Tag Archives: Self-Improvement

Commonplace Books – What They Are and Reasons to Keep One

Commonplace 1

What is a commonplace book?  Well, it seems that it is something that I’ve kept most of my life.  It isn’t a journal or diary or travel log; it is far different than those.  A journal or diary typically contain a daily record of events or business.  A travel log may contain details of various trips, purposes behind them and so on.  A commonplace book is very different in originally it would contain quotes, thoughts, proverbs and other “wisdom” that the keeper wanted to remember.  Some were copy books.  Others, like Carl Linnaeus’, organized something systematically; he  used commonplacing techniques to invent and arrange the nomenclature of his Systema Naturae.  Per Wikipedia, “Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.”

I tended to make my early versions into notebooks full (or mostly full) of little tidbits. My earlier notebooks were mostly quotes that I liked, books I wanted to read or that others recommended to me, the occasional movie title and description, and so on.   I have found that I keep different types or combinations of things in my commonplace books, depending on how my life is going at the moment or what is going on in my life.  When I have tough times, I tend to include humorous stories, funny cartoons, jokes, upbeat and inspirational quotes and websites that I find helpful.  I also have noticed my mood changes or shifts by the books that I note in my commonplace book.  I think commonplace books offer a different way to note and track changes in our lives.  I have also kept these at work as well, with the topics mirroring work I was doing, concerns I had, or things I needed to remember or to do.  Of course, with work documents, caution is advised; proprietary information must be protected. Always, always, always follow corporate policy with regard to company information.  (I am definitely not advocating information theft!) Someone following behind me may have found my tips and ideas helpful – or they may have just shredded them.

What can a commonplace book be used for?  Well, practically anything.  It can be a useful note-taking tool  while writing a book; you can keep research notes, books to use, character name ideas, location descriptions and more.  It can be useful in defining an idea – keeping all of the details flowing but allowing you to notate everything in one location.  It can be used to create a reference of inspirational quotes that you found useful – quotes specifically helpful to YOU, not necessarily everyone else.  It can be used to help organize your thoughts, your day, your studies. A combination of quotes and commentary on books read can be helpful as well.  The ideas for usage are limitless – well, perhaps limited only by imagination!  I am thinking of keeping one for my blogs;  I think it would be helpful to keep research notes, topic ideas, scheduling, and more all in one place.  Of course, I might also make that one section of a commonplace book.


Benefits of Keeping a Commonplace Book

A commonplace book may be an old idea, but definitely not outdated.  Today’s commonplace book may even look different; now, rather than writing things down, you can keep them electronically.  This allows for storage of words, images, videos, and all sorts of medias, all in one place.  Other benefits include:

  • Reinforcing learning – many people remember things better if they write things down.
  • Accumulation of information in one readily accessible location
  • Increased creativity – it can help us see patterns in various pieces of information, and help us create or discover connections.
  • Filter information – a commonplace book can help you filter the overwhelming amount of information that bombards us daily.  This is a place to record only what is significant or seems significant.
  • Organizing thoughts – basically making order out of chaos.  If you organize your thoughts in the book, you can see development and change over time; you can also see flaws in logic and so forth when you go back to previous notations

Whether you keep an electronic or a paperback version depends on what your goals are, what your preferences are, and perhaps which one is more frequently available to you.  An electronic version may allow you to include kinds of media such as videos, music, and images.  It can also be accessed from anywhere with internet access if you keep it online.  On the other hand, in a power outage, you lose access.  In addition, a paper version requires personal writing, which can aid memory.

