Course-Oriented Thinking – Improve Your Knowledge Coherence and Create Potential Products at the Same Time

I love how paradoxical the modern world is. You are just a click away from accessing almost every imaginable piece of information ever created. If you could acquire just some of it, you would be able to dominate almost every possible area of life. However, it seems like there is a glass wall holding you back. You can lick it all you want but you can't get through it.

Why is it so? Why is it so difficult to master even one field of knowledge?

My guess is that most people are notoriously bad at tying information together. What's more, we are also easily overwhelmed by the sea of information. All the facts that we face usually take a form of an impenetrable tangle.

In this article, I would like to show you a way out of this maddening maze. It's not a complete map but it should be enough to help you wrap your head around any discipline. With some time and dedication, of course.

The remedy is a method of mine which I dubbed course-oriented thinking. Not only will it help you to create or consolidate your expertise but it'll also, hopefully, give you lots of ideas on writing a book or a course.


Knowledge coherence - the best predictor of one's expertise

 

Course-oriented thinking - Improve your knowledge coherence and create potential products at the same time

 

Do you know what the biggest predictor of one's expertise is? 

Knowledge coherence, or in other words the way we structure information we acquire. And we suck badly at it.

Why wouldn't we?

Throughout our entire education, everything is served to you on a silver platter. It's always the same dish - the prechewed and predigested informational spaghetti. God forbid that you put more effort into your learning than it's necessary.

And then comes the day when you need to recall and apply all this knowledge. You reach for emptiness. There is nothing there.

Why is that? 

After all, the knowledge presented to you was structured.

What went wrong that you couldn't remember it?

The answer is "Easy come, easy go".

Learning takes effort.

There is no way around it. It doesn't matter how many people you will meet on your path who scream otherwise. You need to put in a lot of effort.

And let's be honest here. If you receive knowledge in a form of a fully digested pulp, you won't know how to use it. You won't understand it either.

The truth is that nobody can structure and organize your knowledge for you.

And this is where course-oriented thinking enters the scene.


Course-oriented thinking - a general overview

 

In the simplest of terms, course-oriented thinking is based on one principle. You should approach every domain you want to master with a single goal in your mind.

You will create a course to teach someone all there is to know about a given subject.

It will be the best damn course in the universe on a given subject which you can sell to others (read more about mastering many fields of science here).

Pay attention to the words I have used.


1.   The best course in the world


It's not going to be any course. It will be the best in the world. No other course will come even close. However,

keep in mind that your course won't be any good in the beginning. Being the best is the end goal. It's a journey.

Initially, it will rather resemble a steaming pile of manure. With time, however, you will turn into your own version of David Statue. The one made of marble, not s**t. I better add it so there is no misunderstanding here.


2.   The most comprehensive course in the world


If you want to go in, go all in. Create a course which will teach you every aspect of your field of choice.


3.   It has to be structured and organized


Keep in mind that the course should be able to teach a complete beginner how to master a given field of science. If you want to teach somebody how to invest, even a retarded, three-headed shrimp which survived a nuclear apocalypse will succeed.

Ask yourself this while working on your project - "How can you make a layman understand what you want to convey?".


4.   You're going to sell it


Course-oriented thinking

 

Another important assumption is that you're going to sell it. Of course, it doesn't really matter whether you do it or not. What matters is that this approach will give you some mental incentive to devote as much attention to it as it's needed.

You wouldn't sell people crap, right? Exactly. This way of thinking should help you keep your focus on the right track.

Another self-evident advantage of this rationale is actually creating something of value. You might be doing it for yourself right now. However, as the time goes by, you might be struck by a curious thought, "Why won't I create an actual course or a book?". And come it will. Trust me.

I still remember my bewilderment in college every time I saw an author publish a book. I couldn't grasp how it's possible to amass such vastness of information, structure it, and package it as a complete product.

The secret seems to be disappointingly easy. You start with a product in your mind and you learn as you create it.


5.   It's going to be YOUR course


If you set off on this journey with an intention of just copying a curriculum of already existing courses, you might as well stop reading right now. The course has to be your creation. Sure, you might borrow different concepts, methods or solutions from other authors in the field, but it has to be yours. Only this way will you be able to fully understand the scope of a given domain. Trust me, knowing how most of the puzzles fit together is amazingly empowering.

It also means that you can add whatever you want to the course. Dollop some funny pictures or a bucketful of ridiculousness on top of each module. Appreciate all those little peccadilloes that only you can bring to the table.

Example:

In my "investing course", I find myself frequently quoting a lot of prominent figures from the investing world. Sometimes one quote is more than enough to help a give rule to sink in.

Here is the one by Warren Buffet which I use on a daily basis:

"The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient."

Sure, I also include some scientific data to back up this idea. However, I don't find it even half as powerful as the aforementioned quote.


Course-oriented thinking - how to structure your course



1.   Tips for rookies


If you are new to some area of expertise, you may find it extremely difficult to create any curriculum. After all, what do you know?

Don't worry. You don't have to do all the heavy lifting on your own. Simply pick up any book, or google an online course which is similar to the one you want to create and copy its rough outline.

I would like to remind you that it's just a place to start. You shouldn't copy everything. Without the effort of creating a schedule, you won't be able to learn nearly as fast.


2.   Tips for old-timers


If you already possess a wealth of knowledge about some domain, you're in a great place. You already did the bulk of work in the past. Now, muster all you know and start structuring it from A to Z.


3. The general advice


Improve your knowledge coherence and create potential products at the same time


Typically, you should structure your course in an old-fashioned way. Break down a domain of your choosing into modules and units.

Remember that you're the structure of your course is not permanent. It's a living organism. The more you know, and the more information you add to it, the more it will change.

Don't get too attached to its current form.


Course-oriented thinking - what are the best information sources?

 

By that point, you should already have a rough curriculum in place. The next important question you have to answer is, "how can I learn more about this"?

Actually, saying it's important would be an understatement. It's absolutely crucial. You don't want to learn from source you don't trust.

I might be old-fashioned but if I wanted to learn more about investing I wouldn't take advice from a pimply teenager who lives in his mom's basement. Especially if he has no previous track record.

Here are some places to start:

Keep in mind that just reading information is not enough. You actually need to memorize it to be able to connect the dots.

Read more about the importance of memorization here: The Magnet Theory – Why Deep Understanding And Problem-Solving Starts With Memorization.


Your mental framework for approaching new information

 


1. Be critical


Don't take facts or information at face value. Pay attention whether the opinions are rooted in anything trustworthy. 

As a rule of thumb, my bullshitometer buzzes like crazy anytime I hear that "there is a study proving ...", or better yet, "everyone knows that ...".

Have you read this study yourself? No, not an abstract, an entire study. If not, remain skeptical. As yet another rule of thumb, anyone quoting documentaries as a source of knowledge, especially about health-related issues should be slapped six feet deep into the ground by the mighty gauntlet of knowledge.

Sometimes I waive this rule temporarily if I respect a given expert enough. However, that's an exception.

I know what you're thinking. It's hard. And I fully agree. Nobody said that forming your own opinion and knowledge is easy.



2. Stay open-minded


Improve your knowledge coherence and create potential products

 

It's confusing, I know. Can you be critical and open-minded at the same time? You can, and you should be.

The principle is best encapsulated by Stanford University professor Paul Saffo.

Strong opinions loosely held

At no point in time will you have a complete picture of a given domain. Hence, you are bound to hear lots of different opinions and theories which might contradict your present knowledge.

Don't discard them just because they don't sound right. Analyze their conclusions. And don’t stop there. Analyze the rationale which led to those conclusions as well.

A great example is a way in which I approach rapid language learning as described in a case study of mine.

After learning and analyzing hundreds of linguistic studies and memory-related books and papers, it wasn't hard to see why a typical approach can't work well. What's more, it wasn't too difficult to see why extensive reading and other passive learning approaches are usually terrible ideas. Yet, a couple of years ago there weren't many people who shared this belief. Luckily, language learning is one of those fields where usually results speak for themselves.


What to do with the contradictory information


If I encounter some evidence which is either flaky or contradictory to what I already know, I still try to place it somewhere in the course. However, I always place an extra note saying "to be verified".

You can choose to copy my methodology or think up some other way to mark uncertain information. Whatever works for you.

Upon doing so, you are left with two choices. You can either set off on a revelatory journey to discover what the truth in this particular case is, or leave it for time being. As you acquire more knowledge, the problem will most probably sort itself out.


The best program to structure your knowledge


In my book, there is only one clear winner - Evernote. It's everything you will ever need to write a book, a course or anything else for that matter.

Of course, I might be biased as I don't know many other programs of this kind.

Evernote makes it very easy to create module and units for every single folder (i.e. your course idea).


Improve your knowledge coherence


Course-oriented thinking - a long-term perspective


If you have ever dreamt of mastering many fields of expertise, course-oriented thinking should also be right up your alley.

Once you read this article, you can download Evernote right away and start creating course outlines for every single domain that interests you.

Will you be able to pursue them all at the same time with smoldering passion? Definitely not.

Will you be able to work on them for years to come until you achieve mastery? Absolutely.

You can think of every field of expertise you want to master as a journey. Maybe you won't make too many steps in the forthcoming months. But you will keep on going and you will keep on getting better.

What's more, the mere awareness of having a course which you can expand should keep your eyes wide open to all the wonderful facts and information you stumble upon.

They all will become a welcome addition to your creation. And as with learning intensely, the more courses you create, the easier it will be to master any other domain.


Examples of practical, long-term courses


CREATE POTENTIAL PRODUCTS


I am pretty sure that you already have a rough idea of which areas of expertise you want to explore. Regardless, I've wanted to show you some examples of the courses I have created so far. Of course, they are work in progress. Knowing me, I will keep on expanding them till the day I die. You might use them as a source of inspiration.


A list of my projects (i.e. courses):

The list is certainly not complete but it should give you a general idea of what to gun for. Remember to think long-term. Your course (i.e. knowledge) doesn't have to be perfect from the get-go. The mere action of having such a project in place will help you put any piece of information in the right context.

Approaching learning in this manner can lead to truly spectacular results. You might discover that after some time, some of your projects will come to life and will become an inseparable part of your existence.

For example, I have never thought of myself as an investor. However, just a couple of weeks upon creating a rough curriculum of my investing course, I dipped my toes in the financial waters. Surprisingly, it turned out that I am really good at it. These days trading is a part of my everyday ritual.

So what do I think? I think you should give it a shot.


A summary

 

One of the most important factors affecting your ability to remember things is the coherence of your knowledge. Course-oriented thinking can provide you with an excellent framework for structuring your knowledge. What's more, your potential courses can turn into real-life products which might benefit you in the future.

Keep in mind that your projects don't have to be perfect from the very beginning. They will probably suck. Only working on them systematically and methodically can guarantee that they will become world-class products.

Don't treat them dead-serious and don't be too formal. Sprinkle them with silly memes, anecdotes or quotes. Your courses should be a natural extension of your character. Let your personality shine through the quality information. With time, you might be truly surprised how much this approach can change your life.


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 23 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


Why Is It Difficult to Recall Vocabulary and How to Fix It?

The phenomenon of retrieving words at will seems to be almost magical. The mere intention of wanting to use any of them recalls them effortlessly and in no time.

Hah! You wish!

The truth is that most of us look like constipated capuchin monkeys trying to poop out a screwdriver when we try to retrieve vocab! It’s difficult and it sure as hell doesn’t come easy.

Why is it so?

Well, first of all, the universe is a cruel place and probably hates you.Other than that there are some other memory-related reasons for that state of affairs.

Since I can’t do anything about the universe, let’s concentrate on the latter.

 

Difference between remembering and retrieving a word

 

Let’s start with a very different distinction between remembering a piece of information and retrieving it. Contrary to common knowledge and intuition, they are not the same.

To explain this concept, let’s look at a simple model of memory.

  1. encoding
  2. storage
  3. retrieval

As you can clearly see that first you have to encode (memorize) a piece of information and only then can you retrieve it.

It means that:

 

a) you can remember something but you might not be able to retrieve it.

b) if you can retrieve something you certainly remember it.

 

The infamous tip-of-the-tongue feeling refers to the so-called failure to retrieve error,

If you want to improve your chance of recalling an item you need to improve its retrievability.

 

What is retrievability?

Long-term memories can be characterized by two elements: Stability (S) and Retrievability (R) are part of the Two-component model of long-term memory.

 

Retrievability of memory is a variable of long-term memory that determines the probability of retrieving a memory at any given time since the last review/recall.

 

I would like to direct your attention to the word “probability”. You can never be certain that you will be able to retrieve a given memory. It all depends on a plethora of factors. But what you can do is increase your odds.

Let’s dig deeper.

 

Fundamentals – Retrieval Cues

 

Whydifficult to recall vocabulary

 

Before we move on, you need to familiarize yourself with some basic memory concepts. Only then will you be able to fully understand why you can’t recall a word and how to change it.

Everything starts with a retrieval CUE.

 

A Retrieval Cue is a prompt that help us remember. When we make a new memory, we include certain information about the situation that act as a trigger to access the memory. Source: AlleyDog

 

As you can see, literally everything can be a cue! Let’s say that you meet a nice girl. The way she looks is a cue. Actually, every piece of her garment is a cue. The weather is a cue. The look of disgust on her face as you empty yet another cup of beer and whisper gently into her ear, ” Shh. Let the magic happen” is another great example of a cue.

The sound of your feet being dragged across the dirt by the security is yet another cue.

What? No. That did not happen to me! Mind your own business! Let’s get back to science!

Saying that everything is a cue is a bit lazy, isn’t it? I think you will be able to understand them much better once you see how they are typically categorized.

And don’t worry. This is not an exercise in futility. This info will come handy.

 

Types of retrieval cues

Gillian Cohen in her book Memory In the Real World distinguishes the following cues:

  • External cues were ones that came from the environment.
  • Abstract (aka internal) cues were all thoughts or linguistic references to the original episode.
  • Sensory/perceptual cues were those that provided sensory/perceptual referents to the original episode.

Sensory cues can be further categorized as visual cues, auditory cues, haptic cues, olfactory cues, environmental cues, and so on.

  • State cues were physiological or emotional referents to the original episode

I hope that now it’s easier for you to understand that literally everything can be a cue – starting from a thought and ending with a smell.

Then, you might wonder, if there are so many of them, how come you still have trouble retrieving memories or words?

The easiest answer is that you need to use the right cues.

 

Memory principles governing recall

 

There are a couple of general rules which will help you with understanding when it is usually possible to retrieve a word.

 

1) The encoding specificity

Somewhere in the 70s, a psychologist by the name of Endel Tulving proposed a theory called the encoding specificity principle.

It states that:

 

Successful recall relies on the overlap between the thing you are trying to remember and the situation in which you first encountered it, and the cues or prompts that are available when you are trying to recall it”.

 

This gives us our first rule:

 

The more retrieval cues are similar to encoding cues the bigger your chance of retrieving a piece of information.

 

Let’s stress it one more time – it’s not guaranteed that you will recall desired words.Meeting the said conditions simply increases the likelihood of retrieving them.

 

Example:

Let’s say that you memorized (actively) the word “cat” in the following phrase: “a black cat”.If at any given time during a conversation, you decide to use this phrase, it will most likely come to the top of your mind.

But what happens if you decide to use this word in another phrase:”a wild cat”? Assuming that you already know actively the word “wild”, there is a chance that you will be able to string this sentence together.However, the likelihood of this is definitely smaller than in the previous example as you have probably never ever made such a mental connection before. This leads to problems with so-called “information transfer“.

 

If you memorized some word in only one context, your mind can cling to it so tightly that it won’t be able to transfer a given item into another context.

 

Any time you use a given word in one part of a conversation and then can’t use it in another one,you run into exactly this problem.

 

Fun fact

Interestingly, these rules stay true regardless of the relevance of the information you are trying to retrieve.

 

“When short-range contextual dependencies are preserved in nonsense material, the nonsense is as readily recalled as is meaningfull material.” – The Changing English Language: Psycholinguistic Perspectives

 

Side note: Now, when I am reading this sentence I think that I need to go out more often.I have a strange definition of “fun”.

 

2) The strength of associations

Another aspect of successful retrieval is how strong your associations are. I think that it is intuitively understandable that the stronger the association between the cue and the target information the bigger your chance of retrieving an item is.

However, make no mistake:

 

The strength of your association is still not as important as the match between features of recall and features of encoding (Pansky et al., 2005; Roediger & Guynn, 1996).

Example

Imagine that you are eating peacefully your breakfast in a hotel abroad and all of a suddensome cat jumps on a table and gracefully puts its paw into your cereal bowl.

You think for a second how to word your outrage in a language of your choice andthen you finally cry out “I will skin you alive, you sack of fleas!”.

From now on, every time you decide to express your outrage in a similar situationthe chance of using exactly this phrase increases.

3) Number of cues

 

 

Edward Vul and Nisheeth Srivastava presented another interesting perspective. Namely, the process of retrieval is the process of retrieving cues that anchor the said item.

From this it follows that:

  • recognition performance is superior to recall performance when the number of items is greater than the number of cues
  • recall performance is better than recognition when the converse holds.

