Maurice Gibbons (c) 2008 Personal Power Press International
In the next few sections, I will introduce you to a set of basic tools in journal keeping that all work together to produce highly productive results in any field of activity you choose. The magic is that if we use any one of them, it will increase our effectiveness, but if we use them all together, they will multiply our productivity. We will use journaling as a way of introducing you to the basic skills and processes of self-direction. Let’s begin with an outline of these tools so that you can see I what I mean.
The Story of Being Productive
We begin by gathering information and ideas that interest us and writing them down in our journals. They can come from any source. We use them, as poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “to fill the deep well of meaning” from which we will draw to nourish our own thinking and activities. And that leads us to the second tool which is generating our own information and ideas. We will learn to observe, think and create, and from the ideas that we produce, we will find the one idea or the group of ideas, that urges us to take action.
The first phase is gathering and generating information and ideas; the second phase is planning and taking action. We begin the second phase by focusing on the product or results we want to achieve, and then planning strategically to achieve them in the richest, most efficient possible way. With our plan to guide us, we then take action and record the steps we take, the successes and the problems we face and overcome, until the work is complete.
The third phase, reflection, is the key to improvement. First, we reflect on the process we used and identify what we did skillfully and the things that worked so well we want to repeat them. We also want to find those things that we can improve on. Each time we act we want to find at least one step we can take to be more effective, and to name it. Next, we reflect on ourselves – our attitudes, persistence, courage and style – the personal characteristics that enhanced our success, and those that limited our effectiveness. Again, we want to identify one personal characteristic to improve, and to develop strategies to make sure that we do. Taking these small steps forward will accumulate quickly and lead us to an upward spiral of success in any activity we undertake.
So there it is, an outline of the story of self-directed productivity, as we will record it in our journals: ideas, action and reflection. We will plunge into our first project using this process in a moment, but first I want to help you get focused on your personal interests.
Many of us are used to being told what to do by parents, teachers, bosses, leaders and many others. Self-direction, however, is us telling ourselves what to do. Many of us have voices of authorities recorded from the past but still ringing in our heads advising us, directing us, even threatening us with directions on what to do. Many of us have been so obedient to these ghosts, we have lost touch with the core of ourselves, our own dreams, desires, drives and judgments. To be self-directed we have to confront these voices and get past them to our own decisions for ourselves. Finding and developing our essential selves is the underlying work of this program.
From time to time we will introduce activities to help you to focus on your own interests, with the end in view that you will be equipped, as Joseph Campbell urged us all, to ‘follow your bliss.’
So let’s start with an activity I derived from Julia Campbell’s ‘open pages.’ In her book, The Artist’s Way, she advises us to begin every day by writing open pages, three pages written without stopping or editing, so that our authentic voice can speak. My version is a ‘focused page,’ in which I invite you to write at least one page focused on the general theme, “I am interested in...” Please write that page now, and write without pre planning, without stopping, and without editing, so that your authentic voice can speak.
Finished? When you have, see what interests have emerged. Identify them and comment on them. They may be a helpful guide in the next activity as we begin to use the tools of the production process.
Gathering: Developing Knowledge Power
Knowing gives you power. I like the statement made by a young archaeologist’s grandfather who sent him money when he was an undergraduate and told him to spend it on his education not his schooling, “because it’s important to know something about everything, but vital to know everything about something.” So that’s our theme here, to be interested in everything, but very interested in something. In other words, when you’re gathering, let your interests range widely, but also find that field that is a core interest and learn all you can about it. Go out far and in deep, with the intention of becoming both generally informed and expert. You will be amazed at how often the knowledge about a related field becomes directly applied in ideas about your central field of interest, for instance, how knowledge about medicine, history, classification, decoration, design and painting can relate to a central interest in plants and gardening. Or just think how many fields are related and could be related to starting a successful small business.
Now let’s turn to gathering information and ideas. Your journal should be rich in quotations and summaries. Whenever you find an interesting idea, get it down, no matter where it comes from – a newspaper, a book, a movie or a conversation. Try to write it down exactly, and add where it’s from. You may want to go back and read more, or quote it for some reason later. It may be brief. I remember reading Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and coming across the statement, “Myth is depersonalized dream, and dream is personalized myth.” I wrote it down right away. That simple statement provoked me then and provokes me still. I remember wondering if I could use this idea to connect self-directed learning with the themes of myth and literature. I remember later thinking about the connections between dream, myth, ritual and culture until my head hurt. You can see that this is my interest – a little academic, because that’s part of who I am, but the same principle applies to everything from welding to neurosurgery. As I said, the quotes you choose may be brief, but every once in a while you will strike pay dirt and the whole article, book or speech is so rich in useful, interesting or provocative ideas, you want to record a lot of passages from it. In such cases, you may choose to summarize the whole piece as I ended up doing with Campbell’s great – to me – book. In fact, in the 17th and 18th centuries, keeping what was called a commonplace book, in which you wrote down key passages from important books, was the way to learn.
