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

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!


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.



Benefits Of Talking To Yourself And How To Do It Right To Master a Language

 There is no better way to start a piece on the benefits of talking to yourself than to quote Mr. Jones.

"One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody's listening," Franklin P. Jones.

You must be thinking now - is there a BAD way to do it? Of course. Believe me, It's definitely an art. Just like basket weaving.

But seriously - we take our ability to talk to ourselves for granted. I tried to google "talking to yourself" in some languages. The result? Usually, people are trying to make sure that they don't have schizophrenia.


Taking to Yourself - Why so Many Bad Associations?


Every time, every damn time, when I mention to somebody that I love talking to myself out loud, they give me this weird look. They probably think that I put on my trench coat, get on the bus, sit near some nice old lady, and rub myself while blurting out some incomprehensible words.

That's a grave misunderstanding. If used the right way, "self-talk," as psychologists refer to it, can be a handy tool in your mental arsenal. It can, I kid you not, improve almost every area of your life.

No more shameful hiding in the shadows. Embrace your inner voices, and let me walk you through the benefits of talking to yourself!


Cognitive Benefits Of Talking To Yourself


What does the research say about the benefits of talking to yourself?


Research from the University of Michigan found that those who worked through their stress about giving a speech about their qualifications using "you" rather than "I" performed better and were less tormented by anxiety and self-doubt.

When people think of themselves as another person, "it allows them to give themselves objective, helpful feedback", says Ethan Kross, associate professor of psychology and director of the Self-Control and Emotion Laboratory at the University of Michigan

In another study, psychologists Gary Lupyan (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Daniel Swingley (University of Pennsylvania) conducted a series of experiments to discover whether talking to yourself can help you to locate lost objects.

Long story short - they established that speaking facilitated search, particularly when there was a strong association between the name and the visual target.

You see? Not only children can augment their thinking while doing some tasks!

Are there any other benefits other than being more likely to stay on taskstaying focused better, and showing improved perception capabilities?

Sure! Better memory. Think about it - when you talk out loud, you stimulate more sensory channels than when you subvocalize. You hear the sounds. What's more, even though you may not realize it, your body feels sounds as they are conducted through your bones.

Fun fact: Bone conduction is one reason why a person's voice sounds different to him/her when it is recorded and played back.

Last but not least, whenever you say something out loud, you engage your emotions. One of the most potent ingredients to boost your memory.

Research is great. But experiencing something first hand is even better.

Choose some words you'd like to memorize and shout it out angrily or with joy and afterward start laughing like a madman. I'll be amazed if you can't recall it a few days later.

Here's a good example. I'm sure you remember this scene if you have seen the movie.



I hope that by this moment, you're at least muttering to yourself!


Benefits of Talking to Yourself - Overcoming Stage Fright


Everybody has his favorite tricks to deal with anxiety. But the one which I find the most effective is preparing yourself for what's about to come.


Have a presentation?


Stand in front of the mirror and go through your presentation as many times as it's necessary to turn it into a brilliant performance. Who knows? Maybe you will enjoy it that much that you will join Toastmasters.


Have an interview?


Collect the list of 20-30 most frequently asked questions and rehearse the crap out of them!


Want to confront your boss about the long-overdue raise?


List all the possible questions that may come up during such a conversation and prepare your answers. Doing so will put you in a much better position when push comes to shove.

And so on. You get the idea.

Proper preparation kills stress and anxiety.


Benefits of Talking to Yourself - Practicing Languages


What if I told you that you could learn a language without uttering a word to anyone else but yourself? You would probably think I'm crazy. And I certainly am. After all, I'm writing an article about talking to yourself.

But that doesn't change the fact that I learned Swedish (B2 level) to get the job in less than four months without talking to anyone in Swedish (but myself). And while working 50+ hours per week.

Talking to yourself is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to improve your language skills. Conversations with others always impose various limitations on you. It's entirely understandable - It's much more important to keep the talk alive than to experiment with different grammar constructions or new vocabulary.

Self-talk enables you to concentrate on your weaknesses. Such deliberate practice can significantly improve your language level.


How to Talk to Yourself?


All conversations are based on the "action-reaction" principle. Somebody asks you some questions - you answer. It goes on and on. That's why, if you want to prepare yourself for conversations with, say, friends from abroad, you should list potential questions that might come up, together with answers to them. Don't forget about taking into consideration the interests of potential conversation partners!

Of course, you don't have to come up with all the questions by yourself.