It means that the bigger the number of words you want to memorize, the bigger the number of cues you need.

 

Don’t overdo it – a cue overload effect

There is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing. If you decide to go over the top and insert too many cues into a piece of information you are trying to memorize you might notice that your recall rate didn’t change.

It happens so because:

 

If retrieval cues are not recognized as being distinct from one another, then cues are likely to become associated with more information, which in turn reduces the effectiveness of the cue in prompting the recall of target information (Watkins & Watkins, 1975).

 

Example

Let’s say that you want to memorize a two-word phrase “a disgusting slob”. If you just create a flashcard and then try to din it into your head, there is a good chance you won’t succeed.

The number of cues is minimal here. You can just see these words visually.

In other words, you are using one sensory cue. But as you know now, there are quite many different kinds of cues.

You can dollop more of them on top of this one.

  1. You can add a sound (another sensory cue)
  2. You can say it out loud (internal and sensory cue)
  3. You can modulate your emotions (state cues)

Instead of just saying a phrase, you can shout it out angrily.Win-win! Unless you shout it out on a bus, of course.

It’s worth mentioning that it’s a slight simplification of a problem as it doesn’t factor inthe capacity of our short-term memory.

 

4) Distinctivity of cues

The last (important) piece of a puzzle is how distinct your cues are.

 

In order to increase the likelihood of recalling a verbatim-based piece of information, you need distinct retrieval cues (Anderson, 1983a; Anderson & Reder, 1999; Tuckey 743 & Brewer, 2003).

 

But why do we need distinct retrieval cues?

 

Shortly, recall of one item can prompt further recall of semantically related items (Collins & Loftus, 1975). This occurs through the spread of activation through the associative links of the memory network. Gillian Cohen – Memory In the Real World

 

You can think about it as a domino effect. One element leads us to another.

How to build good cues 

 

difficult to recall and retrieve vocabulary

 

Good quality retrieval cues often have:

  • (1) constructability (cues generated at encoding can be reliably reproduced at recall);
  • (2) consistency between encoding and retrieval within a given context  (i.e. an effective retrieval cue should be compatible with the memory trace created during encoding and show high cue-target match);
  • (3) strong associations with the target and the ability to be easily associated with newly learned information;
  • (4) bidirectionality of association (the cue recalling target information, and target information recalling the cue).
  • (5) It is also important that retrieval cues are distinctive or discriminable.

Think about those rules as guidelines. Applying them will definitely increase your odds of retrieving an item.

However, don’t go too crazy and try to apply all of them every time when you try to memorize something. If anything, you should increase the number of cues only for the words you have trouble remembering.

 

Examples of learning methods which impede retrievability

 

In the world of learning, there are a lot of methods and approaches which don’t work at allor which can be used only in the specific cases.

I would like to complete your understanding of this topic by giving you a couple of examplesof strategies which don’t follow the aforementioned framework and thus, will mostly hinder your learning

 

Mnemonics

As I have argued before, mnemonics are a great addition to your learning toolkit.However, you shouldn’t treat them as anything more than just a temporary extension of your short-term memory.

Let’s look at the quickest way to retrieve a word in a conversation.

 

PHRASE YOU LEARN       PHRASE YOU RETRIEVEencoding cue             ->      retrieval cue (identical or similar to the encoding cue) = success

 

Quite straightforward, isn’t it?

Now here is the path of retrieval when you decide to use mnemonics:

 

a big cat  -> looking for associations -> turning them into pictures -> placing them in some location -> decoding them -> retrieval

 

As you can see, we are adding a lot of unnecessary steps into the process of retrieval. The usual effect is that you:

  • a) don’t remember them after a couple of days/weeks
  • b) you remember them but can’t recall them since you have no real context for these items

 

Associations

Associations are certainly a useful learning tool. The problems occur when there are too many of them. In my line of work, I have met people who were obsessed with finding an associationfor every possible piece of information.

The thing is that the associations, just like mnemonics, can at best help you with remembering the word but not retrieving it.

 

A couple of associations are great because they are distinct.However, there is nothing distinct and special about 100 associations.

 

Another problem is that once again you are lengthening the process of retrieving a word

 

encoding information -> building an association -> decoding an association -> retrieval

(a cat) -> (it sounds similar to a candy bar ” Kit Kat -> (now you want to use the word in a conversation) it was something connected with a candy bar -> I bought a new Snickers!

Teaching/learning styles

 

difficult to recall vocabulary and retrieve it

 

I have mentioned before in a couple of articles that learning styles don’t exist (read about it more here).Sure, you can have preferences for a giving style of learning but that does not mean that this styleof learning will be more effective memory-wise.

Sure enough, there is a host of studies which suggest that even teaching styles have no influenceon the students’ ability to recall information.

If you have ever had a teacher who hired a throng of merry and naked gnomes in orderto sing you a lengthy list of historical dates then I have bad news for you.

Although, you have to appreciate the effort, right?

 

How to maximize your chances of recalling words – Summary

 

Time to recap everything you have learned so far about maximizing your chances of recalling something. But let’s do it in plain English this time.

 

  • 1. You should be the person who generates cues

If you download ready-to-use flashcards or use apps like Duolingo and then whine that you can’t learn then there’s your explanation.

 

High levels of recall usually occur when the cue is self-generated (Hunt & Smith, 1996).

 

  • 2. Retrieve vocabulary in different conditions

If you just sit at home and pore over a computer or books you are encoding and retrieving items in the same conditions and that clearly hinders their retrievability.

As you already know in order to retrieve a piece of information we need to use good cues.

Remember:

 

Retrieval is a selective process, relying on a complex interaction between encoded information and features of the retrieval environment (Tulving & Thomson, 1973).

 

  • 3. Memorize natural phrases / collocations

One more time – the more retrieval cues are similar to encoding cues the bigger your chance of retrieving a piece of information.

Let’s say that you want to learn the word “a bike”. You decide to put it into the following phrase which you will later memorize “a bike made with light alloys”.

If you have never ever heard yourself saying such a phrase in your native tongue then what are you doing?! Use something simpler and more natural, for example, “a new bike”.

P.S. Here you can read more about choosing the best learning methods.

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created 32 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go.

 

Polyglot Tips, Advice, and Strategies – Why You Should Take Them With a Grain of Salt

WHY YOU SHOULD TREAT POLYGLOTS; ADVICE, TIPS, AND STRATEGIES WITH A GRAIN OF SALT


One category of emails which I regularly get is called: "X did Y, what do you think about it?" (or some variation of it).

X is usually a polyglot or a YouTuber who just did a mission, whereas Y often stands for a short amount of time. Usually, what a reader expects from me is to tell them that it's possible because they also want to learn fast. I get it - it all sounds exciting. If you can learn a language way faster, then why wouldn't you take advantage of polyglot tips, advice or learning strategies? 

The answer is simple: critical thinking. You are not them, and depending on your skill set and language background, it might not be possible for you even to get close to their results. There is a long list of warning signs that you should be aware of before you decide to emulate what they did. And no - I am not above it. Apply those criteria to my advice as well. 

Let's chomp down a healthy dose of red pills.


Polyglot Tips, Advice, and Strategies - Why You Should Take It With a Grain of Salt



I get this vague feeling that sometimes both people who give and take language advice are a bit detached from reality. 

In a rational world, if someone decided to start training box twice per week, initially, they would choose some simple form of training. Some stretching, basic forms, leg work - that kind of stuff.

A mere suggestion that, "Dude, Mike Tyson has this cool training, let's give it a try!" would be greeted with a pitiful smirk. They would know that this kind of workout routine would leave them in tears and wouldn't be too effective for them at this stage.

Yet, in the realm of languages, people get this idea that any language strategy is immediately applicable to them. Let me assure you - it is not. What's more, very often they can do more harm to your learning progress and motivation than good.

Here are a couple of arguments to bear in mind.


1. Expertise Reversal


The expertise reversal effect occurs when the instruction that is effective for novice learners is ineffective or even counterproductive for more expert learners.

If you look at it differently, more experienced learners learn more from high variability rather than low variability tasks demonstrating the variability effect. In contrast, less experienced learners learn more from low rather than top variability tasks showing a reverse variability effect.

Variability refers to a lack of consistency or fixed patterns in the tasks presented to a learner.
That means that beginners learn the best when there are:
  • not many tasks,
  • tasks are easy and predictable.

If you complicate a learning plan for them, they will never progress, or they will do it extremely slowly.

Call me pragmatic, but I wouldn't like to learn my first language to a B2 level while turning 70.

Sure, thumbs up from a nurse who is just emptying my bedpan sound encouraging, but I think I will pass.


What's an example of a crazy learning plan for beginners?

I bet you have seen or done it before - most of us did. Very often, if you have 45 minutes of learning time per day, you will hear the following recommendations:


  • 15 min of reading,
  • 10 min of listening,
  • 10 minutes of talking,
  • 10 of writing.
It's either this or some other variation of this madness.
Polyglots Advice

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

What I do recommend most of the time for beginners in my course Vocabulary Labs is this:

  • learn vocabulary with Anki,
  • learn basic grammar,
  • consolidate this knowledge with activation strategies.

Once they learn enough words, they start more advanced training, which involves lots of passive learning. Unsurprisingly, people who have failed to learn a language for ten years, miraculously start progressing like crazy.


Polygot Tips - Reading vs. Listening


The expertise reversal also manifests itself in the reading vs. listening effectiveness. Here is an excellent excerpt from a recent study.


Read-and-listen approach benefited novice learners; more expert learners could benefit more from the read-only approach.

2. Confidence can be misleading



The first thing you should keep in mind that we all crave confidence. Nobody wants to listen to people who seem hesitant. It all starts at a young age.

Researchers found that young children between the age of four and five not only prefer to learn from people who appear confident, they also keep track of how well the person's confidence has matched with their knowledge and accuracy in the past (a concept called 'calibration') and avoid learning new information from people who have a history of being overconfident. - ScienceDaily

Said another way, sometimes we don't pay much attention to what somebody has to say as much as how convincing they are when they do it. However, let's not confuse confidence (or age) with good advice.

Never underestimate how gullible we can be. While I am writing this, probably a dozen people on the internet are buying some course on healing cancer with banana enemas because the dude selling it looks and speaks like Gandalf.

Heck, I would probably buy it if he lowered his voice enough.


3. Experts are notoriously bad at explaining why they do certain things



Here is an excellent excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell's' book, "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking."


"Out of all the research that we've done with top players, we haven't found a single player who is consistent in knowing and explaining exactly what he does," Braden says.


"They give different answers at different times, or they have answers that simply are not meaningful."


One of the things he does, for instance, is videotape top tennis players and then digitize their movements, breaking them down frame by frame on a computer so that he knows, say, precisely how many degrees Pete Sampras rotates his shoulder on a cross-court backhand.

That's precisely how you combat this problematic phenomenon - you don't rely on opinions, you track data. Without it, our explanation of why something happened might be heavily warped by other factors.

If you want to see how far you can go with experimenting, check out this article: Over 30 Things You Can Learn From All My Fail And Successful Memory Experiments.


4. Achieving a certain skill level ≠ efficiency


I love Tim Ferris' approach to breaking down complex skills. One of his strategies involved finding outliers in a given discipline - people who shouldn't be good at something (especially sports), but they excelled against all the odds.

This framework allows you to cut through all the potential noise and eliminate variables that might distort your conclusions.

For example, I have had plenty of discussions with students of philology who claimed that the way they are taught at universities is impeccable. Every single time I had to point out that for five years, at least in Poland, they spend about 40 hours per week learning their target language. Go figure that you can achieve a C1 or C2 level after that many hours of practice!. Personally, I would be more interested in finding out how somebody, with similar or identical background knowledge, did it in a year.

The same goes for a lot of people who were born and raised in multilingual families or countries. It's great that they have acquired all this knowledge, but they are probably not the best people to give advice on how to learn languages.


5. The warping effect of background knowledge



Background knowledge is another variable that is NEVER considered by learners. 

Most of the relevant theories of learning to acknowledge that learners' knowledge bases are the most important moderating factor influencing our ability to acquire information (e.g., Chi, De Leeuw, Chiu, & LaVancher, 1994; Graesser, Singer, & Trabasso, 1994).

It is well established that knowledge of a given domain facilitates recall of information in that domain. For example, Spilich, Vesonder, Chiesi, and Voss (1979) found that after listening to a description of a half-inning of a fictitious baseball game, participants high in baseball knowledge recalled more game actions and other game-relevant information, but less irrelevant information, than did participants lower in baseball knowledge.

Similarly, after listening to short vignettes from a game, participants high in baseball knowledge were better able to detect changes in the event descriptions on a subsequent recognition test than participants lower in baseball knowledge, especially when the changes related to the goal structure of the game (Chiesi, Spilich, & Voss, 1979; Experiment 1). 

Walker (1987) also found a domain-knowledge effect when participants could read as well as listen to a half-inning game description.

Finally, Recht and Leslie (1988) reported the same effect when participants read silently the half-inning description.

Knowing many languages significantly changes your ability to acquire new ones. What's more, the more similar the language you want to learn is to the ones you already know, the faster you will acquire it.


Factors affecting your ability to learn



Keep in mind that there are lots of factors affecting your ability to learn, among others:

  1. 1
    Lack of a learning system
  2. 2
    Regularity of exposure
  3. 3
    Timing of repetition
  4. 4
    Retention intention
  5. 5
    Pronounceability (i.e., how difficult it is to pronounce)
  6. 6
    The usefulness of a word
  7. 7
    Emotional saliency
  8. 8
    Ease of application (i.e., knowing how to use a word)
  9. 9
    Lack of context
  10. 10
    Number of contexts
  11. 11
    Active encoding
  12. 12
    Morphological awareness (i.e., derivational complexity)
  13. 13
    The capacity of your short-term memory
  14. 14
    Intrinsic cognitive load (ICL)
  15. 15
    Germane cognitive load
  16. 16
    German cognitive load (GCL)
  17. 17
    Mental and physical condition
  18. 18
    Mental barriers
  19. 19
    Random variable(s)

Polyglots enjoy lots of unique advantages that have one thing in common - they decrease their general cognitive load. It means that they can learn much faster, longer, and more effectively than mono- and bilinguals. We can't pretend that it's not taking place, and we're all start at the same point. If this was a 100-meter dash, a typical polyglot would get a 70-meter headstart.

For example, quite a widespread piece of advice one can hear is that beginners should read simplified texts. Unfortunately, it's not true.

I want to make one thing very clear - no one is lying to you. These strategies DO work for them, but they will most probably won't work for you if your language background isn't extensive enough.


Learning Czech in 1 month


Let me give you a great example. My ninth and the last official language I learned was Czech. In 1 month (about 5 years ago), I managed to learn it from scratch to a B1/B2 level and confirmed with language tests.

It is a great result, and I am proud of it, but even at the beginning of this case study, I mentioned that I already know eight languages. What's more, my native tongue is Polish, and I speak fluent Russian.


Why is it important?

Because Czech shares about 70-80% of words with Polish. That means that right off the bat, my passive knowledge was big, and it was further increased by my knowledge of Russian.

Here are the implications of these numbers:


  • on day 1, I could already read and listen, and start acquiring some words passively
  • I didn't have to practice listening much because Polish and Czech are similar enough
  • there weren't too many words that seemed difficult for me pronunciation-wise
  • etc.


That was Czech. What about Slovak? To my surprise, when I visited Slovakia for Polyglot Gathering in 2017, I understood 98% of everything by virtue of knowing Czech. 

Would the above be true for me if I decided to learn Chinese? No!

That's why be alert if somebody tells you that passive learning is great. It's not - it sucks. However, it is effective for a person with extensive background knowledge.

If you have it - great. If not, better get back to active learning.


Summary -  Polyglot Tips, Advice, and Strategies 



Taking polyglot tips and advice at face value can be a fatal mistake for people who don't know many or any languages. It can lead to opposite effects. Instead of progressing way faster, your progress can be almost non-existent. In extreme cases, you can become so overwhelmed that you will give up.

The overall explanation is simple - polyglots enjoy all the benefits of having extensive background knowledge in a specific field of language learning. That makes their knowledge acquisition process much more efficient.

My suggestion would be to think twice before using their (and my!) advice. Better make sure that it applies to you before you waste any time!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 18 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


Obstacle Thinking – a Simple and Effective Strategy for Solving Complex Problems

Obstacle Thinking – a Simple and Effective Strategy for Solving Complex Problems


Problem-solving is a skill that ranks very high on my list of evergreen skills. We all struggle with problems of different magnitude. Being able to tackle them in an organized way can make our lives way easier.

Unfortunately, there aren't many people that can pride themselves with being problem-solvers extraordinaire. One part of the issue is that they are not aware of the existence of problem-solving methodologies. Another problem, however, is settling for the wrong strategy. It's as ridiculous as trying to traverse the desert with a pair of sandals and a hamster at your disposal. Not only will you be swallowed by the vastness of possible solutions, but you will also look stupid.

In my years of trying to tackle different learning-related issues, I have come to realize that the right way to start solving any problems is identifying the constraints of an area at hand. Once you do, it's much easier to capitalize on those structural disadvantages and arrive at the right answer. This is the approach I have dubbed obstacle learning


What Is Obstacle Thinking?


