Avoidable as it may seem, at some point in every life's journey we transition to adulthood, leaving behind one of the most important aspects of childhood:
Our sense of wonder.
As children we ask "why" and "how" about everything to everyone who will listen. Why does that teapot squeal? How is that rainbow made? Why did that light bulb burn out? The endless questions flow until parents, frustrated by the sensation of falling into a bottomless pit of curiosity, demand that we stop. We eventually relent... But we continue wondering.
We continue wondering until we get caught up in life and school and friends. We keep questioning until we become preoccupied with love and bills and child-rearing. Then, one day, our own children begin questioning us, asking "why" until we too either demand they stop or admit we don't know everything. But we're adults now, and we don't like to admit what we don't know. Here's the thing:
It's time to admit what we don't know.
Why? Because admitting our ignorance opens the door to education. Recognizing our inexperience lets us breath in a fresh perspective. The world is full of objects and adventures that are far too easy to take for granted. Each has their own story to tell and each can teach us something new. Asking simple, childlike questions like "why" and "how" will bring back a sense of wonder that is so critical to new knowledge and understanding.
Of course, not all questions are interesting to everyone. That's OK. Those aren't worth our time because they won't inspire us to learn... and forcing ourselves to learn is a sure way to forget. Uninteresting and unused knowledge atrophies quickly. It is as important to seek answers as it is to find those questions that inspire us.
Once the questions start bubbling in, how are they to be handled? We're busy people, and stopping on a whim to research every new topic of interest isn't feasible. Herein lies the importance of keeping what I will call a discovery journal.
The Discovery Journal
A discovery journal is a notebook containing two simple sections: first, a list of questions and second, answers. It's a way to capture those moments of wonder throughout the day, satisfying your intellectual curiosities. Simply ask a question and write it down in your list. You don't have to research it right away. Just enter it in your journal and come back to it later.
Keeping a discovery journal will likely inspire many good questions and help you better understand your surroundings. It's a way to keep fresh eyes on the world. It's a tool to learn something new each day. It's a method to remind yourself to ask how things work, why things are the way they are, and whether they should be that way. Finally, a discovery journal is a way to mature your mind and enlighten yourself daily. By keeping one, you'll organically grow an encyclopedia of personal reference topics pertaining to your own life and experiences.
A discovery journal can be kept digitally, in a notebook, on a set of index cards, or on a stack of napkins--it doesn't matter. Having something that works consistently for you is more important than its form. Without this consistency, you may forget an important question that brings insight and meaning. The difficulty in keeping such a journal lies in remembering to ask questions, not in writing them down... And if you can't write them down this new habit will never form.
As your questions stack up, find a free moment to pour through your list and choose an inspiring one to research. Make an effort to truly understand and fill your discovery journal with this newfound knowledge. Some tips I've found useful while maintaining a discovery journal:
- You're done researching when you have a good enough understanding to explain the answer to your question to someone else. If the question you asked was an itch, your research should have scratched it.
- As you research, more questions will come to mind. If you have time, go ahead and dig deeper. If not, capture them in your discovery journal.
- For paper journals, Bullet Journaling is a useful method that works well for this application. For digital journals, I highly recommend Evernote.
- If you are using a paper journal, note the page number for your answer so you can come back to it in the future. If digital, just link it.
- Don't just paste a link to the wikipedia entry on your topic. That's a reference, and you are trying to find true understanding.
- Keep the questions simple and answerable, and never stop asking.
We once asked my high school chemistry teacher if he forced his children to learn chemistry. His answer? "No, I place chemistry posters and books all around the house and teach them what they want to know when they ask." He understood that we learn more when we're the ones asking the questions. He understood that we learn best when we have the desire to learn.
Keeping a discovery journal creates that desire while helping us become aware of blind spots in our knowledge. It inspires us to learn and find meaningful answers in our own lives. Without asking questions, we will get by just fine. But if we do, and if we make every effort to seek answers, our sense of wonder will once again grow strong, our experiences will take on more meaning, and we may find ourselves living a richer life.
Try keeping a discovery journal for a while and let us know if you agree in the comments below!
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About the Author
CO-FOUNDER | TECHNOLOGY, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, MARKETING, AND SALES
Michael Mehlberg helps small businesses owners achieve their goals and live their passion. His approach to technology, corporate strategy, product development, marketing, and sales is both practical and highly effective, and has helped multiple small businesses grow into the company their owners envisioned. Reach out by emailing him at email@example.com or learn more on our About page.