Steps for Keeping a Commonplace Book

  1. Electronic or paper?  Choose your medium.  Weigh the benefits of both and chose the best one for your circumstances and preferences.  Blogs can be used for this, as can Pinterest and other similar sites, at least to some extent. I have also seen suggestions for Evernote, Tumnblr, and OnSwipe, among others.  Frankly, I prefer pen and paper.  For me, actually physically writing something out helps me remember things better than typing them out.  In addition, I can doodle, draw, and sketch to my heart’s delight. Others find electronic versions more appropriate or desirable.  Some of the benefits of keeping it electronically are portability, ability to combine pictures, calendars, notes, and more; in addition, electronic versions are more readily divided into sections, arranged and re-arranged.
  2. Contents?  Well, some people record quotes that they find interesting or thought-provoking.  Others use them as almost a reading journal, listing books that they want to or do read, thoughts on what they’ve read, and reactions to the reading.  Other people record recipes, notes, ideas, life lessons, heroes, song lyrics, clippings from newspapers, and important pictures. There are people who create music commonplace books,
  3. Another thing to consider is organization.  If you don’t organize your book in some way, you will struggle to find any information when you want it.  One idea is a section for list of books to read, another for quotes from the book, and interpretations and other material.    Ways to create sections depend on the medium you are using; there are tabs (permanent and sticky-note type) that you can add to blank books, you can use tabs in 3-ring notebooks, and you can break up blogs into pages or use labels/tags as well.  Organize before you start writing; trust me, it is easier this way!  I didn’t do this with my early versions and I found them difficult to work with in the end.  Some people organize their books by project.  Others use their commonplace books as devotional work, research records, or work toward a book.

Well-known People Who Kept Commonplace Books

H. P. Lovecraft

John Locke

Francis Bacon

E. M. Forster –

  • Clarissa Harlowe. Have read 1/3 of. Long books, when read, are usually overpraised, because the reader wants to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.”
    (E.M. Forster in 1926, excerpt from Commonplace Book, ed. by Philip Gardner. Stanford Univ. Press, 1988)

Victor Hugo

Washington Irving

John Hancock

Commonplace 2


My current commonplace book is a Miquelrius notebook with a soft leather cover.  At the moment it is rather similar to a day planner, with calendars added in by me and notes on weekly activities.  However, it is much more than that.  I have made note of sites that I’ve found helpful over approximately the last eight months (like PopClogs), as well as inspirational quotes and things that I need to remember.  I’ve noted my daughter’s height and weight changes between visits to her doctor, which has shown that she is steadily growing, not too fast and not too slow.  I’ve included lists of books that I’ve checked out and enjoyed, books that I want to buy eventually, and books that others have recommended to me.  All in all, it is a convenient bundle of information, readily accessible anytime it is needed.


Suggested reading and sources of information for this article:

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Filed under Reference, Self-Improvement, Uncategorized, Writing