Obstacle thinking is the approach to problem-solving that emphasizes the importance of identifying bottlenecks in a given area. Their identification allows narrowing your vision.


This way, you can concentrate on what's truly essential, i.e. avoiding the said obstacles and then adding to the mix the elements that have been proven to work well within a given domain.

You can think about it as entering the invisible maze. If you do it ad-lib, all you will be doing most of the time is headbutting every inch of every wall until your brain convolutions straighten up.

However, the entire process will look completely different if you start with determining the potential constraints. The moment you identify a potential obstacle, a part of the maze materializes, and it allows you to move past it. If you identify enough constraints, you will be able to skillfully move through the maze until you find the exit.

Another way to look at the problem is thinking about doing jigsaw puzzles. Most people don't start assembling them randomly by grabbing a couple of pieces and praying that they fit. Instead, they begin by creating the outline of the picture and then slowly filling out the rest.


Why Not Start With Positive Instances?


Starting the problem-solving process with identifying constraints seems counterintuitive. Thus, the natural question arises - why shouldn't we start with positive instances, i.e. the concepts that are known to be true?

Nassim Taleb has mentioned a great explanation of this phenomenon in his book "Black Swan".


"In a famous argument, the logician W. V. Quine showed that there exist families of logically consistent interpretations and theories that can match a given series of facts. Such insight should warn us that the mere absence of nonsense may not be sufficient to make something true. 


The implications of the above are far-reaching. Just because a solution consists of seemingly true facts, it doesn't mean that the entire solution is indeed verifiably true.

It's one of my biggest pet peeves ever. The internet is rife with various idiots who try to conceal their stupid theories under the disguise of science. If you are not careful enough, they will lull your vigilance with scientific banalities and then sell you on their fallacious solutions.


In other words, hundreds of potential solutions might seem true until you start adding constraints to the system.

I will demonstrate examples of this phenomenon at the end of the article.



Limitations - Why They Are Needed To Think Effectively


Even though starting the creative process with identifying constraints might seem counterintuitive, it's very natural. Everything that has ever existed has been born within the constraints of different variables.

The constraints of physics, chemistry, and geometry have governed life from its origins onward—and even into the technicum. “Underlying all the diversity of life is a finite set of natural forms that will recur over and over again anywhere in the cosmos where there is carbon-based life,” claim biochemists Michael Denton and Craig Marshall.  Life, rather than being boundless and unlimited in every direction, is bounded and limited in many directions by the nature of matter itself.  - Kevin Kelly - What Technology Wants


It's only logical to apply the same logic to problem-solving. Without directing and concentrating your effort within certain boundaries, you are almost guaranteed to fail. A number of choices you will have to face is simply too big.

However, identifying even one limitation shows you that a solution cannot be perfect in a given situation. Think about it.

Even one constraint has the power to disqualify hundreds or even thousands of potential solutions.


What Kind of Constraints Are There?


There are two kinds of limitations that need to be taken into consideration:


(1) Permanent constraints

This is the category we can't do anything about. Those limitations can't be overcome. They are usually specific to a given area of knowledge, but they can also transverse many different disciplines.


Examples: 

(1) Using context in language learning

It's been proven beyond a shadow of the doubt that our knowledge is activated contextually. Any language learning method that fails to consider it can be automatically deemed as ineffective.


(2) Removing harmful compounds while composing diets

Depending on a person and their particular health issues, one must deal with lots of permanent limitations that need to be taken into consideration to maximize the benefits of a given diet.


For example:
  • Thyroid problems - two big steps are removing goitrogen-containing foods and gluten that impair the function of the thyroid.
  • Male fertility issues - removing alcohol, recreational drugs and other factors that increase the production of reactive oxygen species and damage sperm.
  • Etc.

Composing diets for different ailments is such a great example. Very often, the mere fact of identifying (and removing) those constraints (i.e., harmful compounds) will allow us to establish an excellent base for solving a problem at hand.


(3) Differential diagnosis

The very core of being a good diagnostician means you can apply obstacle thinking. Every symptom that doesn't fit the picture is a constraint that decreases the pool of potential options.


(2) Temporary constraints

Even though those limitations are no different from permanent constraints at the moment of tackling the problem, they can be overcome over time.


Examples: 

(1) Budget

Limited budgets are a great example because even though they are an obvious obstacle, they can be increased later on. Alternatively, one might find a way to lower potential costs.

(2) Computational power

Computational power can be a limiting factor in a company for now. However, we know that it's one of the variables that become cheaper with time. It might turn out that it won't be an obstacle anymore in, e.g. two years.

Of course, we have to keep in mind that some factors can be both temporary and permanent, depending on a particular project. Deadlines are certainly one of them. Often they can't be changed because of external obligations. However, in other projects, they are merely a suggestion.

What's worse, some constraints will be self-imposed because of gaps in our knowledge. Once you expand it, it might turn out that they weren't even a problem in the first place.



Requirements for Using Obstacle Thinking Effectively


(1) Ability to amass and manage your knowledge

Most projects are multidisciplinary. They require extensive knowledge from many different areas. If you don't know how to acquire it and manage it, you will never have enough know-how to tackle problems effectively. You will be doomed to forever roam the hamster wheel of knowledge.




(2) Critical thinking and the ability to interpret/analyze data

Expanding your knowledge won't mean much if you're choosing your input indiscriminately or randomly. Not all information is equal. You need to learn how to distinguish primary sources of knowledge from secondary.  

What's more, you should also have a good understanding of how to read and interpret scientific studies and comprehend what their limitations are. That requires a very diverse skillset.


(3) Time

Expanding your knowledge and analyzing data, etc. are all time-consuming processes. It's essential to keep in mind that arriving at the right solution might take some time.


(4) Ability to suspend your opinion 

We live in quite depressing times where people who don't have an opinion on a topic are considered stupid or ignorant instead of being praised for their prudence. Forming your opinion too fast can be harmful to your problem-solving abilities. It's so easy to fall in love with your idea, even when it's demonstrably false. Before you know, you start disregarding any evidence that contradicts your opinion (see confirmation bias).

A much better solution is to suspend your opinion for the time being until you amass enough knowledge to have a bird's eye view on the problem you're trying to solve.

It takes a special kind of courage not to commit to any opinion, even temporarily. But choosing to be an ignoramus, for the time being, is undoubtedly the right choice for any quality thinker.


An Example of Obstacle Thinking in Action


Let's say that just like me, you are obsessed with finding the perfect learning strategy. Instead of starting with a specific method on our mind, let's focus on the potential constraints to quickly eliminate the ones that don't make much sense. In this case, I will skip the part where I analyze countless scientific papers to establish whether the limitations I quote are true.


(1) Limitation #1 - Passive rehearsal


Many years ago it was actually proven that passive rehearsal has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

Passive rehearsal is simply a mindless act of rattling off a cluster of pre-prepared information. It's like trying to desperately rehearse someone's phone number and hoping that it will help you remember it ten years from now.

This tells us that if we try to rely on ready-to-use materials, we will fail. In other words, this one piece of information allows to initially discard the following learning strategies:

  • Any flashcard system/app/method based on ready-to-use flashcards
  • Reading, re-reading and reading aloud
  • Rewriting information from other sources with almost no changes

Limitation #2 - Habituation



Habituation is the diminishing of an innate response to a frequently repeated stimulus.

Each time the brain detects a stimulus, it forms a representation of that stimulus and compares that representation with its memory (that is, existing representations) of previously experienced stimuli. If there is no match, then a response is triggered, such as an orienting response, allowing the organism to study this new stimulus further. On the other hand, if there is a match, then the response is suppressed. In other words, responding to familiar stimuli decreases, or habituates. 

Multiple exposures to the same stimulus are nothing else than habituation. I won't delve more into this topic as it deserves an article of its own. Instead, let's look at the repercussions of this phenomenon.

  • Even if you create your learning material yourself (e.g. flashcards), your brain will quickly stop reacting to it if you don't force yourself to look at it from many different perspectives and to apply it to many different problems.
  • We have to discard mnemonics as an effective long-term strategy. If thousands of pictures stand out, then nothing stands out.
  • Any strategy that doesn't introduce novelty and variety will limit my learning time. My brain and I will get quickly really fast.

The list goes on and on. With every next constraint, we will add into the system, a pool of potential winning strategies will diminish until we arrive at the final answer(s).


Obstacle Thinking - Summary


Obstacle thinking is probably the single most effective problem-solving methodology I know. It allows you to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff. Think about it.

Every potential constraint narrows down your focus by eliminating hundreds of faulty strategies. The more limitations you find, the easier it is to come to the right conclusion.

Unfortunately, simple doesn't mean that it's easy. The requirements for applying this strategy can certainly be considered strict. What's more, often, the right solutions may differ depending on the stage of the process we are trying to improve. For example, we can't expect that beginners and advanced learners will get the same benefits from one single strategy.

Even though obstacle learning thinking a relatively steep learning curve, it's still a must for any problem-solver.


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 20 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


Factors Affecting Word Difficulty I.E., What Kills Your Learning Progress

A list of factors affecting word difficulty

There are many factors affecting word difficulty i.e., your ability to learn and recall them.

No wonder. There are dozens of factor at play here. Unfortunately, typical explanations of what affects these processes are severely lacking. Every time I hear that "you probably don't read enough," I do my best to toss 1 kg of plastic bags into the ocean. Die mermaids, die!

Let's conduct a thorough analysis of the factors that you should take into consideration if you have a hard time learning vocabulary. Some of them will be obvious; others will probably surprise you.


Why words are difficult to remember


As you can imagine, there are lots of elements which you have to take into consideration to fully answer this question. Some of them have marginal meaning and have very little research supporting their validity. 

Others are simply beyond your control. A good example is parts of speech. For instance, research generally shows that they are easier to remember than verbs or adjectives (Philips 1981). They are also encoded in different parts of the brain than verbs

The question is, "Does it matter?" Of course not. You still have to learn both nouns and verbs. The same goes for lexical difficulty.

That's why I am going to focus on the ones which can seriously impair your learning ability.


Factors affecting word difficulty


Factors affecting word difficulty

1. Lack of a learning system

2. Regularity of exposure

3. Timing of repetition

4. Retention intention

5. Pronounceability (i.e., how difficult it is to pronounce)

6. The usefulness of a word

7. Emotional saliency

8. Ease of application (i.e., knowing how to use a word)

9. Lack of context

10. Number of contexts

11. Active encoding

12. Morphological awareness (i.e., derivational complexity)

13. The capacity of your short-term memory

14. Intrinsic cognitive load (ICL)

15. Germane cognitive load

16. German cognitive load (GCL)

17. Mental and physical condition

18. Mental barriers

19. Random variable(s)

Let's discuss them one by one, so you know what potentially impairs your learning speed.


1. Lack of learning system



One of the most surprising facts about how people learn is that most of them have no organized system of learning. You might think that's an exaggeration, but I assure you it's not.

To get a better insight on how students actually learn, we have conducted a survey among the students of our university (HSW — University of Applied Sciences) about their strategies and learning behaviors.

Overall, there were 135 students participating in this survey from all 6 semesters and between 18 and 31 years of age. 68.1% of the participants were male, 31.9% female. Only very few of them deliberately make use of learning strategies, such as spaced repetition or the Leitner system. 94.8% of the participants just repeat the learning topics randomly to have them available during a test.

The terrifying thing is that we're not talking about a bunch of clueless people without any education. We're talking about bright individuals who will shape the future of their nation.

And yet, almost all of them rely on something I call a let's-hope-it-sticks strategy. It's nothing more than spitting on a wall and hoping that something will set. But it rarely does.

You can read, reread and cram all you want. Most of the knowledge you gather this way will be forgotten by the end of the next week.

If you don't have a set way of dealing with words you want to learn, you will fail 9/10. It doesn't matter how bad your strategy is. As long as you have it, there can be some progress.


2. Regularity of exposure to vocabulary


I am sure you have noticed that immigrants who barely know a language still know basic greetings and vocabulary. The reason for this is simple — they are frequently exposed to such words.

"Memorization becomes more difficult the less often given items occur in your learning environment."

Here is a fantastic study showcasing this phenomenon.

"The study examines word knowledge acquisition at different levels. The results showed that greater gains in knowledge were found for at least one aspect of knowledge each time repetitions increased. If learners encounter unknown words ten times in context, sizeable learning gains may occur." Source: The Effects of Repetition on Vocabulary Knowledge

3. Timing of repetition


We have known for over 100 years now that the timing of your repetitions plays a crucial role in the process of learning. Fail to review a word at the right moment, and your retention rate falls drastically.

This phenomenon is presented by the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. It shows the decline of memory retention in time, or if you look at it from a different perspective, it demonstrates the critical moments when the repetition of the given information should occur.


 the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve


Lucky for you, you don't need to optimize our repetitions manually (e.g., with the Leitner System). You can simply use Spaced Repetition Software.

Most of such programs base (more or less) their algorithms on Ebbinghaus forgetting curve (side note: it has been replicated many times in the last 50 years).

The only program of this kind which I relentlessly promote is ANKI. It's free; it's versatile. What's not to love?


4. Retention intention


A retention intention sets the stage for good remembering. It is a conscious commitment to acquire a memory and a plan for holding on to it. As soon as you commit to a memory goal, attention locks on to what you want to remember. 

This is how attention works—it serves the goal of the moment. And the stronger the motivation for the goal, the more laser-like attention becomes and the greater its memory benefits. 

In other words, you can watch as many TV series and read as many books as you like. It will still have almost zero effect if you don't try to memorize the things you don't know.

A vital feature of a retention intention is the plan for holding on to the material. It might be as simple as rehearsing the memory, or it might involve one of the memory strategies described later. Whatever the plan, when you are clear about how you intend to retain the material, it is more likely you will actually carry out the plan, and this can make all the difference between a weak and strong memory.


5. Pronounceability of vocabulary


In order to learn the phonological form of a new word, you must be able to hold a representation of that word in some form of temporary memory so that the word as a whole can be committed to long-term memory.

This phonological form is called a phonological representation.

"This temporary storage is provided by the phonological store component of the working memory model. Once you learn the basic repertoire of speech sounds in your target language, the process of learning the form of a new word becomes one of learning the order in which those sounds appear. The primary role of the phonological store in learning new words is, therefore, to retain the order of those sounds." Source:  Dennis Norris, Michael P. A. Page, and Jane Hall, ‘Learning nonwords: the Hebb repetition effect as a model of word learning’ 

What happens when your phonological representations are incorrect?

You impair your ability to both recognize and retain new words.

That's why a decent pronunciation is not just something "nice to have." It's an important aspect of acquiring vocabulary.


6. The usefulness of a word


This item ties back to the mistake of not having an intention to memorize something. It frequently happens that people simply refuse mentally to learn a word because of its potential uselessness.


If you don't consider vocabulary you learn to be useful, then you don't really stand a significant chance of memorizing it.


7. Emotional saliency



It's time to tackle the emotional aspect of learning. Even without any fancy scientific references, you already know that it's much easier to remember things which are emotionally important to us.

"Information without emotion isn't retained." Or, as Ezra Pound said it, "Only emotion endures."

The few experiments comparing the effects of the number of meetings (repetitions) with the quality of the meetings suggest that, of the two, quality has the stronger effect (Laufer, in press; Webb, 2005).

In other words, sometimes it's better to build a couple of emotionally salient sentences with a word of your choice rather than settle for a dozen mediocre ones.

Unfortunately, the main problem with relying on this strategy too much is that you cannot make everything emotionally salient. If everything stands out, nothing does.


8. Ease of application (i.e., knowing how to use a word)


Merely knowing the meaning of a lexical item is not enough. You have to understand how to use the target vocabulary in sentence construction (Larrotto 2011).

That's why it's not enough to simply see a flashcard, or a sentence, made by somebody else to be sure how to use a given word in context.

To be able to use this word correctly, you need to:

  • a) be exposed to language
  • b) make the mental linkage between the word and its uses
  • c) be able to verify whether your assumption is correct

One of the prime example of not knowing how to use a word fall into a category of register restrictions.


Register restrictions

Language register can be understood as the level of formality with which you speak. Different circumstances and people require different registers. Sometimes you will use slang, the other time you will be very formal and polite.

Halliday, McIntosh, and Strevens point out that:

"The choice of items from the wrong register, and the mixing of items from different registers are among the most frequent mistakes made by non-native speakers of a language" (1964:88) Source: Why are Some Words More Difficult than Others? Some Intralexical Factors that Affect the Learning of Words

9. Lack of context


By themselves, words and sentences have little meaning; often they can be understood only in relation to other words and sentences.

In other words: things get connected to things. Words which are not connected to others mean nothing and get forgotten. Providing words not in isolation but in various contexts creates new opportunities to memorize them. Whenever the same word crops up in a new phrase, it will be fixed in your mind in yet another way. 

What's more, the more contexts you can associate a piece of information with, the easier it is to recall it.

The above can be aptly summarized by The Principle of Associations: 

“The human lexicon is believed to be a network of associations, a web-like structure of interconnected links. When students are asked to manipulate words, relate them to other words and to their own experiences, and then to justify their choices, these word associations are reinforced” (Sökmen 1997: 241-2).

