Monthly Archives: February 2010
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Scott Young of ScottYoung.com.
In high school, I rarely studied. Despite that, I graduated second in my class. In university, I generally studied less than an hour or two before major exams. However, over four years, my GPA always sat between an A and an A+.
Recently I had to write a law exam worth 100% of my final grade. Unfortunately, I was out of the country and didn’t get back by plane until late Sunday night. I had to write the test at 9 am Monday morning. I got an A after just one hour of review on the plane.
Right now, I’m guessing most of you think I’m just an arrogant jerk. And, if the story ended there, you would probably be right.
Why do Some People Learn Quickly?
The fact is most of my feats are relatively mundane. I’ve had a chance to meet polyglots who speak 8 languages, people who have mastered triple course loads and students who went from C or B averages to straight A+ grades while studying less than before.
The story isn’t about how great I am (I’m certainly not) or even about the fantastic accomplishments of other learners. The story is about an insight: that smart people don’t just learn better, they also learn differently.
It’s this different strategy, not just blind luck and arrogance, that separates rapid learners from those who struggle.
Most sources say that the difference in IQ scores across a group is roughly half genes and half environment. I definitely won’t discount that. Some people got a larger sip of the genetic cocktail. Some people’s parents read their kids Chaucer and tutored them in quantum mechanics.
However, despite those gifts, if rapid learners had a different strategy for learning than ordinary students, wouldn’t you want to know what it was?
The Strategy that Separates Rapid Learners
The best way to understand the strategy of rapid learners is to look at its opposite, the approach most people take: rote memorization.
Rote memorization is based on the theory that if you look at information enough times it will magically be stored inside your head.
This wouldn’t be a terrible theory if your brain were like a computer. Computers just need one attempt to store information perfectly. However, in practice rote memorization means reading information over and over again. If you had to save a file 10 times in a computer to ensure it was stored, you’d probably throw it in the garbage.
The strategy of rapid learners is different. Instead of memorizing by rote, rapid learners store information by linking ideas together. Instead of repetition, they find connections. These connections create a web of knowledge that can succeed even when you forget one part.
When you think about it, the idea that successful learners create a web has intuitive appeal. The brain isn’t a computer hard drive, with millions of bits and bytes in a linear sequence. It is an interwoven network of trillions of neurons.
Why not adopt the strategy that makes sense with the way your brain actually works?
Not a New Idea, But an Incredibly Underused Idea
This isn’t a new idea, and I certainly didn’t invent it.
Polymath, cognitive scientist and AI researcher Marvin Minsky once said:
“If you understand something in only one way, then you don’t really understand it at all. The secret of what anything means to us depends on how we’ve connected it to all other things we know.Well-connected representations let you turn ideas around in your mind, to envision things from many perspectives until you find one that works for you. And that’s what we mean by thinking!” [emphasis mine]
Benny Lewis, polyglot and speaker of 8 languages, recently took up the task of learning Thai in two months. One of his first jobs was to memorize a phonetic script (Thai has a different alphabet than English). How did he do it?
“I saw [a Thai symbol] and needed to associate it with ‘t’, I thought of a number of common words starting with t. None of the first few looked anything like it, but then I got to toe! The symbol looks pretty much like your big toe, with the circle representing the nail of the second toe (if looking at your left foot). It’s very easy to remember and very hard to forget! Now I think of t instantly when I see that symbol.
It took time, but I’ve come up with such an association for all  symbols. Some are funny, or nerdy, or related to sex, or something childish. Some require a ridiculous stretch of the imagination to make it work. Whatever did the job best to help me remember.”
The famous British savant Daniel Tammet has the ability to multiply 5 digit numbers in his head. He explains that he can do this because each number, to him, has a color and texture, he doesn’t just do the straight calculation, he feels it.
All of these people believe in the power of connecting ideas. Connecting ideas together, as Minsky describes. Linking ideas with familiar pictures, like Lewis. Or even blending familiar shapes and sensations with the abstract to make it more tangible as Tammet can do.
How Can You Become a Rapid Learner?
So all this sounds great, but how do you actually do it?
I’m not going to suggest you can become a Tammet, Lewis or Minsky overnight. They have spent years working on their method. And no doubt, some of their success is owed to their genetic or environmental quirks early in life.
However, after writing about these ideas for a couple years I have seen people make drastic improvements in their learning method. It takes practice, but students have contacted me letting me know they are now getting better grades with less stress, one person even credited the method for allowing him to get an exam exemption for a major test.