I want to recommend two fantastic websites which I have been using for many years:

They cover almost every socially acceptable topic which might crop up during your conversations. Together with some more "unusual" subjects, such as - eye contact or Jamaica.

If you discuss most of these subjects with yourself, I can guarantee you that you'll be able to talk with every native speaker about almost anything you want. Isn't it a definition of being fluent?



Overcome Weirdness of Talking to Yourself


Benefits Of Talking To Yourself


It's only weird if you make it weird. You don't have to rush to your friends to brag about this, nor do you have to write an article about this (sic!). It's just a tool to make you a better person.

It's perfectly normal. Do you know that computer scientists do it as well (not that it means anything!)?

Rubber duck debugging is an informal term used in software engineering for a method of debugging code. The name is a reference to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer in which a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and debug their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line-by-line, to the duck. Many other terms exist for this technique, often involving different inanimate objects.

So don't be a weirdo and don't feel ashamed to talk to yourself!


Other Benefits of Talking to Yourself


That's right. You might use the self-talk for various things, such as:

  1. 1
    Energizing and motivating yourself - you can psych yourself up with: "Come on!" "Let's go!" "You can do this!". Martial artists have been using screams for hundreds of years to give them some extra energy. I'm pretty sure there is a good reason for that.
  2. 2
    Playing devil's advocate - find the weaknesses in your argumentation. Try to debunk your theories. Saying your options out loud and elaborating on the pros and cons can help bring the right choice to light, and you might be surprised at the unexpected direction your thoughts take when they're audible.
  3. 3
    Blowing off steam - don't keep it all inside. If your colleague is a massive w*nker, say it out loud and scold him. Scientists found out that swearing can alleviate pain and decrease stress.
  4. 4
    Cheering yourself up sometimes, it just happens that others don't appreciate you enough. So what? You can pat yourself on the back for being a great human being!

Benefits of Talking to Yourself - FAQ 


My spouse/brother/friend is talking to himself/herself a bit too much? Should I be worried?

Generally, no, unless you notice any of the two following symptoms.

  • The self-talk is accompanied by general hostility towards others, cupping some object and calling it "my precious."
  • It turns out that they are talking to the invisible friend called Jimmy.

Remember, it's not weird until you make it weird!


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 9 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.

 


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.

 


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.

 


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.

 


How to Deal With Overwhelm When Learning New Skills (i.e. What to Do When I Am Stuck)

HOW TO DEAL WITH OVERWHELM WHILE LEARNING (I.E., WHAT TO DO WHEN I AM STUCK)


I don't want to convince you that learning is easy. You know damn well that is complicated and full of challenges. Even when you master the process of effective knowledge acquisition, you might still run into different obstacles.

Knowing how to learn is one side of the equation. However, being able to sustain your progress over a long period is an entirely different beast. It's a mental war that you have to wage against your brain and the resistance this spongy thing will create,

This article is supposed to serve you as a life ring. Whenever you feel that you're drowning in the sea of overwhelm, revisit it to resurface. 

​​Feel free to use just one of these strategies or all of them. The most important thing is that you shake off any gloomy feelings and snap out of the state of inertia.


What You Need to Know About Overwhelm


The first you need to know about learning how to deal with overwhelm is that it leads to three results:

  • Avoidance
  • Passivity
  • Hectic behavior (e.g., switching from one task to another in a hasty manner)

They all have one thing in common - loss of control. If you ever notice any of these telltale signs, you should be alarmed. It means that you are losing the grip on your learning process. Instead of being organized and methodical, you start floundering.

Here are some of the strategies that may help you regain the feeling of control.


How To Deal With Overwhelm



1. Be primitive


First thing you need to be aware of is the concept of activation energy

Activation energy is the energy need to start performing an action. The higher it is, the less of a chance that you will start performing a given action.

That means that you should reduce any clutter that stands in your way and holds you back. It also concerns your general attitude. If you overthink everything, your activation energy will be high as well. You can't focus on the start of the action if dozens of thoughts and tasks are running through your head.

In other words, focus on primitive tasks.

Here is what I mean by that:
  • Too many resources? Reduce their number drastically!
  • Can't create a proper learning plan because it's getting too big? Screw it. Just grab the first book for beginners and start learning.
  • Too many reviews? Stop adding new flashcards temporarily or use Load Balancer plugin for ANKI
  • Can't maintain your current learning pace? Reduce it.
  • Too little time for learning today? Do 5 flashcards and call it a day.