10. Number of contexts


difficult vocabulary

You already know that no context is terrible for your learning. But is one context enough? Most of the time no.


Lack of multiple contexts can lead to at least one of the three following problems:

  1. 1
    Problems with information transfer

Sometimes if you learn a word in just one or two contexts your brain might not be able to transfer the meaning of the word from one context to another. 

If you learn the word "severe" in the phrase "severe consequences" your brain probably won't be able to use this word in the phrase "a severe headache." In order to overcome this obstacle and "unblock" some word, you need to use it in at least a couple of contexts, so you have a semantic web that holds this information.

  1. 2
    Problems with retrieving
  1. 3
    Problems with memorizing

The last problem is connected with meaningless contexts. Sometimes you try to memorize a word in some phrase, but it simply doesn't work out. The word won't stick even though you have managed to avoid all the other mistakes which I have mentioned previously.

Why is that?

It might happen because your brain might find this one particular context(s) too boring! You have your preferences and tastes, and some phrases won't strike that special chord in your brain.


11. Lack of active encoding


The process of memorizing can be depicted in the four following steps:

  1. 1
    Encoding — involves initial processing of information which leads to the construction of its mental representation in memory
  2. 2
    Storage — is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory
  3. 3
    Recall — is the retrieval of stored information from memory

As you can see, encoding is a gateway to the land of remembering. 

But what does encoding really mean?

Encoding is any kind of attempt of manipulating a piece of information in order to increase your chances of memorizing it.

If you skip this step of learning, you can be sure that memorizing vocabulary will become really difficult. Here are results of some studies showing real vocabulary gains from reading in the early stages of language learning.


Real vocabulary gains from reading in the early stages of language learning

Horst, Cobb and Meara (1998) specifically looked at the number of words acquired from a simplified version of a novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, which had 21000 running words. The novel was read in class during six class periods. It was found that the average vocabulary pick-up was five words. 
Lahav (1996) carried out a study of vocabulary learning from simplified readers. She tested students who read 4 readers, each one of about 20 000 words, and found an average learning rate of 3–4 words per book.



12. Morphological awareness


Morphological awareness is explicitly thinking about the smallest units of meaning in language, which are called morphemes. These units include root words that can stand alone as words, prefixes, suffixes, and bound roots, which are roots that must have a prefix or suffix added to become a word.

Morphological awareness is also one of your allies in an uneven fight against mastering a language. It helps you understand why words are constructed in a certain way and remember them better.

In order to fully utilize this concept, you need to become paranoid. Every word, name of every product, movie star, city, dish, or even words themselves should be analyzed.

Most of the time, you will discover that they contain some other words. And it doesn't matter whether that's a pure coincidence or not. What matters is that you found the deeper meaning in words you already know.


13. The capacity of your short-term memory


difficult to learn vocabulary


The main memory limitation every learner has to face is working memory capacity or simply memory span.

Memory span refers to the longest list of items (e.g., digits, letters, words) that a person can repeat back immediately after the presentation in the correct order on 50% of trials. It is limited in terms of chunks.

A chunk is the largest meaningful unit in the presented material that the person recognizes—thus, what counts as a chunk depends on the knowledge of the person being tested.

One interesting conclusion coming from this is that the more languages you know, or the bigger your background knowledge is, the easier it is for you to memorize new words as you can automatically find more meaningful associations for them!

In other words, if you are presented with too much material at the same time, you significantly decrease your chances of remembering a word.


14. Intrinsic cognitive load (ICL)


The Intrinsic Cognitive Load (ICL) is material-dependent, determined by the material's element interactivity. It is commonly understood as the complexity of information.

This complexity depends on the learner's domain-specific prior knowledge (Sweller, 1998). For example, learning single words of a foreign language requires a lower understanding of interacting elements than learning phases of cell division.

The better you are at a certain field of knowledge, the smaller intrinsic cognitive load.


15. Germane cognitive load


This load focuses on all learning-relevant processes which are needed transfer and store information into the long-term memory system.

It is the emotional and mental energy devoted by the individual to the processing of new information presented as part of the learning activity.

In other words, it is connecting that information to the working memory, and imprinting what has been learned into long-term memory.

How do you lower this kind of cognitive load? By having a mental toolbox of effective learning strategies which have been internalized and automated.


16. Extraneous cognitive load (ECL)


The extraneous load (EL) emerges through the design of instructional materials and is directly connected with a decrease in learning-relevant processes.

The extraneous load (EL) is imposed by any form of distractors during learning; hence, this load is often regarded as the ‘unwanted’ or ‘bad’ load.

Hence, every single thing which drives you away from learning is treated as the extraneous cognitive load. Keep in mind that those distractors potentiate one another!

The truth is that those pesky, little things distract us more than we would like to admit.

For example, according to researchers, the mere presence of your smartphone reduces cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive function, even though people believe they are giving a task their full attention and focus. 

Don't forget that attention is the price of admission to the long-term system. If you meed up this step, no learning will ever take place.

What's more, by minimizing the extraneous load, capacity in the working memory can be spared for processing the intrinsic load.

Source: Creating an engaging and stimulating anatomy lecture environment using the Cognitive Load Theory-based Lecture Model: Students' experiences



17. Mental and physical condition


Let's be honest — you can't learn at 100% if you're not feeling at 100%. To improve your learning pace, try to:

  • fix your diet (start with less sugar and processed crap)
  • exercise regularly
  • decrease your stress levels

Of course, sometimes it's difficult to do it right away. Maybe you're experiencing family issues right now, suffering from depression, or taking some medication.

Regardless, keep in mind that these are also factors affecting word difficulty.



18. Mental barriers



Almost everyone can learn a language, and that's a fact. Sure, there are always some exceptions but generally speaking, it's entirely possible with you.

However, our paranoid lizard brain wouldn't be itself if it didn't start infusing your brain with different paranoid thoughts. We are truly experts at undercutting ourselves.

Here are some popular mental barriers which one can use to justify that learning a language is impossible for them:


1. Self-fulfilling prophecy

In short, you are convinced that you are unable to learn and thus you do nothing to learn, and as a result, you don't know anything. Congratulations, you just played yourself.

This category includes self-diversion pearls like: 

"I am too old."
"I don't have time."
"I suffer from social anxiety." (read this to fix this problem)
"I am too stupid."
"Jupiter is in retrogade."
"I am a Scorpio and they are not good at languages." (in this case, take this quiz: how stupid are you?)


2. Lack of psychological safety
In the absence of psychological safety, we fear judgment, reprisal, humiliation, feelings of incompetence, and being unworthy, and may begin to avoid and withdraw from the learning process. Over prolonged periods, this withdrawal also can contribute to burnout and depression (Bynum and Haque 2016).


3. Lack of self-efficacy/growth mindset

Self-efficacy, or the growth mindset, is a common theme often found in the literature; it is the belief in your own ability to achieve learning or performance standards (Bandura, 1991;Latham & Locke, 1991; Sharma & Writer, 2015).

Self-efficacy influences task choice, effort, and persistence, and can also help determine which learning strategies to apply to obtain maximum gain.

Usually, the level of self-efficacy is correlated with goal-setting and achievement:  A student with greater self-efficacy sets higher goals and attains higher levels of achievement Learners with high levels of self-efficacy tend to blame failure on a lack preparation, while those with low self-efficacy tend to blame their lack of ability. Students with low levels of self-efficacy are more prone to allow negative feedback to have a negative influence on their performance and attitudes.


4. Social comparison bias

Spoiler alert! If you keep on comparing yourself to others, you will almost always find somebody better than you. Just don't.


Of course, the list goes on and on, but the examples above should give you a general idea of what to be cautious of.


19. Random variable(s)


A random variable part is an indispensable part of any econometric model. It tries to factor in the unforeseeable into the model's prediction. It might also be used to explain one of the most widespread phenomena in language learning — repeating a word dozens of times and still not being able to acquire it.

Even though this is a really annoying problem, I want to assure you that it's ubiquitous. It also has a perfectly reasonable explanation.


All you need to understand it is a Gaussian function aka "The Bell Curve."


The Bell Curve


Gaussian functions are often used to represent the probability density function of a normally distributed random variable with expected value μ = b and variance σ2 = c2.

What that means is that the bell curve shows you what's the probability of a random variable.

What variables are we talking about?

It can be anything. For example, the variable might take the form of an IQ distribution in society or the size of a biceps among men. Or, in our case, the probability of memorizing a word.

The bell shows you what the chances that a given event will take place are. You can see that most of the time, you won't have problems with memorizing words. The probability of this happening will fall into the 2a range.

However, up to 3% (1a range) of all the words can be treated as outliers. They will either be extremely easy (the right side of the curve) or extremely difficult to memorize (the left side of the curve), and as such, they will require a lot of reviews.

It doesn't matter how much you optimize your learning, this phenomenon will always take place.


Factors affecting word difficulty - the summary


As you have seen, there are lots of factors affecting word difficulty i.e., your ability to remember and recall vocabulary. Effective learning is never about doing one or two things right. It's about combining all the best practices into an efficient learning system. Even then, you can still expect that there will be a small group of words which will be more challenging to memorize. Get used to it.

However, if you have problems with a specific word, I would stay longer with it and analyze it logically — what are its constituents? Is there any logic to it? Can you associate it with something? That should increase your chances of learning this word.

How many of these factors do you incorporate into your learning system? Let me know!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 47  flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


How Can I Tell That I Really Know Words Actively – The Ultimate Test of Active Vocabulary

How Can I Tell That I Really Know Words Actively


If you decide to learn a language, one of the most important decisions you can make is choosing the right learning strategy. This choice will either allow you to progress fast or break you mentally like a twig. It's the difference between moving forward in a Ferrari versus using your tears as a lubricant while you crawl.

In the past, I have written a lot about what factors affect vocabulary acquisition and how to tell decent or good language methods from the bad ones. However, people often mistakenly interpret their initial results with a given method as a sign that it truly works. It's like getting into an expensive SPA and seeing crap-stained walls with the graffiti "Steve was here". Disappointing, that is.

When it comes to increasing your passive vocabulary, it almost doesn't matter which strategy you choose - reading, learning flashcards, humming songs. They will all work, more or less, equally well.

However, testing whether your method of activating vocabulary is effective is way trickier. Let me show you how you can verify it and what you should be wary of.


How Can I Tell That I Really Know Words Actively


2 types of recall


Considering that we're interested in testing whether you know your words actively, we must test your recall. In other words, we must know whether you can retrieve a word in your target language when you signal it to your brain during a conversation.

The first thing you need to know is that there are two types of recall.

  • free recall
  • cued recall

Free recall


Free recall is the process in which a person is given a list of items to remember and then is tested by being asked to recall them in any order. There is no natural context which might trigger the words you know.

Free recall often displays evidence of primacy and recency effects. Simply put, if you have just finished your learning session and you can feel dozens of words thrumming in your head, you have just experienced recency effect. The information that you are exposed to at the of your studies is easier to recall. The same goes for the information you have contact with at the beginning of your session - that's the primacy effect.


Cued Recall


Cued recall is when a person is given a list of items to remember and is then tested with cues to remember the material.

The word "cues", or contextual triggers, as I like to call them, are key concepts here.


Why Free Recall Is a Bad Measure of Your Ability to Remember


Anytime somebody switches to a new learning method, especially if their baseline was good, old-fashioned cramming, they might experience improved initial recall. Does it mean that they remember more long-term? Absolutely not, although but a few people are aware of this.

"Free recall exercises, are good measures of initial learning and remembering (Mayer, 2009)."

The word "initial" in this case is just a synonym for short-term learning. It gives you an illusion that knowledge has been acquired. However, once this illusion is confronted by precise measurements, it turns out that not much has been retained.


Free Recall and the Illusion of Knowledge


It's also a very common theme regarding many passive learning strategies like reading, restudying, highlighting, etc. The science knows beyond the shadow of the doubt that they are useless, but students still prefer them over battle-tested strategies like spaced repetition.

1. " For example, studies have shown that learners tend to prefer massing or cramming (table 1) over spacing because of the illusion that it is faster and more effective (Kornell, 2009). Technique Definition Massing Learning events are massed together in a short amount of time. Cramming Special form of massing; learning something intensely, often for the first time, in the days or hours before a test. Spacing Learning events are spaced apart over a longer period of time."

Source: Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, Robert A. Bjork - Memory (Handbook of Perception and Cognition

2. "Despite the clear superiority of the recall method over the restudy method, students report they rarely use it when they study. One reason is that it is simply more work to practice facts by arranging a self-test and recalling them. But there is also something else going on. Studying by recalling just doesn’t seem as effective to students as reading back through their notes. Suppose we ask college students to respond to this scenario:

Students in two different classes read the same one-page essay. In Class A, the students were asked to write down as much as they could remember after they finished. In Class B, the students were given an opportunity to restudy the passage after they finished. After one week, all students were tested on their memory for the passage. Which class would you expect to have the higher test scores?

When memory researcher Jennifer McCabe posed a similar question to college students, she found an overwhelming preference for the second strategy, restudying, even though this approach is known to be inferior to the recall method in this situation. Why did the students get it wrong? Most likely, they based their answers on their own experience. They knew that when they finished reading material over and over, they felt confident in their memory. The facts seemed clear and fresh. They popped into mind quickly and easily as the students reviewed them. This is not always so when recalling facts in a self-test—more effort is often required to bring the facts to mind, so they don’t seem as solid. From a student’s point of view, it can seem obvious which method—restudying—produces better learning. Robert Bjork refers to this as an “illusion of competence” after restudying. The student concludes that she knows the material well based on the confident mastery she feels at that moment. And she expects that the same mastery will be there several days later when the exam takes place. But this is unlikely. The same illusion of competence is at work during cramming, when the facts feel secure and firmly grasped. While that is indeed true at the time, it’s a mistake to assume that long-lasting memory strength has been created."

Source: Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, Robert A. Bjork - Memory (Handbook of Perception and Cognition

The above echoes something I have been saying for years - if you simply assume that a learning strategy is effective just because you feel some initial benefits, it doesn't make it true. Unless you test it, it's better to suspend your opinion for some time.


Read more:

Example: intensive reading and initial learning

A good example of this phenomenon is intensive reading. It can certainly be a good and effective learning strategy for advances learners, but it's absolutely terrible for beginners.

Intensive reading led to more immediate vocabulary gains but spaced practice led to greater long‐term retention.

These "immediate vocabulary gains" are nothing more than a sign of initial learning. It shouldn't however be confused with long-term retention or, as I call it, the real learning. Sadly, most authors of language-related research don't seem to understand it.


What Is the Measure of Real Learning?



Once again, you can take almost any learning method and you will get (relatively) promising results short-term


However, only transfer tasks, such as using words in a conversation are a good measure of true learning (Mayer, 2009).

The More You Know, the Less You Feel Your Knowledge


Because your knowledge is context-dependent and context-activated. You might know thousands upon thousands of words but you won't "feel" them. Some of them may even stay buried in your mind for years before an opportunity arrives to use them. If you learn how to say "fibroma" in your target language, don't expect to use it unless you encounter a situation wherein you are forced to utilize this word.


This phenomenon can be explained by the concept of habituationThe more we commune with certain stimuli, the less we react to them. In other words, the more you use a language, the less you feel that you really know it. 

That's why some extremely competent language learners claim that they barely know a language at a B2 level, while pitiful beginners run around shouting that they are bilingual.


Read more: 

Stress - a Crucial Factor That Needs to Be Taken Into Consideration


Every good language learning methodology can be encapsulated by the Marines' adage:


"Train as you fight, fight as you train"


You should always to train for reality in a manner that mimics the unpredictability and conditions of real life. Anything else than that is simply a filler. Unfortunately, regardless of how good your learning method is, it's almost impossible to incorporate a crucial factor for your ability to retrieve and know your words actively - stress.

Even if you can confidently reproduce words from ANKI at the comfort of your home, it doesn't mean that you will be able to use them in a conversation. Learning in such conditions is always, to some degree, detached from reality. You have time to contemplate the right answer, and everything feels pretty snugly and comfy.


Compare it with a typical conversation where:

  • there is background noise
  • you have to maintain eye contact
  • you need to focus on what your partner is saying 
  • you do your best to control your pronunciation
  • you have to actively reproduce hundreds of words and apply grammar to them
  • etc.

Or to put it plainly, lying under your blankie and doing ANKI is a bit less stressful than trying to recall some word in a conversation while a crazy German local is sparging you with his saliva and screaming "Was?! WAS?!".


How Stress Affects Your Brain


The Ultimate Test of Active Vocabulary


Talking is stressful, especially for introverts. The worst thing that stress does in such situations is that limits the activity of your frontal lobe. This part of the brain is responsible for, among, others, emotional expression, problem solving, memory, judgment and language.

Once the cortisol floods your brain, your body goes into the survival mode. You don't need your cool problem-solving skill or silver tongue then. You need to wrestle some huge-ass bear or get the hell out of there. That's why you lose access to any memories and skills that are not well-activated as they are the ones that cost the most energy to retrieve. Your body prioritizes muscle at this point, not ATP-devouring thinking.