100 More Random Acts of Kindness

  1. Make lap afghans for a nursing home.
  2. Hug your loved ones.
  3. Offer someone your seat on the bus.
  4. Leave money in the vending machine.
  5. Say thank you.
  6. Give someone a compliment.
  7. Buy dessert for someone eating alone.
  8. Give an inspiring book to a struggling friend.
  9. Send someone a nice note.
  10. Say I love you.
  11. Let someone get in line in front of you.
  12. Don’t gossip.
  13. Hold the elevator.
  14. Donate your professional skills.
  15. Donate blood.
  16. Speak gently.
  17. Bake cookies for city workers.
  18. Take a special treat to co-workers.
  19. Tell your children why you love them.
  20. Volunteer at school.
  21. Adopt a shelter pet.
  22. Foster a pet.
  23. Plant flowers for someone.
  24. Forgive someone.
  25. Give your children stickers.
  26. Do a craft with a child.
  27. Write a letter to former teachers.
  28. Plant a tree.
  29. Buy a cold drink for someone at the park.
  30. Return a cart for someone at the grocery store.
  31. Crochet a blanket for the homeless.
  32. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
  33. Donate clothes.
  34. Donate toys.
  35. Donate books.
  36. Give care packs to the homeless (deodorant, tooth-brush, brush, snacks, etc.)
  37. Help someone for free.
  38. Use less plastic.
  39. Be a designated driver.
  40. Be kind to someone you dislike; you never know what problem they face.
  41. Donate $1 the next time you have an opportunity.
  42. Donate a haircut.
  43. Give out free popsicles.
  44. Be a role model.
  45. Give school bus driver a thank you.
  46. Praise a parent for how well-behaved or how well their child does something.
  47. Put gas in someone’s car.
  48. Pat someone on the back.
  49. Help someone move.
  50. Cheer someone on.
  51. Share a snack.
  52. Give a child a special treat.
  53. Be positive.
  54. Ask if you can help.
  55. Be polite online.
  56. Send a random person a gift on Amazon.
  57. Give a child a card with money.
  58. Arrange a neighborhood clean-up day.
  59. Pay for he person behind you at a toll booth.
  60. Leave your finished book or magazine on the plane.
  61. Leave a balloon on a friend’s porch.
  62. Let someone go in front of you at the store.
  63. Leave a pretty journal in a dorm or library.
  64. Sing Christmas carols at a nursing home.
  65. Don’t nag.
  66. Shovel a neighbor’s walk.
  67. Praise a child doing the right thing – and his/her parents.
  68. Don’t complain.
  69. Bake a cake for the birthday person.
  70. Say hello!
  71. Buy what the neighbor’s child is selling.
  72. Be understanding.
  73. Listen to someone’s life story.
  74. Give a glowing recommendation.
  75. Ask family members to do something nice for one other person in honor of your birthday.
  76. Hand out gift cards to people going into a coffee shop.
  77. Deliver old blankets/towels to animal shelters.
  78. Leave a wake-up surprise next to family member’s beds.
  79. Work at a food bank.
  80. Warm a blanket in the dryer for your child.
  81. Set up your child’s favorite game and play it with them.
  82. Hide a dollar in your child’s pocket.
  83. Leave diapers and wipes on a changing table.
  84. Let your child stay up a little.
  85. Send your spouse out when they need a break.
  86. Call your parents just to say you love them.
  87. Leave doggie treats at a dog park.
  88. Make someone laugh.
  89. Be nice to customer service.
  90. Leave reusable bags in a shopping cart.
  91. Teach someone how to do something.
  92. Put your change in Ronald McDonald box at a McDonald’s restaurant.
  93. Buy a few iTunes gift cards and give them to teens listening to iPods.
  94. Write a letter of appreciation to your parents.
  95. Take goodies to school office staff.
  96. Write a letter of appreciation to corporate when you receive really good service at a restaurant.
  97. Give directions.
  98. Stop and help someone who looks lost.
  99. Get water for a delivery driver on a hot day.
  100. Just hold someone’s hand when they are upset.

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Filed under Gifts, Lists, Self-Improvement, Uncategorized

