As a kid, I was addicted to video games and YouTube like a fish is addicted to water.
Every day after school, I would sprint to my room faster than Usain Bolt and boot up the computer, sometimes playing upwards of seven hours a day. I wondered what drew me so much to these virtual environments? The reason was simple.
The real world didn't provide the carefully designed pleasures, the thrilling challenges, and the powerful social bonding I could get in games. The real world was serving me plain broccoli, while games were serving me a delicious pizza.
In games I could fully embrace my childhood curiosity and playfulness in complete contrast to my offline pursuits like school.
School killed my childhood curiosity. In school, I was forced to do endless assignments, tests, essays, quizzes, homework. Instead of learning for the sake of learning in itself I learned to get the best grade on the test.
But the worst part about school by far, was the notetaking. Notetaking brought these thoughts to my head:
You’re in the same boat as me.
You have some sort of passions outside of school. For me it was gaming but for you it might be anime, drawing, or if your aspiring to be like Naruto, practicing martial arts. In comparison, school doesn't provide the same level of engagement we get in our hobbies.
The next question is why.
I believe one of the main reasons is students today are becoming what we call cookie cutter students. Tell me if this sounds familiar, like a bad cause of deja-vu: taking notes in class I would copy exactly what the professor said verbatim. To study for tests later on I would read my notes passively.
For most of my life I have been a cookie cutter student which had three insidious effects:
- My knowledge base became a cookie cutter version of all the other students taking notes in the same way. There was none of my own authentic personality inside of the notes. I had no stake in my ideas. I didn't care about learning, only about getting the best grade on the next test.
- Studying dominated my life. In a desperate attempt to achieve an A+ on everything I would have to spend hours studying to make up for my passive studying techniques. It was like trying to climb Mount Everest with flip flops. I lost out on time for exercise, relationships, and eating large large amounts of peanut butter.
- My learning was siloed from semester to semester. Not only did my notes have none of my authentic touch, but they also didn't connect together from class to class over semester to semester. In effect, every semester was like starting with a blank slate. None of my past work helped me in the future.
Here's the issue: in the digital age your perspective matters more than your rote knowledge. There is more information than ever before. We live in a paradox of abundance. The quality of good information is getting higher while at the same time the quality of bad information is getting worse.
As AI systems get better and better and more and more tasks get automated your unique perspective as a human being is becoming more and more important. Your hobbies, skills, abilities, relationships, and so much more combine to form something no other human being has.
But traditional schooling is still built on an industrial era model. It's trying to make you into the perfect factory worker, sucking away your unique perspective and draining your passion for school.
Let's change that.
I knew I needed to find a way to make my schoolwork more engaging. Because unlike in my video games, my offline pursuits could create long lasting value in the real world. And if I didn't, video games would continue to consume my life.
One day during my Junior year of high school I was wandering around my basement in sadness. Suddenly, a video from Ali Abdaal popped up in my recommended. It was a review of an online cohort course called Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte.
Ali described the main learnings he took away from the course including mindsets and workflows. Out of the entire video, two things intrigued me most.
- He explained that by building a second brain, a digital, externalized, central repository for the ideas that resonate with you and the resources from which they come from, you can make your past self work for you. Your past work becomes the building block of future projects allowing your knowledge to experience a beautiful compounding effect. It's like having a personal butler for your brain.
- He described building a second brain like a game, a game in learning the best way to capture, organize, distill, and express knowledge in the way that makes most sense to you.
By the time I finished the video I was standing completely still, jaw open. What Ali was describing was a game.
If there was one thing I knew then, it's that I love games.
This led me down my path in PKM today and eventually to discovering Obsidian and creating what I and John call Conceptual Notemaking.
We will go much further into Conceptual Notemaking during the second part of the course but here it is in sum.
Conceptual notemaking is a form notemaking--a term coined by fellow PKMer Nick Milo--which involves taking notes in ones own words. It uses concepts as the fundamental unit of knowledge management. Instead of notetaking predominantly through sequential format on exactly what the professor says, you take notes on individual concepts and link them together.
This brings us to one of the most important points of this course. If you take nothing else, take this.
There are no rigid disciplines in the universe, only concepts.
Biology, Anthropology, Statistics, History, Phycology (the study of Algae, not joking), etc. They are disciplines that all take highly related concepts and connect them together.
But there's nothing stopping you from connecting a note from Biology to one on History. For example, a note on how the historical Royal English practice of incest led to the famous "long chin" because inbreeding has a higher chance of negative recessive traits revealing themselves. In traditional notetaking the Royal English Family line would probably be an isolated note taken during a history lecture. But with conceptual notemaking we can link it together with the concept of recessive traits from biology to come up with a hilarious insight.
Conceptual notemaking helps fight the three insidious effects from being a Cookie Cutter Student mentioned earlier.
- It makes you more engaged in your learning. You add your own unique personality, background, flare, spunk, whatever you want to call it into your notes. Your knowledge is unique compared to other students. You add your own unique sauce to your burger.
- It lessons the need for incessant studying. The brain doesn't learn by siloing information into rigid folders. It learns through connecting new information to past. Emulating this process using conceptual notemaking means you learn the material better the first time.
- You never have to start from scratch again. Your notes will start to connect class to class, semester to semester. Instead of starting with a blank slate each semester, your knowledge will compound on itself.
Through adopting conceptual notemaking into my life, I wake up every day with a wonder and curiosity for what new things I will learn. My video game addiction is no longer an issue.
Real life has become the most fun game imaginable.
If you resonated with this post you should check out my free email course: 3 Days to Lecture Notetaking Mastery In Obsidian.
By the end of this free email course, you will:
- Have a systemized process for notetaking and studying from your lectures
- Understand how to build a knowledgebase that scales across classes and semesters
- Be amazed that you did it all in 3 days