"The prefrontal cortex (PFC)—the most evolved brain region—subserves our highest-order cognitive abilities. However, it is also the brain region that is most sensitive to the detrimental effects of stress exposure. Even quite mild acute uncontrollable stress can cause a rapid and dramatic loss of prefrontal cognitive abilities, and more prolonged stress exposure causes architectural changes in prefrontal dendrites." Source: Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function


At the same, stress doesn't seem to affect hippocampus so much. This region of the brain is typically linked to declarative memory, such as memory for events and facts (Squire, 2004; Squire & Zola, 1996). Interestingly, acute mild stress exposure has no effect on or can actually improve the memory consolidation functions of the hippocampus.


If your eyes glazed over after reading these quotes and you started questioning life choice that brought you to this article, let me assure you that they are extremely important. What these facts tell us is this:

"Non-consolidated information that hasn't been transferred to your long-term memory is extremely prone to any stress-related disturbances. On the other hand, long-term memories stored in your hippocampus are immune to mild and medium levels of stress".

That means that it doesn't matter how confidently you can recall words in the comfort of your home. If your vocabulary is not consolidated well enough, instead of producing fluent speech, it might turn out that you sound like a goat in the middle of the breeding period.

However, there is an easy way to fix it.


Want to Know Words Actively? Overlearn!



Items that are difficult to learn should be overlearned to ensure long term retention (Hulstijn, 2001).


Overlearning refers to practicing newly acquired skills beyond the point of initial mastery. In the context of languages, it means that even if you CAN recall a given word while doing ANKI, or in a conversation, but it takes you some time, you can still improve

How?

Unsurprisingly, you need to crank out more sentences with the word. Make sure that the contexts you use vary as well.

Try to recall the last time when you saw a baby (1,5 - 3-year old). Have you noticed that it keeps on repeating the same word over and over again in different sentences and collocations? That's what overlearning is all about. The easiest, or maybe the only way, to apply it properly is to talk to yourself. I dare say that no one would be patient enough to listen to this waffle while being sober.


It's enough that you find a question and start answering it in a very monotonous way while constantly reusing a problematic word.

Q: Do you like apples?

A: Yes, I like apples. Apples are sweet. I like sweet apples, and I eat them often. I don't eat them often when I can't buy them. I but them in a shop, however, if I don't buy them, then I don't eat them.

You get the gist. Children are a wonderful example of overlearning in action. For example, not that long time ago, my son got so excited by getting a piece of cheese that he repeated this word 53 times (yes, I counted).

53 freaking times. It made me feel lazy and question the effort I put into learning!


How Can I Tell That I Really Know Words Actively - Summary



Most language learning methodologies are plagued by one fatal flaw. They make you believe that being able to reproduce a word in the comfort of your home is equivalent to really knowing it.

Unfortunately, the truth is more complicated. First of all, the ultimate test of your active vocabulary is always a conversation. If you can comfortably recall your newly acquired vocabulary, then you can be relatively confident that your approach works. I say "relatively" because unless you test a given method, you can't be sure that it's precisely what makes you recall words effectively. Most of the time, it's the results of combining a couple of learning strategies. 

What's more, if your learning method doesn't involve context and active transfer of your vocabulary between contexts, you can rest assured that it sucks.

Last but not least, if your learning strategy does involve context and active information transfer them, you should put more effort into overlearning those problematic words.

Keep in mind that this is one of those situations where individual differences kick in. Some people are more immune to stress than others. As a consequence, the degree to which you will have to overlearn words will often depend on your genetics and environmental conditioning.


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 25 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


Achieve Full Language Fluency with the Deep Integration of Languages into Your Daily Life

full language fluency of a foreign languages

Achieving full language fluency is certainly not easy. The internet is filled with all sorts of advice on how to do it. And that's on top of all those shiny lists of language learning tools. No wonder, after all, these are extremely important elements in the whole process. However, in a whirlwind of all kinds of language learning discussions, it's easy to lose sight of one thing - the criterion of utility.

The utility criterion tells us one very simple thing - we should preferentially use things that are directly applicable in our lives.

It doesn't matter how much time you spend going through your textbooks. If the language is not part of your life, the textbook will most often be thrown in the corner at the first sign of a life/time crisis.

It is not difficult to imagine that you are going on vacation for 2 weeks and completely neglect your studies because YOLO, and "let's party dude!". Or suddenly you get sick and you feel so weak that you lack the strength to lift a book.

Sure, you can blame this state of affairs on your lack of willpower or the adverse conjunction of the planets, but the fact is that your contact with language has been neglected because it is not a part of your life!


Full language fluency - languages as a versatile tool


Perhaps the entire system of education is to blame. We are used to thinking that language is yet another school subject. Or thinking that learning a language is drudgery and that "I will cram a couple more words and then I am finally free and will do something interesting."

We forget that language is a tool. And not just any! We're not talking about a rusty knife with a bent handle.

We're talking about a cool Swiss army knife!

There are many ways to integrate languages into your daily life to guarantee that you will achieve full fluency.

Remember that the deeper the integration, the greater the chance that you will learn the language not only fluently but also quickly.


Foreign languages as a tool for entertainment


Broadly understood entertainment is certainly one of the easiest changes you can make. There are so many ways to relax after all! What's more, nobody has to force us to do it. I am yet to hear a mom yelling at her son, "Stop learning, you dweeb. Watch something for once. Oh! I have failed as a parent!".

Here are a few "entertainment" categories that you should include in your daily plan:

Remember that no activity is a waste of time if it is done in a foreign language.


1) Full language fluency - Music



Music is not only a great tool to improve your listening comprehension, but it can also help you to remember words better.

If you don't know what to listen to in the language of your choice, I highly recommend the Music Map website. It allows you to quickly find a lot of exciting artists based on your current musical tastes.

In other words - enter the artist's name and enjoy the sweet view of dozens of other artists.


Here is an example for Rammstein:

2) Full language fluency - watching movies / series


Films, and in particular TV series, are one of the pleasures you don't need to convince anyone of. Often, no more than a few days is enough to get an incurable condition called "one more episode-itis".

Here is a list of some interesting sites where you can watch TV series or movies in the original language or dubbed. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section.

You can find more resources in my Language Links Database.

I recommend Netflix in particular. You can change a default language of TV series and movies there as well as enable subtitles.

And all this without worrying that the link on the page does not work or that you will see for the 10th time in one day "Do you want to meet singles in your area?". It is one of the best language investments I've made over many years.


3) Full language fluency - exploring interests


Like most people, you are probably quirky. You have your own world, and your own interests to which you can effortlessly devote lots of time. Why not use it to get one step close to achieving full language fluency?

It doesn't matter if you are interested in reading thyme dregs or a 50-meter chinchilla throw. I guarantee you that a little googling is enough to find forums or websites of people who share your passion.


Here are some examples of interesting sites:

4) Full language fluency - gossip magazines


I will say it again - nothing is a waste of time if it is done in foreign languages! The next time your husband catches you reading about Brad Pitt's iron buttocks, just shout shrilly "I'm learning! Do not disturb!" Or do it in German to fluster him. That works better than a pepper spray.

I feel dirty writing this, but here are some recommendations:
  • English (http://hollywoodlife.com/)
  • French (https://www.fan2.fr/)
  • German (https://www.ok-magazin.de/)
  • Spanish (http://www.mundotkm.com/ar/hot-news)

5) Full language fluency - Computer games


If you are hellbent on keeping the last link connecting your childhood with the cold and cruel world of adults alive, I recommend taking up computer games. Especially those that are rich in various dialogues.

The best site where you can find computer games in many languages is Steam.


Foreign language as a tool for professional development



The modern world is not a welcoming place. If you have any hopes of becoming a force to be reckoned with, you need to develop and sharpen your skills continually. Just a moment of inattention is enough to get mangled by the competition, who will then proceed to graciously stomp over your carcass. Terrible. I know.

I recommend finding your preferred sources of specialized information in languages of your choice. This is the easiest way always to be one step ahead of most people in your industry.


Warning - the initial shock

It is worth mentioning that deep integration of a foreign language into life is not all butterflies and rainbows. Initially, you may feel strong resistance from the brain. This pink, slimy bastard will try to talk you out of trying to surround yourself with a foreign language, "John, don't learn Korean! What will neighbors say?".

You should be ready for it. It will pass with time. However, it remains an open question how much time will be needed for this.

If you already have some experience with intensive language learning, you probably won't need much time to get used to new experiences. If you're inexperienced, accept that you'll need up to a few weeks.


Achieving Full language fluency - Summary


Often the main difference between a person who has mastered a language and the one who has given up is the extent to which they have made the language part of their lives.

Each additional activity performed in a given language anchors it even deeper.

Such integration will make your learning fully resistant to the turmoils of life. The border between "cramming" and normal life will begin to blur, and eventually it will disappear.

You will always know when this moment will come, as it is truly unforgettable. It reveals itself in the following question: "Did I read / hear it in a foreign language or in my native tongue?"


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 12 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


The Curse of the Hamster Wheel of Knowledge – Why Becoming a Real Expert Is Very Difficult

The curse of the hamster wheel of knowledge

A fascinating and, let's be honest, an inseparable part of human nature is attributing to oneself mainly positive qualities, i.e. egocentric bias.

Egocentric bias - a tendency to explain the consequences of one's own behavior in such a way as to increase positive and reduce negative significance for one's self-esteem.

And maybe I am slightly prejudiced because of my interest in memory, but it seems to me that nowhere else is it as visible as in the work we do.

How many times have you met a doctor, IT specialist, or even a chef who said he was average or mediocre? That's right. It doesn't happen often.

The truth is, there are very few real experts. Not that people are lazy or lacking in intelligence.

All because of the phenomenon I call ... * sinister background music *


THE CURSE OF THE HAMSTER WHEEL OF KNOWLEDGE



What is the curse of the hamster wheel of knowledge?


Before proceeding to clarify the nature of the curse itself, it is worth starting with a reminder of what the Pareto principle is.


The Pareto principle



The Pareto principle says that statistically, in many areas of life, 20% of the potential causes are associated with 80% of the results.

This does not mean, of course, that the ratio is always 20/80. Sometimes it will be 10/90 or 30/70.

The most important conclusion, however, is that most often a relatively small group of variables will be responsible for most of the results.

How does this relate to the work we do?


The Pareto principle for work


By transposing the above rule onto professional soil, it is not difficult to notice that in any profession there are a limited number of tasks or problems that will dominate the workload.


Knowledge Pyramid


The next step that will help you understand the curse of the hamster wheel of knowledge is to look at the knowledge pyramid.



Although it is sometimes criticized for lack of precision, this pyramid still shows one important thing: active learning, such as performing activities, guarantees much more effective assimilation of information.

In other words, the information we don't use very quickly fades from our minds.

What's more, the more abstract the information is, the faster we forget it.


Final explanation of the curse of the hamster wheel of knowledge



Summarizing the above, we can say that:

  1. 1
    A limited number of problems and tasks fill most of the time in any profession.
  2. 2
    Unused knowledge (especially abstract) quickly leaves our minds.

And this is the curse of the hamster wheel of knowledge.

Most of us have no idea how to retain a great deal of knowledge in our mind, and thus it is quickly forgotten. At the same time, we do not have to suffer undue consequences for this. The lesser amount of knowledge we have and use is able to address the tasks we face, through repetition caused by the Pareto principle.

Thus, most people are at a level of competence that guarantees no one will kick them in the ass, making them a corporate piñata.

But make no mistake about it - it is the so-called survivable level of competence, which is self-sustaining at most.

However, it is no indicator of sophistication or highly specialized knowledge.



An example of a hamster wheel of knowledge - building muscle mass



Initially, I wanted to Google relevant articles or statistics for this section. However, I found that it would be easier to just relate an anecdote from my own life, which for some reason stuck in my mind.

It was relatively easy for me to notice it because I obsessively remember absolutely everything in every field that interests me, in particular anything related to medicine, nutrition and physiology.

A good friend of mine, during one of our conversations, mentioned that he is considering testosterone supplementation because he is not particularly pleased with the growth rate of his muscle mass.

The training and nutrition plan that he got from his trainer with 15 years of experience can be called a classic.

Lift 3 times a week for power to hit every muscle group 2-3 times, eat 5 meals a day, and ingest a ton of strange supplements that if they had an effect, it was definitely a placebo.


After looking at the whole thing, it turned out that:
  • His basal metabolic rate was poorly calculated and was not further adjusted for his weight loss.
  • The optimal amount of protein needed for muscle mass synthesis had been incorrectly calculated.
  • Before starting training, he was not asked to perform thyroid tests. To be honest, I've never heard a trainer instruct a client in my life, despite the fact that in the event of a thyroid disorder, muscle building and regeneration will be impaired.
  • The coach hasn't recommended measuring baseline testosterone. Most mean nowadays have abysmally low levels of this hormone, and it can be easily increased.
  • Carnosine had been recommended as a supplement, although it is found abundantly in meat which my friend eats in abundance. For example, about 450 g of chicken has 2g of carnosine in it, and 450 g of beef about 1.5g. At the same time, the saturation threshold for carnosine is about 2g. After crossing the threshold, it ceases to be effectively absorbed in the small intestine.
  • It was recommended to take BCAA, or branched chain amino acids. This is all the more strange because it is taught in school that proteins are broken down into amino acids and that proteins of animal origin contain large amounts of branched chain amino acids. In addition, he also took whey protein hydrolyzate, which as a supplement of animal origin is also broken down into amino acids, including large quantities into branched chain amino acids.
  • Etc.

I could go on and on about what else could be done, but I think the above is enough to highlight the following thought:

the moment when you think you know enough is the moment when you condemn yourself to mediocrity.

To become a real expert, you need to constantly expand your knowledge.

Let's discuss the simple ways you can do it.



How to fight the curse of the hamster wheel of knowledge


Don't worry. We are not talking about smearing your face with bat guano or sticking dill into your colon during the new moon. I mean, it will certainly not hurt, but it won't be that useful.

The following approach is needed here:


1. Have a system


99% of the people I've ever talked to have absolutely no systematic way of acquiring knowledge.


Most often they work on the principle of throwing wet paper at the wall. If you read or listen to information enough, something will probably stick.

If you give yourself 20 years to be decent in your field of choice, then the above solution is completely rational.

However, if you want to do it much faster, create your own learning system.

By the learning system I mean a fixed way of acquiring new information.

The one I usually recommend is simply downloading a review optimization program (e.g. ANKI) and entering the information you want to remember.


2. Don't stop learning


It doesn't matter how much you already know. It's always worth assuming that you still don't know enough. If you already study regularly, you should not have special problems with this.

If you have trouble with regularity, you can always set an overarching rule that you must stick to every day.

It can be, for example, learning 3 new facts a day.


3. Create a knowledge map


I say it repeatedly: one of the biggest challenges in science is to be aware of what we don't know as accurately as possible.

Although this sounds abstract, it is perfectly logical. Until you know that there is knowledge that you have not yet acquired, you will not be able to access it in any way, nor will you be able to even consider using it to solve a problem.

A good example is an IT specialist who has learned to program in a given language at an intermediate level and has been using the same commands over and over again to solve various kinds of problems.

Although this knowledge level is often sufficient to solve the problem, it is neither optimal nor efficient.

So your goal is to create a long-term knowledge map, i.e. a list of things you need to learn. You can do this even by browsing through appropriate textbooks or courses and systematically acquiring encountered knowledge.


Have you noticed any signs of the hamster wheel of knowledge curse in your immediate surroundings? Let me know in the comments!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 13 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


Effective Listening Skills – A Weird Fact About How We Process Foreign Languages

How often have you wondered how the brain processes sound? After all, that is what contributes to effective listening skills. Not that often. I guess. Why would you?

I know I didn’t.

At least, until I have stumbled across the research of Dr. Emili Balaguer-Ballester and her colleague Andrew Rupp of Heidelberg from Bournemouth University’s (BU). Their goal was to answer the following question…

What Affects How We Hear?

 

Do we hear sounds as they are, or do our expectations about what we are going to hear instantaneously shape the way sound is processed?

Through the use of computational neuroscience models, Dr. Balaguer-Ballester and his team intend to map the way that the brain processes sound. Here is the most interesting conclusion they have come to:

“Almost 80% of connections between central and pre-cortical areas during sound processing seem to be top-down i.e. from the brain to the auditory peripheral system and not bottom-up, which is perhaps unexpected,” he explains. “As sound comes from an external stimulus, it would be fair to assume that most of our processing occurs from what we hear, but that is apparently not the case. What your brain expects to hear can be as important as the sound itself.” – Dr Balaguer-Ballester

This is backed up by the fact that it takes hundreds of milliseconds for sound to be processed along the neurons from the ear to the brain, which does not explain how we can immediately recognize the sex of a speaker or identifying a melody after just a few milliseconds

More information: “Understanding Pitch Perception as a Hierarchical Process with Top-Down Modulation.” PLoS Comput Biol 5(3): e1000301 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000301

Does Your Mind Play Tricks On You?

