Today I’d like to talk about mindset.
I’d like to talk about the way you approach the development of your visual note-taking skills. Now, I’m making the assumption that that’s part of the reason that you’re reading this – that the act of expressing ideas in a way that uses more than words intrigues you, and that if if you haven’t already, you’d like to start experimenting with visual thinking in your own way.
Here are some of the reasons why you might want to do that. These aren’t the only benefits of visual thinking, but it’s a few of them. I think that all of the benefits of visual thinking come from that third component – the full engagement of your brain. More often than not, the visual processing power of the brain is underutilized, and that’s what you can change with visual note-taking.
But even once you’ve decided that you’d like to develop stronger ties with your visual brain, that still leaves the question – where would you like to go with that connection that you’re building? Toward what end would you like to develop your visual thinking skills.
Put another way – what goal are you working toward? Where are your steps leading?
When I think about who might be interested in developing their visual thinking skills, I imagine the intersection of two groups of people: learner and makers – folks who are dedicated to continually learning about the subject matter they’ve chosen to investigate but who are equally interested in DOING something with all of that knowledge, who want to make things and contribute to the world in a positive way. That’s my tribe. Those are the folks for whom I make videos, write blog posts, and develop resources.
The thing about us learners and makers, though, is that too often we shoot for perfection. We expect to be good at things before we’ve given ourselves the glorious opportunity to be bad at something.The beauty of being a beginner is that you see things that the experts miss. So don’t try to be perfect, just try to improve.
And I think it’s worth taking the time to consider in what direction you’d like to improve, which is really the big theme of this episode. It’s worth thinking about what you are progressing toward. Neil Gaiman expressed this idea wonderfully in a commencement address he gave a few years back. He talked about imagining your long-term goal as a mountain that you can see in the distance. That way, when opportunities present themselves, you have a way deciding which ones to say yes to. If they take you away from your mountain, turn them down. But if they move you toward your self-defined mountain then say yes and start walking.
Knowing what your mountain looks like and where it’s located helps you to avoid the trap of comparing yourself to those around you – both those in your immediate environment and those in the online world. That’s pretty important when all you have to do in hop over to Instagram or Pinterest or Twitter where you can easily find incredible artists with their beautiful hand-lettering and shading and coloring that makes you feel like your visual representations are crap, which they aren’t. Don’t compare yourself to those around you. Instead look to see whether or not you’re taking steps toward your own mountain. That’s all that matters.
By consciously paying attention to where you’d like to go, it makes it easier to make decisions along the way. To me, visual note-taking is about choosing the appropriate constraints for the situation at hand. Different combinations of text and visuals, of layout, of materials, of setting, each create a unique entryway into the subject that you’re exploring, and each of those entryways brings with it the opportunity to shed light on a different aspect of that subject.
The question, then, is this – what are the right constraints for your situation. How visual should your notes be? How colorful should your notes be? How aesthetically pleasing should your notes be? I can’t answer those questions for you. Only you can.
And you answer those questions by first defining your goals. Once you do that it becomes easier to act in such a way that leads you toward them. This is your compass. This is what allows you to approach the development of new skills with intention.
So what is your goal? Why do you want to learn how to sketch out ideas? If you can clearly answer that question then you’ll save yourself a lot of time and heartache moving forward.
After you’ve answered that question, send me the new ones that arise. What questions do you have about visual note-taking that I could address in these videos to help you move toward your goal? Let me know in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. My goal is to help you develop your skills and apply them in your own work as a student or professional. I make these videos for you, so please do let me know what else you’d like to see here.
Want To Dig Deeper?
If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.
If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.
And if you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.