Remember that ​ideally, you want to become a life-long learner. Any temporary setback is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. The only thing you should care about is regularity.

Don't break the chain at all costs. Review even two flashcards if you're exhausted today or don't have time, but do something every day!


2. Identify the constraints


The theory of constraints states that in any system, there is one function, resource, process area, or process step that constrains the entire system's ability to deliver on its mission.

​​Sometimes it will mean that removing just one obstacle will unblock your potential. Other times, you will discover that after eliminating that one significant constraint, there will be another one looming underneath.

In any case, do your best to get rid of these obstacles. Once you do, your learning process should regain its previous smoothness.

Keep in mind that your constraints can be:

  • psychological (e.g., "I am too stupid to do it," passing away of your relative)
  • people (e.g., toxic persons in your life telling you that your project is silly or useless)
  • organizational (lousy time management skills, being unable to access some facilities)
  • health-related (too little sleep, bad diet, being sick)
  • material (not having appropriate tools)

Try to identify them on your own. If you can't figure it out, ask someone trust-worthy for helpSometimes it's easier to spot such problems when you're on the outside looking in.


3. Lower The Intensity


The intensity you can endure will always be a resultant of your:

  • character
  • motivation
  • health
  • frame of mind
  • habits
  • external conditions
  • and the current level of advancement in your field of expertise

It's impossible to tell anyone that they should learn X amount of hours per day or do Y flashcards per day. You can suggest a goal that will later be verified by reality.  In other words, good goals will be established only after some trial and error.

Regardless, if you notice that instead of jumping for joy at the thought of learning and discovering the unknown, you feel like somebody slapped you with a slimy mackerel, it's time to stop. It's time to rethink whether your learning pace is not too ambitious. 

Don't get me wrong - ambitions are great, but regularity always beats short-lived zeal. If your will to learn wanes, decrease your learning and practice intensity temporarily.

Try to find out what pace and effort level make you happy. And don't even try to think of it as a failure. You're making a wise and strategic decision that will guarantee your long-term success. 


4. Take more breaks


Very often, a simple solution to feeling overwhelmed is taking more breaks.


How to deal with overwhelm

How often should you do it? 

Once again, your endurance threshold will depend on all the variables mentioned in the previous point.

​​Sometimes you will discover that you can plug away for hours on end, and sometimes 20 minutes of tackling a complex topic will break you.

It's definitely true for me. I have noticed that my ability to write is very fragile. The slightest distractions will throw me off most of the time. What's more, very often, even 40 minutes of writing leaves me in tears. On the other hand, I can effortlessly pore over ANKI for hours and create hundreds of new flashcards. I am positive, you will observe such regularities in your daily routine as well.

The most important question is - when should you take a break?

The internet is full of different numbers. Some say 20 minutes while the other ones cite a 40-minute rule. None of these things is true. 

Your energy levels, and thus your concentration, constantly fluctuate throughout the day. They are also heavily influenced by the variables mentioned above. 

That's why the best predictor of the need to take a break is your mental fatigue.

Whenever you:

  • start daydreaming,
  • get distracted, i.e., you realize that almost anything is more interesting than what you're doing right now,
  • feel brain fog,
  • notice that your performance dropped drastically,

it's time to pause.


Keep in mind that your breaks should be meaningful. That means no electronics and no taxing activities. Go for a walk, meditate, or lie down.

Rest for as long as you need.

It's crucial for your full recovery. I know that 10-15 minutes of lying in my bed is usually all I need. Very often, that leads to micro-naps - I am okay with that. I know that once I get up, I am ready to rumble again.


​5. Take care of SPDSH (sleep, private life, diet, sports, health)


Damn, I really tried to find some cool acronym for these elements, but (HuSH PeDo!) is all I got. On the bright side, it is as memorable as it might be offensive to some.

The critical takeaway from this point is that your learning project is not placed in a magical void. Your life is a system of interconnected vessels. If you have problems in your private life or you are sick, learning will be the last thing on your mind. Don't neglect those things at the cost of education.

Trust me - I know how difficult it is. I learn so much that usually, my sleep suffers. It's not wise, and it's something I have been struggling with for a long time.


6. Organize your learning better


overwhelm while learning

The term Information Fatigue Syndrome has been coined recently to refer to stress coming from problems with managing overwhelming information. 

​​Some consequences of IFS listed by Dr David Lewis, a British psychologist, include: anxiety, tension, procrastination, time-wasting, loss of job satisfaction, self-doubt, psychosomatic stress, breakdown of relationships, reduced analytical capacity, etc. The information era tends to overwhelm us with the amount of information.