 

 

Actually, it’s quite likely that you have already fallen victim to this phenomenon! It has happened to me dozens of time. Especially after a longer session of speaking some foreign language. I’m sure you KNOW the feeling!

Your brain switches into the “X language” mode. Suddenly, you hear some voices outside the window. Why the hell are they speaking Swedish?!!! Especially in Poland?! And why can’t I understand what they are talking about? What kind of dialect is it?!

Oh, wait. It’s not Swedish. It’s Polish. Damn you brain! Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 60 times, I’m an idiot!

Possible Explanation Of This Phenomenon

 

It seems that the most plausible explanation is as follows – the brain is all about expectations and context. Have you ever noticed that when you learn something in one context, like the school, it becomes difficult to recall when that context shifts?

This is because learning depends heavily on how and where you do it: it depends on who is there, what is around you and how you learn.

It turns out that in the long-term people learn information best when they are exposed to it in different ways or different contexts. When learning is highly context-dependent, it doesn’t transfer well or stick as well over the years.

How Does It Affect Your Learning?

Effective Listening Skills

Picture by: Sanja Gjenero

Here are some methods I have come up with which might aid your listening: (and here are over 20 more)

1) Browse dictionary before listening

Just browse. You don’t have to learn any words nor do you have to memorize them.

If you know in the advance what the programme/audition/episode is about, pay special attention to the vocabulary which might appear there. That is pure logic – it’s unlikely that you’ll need to know the names of herbs if you intend to watch an action movie.

Of course, the best possible dictionary which you might use for this purpose is a pocket dictionary. It’s very handy and it contains the most frequently used words and sentences.

So far this technique has been working really great for me! If you test it, make sure to let me know about the results!

2) Read the transcription before listening

It’s not always possible to do so. But there are some listening materials which facilitate this approach. For example podcasts or language programmes for beginners.

You can also read lyrics of the song before listening to it. This method is much more effective than just trying to figure out what your favorite artist is singing about. It’s also so much better than the awkward muttering “mmmnaaaahh” when you forget the lyrics.

That’s also a guarantee that you won’t butcher the song with the stuff you THINK you hear (read more about effective listening here)

3) Read the general outline of the thing you’re going to listen to

Watching TV series in original? Read an episode description beforehand! This way, you will know (more or less) what to expect. And as you have learned so far – it’s all about what your brain expects to hear!

You can find them on IMDB.

Just a word of warning! I’m sure you have heard many times the following piece of advice – watch movies / TV series with subtitles. This is the utter BS.

The ROTI (return on time investment) from this method is incredibly low. You’ll better off just listening to a random radio audition.

Whether you like it or not, our brains are NOT able to simultaneously follow the images, subtitles, sounds and a plot.

What’s more, following this piece of advice gives you the illusory feeling of understanding.

You usually concentrate on reading subtitles and start feeling that you understand most of the things happening on the screen. The bitter disappointment comes later when you try to re-watch the same thing without subtitles.

You have no damn idea what these funny figures on the screen babble about!

Why do I sound so sure? Because I’ve been there! Luckily, I came to my senses pretty quickly and realized that this method is, let’s not be afraid to use this word, absolutely useless.

Summary

 

One thing you should remember after reading this article is this:

What your brain expects to hear can be as important as the sound itself

If you want to acquire listening skills and get the most out of every minute of listening, you should always try to get familiar with the material you are going to listen to.

Do you have any other ideas how this fact might help others to improve their listening skills? Let us all know!

Laying the Foundation for Learning a Language – How to Learn a Language on Your Own (Part 1)

learn a language on your own

You probably have felt this burning need inside to learn a new language once or twice in your life. But there's a good chance that you didn't know where to start.

It's like standing in front of the dark forest. You know that you have to get through it in order to get what you want.

But it's scary and lonely, and you're hungry, and... look! What a mess! I must clean my room and do some other ... stuff. The point is - not knowing the way is probably one of the biggest obstacles on the way to master the language.

And that's the ultimate goal of this series of articles - to show you where to start, what to do and what to avoid. Each part of the series is devoted to a different issue.

You will learn how to tackle every component of learning a language - including notoriously gruesome grammar and vocabulary.

I really do hope that it will help you get started.

I've learned 8 languages so far and I know one thing - if you can't create the system which emulated what you do, there is a good chance you have no idea what you're doing.

Without further ado:


0. Choose The Language


I assume that you already have a pretty good idea which language you would like to learn.

If you're still on the fence - check this article. it should help you make a right decision.


1. Motivation


This is where it all starts. Sure, other things are important as well. But ask yourself this - why do I want to learn this language?

There are no wrong answers. The reason should be valid for you, not for others.

Do you want to get a new job? Impress your wife? Visit some country? Be able to read Manga?

Remember - if your motivation is flimsy there's a good chance that you'll drop your project as soon as some obstacles get in your way. You definitely don't want that to happen! Can you imagine the surge of anger after you realize that you put hundreds of hours into the project which is a flop?!

You'll probably punch some nice, old lady to vent! That's why you should make sure that your motivation is strong enough to pull you through your darkest hours.

Your desire to learn is a foundation - cherish it.

Let it be a constant reminder of why you do what you do. Reinforce right motives as often as you can - they will be your shield against all the distractions and temptations


Learn a language on your own


Your initial momentum will help you break down all the barricades.

But can you increase your motivation or is it something constant? Well, great news everyone! You can. If there is something I've learned about learning, in general, it's that: the faster your progress is the more and harder you're willing to work to see even more impressive results.

So how can I increase my progress? Read on. We will get to that. My personal favorite to boost my motivation is betting.

How does it work?

Bet with someone that you'll learn, let's say, 300 words in 2 weeks (set a deadline). If you lose you have to suffer consequences - e.g. pay your friend 200$. If you win - great, you've achieved your goal. It's worked wonders for me!

What are other great ways to keep yourself motivated?

Read the Forbes article.

2. Change Attitude Or Die


Another pivotal part of laying the foundations is getting rid of the mental barriers you've been cherishing up to this day.

One of the most widespread (and harmful) beliefs concerning languages are:

I believe that they are terribly destructive (and obviously not true) and seriously impair your learning ability if you do not become aware of them.

That's why you need to become more mindful and

learn how to overpower your inner demons of procrastination and laziness.

So go ahead - slap yourself every time when you catch yourself having these thoughts. The words which you use to describe yourself shape your reality. That's why you should remove all the negative terms from your vocabulary, as well as the word "can't".

Way too many people are stifled by their own preconceived beliefs about what they can and can’t do. Don't be one of those people.


3. Set a Goal


But why? Do I have to? Nope, you don't have to do anything. But if you're vague about what you want to achieve, you 'll probably never do it.

You have to see the target to be able to shoot it! Remember, your goals should be SMART.

So what is a good goal?
  • I want to learn Spanish at a communicative level to be able to get by in Mexico in 2 months
  • I want to learn Russian only to read the works of Dostoevsky in original in 4 months
  • I want to speak German fluently to get the job in the company XYZ in 7 months

I believe that determining an initial level of language which you want to achieve is essential. It has a great impact on the learning methods you should choose and as well on the scope of material.

Be as specific as you only can. You can, of course, learn a given language without purpose if you're passionate about it but most people will simply give up after some time.


4. Get The Right Resources (and not too many of them)


Let's start with basics and explain why you shouldn't use too many learning materials. The reason is simple - having too many options paralyze our ability to make decisions.

That's why I typically provide myself with the three following things:


A pocket dictionary


Laying the Foundation for Learning a Language


Why is it indispensable? Think about it...that's right! The smaller the dictionary the more useful words are included there.

Don't waste your time and money on any big dictionary at the beginning (or at all). The good dictionary should include the most important meanings of a given word.

If you can see only one meaning for each word - skip this dictionary and look for another one. Another quality of the great dictionaries is that they always contain the most popular phrases including given words.

And finally! Pronunciation! Always check if a dictionary has a phonetic transcription of words. Don't worry if you don't know how to read these strangers symbols right now. It's not that difficult.


A good grammar book


Usually, any which is not dedicated to advanced learners is just fine.


A phrase book


It shows in a very neat way frequently used phrases and sentences.

That means you can memorize them and use them right away!


5. Set a Deadline


If you think you shouldn't set one then you're not serious about your project. Even if you don't achieve exactly what you wanted in the given period of time - that's ok. The world hasn't ended. Draw conclusions and move on.

Read Six things about deadlines by Seth Godin

GET TO WORK!


If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, or maybe some other burning problem, drop me a message. And don't forget to subscribe if you enjoyed reading this guide.



Read Other Parts of the Series "How to Learn a Language on Your Own"



The Impossible Tuesday – Your Day To Overcome All The Excuses and Prove How Tough You Are

The Impossible Tuesday

We are certainly walking paradoxes. We all want to do something big and be successful. Unfortunately, very often we get stuck in the rut or in the mode of learned helplessness.

We just lie there in a puddle of our tears and weakness. Every now and then when someone passes us by, we cast them a most imploring look with a silent request “help”. But the help never comes.

It’s time to change it. It’s time to act and kick yourself in a butt. And the Impossible Tuesday will show you how.

Two Typical Strategies To Make Progress

 

I believe that maybe 0,001 percent of all the people have this natural, inner motivation that allows them to always work at full capacity. No matter what they do, they always do their best.

But what about the rest of us, mere mortals?

We are royally screwed. Usually, we are doomed to use two compensatory strategies:

  1. building habits
  2. using external motivation (i.e. forcing ourselves to do something)

Building habits

Building habits is the best way to guarantee the long-term success. Having a habit means that your brain doesn’t have to spend much energy to perform a given activity. What’s more, the activity itself is usually the source of constant satisfaction. After all, you are doing something productive every day!

Normally, this is the best possible way to do something. You don’t huff and puff every day to achieve your goals. You are consistent and methodical. As great as this strategy is, it has one big disadvantage – it takes time. Not everyone has enough patience to do it. Not everyone wants to wait a couple of years to be great at something. That leads us to the second strategy.

Using external motivation

Even though the consistency is the key, a short sprint every now and then might help your progress skyrocket. This is what allows you to grow and develop fast – short spurts of concentrated focus.

Think about a physical development, for instance. If you do 20 push-ups per day, you will get bigger and fitter only for some time and then hit the wall. However, if you force yourself to put some more effort once per week, you will keep on growing and developing.

If you learn 5 words per day, then pushing yourself to do 50 words on just one day will more than double your learning pace. Will it frazzle you at the same time? Hell no. That’s just short sprint. You do it and then you’re back to your usual pace.
The thing is that usually it’s difficult to get a grip on yourself and actually do something.

That’s why you need a gentle reminder to get off your butt. A gentle kick, if you will. Actually, the truth is that you probably need a boot so far up your ass that it will act as a pacemaker.

And I am here to deliver this kick.

The Impossible Tuesday – What Is it All About?

 

The Impossible Tuesday
The idea for the Impossible Tuesdays came to me over two years ago. I knew that I was doing a lot but I felt that I could much more. I just needed some reason. Something to force myself. This is how the idea of the Impossible Tuesdays came to be.
I decided that on this very day, I will always try to push myself to do something impossible. Something I would never do normally because it’s too tiring and uncomfortable.
Here are some of the things I managed to pull off on this day:
  • learning 800 words during one day
  • talking to myself for 6 hours in Russian
  • doing 400 push-ups
Unfortunately, somewhere in the turmoil of life I neglected this idea and stopped celebrating this day. Recently, however, I decided to revive it and to share it with you. The Impossible Tuesdays are our chance to claw our way through all the bullshit excuses straight to the finish line. This is one day per week when we will prove that we are not a weak, disgusting, spongy blob and
we can do things we have never thought we could.
We are damn tough and we will prove it. It can be one day a week which makes all the difference.

Bets as the primary tools of The Impossible Tuesdays

 

If you decide that you’re in. You should know how to properly push yourself to do the impossible. Bets are the perfect tool for this purpose. It doesn’t matter how much you love doing something, there is always some border which you won’t cross. It’s uncomfortable, after all. I sure love learning new words but usually, after getting to one hundred I call it quits.

If, on the other hand, you dislike doing something, you need a whip over your head to make you act. In other words, you need to put something at stake.

Here is how bets work:

  1. Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
  2. Determine your TIME HORIZON (1 day in our case)
  3. BET with someone that you’ll achieve
  4. Choose your PUNISHMENT in case you fail to deliver (20$ for example)
  5. Send evidence to your bet buddy
Even though what you have just read is more than enough to act, you can read more about this method here – how to triple your productivity overnight.

Keep in mind that bets are fully flexible. You can mold them and twist them as much as you like to fit your goals.

Now that you know how to flail yourself properly, it’s good to familiarize yourself with a couple of extra guidelines.
They will allow you to maximize your effort.

How To Make Your Effort Count

The Impossible Tuesday - Your day to overcome all the excuses

If you already do something, do 4-5 times as much as you usually do

Remember that the Impossible Tuesdays are all about doing the impossible. Demand from yourself.
If you normally do 10 pushups, do 40.
If you noramlly read 20 pages of a book, read one hundred. Make yourself sweat and squeal.

If you want to take up a new activity – just do it

If you have always wanted to do something but have been delaying it indefinitely – this is your day.
It doesn’t have to be anything huge as long as you start. Always wanted to learn Chinese but life got in the way? Do as little as 1 unit from a textbook.

Break it down into many sessions

Doing a lot of repetitions of any activity is straining.
That’s why make sure you always break the entire process into many chunks.
Don’t even think about knocking out 200 flashcards in one sitting. Try to do it in at least a couple of sessions.

Identify “the dead time” and use it

Dead time is the time spent doing activities which don’t absorb all of our attention.
Think about sitting on the subway or standing in line. These seemingly useless moments can usually be used to do some more productive stuff. Plan ahead and consider how you can incorporate dead time into your Impossible Tuesday.

What can be your goal?

 

I can’t tell you what you should concentrate on. Only you know what’s important to you and what’s worth your blood and sweat and tears. I can tell you this – usually you should be doing the things you are actively avoiding. Brainstorm what that thing is for you.
Regardless of that, here are some proposals of the things you can bet on:

Working out:

  • running
  • push-ups
  • sit-ups
  • crunches

Learning:

Creativity

  • Brainstorm a problem you have
  • Come up with X ideas to improve some aspect of your life
  • Come up with a new product you can sell
  • Write X pages of something

Big projects

If you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comment.

The Final Words + The Invitation

 

Every idea needs a critical mass to gain motion. I don’t know if this will work out or maybe I will have to bury the hatchet in this idea. It’s up to you. However, if you decide to take part in, post your goals in the comments together with your bet.

If you can’t think of anything right now, think about it and post it later. On Wednesday come back and post your result as a reply to your original comment.

Who knows? Maybe this is the sign you have been waiting for!

If, however, you decide to bury this idea, know that you will have dirt on your hands.  The dirt that is soaked in guilt and shame. The stains left by it will taint your soul permanently and they will never go away. They will keep growing until they spill onto your very existence polluting everyone you love. It will …

Ok, ok. No more guilt-tripping! Join me in the comments! We will see how it goes and hopefully, we will make it a permanent thing.

P.S. You can increase your chances of sticking to your plan even more by making yourself accountable. Tell somebody about the challenge or tweet #ImpossibleTuesday together with your goal!

How to Self-Assess Your Progress – a Short Guide for Independent Learners

How to self-asses your progress - a short guide for independent learners

Learning on your own can be quite an unsettling experience, especially initially. Instead of being guided by a helpful hand of a coach or trainer, you cling to a clammy hand of doubt and despair. Questions like "What if I am wrong?", "Am I consolidating all the wrong things right now" become your bread and butter. To minimize the amount of all those unpleasantries, you need to learn how to self-assess your progress.

Sadly, choosing the right method to do it can be also confusing. After all, there are lots of ways to do it! No strategy is universal enough as to work for everyone. That's why I suggest that you spend some time thinking about the right way to assess your progress. If you don't do this, it will be challenging to tell whether you're pushing forward at the optimal pace or just spinning your wheels.



How to Self-Assess Your Progress as an Independent Learner


1. Use SRS (Spaced Repetition Software)


A fantastic feature of every SRS program, including my all-time favorite ANKI, is that every flashcard is a form of self-quiz. It provides you with immediate feedback about your knowledge.

It's like a virtual friend that regularly hangs out with you to make sure you have mastered your area of choice. You can't lose long-term with buddies like that!


2. Assess Others' Performance


We're getting a little meta here, but trying to evaluate somebody's performance, for example via teaching, is an excellent gauge of your current progress.

You see, it's very difficult to be able to single out somebody's mistakes unless you're on the same or a higher level than this person. Thus, doing so is a meta confirmation that you've achieved a certain level.

Of course, you don't have to teach someone to be able to benefit from this strategy. It can be as easy as observing somebody's performance on video. Or you can simply try to criticize somebody's work "theoretically".

For example, let's say that your goal is to create amazing facial creams. In that case, you can pick up any cream of one of your potential competitors and try to find flaws in it. At the same time, you can also try to find positives to consolidate your knowledge further.


3. Take part in interviews


Comparing your performance against other learners can tell you volumes about your current skill set or expertise. There is nothing more telling than seeing where you fall within a given group.