A few skills will help you to gather information and ideas. Copying is the easiest skill. Simply pay attention to getting the idea down. Summarizing is more challenging, since this is representing the ideas of someone likely knowledgeable and articulate expressed in your words. I always try to remember that summarizing an idea is the best way to learn it, so I’m doing more than copying, I’m selecting, analyzing and summarizing, in order to understand and remember the idea.
The big skill though is selecting what you are going to keep. You want your journal to be full of great stuff; you want treasure. Looking for it helps. If you aren’t looking for treasure, you will likely walk right past it every time. But, when your antennae are up and scanning for good ideas, your chances increase. If you go in search, your chances are better. If you know enough to know what you are looking for, they are even better. I often go in search, asking “Where is the best information about wood sculpture – one of my interests – going to be?”
I talk to sculptors. A native sculptor told me, “You need a story. All my sculptures are from the stories of my people. What is the story of your people? What is your story?” You can bet that is in my journal, and used in my work. I also use the Internet, the library, journals and books to search for the best ideas and information. Once you get focused on a field, go in search.
This is all like school, with a wonderful difference. This is about your program, not someone else’s– unless you say your core interest is investing and you enroll in a course to learn about it (but even as a student, I follow my goals, not theirs). It’s not only your program, it’s your selection of materials, for your purposes pursued in your special way. It’s never clearer than in this section that this whole process is about learning what you want to learn, doing what you want to do, becoming what you want to become. As you go forward, you are educating yourself.
This is wandering a bit, but please stay with me; there is so much I want to tell you, the central column of my meaning springs leaks and shoots out to the sides sometimes. I’m trying to squelch my academic voice and just talk to you like a friend who I want to enjoy the benefits of these special ways of knowing, doing, and becoming. So please be patient and ‘piece out my imperfections with your thoughts.’
Soooo, get your antennae up for interesting facts, thoughts, ideas, models, plans, theories, observations, hypotheses, experimental data, findings, arguments, designs, models, comments, and aphorisms – wherever they may be. Start selecting interesting statements, search for them and get them down in your journal. Don’t forget to add where they are from. Make this a treasure, the best book you will ever read, and you will be the author. When you find a worthy item, I urge you to get it down right away or it will be gone.
Here I go again with an add-on. We have to ask, “What drives this search for knowing?” The answer begins with interest, desire and passion; but that grows over time. It begins with your interest cultivated into curiosity. I say cultivated because it’s learned. We choose to be too-cool-to-care or too-passionate-to-stop. I’m urging you to get on the escalator to passion. Be curious. Start asking questions and seeking answers. We are always at war with indifference and inertia. Get going; go to war with resistance; be a warrior for yourself, your own achievement and becoming. Be capable of awe, and if you falter, simply wait for night, go outside and look up. The energy that drives this program is wonder. Just do it! And if you can’t, then fake it until ‘your motions create the emotions.’
Good luck...No, good power! Gather your power.
Please pause now to go gathering information and ideas. Follow your interests. You may find the focus page you just wrote a useful guide. Search for a few ideas –say six at least—and get them down. Then, in the future, be alert for good ideas and get them down from where ever and when ever you find them. The magic is, as soon as you have a gathering of rich ideas, you will already be in a new place and you will already be looking for richer stuff because you are beginning to know.
Here are a few random examples from my journals. Remember that I am following my interests, that include writing, sculpting and teaching—so your selections may be very different:
* Speculating can be a handy tool on the road to riches. Build in speculation as part—a fifth—of a diversified [investment] program. from James J. Cramer. Cramer’s Real Money. p. 25.
* I’m sculpting a female figure suspended on a pin like an insect specimen, but Robert invited me to coffee and urged me to reconsider. “A sculpture,” he said, “ should be from the heart. With that pin through her body, you are making a statement, a harsh statement, a lecture in which your mind has overwhelmed your heart. Why not leave out the pin, leave her suspended, make the piece ambiguous and invite viewers to make it their own.
* ....all of life comes to us in narrative forms...it’s a story we tell....Its all invented, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life. Zander. The Art of Possibility, pp. 9-12