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Turn your notetaking into REAL learning opportunities that create the change you want

Many of my clients only used their journals for taking notes during talks, while reading books, or participating in workshops before we started working together. Because they rarely used them for reflection, intention setting, prioritizing, or planning, they didn't identify as someone who journals.

Yet, I have found that notetaking is a strong gateway practice to journaling.

While writing things down improves retention. REAL learning occurs when we are changed. And the way we take notes, or more specifically reflect on the application of new ideas, accelerates our learning.

This was one of the nuances that made the EntrepreNerds business book discussion group I used to run valuable to participants. I provided reflection questions for each book that catalyzed their application of these new concepts.

One EntrepreNerds participant, Sheila Ballofet, had retired from teaching before she started her first business. A year after joining the group she said, "what I knew about business when I joined EntrepreNerds was less than zero – it was negative...It’s been self-affirming that you can be a business person even if you didn’t get a degree in business. And, you can have the freedom to make decisions in business based on your personal style."

Not only did her confidence improve from participating in the group, but applying the insights from the books enabled her to grow a thriving business.

There was so much about EntrepreNerds that Sheila valued - the supportive community, the unique perspectives and the accountability. In addition to all that, there was one thing that really stuck with her. "This idea of keeping a notebook…it has made a world of difference in terms of what I accomplish. I don’t even use it now just for business, it has become my life"

The notebook she referred to was her journal. She wrote down interesting ideas and concepts, then she reflected on how to apply them to her business (and life). Shelia also set intentions, made plans and used her notebook to help herself stay accountable to following through.

There are four components I've identified that enable you to turn notetaking into REAL learning opportunities.


It's important for you to take these new ideas or concepts out of the theoretical and into the realm of your life. When you relate what you're hearing or reading to your own life experiences you are taking a powerful first step in being open to applying those ideas. Through relating, you're moving into a place of curiosity, opening up to new possibilities and letting go of the hypnotic comfort of the familiar.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How do these ideas or concepts relate to your personal experiences?

  • What about these ideas or concepts do you struggle to relate to and why?


Years ago, a colleague of mine was lamenting about the conference effect. You've probably experienced it. You go to a conference, or workshop and get really inspired by the plethora of great new ideas. You leave feeling completely motivated to make all these positive changes - you even have a list of the things you're going to do. You get back to your normal day-to-day and nothing changes. All those good intentions fall flat.

This is why I like to frame the things I want to do as experiments. It gives me permission to do my best and fail, without feeling like an utter failure.

I also find it really helpful to approach this piece as a brainstorming exercise. I'll list out all of my ideas for potential experiments. And if I'm really inspired by my source material, I'll have a lot of them, likely too many (but we will tackle that next).

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What experiments could you do to apply these concepts to your work/life?

  • What changes would you like to experiment with making?


When I look back at my journals, I have loads more ideas than things I've actually done. I used to let that bother me. I told myself a story that there was something wrong with me; that I wasn't good enough.

Now I accept that it's ok to not act on every single idea I have. In fact, it's better if I act from a place of intention and prioritize.

So look at your list of experiments, and choose one to start with. Make sure to identify the very next action you'll take. It's ok for that action to be a small step, in fact, your more likely to follow through if you're actions are specific and manageable.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Which experiment is the highest priority to act on?

  • Which experiment has the lowest hanging fruit that would be easiest to act on?

  • What's the very next action you can take to keep this learning and experimentation alive?


When we truly learn something new, it changes the way we look at the world and our experiences.

When asked how EntrepreNerds had changed her Sheila said, "It’s interesting, I kind of look around the city at new businesses and wonder what their vision was and how they’re pulling it off. And I think that my perspective has changed in the sense that I initially thought that I would be learning how to do things right at the beginning, and at this point I realize that I’m exploring how to do things the way that I’m comfortable with and that’s a very different paradigm”

If you really want to create the change you seek to make, it's essential that you look at things through a new lens.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • How do these ideas/concepts change the way you look at your experiences or challenges?

  • What if you apply these concepts to look at situations you're encountering differently?

If you really want to accelerate your learning and doing, share your insights with a friend. We are much more likely to follow through on our intentions when we have accountability.

Do you want to journal more but wonder if you're doing it right? Are you struggling to figure out your next steps for creating the change you want to make? Join us for the next Journal Jam, 4/27 - give yourself the gift of listening to your inner wisdom so you have the insight and direction you've been yearning for!

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