Almost Every Beginner Obsidian User Makes This Mistake

Almost Every Beginner Obsidian User Makes This Mistake

If there is one thing that makes you fail with Obsidian it's this: you come in with the wrong mindset.

That's because your mindset ultimately decides how the methods and the tool we teach to use them (Obsidian) work. It doesn't matter how good your methods are or the tool you are using them with if you don't have the correct mindset. So in this article we're going to explore:

  • The New Era Student Pyramid
  • The Five Mindsets Of The New Era Student

Be sure to read until the end because the last mindset is probably the most insightful and important to ingrain.

The New Era Student Pyramid

The new era student pyramid encapsulates the areas of importance not only when learning to take notes as a student, but for anything in life.

The pyramid shown below is from Bianca Pereira's Build Your Knowledge Portfolio Course, a course that teaches students how to build a knowledge portfolio, a collection of works--books, blog posts, academic articles, videos, etc.--that how you have the knowledge and expertise you claim you have. I highly recommend you check out her course as it has been one of the most influential in my own thinking toward PKM!

Things lower on the period that take up more space are more important, and things higher on the pyramid taking less space are less.

Mindset: the mindset that you bring to your PKM management. It will change depending on your goal. Are you trying to create essays out of your notes, study, or something else?

Methods: the procedure and workflow you use to go about doing your PKM. For example Capture, Organize, Distill, Express from Tiago Forte or Active ideation from Nick Milo.

Tools: the apps and other things you use to actionize your methods and mindset. Next time you struggle using a tool ask yourself "Is the tool hard to use, or is it just implementing a different mindset?"

Mindsets Of The New Era Student

1. Notes Are Pieces Of Understanding Rather Than Pieces Of Truth

The new era student sees their notes not as pieces of truth but rather as pieces of understanding.

Seeing notes as pieces of truth is a problem for two main reasons:

  1. It keeps people from writing down their thoughts. Thoughts are unlikely to be truth so people think they shouldn't write them down in the first place.
  2. It doesn't allow notes to evolve. When you see notes as pieces of truth, there is no reason to go back to them and grow them over time. As soon as you write them down they are finished, done.
  3. Personal notes are seen as disposable. Because personal notes have your own unpolished thinking many people see them as trash worthy in comparison to the more fleshed out work of other researchers and creators who's ideas might also be in their system.

New era students see their notes as pieces of understanding, representations of their evolving thinking.

This is great for three reasons:

  1. It allows us to avoid perfectionism and write our thoughts in the moment. We define what is good enough and stop agonizing over a note after we reach that.
  2. It allows us to see our current thinking on a field of study by looking at our notes of understanding on it. Something we can't do if we don't have any personal notes on it but rather just other peoples ideas.
  3. It allows us to be calm in the sea of uncertainty. It's natural to be uncertain when learning something new. We should be confused at points during the learning process! If we see our notes as pieces of understanding rather than pieces of truth, we can overcome the psychological strain when this occurs.

2. Create Concept Notes Over Document Notes

Most students when they take notes for class--or anything of that matter--create them in massive document notes.

The issue with document notes is they don't link well. They are too big. Linking a note called Oceanography with a note called Python doesn't create a meaningful new idea. The point of linking your knowledge is to create meaningful new knowledge and to understand old knowledge.

Linking document based notes won't foster new understanding knowledge, it will only create more confusion.

That can only happen if you take what John Mavrick and I call concept notes.

Concept notes are notes that focus on only one idea. This doesn't mean they can't be large. It means one idea is the focus of the note and the other ideas are background contextual or supporting evidence. Concept notes have the ability to be linked out to other notes because at their core they focus only on one idea.

It's through this linking together of concept notes that your knowledge connects across classes and scales across semesters.

3. Notetaking Allows You To Clarify Your Thinking

Most students when they think of notetaking think of:

  • Boredom
  • School
  • Sadness
  • Death

That's so sad, but it's not your fault. The schooling system has taught you to think this way. Most of the time we take notes we do it in the boring, awful, verbatim style that is so easy to fall into.

The new era student loves notetaking.

They love it not only because it's fun and engaging but because it helps them clarify there thoughts in a way they never thought imaginable.

Thoughts inside of the head are jumbled and confused. It's through externalizing them into the world, that the new era student gives themself the flexibility to examine and mold ideas into their existing knowledgebase.

4. Notetaking Allows You To Compound Your Thinking

Throughout school we are taught to memorize vast amounts of information so we can regurgitate it out when the testing day comes.

But this doesn't allow our ideas to grow in any way. When you externalize your thinking into notes, you allow your present self to leverage your past selves thinking. Essentially, notes are just our past selves externalized thinking.

Before notetaking, humans talked to each other through predominantly oral storytelling. Often times, a few members would build incredible memories using Mnemonics and Memory palaces to remember long stories.

Despite these incredible memory feats, oral cultures can't compound knowledge easily because their is no easy way to compound on past thinking. This is why the stepping stone in human innovation as the invention of notetaking.

Notetaking changed everything. Suddenly, we could compound knowledge on itself by writing things down instead of keeping it all in our heads; the very first Second Brains were born.

5. You Don't Have To Take Notes On Everything

Taking notes in a misinformed way can cause catastrophe, feeling the need to take notes on everything can become a form of procrastination.

Don't turn the act of creating concept notes out of every idea in school into a chore. That's a recipe for spending tens of hundreds of hours creating notes that not only don't help your understanding but are never used.

Instead, as we will say time and time again, take notes only on information that isn't USE, unimportant, self explanatory, or easy enough to memorize on the spot.

Only if I find something that isn't USE, do I consider taking notes and distilling what my Professor (I'm talking lectures here) said in my own words.

This way I don't spend countless hours taking useless notes and can spend more of my time enjoying what I'm learning.

If you liked this article, you should check out my Obsidian Beginner Resource List.

Save yourself countless hours of time and energy looking for the best Obsidian learning resources. It includes all of the resources I wish I had on Obsidian 3 years ago.