For example, you might feel stressed by dozens of tabs in your web browser or 20 studies you still have to go through

I get it because I struggled with it in the past. How have I solved it?

I have organized my learning better, i.e., I focused my full energy on learning in ANKI whenever it's possible.

​​If I run into some papers or articlesI paste them into ANKI. I know they are safe and sound there, and I can process them by breaking them down into flashcards later. ANKI is my command center, and this feeling helps me stove away any anxiety related to learning.

With this conviction, you can devote all your energy to comprehension, analysis, and retention of the learned material, instead of eating your heart out.


7. Make a shift


A plateau happens when your brain achieves a level of automaticity; in other words, when you can perform a skill on autopilot, without conscious thought. Our brains love autopilot because, in most situations, it's pretty handy. It lets us chew gum and walk and ride bikes without having to think about it, freeing our brains for more important tasks. When it comes to developing talent, however, autopilot is the enemy, because it creates plateaus. 


Research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and co-editor of The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, shows that the best way past a plateau is to jostle yourself beyond it; to change your practice method, so you disrupt your autopilot and rebuild a faster, better circuit. One way to do this is to speed things up—to force yourself to do the task faster than you usually would. Or you can slow things down—going so slowly that you highlight previously undetected mistakes. Or you can do the task in reverse order, turn it inside out or upside down. It doesn't matter which technique you use, as long as you find a way to knock yourself out of autopilot and into your sweet spot. - Daniel Coyle - The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills


Personally, making a shift means creating silly flashcards which are based on ridiculous associations or observations. It's refreshing enough that even when I start feeling a bit jaded, this procedure restores the proper frame of mind.


8. Break down your project into smaller chunks


This is a classic productivity strategy and for all the right reasons. Sometimes focusing on a big picture can be detrimental to your performance. The project seems so big and complicated that it robs you of the will to pursue it. 

You can overcome this obstacle by breaking your projects into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Take a piece of paper and write down a detailed plan of your undertaking. Number all the steps so you know how to prioritize them. Doing so will free your mental energy and allow you to concentrate on one task at a time.

Then getting "primitive," as suggested in the first point, becomes much more manageable.


EXAMPLE

Instead of creating your flashcards right away, you can spend two days just pasting learning material into ANKI - that would be your first stage. Next, you can process this material into flashcards in the next couple of days. Only then, after five days, can you buckle down and start reviewing them.


9. Go back to the roots - what's your motivation?


If none of the steps above seem to help, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Why did you want to achieve your goal? Has anything changed since then?

Revisiting the source of your motivation will allow you to accomplish two things:

  1. 1
    It will either pep you up and give you more power to carry on or
  2. 2
    you will give up.

The latter sounds ominous, but I assure you it's not.

Your life is dynamic and is in a constant state of motion. Thousands of elements enter and leave your life every week. They can all affect your initial motivation. If you decide, upon the close inspection, that you don't care anymore about your initial goal, I want you to know that it's okay. Ditch your project. Pour yourself a nice glass of whiskey or cocoa, sit in your armchair and think what you want to do next.

Your project is not a life sentence - you can quit anytime you feel that it's not right for you anymore.


10. Pep yourself up



Do you know what the worst part of every undertaking is? The middle.

Beginnings are usually exciting. It's like running into a magical maze. You have lots of energy and progress fast; everything is new and shiny. However, after a couple of weeks, you realize that you're running out of water, and your last meal was a dead squirrel. It's not good.

In other words, the middle of any project is the most monotonous. Your learning slows down. You don't get money out of this. No fans are showering you with their admiration. The only thing ahead of you is more work. It's not sexy, I know.

How to deal with this situation?

Pep yourself up!

It sounds cheesy, but sometimes cheese is all you need, as Paul McCartney used to sing.

Here are some things you might try:

  • Watch some motivational videos on YouTube.
  • Run around the room while drumming your chest and scream, "I am the king/queen of this jungle."
  • Watch Rocky for the 20th time.
  • Pump your ego by contemplating how amazing you are ("If I were an apple, I would be a really cute apple).
  • Reminisce on your past successes.
  • Take a step back and see how much you have learned so far.
  • Think about your future glory once you achieve your goal.
  • Gather all the empty whiskey bottles and spell "You're the winner!" 

There are no wrong answers here. See what works for you and stick to it in the moments of doubt.