Interviews are a great form of a comparison between you and, often, hundreds of other candidates. Even if you're not looking currently for a job, it's still worth applying for one to test yourself.

If you fail, you will still get feedback from a company, and thus you will learn where you fell short. Heck, failing in itself, is a form of feedback.

If you succeed, you can ask for detailed feedback concerning your performance. Even if you turn the job down, you will still learn a lot.


4. Take part in Competitions/Contests/Tournaments


Competing with others is probably almost as old as our entire civilization and is still as popular as ever. Find a relevant competition that involves your skillset and see how you fare against other candidates.

An important benefit of this assessment method is that you also test how well you cope with pressure. Of course, it doesn't make much sense if your skill is performed in isolation. However, in all other cases, it's necessary to get out of the comfort zone to get a realistic picture of our expertise.


5. Take Online tests


Online tests can provide you with relatively precise and, more importantly, almost immediate feedback. In the era of the internet, finding one that is relevant to your field shouldn't be too challenging.

The only thing you should keep in mind is choosing the test of high quality. You need a test that can provide you with meaningful information. Sometimes, it simply means paying a couple of bucks.


6. Get a certificate


Certificates are one of the best ways to get very detailed feedback about your performance. It's not only a benchmark to measure your knowledge against - it can actually be something you can strive for. A source of inspiration if you will. If you want a meaningful confirmation that you've learned the material or skill effectively, look no further.


7. Produce/create something


In some cases, your goal is to create some masterpiece. It can be a program, a flying machine, a flamethrower, and whatnot. Creating the said item will allow you to assess your expertise critically.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
  • Does it work?
  • Does it work well?
  • Is there any room for improvement?
  • What do others think about it?

My Example - Composing Music


a short guide for independent learners


It's important to ask yourself these questions because if you just mindlessly keep on producing these items, you won't be able to improve. At least not by a significant margin.

You can use my experience as a case study. I have been composing for lots of years now with a plan for publishing my work in the future. You can call it my long-term side project. Whenever I finish an outline of a song, I send it to a group of my friends, asking them for a review. 

The group is selected based on one criterion — they are honest. If something is shit, it's shit, and there are no two ways about it. This isn't where the process ends.

To further maximize the usefulness and truthfulness of this feedback, I ask my friends to share it with one or two other people. These may be family members or just close friends.

Some of them listen to other genres of music, and some don't listen to music at all. Once I get all the reviews and comments, I paste them into an Excel file and analyze them.

A bit unorthodox way of composing, but it certainly helps to yank me out of the echo chamber in which many creators live in. It's very sobering sometimes to hear, "man, just delete this song." 


8. Use checklists


Checklists have been widely popular for at least a couple of decades now. It's hard to find even an averagely organized company that doesn't use it to some degree. And there are good reasons for that - they make the overwhelming manageable.

Of course, checklists are amazing at all levels of advancement, but they are especially useful for beginners. First of all, they allow you to decrease your cognitive load drastically. They are the life-ring that stops you from drowning in the excessive amount of information. One look and you know what should be done.

However, the most important benefit for independent learners is that they enable you to efficiently self-assess your progress. Upon performing a given activity, you can quickly consult such a list to see what was done right and where you fell short.


9. Videotape or record yourself


Videotaping yourself is a form of formative assessment since it allows you to assess your performance during instruction (i.e., performance).

Recording yourself on video is an amazingly simple and effective way to identify areas that you need to improve. Of course, it's not for everyone, and it won't apply to some areas of knowledge. However, it's a perfect feedback mechanism for musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers. 

The research certainly supports this way of learning:


Developing musicians typically engage in self-regulated practicing during the time that passes between lessons with their teachers. An important aspect of self-regulated practice is the ability to identify and correct areas of development in performance in the absence of a teacher’s feedback, but the effort required to perform as well as monitor a performance represents a challenge for any learner. 
Videotaping the performance and watching it afterward to fully concentrate on each task could constitute a solution to this problem. In our study, we verified how video feedback could affect the self-evaluation of intermediate-advanced musicians while practicing a new piece of music. 
To attain this objective, we analyzed and coded the self-evaluative comments of 16 classical guitarists while practicing. We then compared the number of coding entries in each category of a group of participants who used video feedback (n = 8) on four occasions over a period of ten practice sessions with those of a group of musicians who did not use video feedback (n = 8).
Our results indicate that musicians who used video feedback modified the way they formulated their self-evaluative comments while practicing and that these changes were more marked with higher-performing musicians. [[source]]

How to Self-Assess Your Progress - Summary


Knowing how to self-assess your progress as an independent learner is one of the most important keys to your success. Without that skill, you are bound to forever stray in the cognitive darkness or worse, beg for crumbles of advice from others' mouths.


Keep in mind that your feedback mechanism will heavily depend on what resources you have and your area of choice. It's also one of those cases where more is better. It's certainly preferable, especially if you want to be independent, to rely on more than one of the strategies above. Even if you can't pick a perfect feedback mechanism, you can incorporate smaller feedback drills to ensure you're not entirely without feedback.

Here is how you can self-assess your progress:

  • 1. use SRS (Spaced Repetition Software)
  • 2. assess others' performance
  • 3. take part in interviews
  • 4. take part in competitions/contests/tournaments
  • 5. take online tests
  • 6. get a certificate
  • 7. create or produce something
  • 8. use checklists
  • 9. Videotape or record yourself

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 14 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


Side Projects – Rediscover The Joy of Learning and Expand Your Knowledge

Side Projects – an easy way to rediscover your joy of learning


The general sentiment towards learning these days never ceases to amaze me. Whenever I mention that I love to study or read research papers in my spare time, I often hear perplexed grunts or shy hollering "burn him!". It's perfectly normal to binge-watch three seasons of some TV series over the weekend. A five-hour session of board games is entirely acceptable. I have this vague feeling that even if I sprinkled my nipples with glitter and pretended to be a pigeon in front of the local police station, the reaction would be kinder.

Unfortunately, learning, instead of being associated with joy, sounds like a lifetime sentence, especially for adults. Of course, this progression does not occur immediately but almost imperceptibly, step by step. Just look at children. Their unrestrained joy of learning and discovering the world is nothing short of contagious. It usually lasts until they reach the school age.

Schools are like a grotesque B-rated horror infirmary where kids get their first doses of venom. It poisons their souls and actively discourages them from learning. It all starts innocently. First homework, the ubiquitous sense of compulsion, displeased stare of their teachers are enough to kill anyone's enthusiasm.

Each of them leaves little scars on their souls that eventually turn into an utter reluctance to learn. For adults, studying is usually the equivalent of working on a galley. You know you have to do it to get your pesos and an extra ration of bread but to enjoy it ?! Only deranged lunatics like learning.

In this article, I wanted to show you one of the possible ways to rediscover your passion for learning thanks to a simple concept I call Side Projects. I believe it has great potential to change anyone's view on learning, including children.


What Are Side Projects?


Side projects, as the name inconspicuously suggests, stand in opposition to your main projects. We can safely assume that your main goals are inevitable. They are necessary to secure your or your family's financial future and to guarantee a high standard of living.

Side projects have absolutely nothing to do with overwhelming pressure.

Here is what side projects all about.


1. Any field of knowledge


A side project of your choice can concern any field of knowledge. The only thing that matters is your willingness to pursue this goal. Forget about money, pragmatism, profitability, or utility.

Wanna learn the names of all the saints in Romania? Cool!

Do you want to explore the life of various species of ants in your home country? Great choice.

Are you dreaming of becoming a specialist in the field of toilet bowls? Brilliant!

The only condition is that it charges you with tons of positive energy.


2. No daily goals or deadlines


The only set-in-stone rule regarding side projects is this - abandon all that productivity jive that hunts our lives on a day-to-day basis. There are no daily goals or deadlines. Spend as much time as you like on your side projects.


If, after 10 minutes of reading about a given field, you have had enough, finish your studies for today. Kick up your legs and enjoy your whiskey or rotgut remorse-free.


3. There may be more than one of them


What if you're interested in more than one subject? Even better! I find that the best number of side projects is anything between 2-3. If there are more of them, you might use them as a welcome distraction while working on your main project.

Read more: How To Master Many Fields Of Knowledge - Your Action Plan And Recommended Strategies


4. A springboard from major projects (the perfect getaway from)


The side projects should be the equivalent of a Tequila shot at a boring party. If you have already worked a bit on your main project a day, and you feel your brain's convolutions are beginning to unfold, give yourself a jolt by enjoying your project, even for a little while.

The way you implement this strategy is quite simple. Start working on your project, and once you start feeling burned out, switch your gears and fool around for some time with your side project. Get that dopamine high to revive your focus and energy levels. Once you are done, go back to your primary focus.

They should be your stepping stone from the routine of everyday life and instill in you unfettered enthusiasm!

Read more: Make Your ANKI Learning Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable by Manipulating Dopamine Levels


Benefits of Side Projects


Don't expect a balanced approach in this article. There are no cons of this strategy in my mind, just pros. How many? Plenty!


1. Rediscovering the joy of learning



Perhaps I am largely isolated in my opinion, but I believe that nothing kills the joy of learning like a compulsion. Schools, for most children, are places where enthusiasm comes to die. Kids sit there for long hours, shackled to their desks by obligations and expectations. It doesn't get better once they get back home. There is no mercy. "Do your homework, honey, or you will end up as a car mechanic (that earns twice as much as most white-collar workers)!"

What's especially sad for me is that institutions that are supposed to promote science really don't give a damn about it. For example, did you know that there is virtually no research of good quality that shows that homework is an effective tool in the learning system? The largest study to date on this issue was conducted in 2006.

Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?

It is a meta-analysis meaning it's a study that summarizes the conclusions of many other research papers. Here is its conclusion:


"No strong evidence was found for an association between the homework–achievement link and the outcome measure (grades as opposed to standardized tests) or the subject matter (reading as opposed to math).


In other words, all we have is a very weak correlation that homework is worth our while. Science would dictate that if we fail to find any strong evidence for a given hypothesis, we should abandon it. Of course, that's just a theory. The reality dictates that we should keep on spiraling into this madness and continue doing what we have done for over a century. Let's just ignore countries like Finland that have forsaken this misbegotten and obsolete concept and do way better than the others.

Does this mean that children or students should not do anything when they come home? No. But there's a clear alternative to homework after all.


Freedom of choice means more fun from learning

The flip side of this tarnished coin is freedom of choice. The amount of research that shows the benefits of giving people the freedom to choose what they want to learn is quite overwhelming. It is, among others, correlated with:

  • happiness
  • academic achievements
  • success in life
  • e.t.c.
Here is a handful of studies on that topic:

Even though all of these studies are mostly correlative, the question is, do we really have to scour through a pile of academic papers to understand how important choice is?

When I studied Computer Science and Econometrics, it turned out that my love for mathematics wrinkled and withered like a piss-watered rose. When I studied English Philology, I stopped learning this language at my own time. After one semester, studying it seemed as satisfying as chewing rubble. The same thing happened during my Postgraduate Studies for Sworn Translators and Interpreters. I was so disgusted with them that I quit my job as an interpreter and gave up on any translation-related career.

Funny enough, it did not prevent me from studying all these subjects on my own after graduation. It also didn't stop me from teaching subjects like statistics subjects and showing people how wonderful they are.

Freedom of choice is inseparable from the joy of learning and discovering the world.

Maybe this damned omnipresent feeling compulsion is why most people don't work in the profession upon graduation.

To sum up, telling someone that they have to do something reminds me of the growing agony on the face of a person who finds out that yes, they are going on a romantic getaway to Paris, but the one in Lamar County, Texas.


2. Developing the habit of learning



The freedom of choice and the joy resulting from it always result in one thing - everyday learning. I don't think anyone should be surprised. If we like to do something, we do it often. And the more we do something, the better we are at it. And the better we are, the more we want to demonstrate it to others. After some time, we reach the point where our newly acquired "specialization" becomes a part of our identity. You become "the car guy", or "the diet lady", etc.

It's worth remembering that side projects have the potential to change your attitude towards any kind of learning. One day you might wake up just to realize that studying every day is as natural to you as brushing your teeth.


3. Knowledge and development


I love the fact that all the benefits of side projects seem to overlap. Freedom of choice restores the joy of learning, which in turn leads to the habit of regular learning. The consequence, of course, is the accumulation of knowledge and continuous development.

Where will they all take you? Nobody knows, and that's their beauty. Good things, as well as bad things, have one thing in common - usually, they come in hordes. Perhaps the knowledge you have accumulated will help you get a raise or a new job. Or maybe you will infuse your children with this passion, giving their lives a wonderful trajectory. You may start waking up with joy, even looking forward to the new day, and your enthusiasm will begin to infect all those around you.

No one knows what will happen, but be sure of one thing - it will be something breathtakingly positive.


Examples of Side Projects of Mine


I have no idea what's in your head or what potentially interests you. All I can do is give you some examples of my current side projects. Note that they are quite bizarre, at least for most people. It doesn't matter. I enjoy them, and that's what counts.


1. Toxicology


As a kid, I was absolutely in love with the trilogy "The Assassin's Apprentice" by Robin Hobb. The first part of this series instilled in me a strange fascination with the world of "poisons and venoms." Since then, I have always had this strange desire to delve into the fascinating world of toxicology. Of course, I kept telling myself for many years that I didn't have time for this. After all, it's silly and unproductive! I am an adult, and I need to focus on what's important. Once I implemented a side project into my learning toolbox, I could finally shut those annoying voices of ill-intentioned reason.

Now, I know a decent bit, as for an amateur, about this area, and I love it.

Fun fact #1: We can obtain strychnine from an ordinary houseplant called difenbachia. It is found in quite high concentration in the leaves.

Fun fact #2: Strychnine in doses less than 5 mg can be used as a stimulant.

Fun fact #3:  Breathing is getting difficult, and I can't feel my fingernails.

Fun fact #4: Ignore fun fact #2 - stick with coffee.


2. Geography


Side Projects – an easy way to rediscover

Photo by Brett Zeck on Unsplash


For at least 20 years, in every conversation that touched upon trips, holidays, countries, etc., I felt like a geographic idiot. Heck, I even brought it up myself asking people over and over where a given city or sea is located. I brushed off my ignorance because I always felt that it's one of those things that I can easily google if need be, At the same time, it didn't diminish how silly I felt when it turned out that I don't know quite big towns located literally 50 km always from my hometown.

It's no surprise that geography became one of my side projects. And man, what a ride down the memory lane it is! I used to spend half of my childhood hiking in different mountain ranges in Poland. I never remembered their names - all I had were souvenirs in the form of pictures. Now I am rediscovering all of them in ANKI.

Don't get me wrong - I still suck at it more than a 5000 W vacuum cleaner. However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. And for once, I don't think that's the end of the colon.


3. DDD (Disinfection, Deratization, Disinfestation)


Not that long ago, my close friend and I had a brilliant plan to take over his dad's business in that industry and try to expand it. Even though our project fell through for different reasons, the whole undertaking gave me a push to start studying this area. Frankly, I was almost sure that I would drop this field of study the moment I knew that our project would fail but surprisingly, I am still studying it even if just at a leisurely pace.

Funny enough, some of this knowledge turned out to be useful when pharaoh ants invaded our flat! I managed to quickly fight off this menace without resorting to chemicals. It's the little things that matter!


How Side Projects Turn Into Serious Ones


Unpredictability and randomness are inherent parts of life. You never know what a tiny rolling stone may turn into. My experience clearly shows that if you give it some time, it might be an avalanche of monumental proportions.

So many things that are my daily bread and butter nowadays were alien to me a couple of years ago. The mere suggestion that I could do live off them would be rewarded with a doubting and pitiful smile of mine. And yet, they are all a part of my reality. Isn't it easy to underestimate the smallest of things?


Investing


I started investing a couple of years ago after way too many conversations on that topic with one of my students. He often told me about his experiences with the Polish stock market in the 90s. I never thought of myself as someone who could do this. My primary association with investing were sad guys in three-piece suits and their fake bleached smiles.

After some cogitation, I began to timidly memorize everything I could on that topic on various websites. It took me about 18 months before I finally opened my brokerage account and started investing. Money aside, this project was and still is a lot of fun. That is if we forget about the market crash in March. That was anything but fun.

Still, in hindsight, it was one of the best decisions of my life and up to this day. Up to this day, investing is an integral part of my week.


Trichology


My interest in trichology started very sneakily. My friend, who at the time wasn't even 30, started going bold. Knowing my obsession with medicine and especially endocrinology, he asked if I could help him with that. Even though I had some information on alopecia in my ANKI, and I knew the basic mechanisms behind this process, I felt it was not enough. 

I started going through different books and research papers in my spare time, and before I knew it, I was head over heels in love with this topic. It got serious enough that I even did my certification as a trichologist, and now I consult clients a couple of times per month.

I could list many more examples like this, but I think you already know what I mean. You never know where your side projects will take you, but one thing is for sure - it will be a very positive place.


Side Projects - Summary


Whenever somebody asks me how to get good or excel in many areas, my answer is always the same. Learn how to learn effectively and then start with side projects.