52 Ways to Say I Love You

  1. Take the time to really listen to those closest to you.  Listen – don’t necessarily rush in to fix things;  sometimes people just need a friendly, attentive ear.
  2. If there is a chore the person really dislikes, take over doing it – permanently or for a set period of time.
  3. Cook a favorite meal.
  4. Leave love notes for your favorite person (people) to find throughout the day.
  5. If you have children, take a day to do things that they enjoy.  Do what they want to do: go to the park, the zoo, the library.  Make a special meal or allow them to chose what’s for dinner (or lunch or breakfast).
  6. Write a love letter to your spouse and describe all the things that you love about them.
  7. Write a thank you letter to your spouse’s parents, thanking them for sharing such a wonderful person with you.
  8. Be supportive – if someone you love is having a tough time, do what you can to make things easier.  Take an interest in their hobby and ask questions.  Run errands if it will lighten their burden.  Surprise them with a hot, home-cooked meal.
  9. Overlook faults!
  10. Cuddle together under a blanket while watching a movie.
  11. Take a weekend vacation at home – and really make it a vacation.  Discourage your partner to forget the chores for the duration of the vacation.
  12. Arrange a surprise weekend for your spouse – and arrange for grandparents to take the children.
  13. Make dinner reservations at their favorite place.
  14. Let him enjoy his favorite sports day – or let her enjoy hers – in peace!
  15. If she’s into musicals, watch “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” “Funny Girl,” or other similar, romantic musicals with her.
  16. If he or she is not a car person, make sure the car is serviced for them.
  17. If she loves pens, buy her a nice fountain pen.
  18. For a gamer – if you aren’t one – ask friends which games would be good gifts.
  19. Admit it when someone you love is right.
  20. Get dinner from their favorite restaurant.
  21. Run a bath for your lover.
  22. Place chocolates on his or her pillow!
  23. If you love your partner, STOP trying to change them!
  24. Arrange for a weekend in a bed and breakfast, away from the buzz of everyday life.
  25. Hold hands.
  26. Take your partner – or your children – to lunch.
  27. For friend, find gifts that are really suited to their interests.  Take the time to go out of your way to do it.
  28. Change a bad habit that drives your partner crazy.
  29. Arrange a “midnight snack” by moonlight – wine, cheese, bread under the stars.
  30. Hire a maid, even if it is only a one-time thing.
  31. Hire a chef, even if it is only a one-time thing.
  32. Set up his or her tee time – voluntarily!
  33. Buy her a nice wrap – or something cozy – in the winter.
  34. Buy him tickets to a big sports event.
  35. Call in sick for them – and make sure they’ll have a peaceful day.
  36. For readers – buy them meaningful bookmarks, something that reflects their interests or something with a meaningful quote.
  37. Write a thank you card for your partner, or for your children or parents.
  38. For two weeks, spend one hour a night with your spouse.
  39. Learn to give a good massage.
  40. Learn to rub feet.
  41. For plant lovers, find an unusual plant that you know they would be interested in.
  42. Share funny things you find with friends.
  43. Reach out to those around you, in tough times as well as easy ones.
  44. Email, write letters, call people you don’t see often.
  45. Devote yourself to your spouse’s needs and/or wants for a night or a weekend.
  46. Rent a honeymoon suite for the weekend.
  47. Put “I love you” notes in your child’s lunch.
  48. Give yourself a weekend off.
  49. Stop the craziness of your life long enough to have family night once a week.
  50. Be kind.
  51. Empathize – put yourself in someone else’s shoes and respond appropriately to them.
  52. Try hard to be nonjudgemental for a week and see what happens!

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Filed under Family, Gifts, Relationships

Resolutions? Throw those things out!

How many years have you set resolutions in January only to give them up within the first week or two? How frustrated do you get at setting them and failing so early to complete any of them?

Something I’ve found that works better is to set goals. I know it sounds like semantics – “resolutions,” “goals,” whatever – but there IS a difference. Goals are defined as “the purpose toward which an endeavor is directed; an objective.” Resolutions are defined as:

1. A resolving to do something.
2. A course of action determined or decided on”

The problem with resolutions is that they generally simply represent a desire to do something, to achieve something, but with no plan of action. As a result, a few weeks after setting your “resolutions”, you’re off the path completely. When you set up goals, you generally also come up with smaller steps that will help you achieve the goal – a plan of action. With a plan of action, you can see when you drift off the path sooner and decide more clearly if you need to adjust your goal or what you need to do to actually achieve your goal.

When you are setting your goals for the year (or whatever time frame you chose), consider areas of your life that you would like to work on, improve, or change.  Some areas frequently on that list include Work, Personal/ Relationships, Family, Social, Spiritual, Exercise/Weight Loss.

One method I’ve found helpful in setting up goals is to make “SMART” goals. SMART goals are generally considered to be:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

S: are your goals specific, rather than vague? If they are too vague, there will be no way to know when you’ve achieved them. To make a specific goal, make sure that you include what you want to achieve, when you want to achieve it by, and how you will achieve it.