How To Deal With Overwhelm When Learning New Skills - The main takeaway(s)


The moment at which you decide to start learning is usually a peak of your mental capacity and attitude. You feel awesome, and you want to do great things. The problem is that your energy and motivation to learn come and go. There will be plenty of days when you will feel bummed enough to start contemplating and romanticizing the life of a hobo just to run away from all your problems.

That's why it's always preferable to create learning systems instead of relying on flimsy companions like motivation. Here are some of the strategies that might help you:

To deal with overwhelm, try to:

  1. 1
    be primitive
  2. 2
    identify the constraints
  3. 3
    lower the intensity
  4. 4
    take more breaks
  5. 5
    take care of SPDSH (sleep, private life, diet, sports, health)
  6. 6
    organize your learning better
  7. 7
    make a shift
  8. 8
    break down your project into smaller chunks
  9. 9
    go back to the roots - what's your motivation?
  10. 10
    pep yourself up

Interleaved Practice – When and How to Use It to Maximize Your Learning Pace

INTERLEAVED PRACTICE – WHEN AND HOW TO USE IT TO MAZIMIZER YOUR LEARNING PACE

We've all heard that practice makes perfect. It takes time and effort to be great at something, and if you want to do it right, you should practice one skill at a time.

For example, a beginning guitarist might rehearse scales before chords. A young tennis player practices the forehand before the backhand.

This phenomenon is called “blocking,” and because it appeals to common sense and is easy to schedule, blocking is dominant in schools, training programs, and other settings.

However, the question we should be asking ourselves is this: is blocking the most optimal way to practice skills? It doesn't seem so.


What is interleaving?


Interestingly, there is a much better strategy - enter "interleaving".

 In interleaving one mixes, or interleaves, practice on several related skills togetherIn other words, instead of going AAAAABBBBBCCCCC you do ABCABCABCABC.

It turns out that varying it even slightly can yield massive gains in a short period.

Let's take baseball as an example: Batters who do batting practice with a mix of fastballs, change-ups, and curveballs hit for a higher average. The interleaving is more effective because when you're out there in the wild, you need first to discern what kind of problem you're facing before you can start to find a solution, like a ball coming from a pitcher's hand.

Read more: A Simple Learning Plan To Get The Most Out Of Your Study Time.


Is interleaved practice always the right choice?


There are almost no strategies that are fully universal and can be used for all disciplines and in all learning conditions. The same goes for interleaved practice.

The past four decades definitely demonstrated that interleaving often outperforms blocking for a variety of subjects, but especially motor learning (e.g., sports).  The results for other subjects are mixed.


Studies on interleaved practice in different disciplines


1. Languages

For example, when native English speakers used the strategy to learn an entirely unfamiliar language (i.e., generating English-to-Swahili translations), the results were betterthe same, or worse than after blocking. 


2. Mathematics

Another study  (Rohrer et al., 2015) concerning mathematics showed the dramatic benefits of interleaving on children’s performance at math.

During the experiment, some kids were taught math the traditional way. They got familiar with one mathematical technique in a lesson and then practiced it to death. A second group was given assignments that included questions necessitating the use of different techniques.

The results were as impressive as they were surprising.


One day after the test, the students who’d been utilizing the interleaving method did 25% better. However, when tested a month later, the interleaving method did 76% better.

Keep in mind that such an increase is truly amazing, given that both groups had been learning for the same amount of time. The only difference was that some students learned block by block, and others had their learning mixed up.

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


The necessary condition before you apply interleaved practice


mazimizer your learning pace

The results above tell us one important thing. You can't just go cowabunga and start interleaving the heck out of every subject.

Before you do so, you should have some familiarity with subject materials (or the materials should be quickly or easily understood).  Otherwise, as appears to be the case for foreign languages, interleaving can sometimes be more confusing than helpful.

It's only logical when you look at this strategy from the memory perspective. For many, using even one technique seems to a burden enough for their working memory. Forcing such people to use three or more make you a psycho who wants to see the world, and their memory, burn.

It's simply too much.

It doesn't take away from the fact that interleaving can be extremely useful. It forces the mind to work harder and to keep searching and reaching for solutions. 

However, if you decide to use it, make sure that you're familiar with the strategies you want to interleave. This recommendation is based on a phenomenon called the expertise reversal.


The 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 learned more from high variability rather than low variability tasks demonstrating the variability effect. In contrast, less experienced learners learned more from low rather than top variability tasks showing a reverse variability effect.