Some Techniques for Learning by Connections
Here are the some of the most popular tactics I’ve experimented with and suggested to other students:
1. Metaphors and Analogy
Create your own metaphors for different ideas. Differential calculus doesn’t need to just be an equation, but the odometer and speedometer on a car. Functions in computer programming can be like pencil sharpeners. The balance sheet for a corporation can be like the circulatory system.
Shakespeare used metaphor prolifically to create vivid imagery for his audience. Your professor might not be the bard, but you can step in and try them yourself.
Visceralization is a portmanteau between visceral and visualization. The goal here is to envision an abstract idea as something more tangible. Not just by imagining a picture, but by integrating sounds, textures and feelings (like Tammet does).
When learning how to find the determinant of a matrix, I visualized my hands scooping through one axis of the matrix and dropping through the other, to represent the addition and subtraction of the elements.
Realize you already do this, just maybe not to the same degree. Whenever you see a graph or pie chart for an idea, you are taking something abstract and making it more tangible. Just be creative in pushing that a step further.
3. The 5-Year Old Method
Imagine you had to explain your toughest subject to a 5-year old. Now practice that.
It may be impossible to explain thermodynamics to a first grader, but the process of explanation forces you to link ideas. How would you explain the broader concepts in simpler terms a child would understand?
Mind-mapping is becoming increasingly popular as a way of retaining information. That’s the process of starting with a central idea and brainstorming adjacent connections. But mindmapping is just the skin of the onion.
Creating diagrams or pictures can allow you to connect ideas together on paper. Instead of having linear notes, organized in a hierarchy, what if you had notes that showed the relationships between all the ideas you were learning?
5. Storytelling to Remember Numbers and Facts
Pegging is a method people have been using for years to memorize large amounts of numbers or facts. What makes it unique isn’t just that it allows people to perform amazing mental feats (although it can), but the way it allows people to remember information–by connecting the numbers to a story.
Pegging is a bit outside the scope of this article, but the basic idea is that each digit is represented by the sound of a consonant (for example: 0=c, 3=t, 4=d…). This allows you to convert any number into a string of consonants (4304 = d-t-c-d).
The system allows you to add any number of vowels in between the consonants to make nouns (d-t-c-d = dot code). You can then turn this list of nouns into a story (The dot was a code that the snake used…). Then all you need to do is remember the order of the story to get the nouns, consonants and back to the numbers.
The Way We Were Taught to Learn is Broken
Children are imaginative, creative and, in many ways, the epitome of this rapid learning strategy. Maybe it’s the current school system, or maybe it’s just a consequence of growing up, but most people eventually suppress this instinct.
The sad truth is that the formal style of learning, makes learning less enjoyable. Chemistry, mathematics, computer science or classic literature should spawn new ideas, connections in the mind, exciting possibilities. Not only the right answers for a standardized test.
The irony is that maybe if that childlike, informal way of learning came back, even just in part, perhaps more people would succeed on those very tests. Or at least enjoyed the process of learning.
Scott Young is a university student, author and head of an online service designed to teach you rapid learning tactics. The program is currently sold out, but you can sign up here to get announcements when it reopens.
Why do we propose to us some ideas and they never get finished? Why do projects run on endlessly? Why do we start to do something and don’t finish them. The answer it’s simple their complexity. As seen in the zenhabits blog (one that I tune in daily if not weekly) it has 4 simple principles to get things done. And these are:
1. Keep the scope as simple as possible. You don’t need to do everything with this project. In fact, if you can just do one thing, that’s perfect. As small a thing as possible. Don’t redesign an entire city — just work on one building. If the project starts to get complex or seem overwhelming, narrow the scope. Do less. It’ll help you get things done.
2. Practice ‘Good Enough’. Perfectionism is the enemy of completion. Nitpick and worry about getting it “just right”, and you’ll never get it done. Done is better than right. So if you start to nitpick and worry about perfect, say “screw it” and then just try for “good enough”. You can always make it better in the next version.
3. Kill extra features. Similar to simplifying the scope, you’ll want to try to make your creation do as little as possible. Want it to talk and walk and cook breakfast? Just try for talking. Want your website to publish great content and have social networking and podcasts and news and a newsletter and a membership area? Just shoot for great content. Whenever you find yourself adding new features, see if they can’t be killed.
4. Make it public, quick. Your goal should be to get your project in some working form out to your customers/readers/public as soon as possible. In as few steps, as quickly, as easily, as simply as possible. Remember: don’t worry about perfect, and don’t let this first public release be wide in scope or full of features. Release it with as few features as possible. Releasing it publicly will 1) get you to done faster and 2) put some pressure on you to make it better, quickly.