M: are your goals measurable? If they are, anyone should be able to look at your progress and determine if you’ve achieved your goal. For example, “I want to learn to dance” is vague and immeasurable; most of us are born being able to “dance” (i.e., rock back and forth to music). A smarter goal would be “I want to learn to foxtrot by January 1, 2010.”

A: are your goals attainable? That is, can you achieve them realistically? It is a good thing to have goals that stretch you, that take you out of your comfort zone, but it is possible to set your goal in such a way that it isn’t realistic. For example, a person with a goal of “I want to be a professional dancer in six months” isn’t likely to achieve that goal if he’s the average person on the street. A more attainable goal for the average person would be “I want to dance a waltz at my daughter’s wedding in six months.” On the other hand, don’t set your goals too low either – a goal should challenge you to some extent, otherwise you’ll get bored with it.

R: are your goals realistic? Are they results-oriented? Are they reasonable? If they aren’t relevant to you, to your purpose in life or your belief system, then you aren’t likely to achieve them. For example, you may love commenting on football games to your friends, but do you really have the knowledge of all the positions, the training, and so forth to fill the air during a real game? Or, you may really enjoy cooking and do it well, but do you really have what it takes to run a successful big city restaurant?

T: are your goals time-based? Do you have a time frame for each one? If not, there is no motivation to get moving, no sense of urgency, no reason to take action today. An example of a time-based goal would be something along the lines of “I want to read one classic book a month for 12 months” or “I want to read one classic book each month from January to December 2009.”

Regardless of what you call them, they can really be motivating and stimulating, if done properly! Go out … and DO IT!

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Filed under Goals, Self-Improvement

Really Good Websites (October 2008)

It is that time again – well, actually, well past that time, but hey, I’ve got a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old.  I’m doing my best!  I’ve got a list of fifteen interesting, excellent, useful, weird, and/or wonderful websites to share.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. TypeRacer – a useful site that will help you build typing speed in a competitive environment.  In addition, you can add it to MySpace, or so they say, so you can race your friends.  I joined and I’ve been enjoying this for a while each night.
  2. The Simple Dollar:  in particular, this article:  http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/02/06/little-steps-100-great-tips-for-saving-money-for-those-just-getting-started  .  This site has some great articles and wonderful advice for those trying to save some money.
  3. Zen Habits – ok, I know I’ve mentioned this site before; it bears repeating.  This is a wonderful article for those trying to pinch pennies.  I highly recommend looking at the site overall.
  4. The Dollar Stretcher – I found some great ideas here.  There is a wide variety of information: articles on whether to sell the truck or not,  credit card tips for college students, 401(k) considerations, home furnishings, and 8 ways to consolidate debt.  I recommend taking a look; not everything will appeal to everyone and – as always, for serious issues, consider the source and think about whether you need more research.  Still, I think this is a good source for ideas.
  5. Being Frugal – here is a GREAT source of information, tips, and advice.  This is actually a reference to a specific article, but I found the home a good source of information too.  Poke around, check it out, do some reading.  I expect that all of us, regardless of income and financial situation, could use ways to save some money.
  6. The Frugal Law Student – I found this article particularly helpful.  It contains tips the author found through articles, blogs, etc., on ways to save money.  You should certainly be able to find SOME that apply to you, or some that you find helpful here.    In terms of the blog itself, there are sections on Law School, Frugality, Personal Finance, Productivity, and Career.  I highly recommend taking a look at it.
  7. Homeschool.com – as a parent, I found this a particularly interesting site.  I fully intend to spend some time browsing there, once I find a few minutes.  This article on the top 100 Educational Sites is very good.
  8. Solve Your Problem – this site has self-improvement, self-help, and personal growth articles.  I can’t vouch for everything – there is simply too much to see and read.  However, I will say that there is a lot of information/advice/etc.  there.

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Filed under Lists, Review, Writing

Expand Your Horizons: Try One New Thing a Week for a Year

I have decided to expand my horizons. I am trying one new thing each week. Some are life-style changes (eating more vegetables, meditation) and some are small (learning to do anagrams, doing crossword puzzles). I think that it is very important to stretch yourself. It is important to stay active both physically and mentally to stay sharp mentally.

