and save them forever.
It’s our job to learn, be curious, make unique connections across ideas, build upon them, and create something greater. That is what is so exciting.