Monday, April 23, 2012

Teflon's Guide to Optimal Learning

Let's get right to it, shall we...

  1. Never spend time memorizing something that you can look up. 
  2. Never look up something you already know, specially when learning something new.
    Learning a new subject involves learning new terms and concepts.  Time comes to apply what you've learned and you think, "Shoot, what was the term for thus-and-such?" or "What does the thingamawhat do?"

    When this happens you're tempted to go to the glossary, or flip back through the chapter, or look through your notes; resist temptation. If you were paying attention, the term or phrase is already in your memory.  You just have to work out the kinks along the neural pathways.

    When stumped, pause, close your eyes, take a deep breath and reach for it. More often than not, you'll find it. A couple of times and you'll own it.
  3. Never look up or accept answers that you can figure out for yourself.  
    You'd be amazed at all that you could figure out were you to trust yourself to do it.  The chords to songs, mathematical theories, food recipes, how to put together that thing you bought at IKEA, your partner...

    You may not always get it exactly right (the first time), but figuring out what you might otherwise have looked up has two great advantages. First, you become a really good figure-outer. Second, what you figure out will leave you with a much better grasp of the subject matter than what you don't.

    Reserve looking-up for confirmation of what you've figured out or as a last, last, last resort for what you haven't.
  4. Breathe
    You ever notice how you hold your breath when trying something difficult. It may be threading a needle, or playing a challenging piano phrase, or taking a photo, or wrestling free a jar top, or balancing on a snowboard.  It seems a natural thing to do and it's something that undermines your efforts.

    Pay attention to your breathing. If you find yourself holding your breath. Stop what you're doing. Start breathing. Take a moment to collect yourself. Picture yourself accomplishing the task. Take a deep (but not to deep) breath and then breathe out as you perform the action.
  5. Never look at what you can envision.
    When learning to play the piano or bass or guitar, we typically look at our hands. When memorizing text, we often read from the book or the script. When trying to remember someone's name, we often recite it while looking at her name tag. This doesn't work very well.

    The key to really learning is to envision what you're doing rather than looking. In the case of an instrument, picture you fingers moving across the fretboard or keyboard.

    In the case of a script or text, glance at it, then look away as you recite it.

    In the case of a name, look at the person and use his name in conversation immediately. Play with the name in your mind. Of what does it remind you? Ask her questions about her name. Is it a family name? Does it have a meaning or significance?

    Note: many piano teachers will instruct beginning students not to look at their hands, but instead to look at the music. In addition to being a bad idea, that ain't what I'm talking about.
  6. Practice well and consistently.
    If I were to say, "You can't learn to play the piano without practice. " or "You can't learn to cook without practice.", you'd probably agree.  Fact is, you can't really learn anything without practice including things like history, math and science.

    Sure, there are people who are "naturals"; they don't need to practice. But then again, they're not learning; they're naturals.

    The key to learning is practice well and consistently. To practice well:
    - take your time and slow things down to a manageable pace,
    - never do anything faster than you can do it well,
    - focus and pay attention,
    - implement items 1-5 from above,
    - whenever possible, check your work (record yourself, compare your answers),
    - slowly increase your pace to where you want it to be

    To practice consistently:
    - set a time and place where you can practice daily
    - as you get better, integrate your practice into your daily routines
  7. Spend twenty minutes a day on something you can't do.
    Do ever say things like, "I'm just not the kind of person who can..." or "I could never be good at..."  or "Thus and such is just not my thing?"

    Guess what? It's not true. There's nothing you can't do. There are only things you haven't yet learned to do. Fact is, if you practice well and consistently, you can learn to do pretty much anything.

    There are many great side-effects of consistently learning to do what you can't possibly do. They include:
    - increased learning capacity,
    - accelerated learning rate,
    - never, ever being bored or lacking something to do,
    - access to gainful employment,
    - reduced likelihood of Alzheimer's.

    Warning: this is a self extinguishing activity. Eventually, you'll just plain old run out of things to try.

    Warning: if you persist in learning to do things you can't do, you may become unbearably confident and threateningly competent.
Well, that's it for today. Let me know when you've mastered the above seven practices and we'll move on to knowing what you can't possibly know.

Happy Monday,

1 comment:

  1. I like this article. I would like it better if all the "nevers" were replaced with "onlys" (it is a lot more positive that way!) It reminded me of my piano teacher - it IS a good idea to look at the music, if you're looking at your fingers they should be hit repeatedly!lol (jk)


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