I got this idea from 43 Things (here) and I have found that it is a great way to stimulate personal growth. I’m also finding out more about myself – what I enjoy and what I don’t, what foods and beverages I like and what I don’t. Since one of my ongoing goals is to get to know myself better, I’m also working toward another goal while working on this one.

Another benefit of this is that expanding your experiences can benefit your overall outlook. According to part of an article in Time (here), people who have a range of experiences and try new things are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize the negative than people who have fewer experiences.
If you are afraid to try new things, try breaking the process down into smaller steps. Take one step at a time. If that doesn’t work, try something a little more familiar but still new. Basically, this can also be a good way to face your fears as well as expand your horizons. If you are afraid if heights, try something like riding in a hot-air balloon or simply going to the top of a well-known building or monument (the Washington Monument or the Empire State Building come to mind). If you are afraid of doing things alone, try something simple like a walk in the park or a lunch in your favorite restaurant. Take along a book. The fear is frequently worse than actually doing the action.

Examples of things that I’ve done since I started this are:

  1. Sudoku – I tried these puzzles but it just isn’t my thing.
  2. Reading historical speeches: I decided I wanted to read the complete “I Have a Dream” speech, as well as the “Pearl Harbor” speech, and a number of others.
  3. A genre of book that I had not read before: political autobiography. I read Colin Powell’s My American Journey. It was far more interesting than I anticipated.
  4. I tried a Galia melon. I had never had one before; it was interesting. It looks like a cantaloupe but tastes (to me) more like honeydew.
  5. Playing around with photography – this is fun since I have a digital camera and I just delete the pictures that I don’t like or that don’t turn out well.

I admit that I haven’t really tried anything big so far – but the things I’ve done are things that are easy to work into my life and schedule. Right now, that is very important. I have an infant and I have to work around her schedule and needs right now. I also find trying new things to be good for my mental health right now as well – it gives me something to look forward to each week, as well as a break from daily routines and ruts into which I’ve fallen.  At any rate, I highly recommend trying this.  You never know…you might find out something surprising about yourself!

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Setting Goals for Yourself

I’ve found that I am much more productive if I set concrete goals for myself at different levels: weekly, monthly, and yearly. I also tend to have a few longer-term goals than that, such as earning my college degree, but they do tend to be fewer. I’ve found that if I start with long term goals, I can usually break them into smaller steps, then break them down again as much as I need to in order to get them to more manageable size.

For example, I am working toward my college degree. I started this years ago, but got sidetracked when I left the engineering program I was in; I got caught up in day to day life. So, about 4 years ago, I set the goal of finally completing my degree.

Then I broke it down into steps:

  1. Go to community college and take a few classes to see if I could really settle down and be serious about this.
  2. Determine what I want to study.
  3. Find out what is required to graduate with a 2-year degree in that and start classes.
  4. Talk to an advisor about my course of action and the required courses and ensure that my major will transfer to a four-year school.
  5. Break down semester which courses I need and take them.
  6. Find out what I need to do to transfer to the four-year school and then do it.

This sounds obvious, but it isn’t always: take a really big goal and break it down into steps. Think of it this way: “What can I do to work toward that this year? How about by month? How about each week?” It can make overwhelming goals easier to face and to achieve.

Something else to think about is setting goals for different parts of your life. I’ve got goals for education, my spiritual life, my family life, self-improvement, physical fitness, emotional well-being, and so on. Think of different areas of your life that you would like to improve and set goals for each. They certainly don’t have to be major life-changing goals like getting a college degree or changing careers; they could be as simple as “read a classic book once a month” or “learn to cook one new healthy recipe a week.”

Sites that I’ve found that may be useful:

  • 43 Things (one of my favorites)
  • My Goals (I haven’t actually used this site but it sounds interesting)

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Filed under College, Goals