Side projects have the potential to revive your joy of learning and make it an integral part of your life. The great thing about such an approach is that you don't need any sophisticated goals, detailed planning or tools.

Just think about the field that has always interested you, download ANKI and get down to work! Good luck!


Let me know if you have put some of your projects or interests on the back burner in the comments!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 11 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



Make Your ANKI Learning Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable by Manipulating Dopamine Levels

Make Your Review Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable by Manipulating Dopamine Levels

It's generally true that we all learn effectively in a very similar. However, we certainly react differently to bigger workloads. Some find it motivating; some find it tedious and frustrating. This difference is obvious even among my students. 

Some write to me that they find flashcards so interesting that they can work for hours on end. Others start strong and find themselves more and more exhausted with every passing week. It's understandable - high learning pace always comes with the price. The prices, in this case, is increased effort.

You probably have noticed that regardless of your attitude to learning, you get really weary after some time. It might be 20 or 40 minutes, but it inevitably happens. One way to combat this, like I have suggested in one of the previous articles, is to break your learning into many sessions. However, there is one more strategy that will allow you to both increases the duration of your session and the joy you get out of it.

We can achieve all those things by manipulating your levels of dopamine. Let me explain step-by-step how it works.


What Is Dopamine?


In the brain, dopamine functions mainly as a neurotransmitter. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior

The anticipation of most types of rewards increases the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine release or block its reuptake into neurons following release. The dopamine release is also necessary for Initial memory consolidation.

The most important information for us is that it's the main driver of reward learning in the brain. It makes us focused and vigilant and craving for more of any dopamine-boosting stimulus.


How Can You Increase Dopamine Levels?


Now that you roughly know what dopamine is and how it can drive your learning, it's time to answer the following question:

What can you do to boost your dopamine levels? 

It's simple. Lots and lots of cocaine instead of sugar in your coffee! Lol 😄 Ok, not really. It's not a very sustainable approach. The answer is quite complex, and it envelopes many lifestyle-related things. 


1. Diet


For example, low-carb diets are naturally more dopamine-based as they revolve around lots of protein-heavy products. Those products, on the other hand, contain an amino acid called Tyrosine that is a precursor to dopamine (i.e. it gets converted into it).

Carbohydrate-heavy diets bring quite the opposite effect as such products are very Tryptophane-rich. Tryptophane is also an amino-acid but, contrary to Tyrosine, it gets converted into serotonin, which then, gets converted into melatonin. I am sure that you have already heard something about this hormone. Melatonin is one of the main hormones that signal that it's time to go to sleep and thus makes us drowsy and sleepy.

In other words, to simplify things:

Low-carb diets -> more dopamine -> you're more vigilant and focused

High-carb diets- > more serotonine -> more melatonin -> you become drowsy and sleepy 

There are also lots of herbs and plants that can further boost this effect, however, just temporarily. One of the best examples is coffee that releases dopamine in the prefrontal cortex.

Read more: What To Do Instead of Nootropics In Order To Maximize Your Brain Power Permanently


2. Exercise


Make Your Review Sessions More Enjoyable


Any kind of exercise and especially high-intensity exercise will help you to achieve the same effect (Loprinzi, P. D. (2019)). It's a good idea to interrupt your learning sessions to do some push-ups, squats, jumping jacks, or whatever else that floats your boat. Not only will you look better, but you will also boost your concentration and tickle your reward centres the right way.


3. Novelty


All those basic tricks above will definitely help, don't get me wrong, especially if you haven't been eating well or exercising. Then the effects should be even more impressive. However, there is one more thing which I find even more useful if you have lots of reviews to do.

Tons of flashcards usually mean one thing for your brain: BORING! One thing you should know about the brain is that it's a disgusting junkie. It likes varied and exciting things. That's why social media are so addictive. One "ping" and your brain goes haywire. "Who could it be?! Have they written something nice about me?!: Hell, most of us can't even go to the toilet without a mobile phone anymore because there is nothing to do. And if that happens, we start reading product labels to keep ourselves entertained.

Now guess how exciting a 2-hour ANKI session is according to this sponge? Yep. You're right - not very. This is our bane, but interestingly, we can use this "property" of our brain to our advantage.

All we need to learn longer is to provide our brains with a little bit of Novelty. If all the flashcards look the same, even if they are pictures, our brain just shuts off after some time.

Here are some ways in which Novelty affects our brain:


How Novelty Affects Your Brain and How It Can Help You With Making Learning Sessions Longer


There is a ton of research on the role of dopamine and novelty in learning, but I will do my best to not go-over-the top. Here is a handful of studies you can read on that topic:


"Novelty directly activates the dopamine system, which is responsible for associative learning."
"The major "novelty center" of the brain--called the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA)--might be activated by the unexpectedness of a stimulus, the emotional arousal it causes, or the need to respond behaviorally."
"Researchers have long suspected that the human brain is particularly attracted to new information and that this might be important for learning. They are now a step closer to understanding why. A region in the midbrain (substantia nigra/ventral tegmental), which is responsible for regulating our motivation and reward-processing, responds better to Novelty than to the familiar. This system also regulates levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, and could aid learning."
"We find that familiarity increased retrieval of other unrelated memories but reduced the chances for memory formation. On the other hand, Novelty enhanced the later formation of distinct memories without worrying about previous experiences."

How To Use Novelty To Make Your Learning Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable


I have been experimenting with a new approach to doing ANKI for quite some time, and I must say that even I am surprised by the results. It seems that incorporating this dopamine-centred approach can significantly boost your willingness to learn.

Doing it is very easy.

You need to interweave your "normal" flashcards with dopamine (i.e. novelty-related) flashcards. 

Those dopamine-boosting flashcards should be different from flashcards in order to keep the novelty factor at a high level.


Make Your Review Sessions Longer


Such cards can include the following things that have already been mentioned in other units or will be mentioned in the modules to come:

  • Jokes
  • Gifs
  • Funny pictures
  • Other kinds of pictures
  • Snapshots from movies/TV Series
  • Short videos
  • Anecdotes
  • Lines from movies
  • Fragments of lyrics
  • Proverbs
  • Excerpts from articles/books

Those elements, ideally, should be related to your target language. However, even if not all of them are, that's ok. They will still boost your dopamine levels.

If you take a cold, hard look at those elements, you will quickly notice that NONE of them forces you to retrieve anything. That's one of the reasons why they become such a welcome distraction. Ordinary flashcards demand effortful retrieval while those remaining flashcards provide you with distraction and additional passive exposure to your target language.

Feel free to experiment with this strategy and let me know about your results. 


Make Your Learning Sessions Longer and More Enjoyable by Manipulating Dopamine Levels - Summary

Dopamine is the main driver of reward learning in the brain. Its release helps us stay motivated, interested and vigilant. 

The four simple ways to boost your dopamine levels are:

  1. low-carb diets
  2. exercise
  3. supplements (e.g. some herbs or caffeine)
  4. novelty

Out of all four of them, novelty can certainly give you the easiest boost. What's more, it doesn't take much to introduce this strategy into your learning plan. All you need is to interweave your normal flashcards with anything that you deem fun, funny or plain interesting.

Keep in mind that those dopamine flashcards shouldn't force you to retrieve any information effortfully. They are there as a welcome distraction. You can treat them like a friend, telling you a joke or showing some meme. 

I have never had big problems with doing my reviews. Still, with this strategy, I have noticed even more motivation to go through my flashcards.

Feel free to experiment with this strategy and let me know about your results!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 11 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



Forgetting as a Form of Feedback – How To Use It To Remember Better

Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - How To Use It To Remember Better


Forgetting is as integral to our lives as it is disliked. It takes many forms - from the nastiest ones, i.e. neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's), to relatively innocent ones (why am I standing in front of the open refrigerator again?!)

No wonder we treat this phenomenon as our worst enemy. After all, it robs you of the fruits of your work. You have put so much work into acquiring a given skill, and after a couple of months not much is left in your head. As depressing as it all might seem, I would like to show you a different perspective.

What if forgetting is not your opponent but your ally?

Your brain is actively working to make you forget most of the things you've come into contact with. It is the most sophisticated spam filter in the world. This process allows you to focus on the most important information. In other words,

forgetting is one of the best forms of feedback.

It took me many years to understand this simple truth. It was also a turning point for me, which completely changed the memory systems I created at that time. Since, as far as I know, this concept is not widely discussed, I hope this article will be a sort of "memory awakening" for you.


What Is the Purpose of Memory?


Many people believe that the purpose of memory is to store information as accurately as possible. I think this is an erroneous perspective.

Memory serves to guide and optimize decision-making by sticking only to meaningful and valuable information.

I could describe a lot of memory processes that take place during the stage of encoding or information retrieval. Still, I think it's better to focus on a very logical and practical example.


Optimization of decision-making processes as exemplified by crossing the street


Think for a moment how much information you need to safely walk from one side of the street to the other.

While performing this activity, do you analyze:
  • Wind speed?
  • Type of surface?
  • The number of people in front of you?
  • The number of people on your sides?
  • The distance you have to travel?
  • Air humidity?
  • Surface moisture?

Of course not.

Too much irrelevant information is detrimental to a given decision-making process.

If you really had to take into account all this information, it would take you forever to make any decision at all. In other words, the process would not be optimal, also energy-wise.


Thus, it is much easier to focus on activities such as:
  • checking if there are traffic lights at the crosswalk,
  • making sure the light is green,
  • looking to your left and right (and left again).

As you can see, a handful of relevant information can be more valuable to the brain than a ton of meaningless data. However, we shouldn't forget that it doesn't make sense to remember much—quite the contrary. The trick is to combine the memorized information into meaningful scripts that can be activated in a given situation.

In the example above, a type of surface is almost certainly a useless piece of information. Nevertheless, if our decision-making process required making sure that we can do a dangerous stunt on the said surface, it would be one of the first factors that should be taken into consideration.


What Kind of Information Is Meaningful To Your Brain?


Forgetting


Another question we have to answer is what information the brain perceives as valuable, and what information is the equivalent of food scraps at the bottom of the dishwasher.


In simple terms, information must meet two main criteria to be considered valuable:
  • frequently appear in your immediate environment,
  • it must be related to your life, i.e. be relevant to you.

I will discuss them in more detail later in this article. At the moment, it is worth looking at how slowly we forget information when the above two criteria are met.


Almost Complete Elimination of Forgetting



Problems with research on memory


One of the big problems that plague most of the memory studies is that they are often detached from reality. The overwhelming majority of them are carried out in laboratories. I know what you are thinking. Why would that be a disadvantage?

Laboratories are artificial creations which, according to the rules of the scientific method, try to limit the number of variables that affect the tested value as much as possible. It sounds nice until we realize that our memory does not work in a vacuum. Hundreds of stimuli and information constantly flood our minds. One should not try to artificially separate them from the process of memorizing and retrieving data.

The effect is that most such studies come to conclusions that are as out of touch with reality as a team of Marvel superheroes from a nearby asylum.

What's even worse is that there are quite a few people who accept this nonsense uncritically. I often hear some strange websites or YT channels saying that "in this or that study, scientists proved (sic!) that if you imagine that you have an orange on the top of your head, your ability to remember and concentrate will increase by 15%".

I wish it were an anecdote, but the video had over 100k views and lots of positive comments at the time. In my mind's eye, I could almost see 20,000 people sitting with their eyes rolled over and the face of a constipated walrus wondering why memorizing books didn't get any easier.


Forgetting names - Bahrick's and Wittlinger's research


Bahrick is one of my favorite memory researchers. He was one of the first scientists to insist that research of this kind be carried out outside the laboratory, despite the difficulties it poses.

One of his groundbreaking works, which he did in 1975 with Wittlinger, is about remembering the names and faces of high school friends over many years. The study lasted 50 years (!!!), and it showed for many years after graduating from high school, the process of forgetting this information occurred only slightly. Although, as always, the active recall was the first to go.



You can conduct this experiment virtually. Assuming a minimum of 10 years has passed since you have graduated from high school, check if you can still remember everyone in your class? I know I certainly didn't have almost any problems with it.


How to explain the almost complete absence of forgetting over a long period?


In one of my past articles, I mentioned the Ebbinghaus curve:


the Ebbinghaus curve - Forgetting as a Form of Feedback


Notice how huge the difference in retention (i.e., keeping the information in your head) is between Bahrick's and Ebbinghaus's experiment. Even after 7 years, the retention of names was higher than the retention of meaningless knowledge presented by the Ebbinghaus curve after 20 minutes.

The explanation for this phenomenon is based on many elements. 


1. High frequency of repetitions

Note that the contact with first and last names in high school is extremely common, be it during the roll call or the regular socialization with your peers. What's more, almost all children are forced continuously to retrieve this knowledge. It would be difficult to get through high school only by yelling, "Hey you!"



2. Relevance of the information

Ebbinghaus tested the information decay by memorizing nonsense letter clusters. Bahrick, on the other hand, demonstrated how we absorb vital information in the real world.

It is worth mentioning that the relevance of information automatically means one more thing - emotional load. It doesn't matter if it's positive or negative. It is an inherent factor modulating your ability to remember.

The meaningfulness of the information is a very personal and individual thing. Two different people may perceive the same facts as useless or vital. It is reflected in another one of Bahrick's (1984) studies, that showed that college professors have difficulties with remembering their students' name.

Can you see that contrast? Of course, one might argue that the frequency of information, in this case, is much lower. However, in my opinion, the decisive factor here is the indifference of lecturers. Most students are as important to them as half-dried pigeon carrion on the side of the road.

Of course, we could name more factors that contributed to the almost complete absence of forgetting in the first study. However, I think that the ones mentioned above are the most important.


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback, I.e. What Information Does It Provide You With?


The example above does not seem to be fully related to subjects such as physics, foreign languages or medicine. Regardless, I hope it convinced you of one thing - the frequency and relevance of information are among the most critical factors affecting your ability to remember information.

Thus, from now on, I would like you to change your mind about the phenomenon of forgetting. Don't see it as something negative.

Treat forgetting as the best possible form of feedback.

If you can't keep information in your head, your brain is trying to subtly say, "Hey buddy! Don't even try to make me remember this string of numbers. I don't know; I don't understand, I don't care. When are we going to do something exciting like tap dancing in banana peel shoes? 

Whenever you cannot recall information, you should ask yourself, "How can I modify it so that it makes more sense to my brain?"


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - Three Main Takeaways



1. Too little interaction with the information


Consider whether you should increase the frequency of a given element. If you use programs like ANKI, it happens organically to some degree.



2. No connection between the element and your background knowledge


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback

 

Your brain is a very practical sponge. If it finds no connection between an item and the rest of the information you have in mind, it considers that item to be irrelevant. Thus, this information is forgotten very quickly (see Ebbinghaus forgetting curve).

If you want to remember a given piece of information, there is nothing to prevent more than one flashcard from encoding a given word or concept.


3. Lack of the relevance of the information


The relevance of information always means one thing - emotional load. It is the basis of the so-called affective learning that is related to feelings and emotions.

If you are trying to learn information that has nothing to do with your life, it will not evoke any feelings in you either.

Think of it as a date, if your potential partner sparks as much passion in you as the thrilling acting of Kristen Stewart, will you remember it? I doubt it. You come home, douse yourself with bleach, you disinfect yourself from the inside and life goes on. For the same reason, we pay attention to items that stand out - they simply spur more emotions. 


You are the one who is supposed to find the reasons why the information is relevant and meaningful.


The enormous mistake people make while learning is waiting until this magical connection between some abstract concept and real life materializes itself out of thin air. Nothing could be more wrong.

If you want to learn quickly and effectively, you have to look for such connections yourself. Think about how many thousands of practical examples of different types of concepts were shown to you at school. They ranged from history, through physics to economics. Now think how much of it honestly is still kicking around in your brain.


Effective learning is measured by the amount of effort you put into the information encoding process, not by time.

If I chew an exquisite dish for you and spit this slimy mass onto a silver tray, you won't probably find it appetizing. Your brain reacts the same to the information that someone else has digested.

Of course, finding relevance can also be a natural process. Remembering all the symptoms of diabetes doesn't seem like a significant thing. You need more room in your head for more important things like memorizing all names of all the Pokemon.

However, do you think that something would change in your head if your spouse were diagnosed with this disease? Without a doubt. You would immediately begin to absorb this knowledge and remember it well for a long time. This is the power of the relevance of information.


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - Summary


Forgetting is stigmatized nowadays with a passion that characterizes naturopaths promoting coffee enemas. However, this is a short-sighted approach. 

The inability to recall the information in question is nothing more than your brain, saying that it doesn't care.

Although there are many forms of feedback, hardly any of them is as valuable to adults as forgetting. After all, it does require teachers or coaches. A program such as ANKI and a bit of introspection is enough.  

  • Forgetting is a natural spam filter that helps us separate relevant information from the noise.
  • What's more, the primary purpose of forgetting is to optimize decision-making processes.
  • Forgetting should be seen as feedback from your brain. If you can't remember a given piece of information:
    - it doesn't often occur enough in your direct learning environment
    - it is not relevant to you in any way
    - it probably does not evoke any emotions
  • Remember, it's your job to find the relevance of the information to your life. No one else can do it for you.

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 19 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



1 2 3 7