For some of my friends this can help a lot. Sometimes we over think things and we need to be more straight minded and let the editing step LAST and not in the beginning, middle and the end. That’s why things get thrown out of concept, we don’t make our deadlines and logic-ly they don’t get finished
If we don’t follow these things we will live in paperwork hell and never enjoy the finer things in life…
Can a Puerto Rican run for President of the United States of America?
According to the CRS report for Congress made in 2000 page 7(PDF link): Citizens born in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are legally defined as “natural born” citizens, and are, therefore, also eligible to be elected President, provided they meet qualifications of age and 14 years residence within the United States. Residence in Puerto Rico and U.S. territories and possessions does not qualify as residence within the United States for these purposes. [U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, U.S. Insular Areas and Their Political Development, by Andorra Bruno and Garrine P. Laney, CRS Report 96-578GOV (Washington: Jun. 17, 1996), pp. 9, 21, 33].
Flow in the present moment.
This is an article I read Today in a blog called Zen Habits: Simple Productivity and it caught my attention, so I’m sharing with you. Hope you like it!
Have you ever had a creative evening when time suddenly flew by? A day when you executed a difficult project at work flawlessly? A brief moment in time when your challenging exercise routine felt effortless?
All of these times you were in a state of flow.
Flow is a concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago, who has studied the phenomena his whole career. Daniel Pink reintroduces the concept in his new book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Many people flow through their lives in an effortless fashion, while countless others have a difficult time achieving a flow state.
Why flow is hard to achieve
Flow is a moment in time when you’re both challenged at the activity that you’re doing, and when you also have complete autonomy in the task you’re conducting.
We engage in flow under your own volition, with a skill which we’ve had some amount of experience.
If you’re not flowing, it’s probably because you aren’t allowing yourself to be challenged, you’re completely overwhelmed, or someone else is holding you back.
The majority of my experience with flow has been with dance and writing. I’ve studied dance for many years, and one of the technical skills that dancers work on is called improvisation. Improv is very tricky in dance. You have to turn off your mind and simply dance with your instincts.
When you’ve mastered improv dance, you’ve reached the sweet spot between your brain transferring commands to your nervous system. There is no longer any thinking involved, as thinking in improv dance will make everything stop. There just isn’t any time for brainwork when you are constantly moving.
Csikszentmihalyi hypothesizes that these moments of flow occur because we’re simply activating too many neurological functions. Because of this we no longer have capacity to be aware of what functions we’re engaging in. So the ‘conscious of me’ part of the mind switches off, your awareness of yourself slips away, and you just do.
You’re simply flowing in the the present moment
I have also experienced flow in writing. I think it’s very important for writers to engage in flow. A lot of writers stop and meticulously edit their work after every sentence, but writing this way (for most people) is counterproductive.
Why? I believe it’s because of the same reason that dancers can’t stop dancing in improvisation. If you just keep writing for 30 minutes without stopping, you give your mind a chance to turn off the ‘conscious of me’ brain functions. This in turn grants more brain power to challenging the boundaries of your writing ability.
You cannot edit while you’re producing work. If you do, you’ll be constantly switching between your right brain and your left brain. Your creative center will be switching off and on and it will be harder to produce anything meaningful.
A classic example of real world flow
Ray Bradbury was a freelance writer who was trying to support his family. However, he was working at home with his cute little children. This proved to be incredibly distracting, so he had to find somewhere else to write. So, he headed over to UCLA’s Lawrence Clark Powell Library.
In the basement of the library there was a number of typewriters that gave 30 minutes of writing time for a dime.
Ray was very poor at the time, and needed all the money he could to support his family. Whenever he popped in the dime, he wanted to get his month’s worth. This forced him to write at a frantic pace until his time was up. The most frustrating element of writing the novel was when the typewriter keys tangled, because it meant that he was wasting valuable time.
In between these 30 minute typewriter banging sessions, he would wander the halls of the library studying books and contemplating what he would write for the next 30 minutes.
The novel Ray finished was classic sci-fi novel Fahrenheit 451. He created this novel in record amount of time, and recalled feeling as if the flow of time had accelerated. The novel wrote itself, effortlessly.
Think about how important it is to flow
I really believe many people miss this aspect of engaging in their work. If you aren’t flowing, you’re not reaching the peak of your ability. There is so much untapped hidden potential in flow, just waiting to be retrieved.
People who have learned flow are challenging themselves and creating work at their best.
We no longer have dime typewriters at the library, but there are a number of ways to practice flow without them.
9 simple ways you can bring yourself into flow
- Pick a enjoyable, challenging activity. The easiest way to enter flow is by doing something you love. The activity also needs to challenge you, one you are extremely passionate about, that you enjoy doing, and that causes you to grow. If the activity is boring to tedious you won’t enjoy it, and so there is no way you can engage in flow.
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone, log out of twitter, switch off gmail. If you’re constantly flipping back and forth between different tasks you’ll never be able to achieve flow. A foreign distraction will quickly bring you out of the flow mindset.
- Think before you do. Do any research or preparation before you engage in the activity you wish to flow in. If you stop and do research while writing, or have to grab a bite to eat in the middle of a run, you’ll throw yourself out of the grove. Preparation is the only way to avoid that.
- Isolate yourself. The best way to achieve flow is alone. If you’re in a room full of people, your mind will constantly be drawn away from what you’re doing. Shut the door, put on headphones, or find another way to isolate yourself.
- Let go. Give up any expectations that you have for yourself. If you enter a flow situation with preconceptions about the results that you’ll get from the practice, you’ll inevitably disappoint yourself. You also run the risk of narrowing your focus to a point where you can’t change coarse naturally if your flow takes you down a road less traveled.
- Give yourself a time limit. Like Bradbury, set a timer on your activity. Give yourself 30 minutes of uninterrupted flow time and just go at it with everything you’ve got. Forget about how much time you’ve been doing the activity, and how much time you have left, just flow. You may just find that you lose track of time completely.
- Keep moving. Continuous motion is key to flow, don’t give your mind a chance to start second guessing what you’re doing. Keep moving with the activity you’re flowing in. Go at a pace that’s challenging for you, but not overwhelming. You want to be calm and collected, but also have forward momentum.
- Don’t think. Switch off the part of your brain that observes what you’re doing. This is your self-consciousness, your ego, your sabotage. Why flow is so important is that it circumvents the necessity to constantly critique yourself. This can be hard, if you’re used to constantly second-guessing everything you do, but it is so important to successfully entering flow.
- Practice. Like any useful skill, flow takes time to master. Don’t stress if you can’t do it right away. If you’re interested in achieving a state of flow, you need to practice regularly. Set a time every day that will be dedicated flow time. Eventually you’ll start to recognize when you’re flowing, and when you’re not. After many hours of practice, you’ll eventually become a flow master.
I am a hardcore Eric Whitacre fan. When i say hardcore i mean that at least 3 songs i know by heart (the 4 voices AND I can direct it XD) so when I heard of this arrangement that was original for a wind ensemble and they turned it into a orch. ensemble i was shocked and it IS AWESOMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
I want to finish my Undergraduate’s so that I can Finally START WRITING ALL DAY!
I must be honest. I am such a music geek. I went to the Institute of Music Juan Morel Campos, if you don’t know who it is look it up (creator and mass Composer of the Puertorrican Danza) and all of the students left that know me were very happy to see me. And they started to ask how were things and asked me of my plans for a Masters. I was shocked I think that they knew what I meant with the expression on my face and they only said Conducting and Composition RIGHT??? Wow. Why am I telling you this. BECAUSE ITS TRUE jaja anyways my point is today I was browsing on youtube and found this amazing little video of the Super Choir known as VocalEssence singing one of , world famous composer, Eric Whitacre’s Nox Aurumque. This amazing piece is in latin and here’s the Translation:
Tarnished and dark,
Singing of night,
Singing of death,
Singing itself to sleep.
And an angel dreams of sunrise,
Tears of the ages.
O gilded blade!
You are too heavy to carry,
Too heavy for flight.
Tarnished and weary,
Melt from weapon to wing!
Let us soar again,
High above this wall;
Angels reborn and rejoicing with wings made
Singing of wings,
Singing of shadows.
If you are STILL curious to hear it AS YOU SHOULD here is the youtube link!!!!
When I first saw you, I fell in love
You asked me last summer
but I couldn’t tell you that
When I first saw you
I saw your raw pure talent
The one that now you see
after all those months of thespian-sy
When I first saw you, I fell in love
so hard it made God cry
And now I’m so stupid
That I could follow you stupid
to the end of the world and back
on a balloon ride to never land
I’m a College student in his 3rd undergraduate year and i got the brilliant idea that, since i like the English language so much I’d do a minor in it. This semester I’m taking the ENGL 224 class aka Grammar and Essay writing for English Majors and my professor is Dr. Montero (who has a PhD in Linguistics and that ROCKS) and for the end of the semester I have to make a research paper on How the media plays a role in shaping the society’s opinion (when i read it i thought of the evil hanna montana [please kill her]) Here’s a link to “How to write an A+ Research Essay”
Comment on how you would do it