Why might lower variability be better in the beginning?

It was suggested that more experienced learners had sufficient available working memory capacity to process high variability information. In contrast, less experienced learners were overwhelmed by high variability and learned more using low variability information. Subjective ratings of difficulty supported the assumptions based on cognitive load theory, which you have learned before.

​In other words, some signals that are needed by low prior knowledge learners might be redundant for high prior knowledge learners due to their existing schema in long-term memory (Kalyuga, 2009).

For example, one of the experiments (Likourezos, Kalyuga, Sweller, 2019) which tested 103 adults studying pre-university mathematics, showed no interaction between levels of variability (high vs. low) and levels of instructional guidance (worked examples vs. unguided problem solving). The significant main effect of variability indicated a variability effect regardless of levels of instructional guidance. 

What does it tell us?

We can't play in the big boy's league if we don't cover the basics!

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


Interleaved Practice - Summary

(1) Interleaved practice is perfect for:

  • motor learning
  • any material that can be quickly learned and understood

(2) For more complicated subjects, make sure to familiarize yourself with the appropriate strategies before you decide to interleave them. This way, you will make sure that your working memory isn't overburdened.


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.

 


Evergreen Skills and Knowledge – What’s Worth Learning?

A list of evergreen skills and knowledge – what’s worth learning?


Many people are in love with the idea of being knowledgeable. Sadly, not many believe that they can acquire enough knowledge. Being able to move through life and overcome all the obstacles effortlessly seems to be reserved mostly for the gifted or unrelatable movie characters.

A big part of the problem is the general inability to acquire considerable amounts of information. However, the other obstacle is deciding what's worth learning. If you don't know where you are headed, you're like a drunk bouncing from one lamp post to another in a twisted version of pinball. The next thing you know is you wake up with a bad headache and a bitter taste of disappointment in your mouth.

There is an easy fix for this - focusing on evergreen knowledge.


Why Should I Focus on Evergreen Skills and Knowledge?


1. It's immediately applicable

The problem with acquiring knowledge randomly is that most of the time if you can't use it, you will lose it. Sure, some bits stay with you throughout your life. Regardless, most of this knowledge will be inevitably lost. So will be your effort and time. I know that many say that spending your time learning is always a good investment.

But is it really?

If I spent 50 hours trying to acquire knowledge and my recall rate, or should I say - return rate, would be 1, 2 or even 5 %, I would be pissed. It would mean that for every 1 hour I spent learning, not more than 3 min were used effectively. That's a very definition of a stupid investment. Sure, you can argue that I have jogged my brain, and tried, and bla bla bla. Still, 5%? Come on!

If I retained that little, I wouldn't even bother learning. I would spend time with my family or binge-watch TV series. Learning is not fun if you can't hold on to any information.

But the evergreen knowledge is different. It's immediately applicable. Every minute you spend acquiring it can give you immense returns on any given day of your life.


2. It makes life easier

The immediate applicability of such knowledge bleeds directly into every area of your life and makes it easier. It allows you to get the most of out of the most ordinary situations and encounters.

Where other people struggle, you see opportunities. It's a real game-changer regarding how you live your life.


3. It gives you a sense of direction

If you have wanted to become a serious learner, but you have never known what to focus on, a list of evergreen skills can give you a clear sense of direction—no more fumbling in the dark. Check one thing off your list and move on to another. In the meantime, watch how much your life changes.


What Knowledge and Skills Can Be Defined as Evergreen?


I think that the most important method to establish what constitutes evergreen knowledge is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What's unavoidable in your life?
  • What situations or topics do you deal with every single day of your life?

As a result, you should arrive at the right answers.

Of course, it's worth pointing out that defining what's evergreen is not always perfectly possible. We are all different in some regards. I believe that this distinctiveness should be reflected in the definition of evergreen knowledge.

I like to explain this issue, as contradictory as it might sound to some degree, that evergreen knowledge can be divided into two categories:

  1. Universally evergreen knowledge
  2. Personally evergreen knowledge

Universally evergreen knowledge


This category envelopes all the skills and information that are truly necessary to function in any society, country, or profession. Everyone is forced to rely on this knowledge every single day.


Personally evergreen knowledge


This would be the knowledge that's specific to your type of personality, interests or a career path you have chosen. It is the instance where one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Some of the skills I consider evergreen would be treated as an utter waste of time for you. The opposite is true, as well.


Example #1 - Pets

If you're a dog person, knowing a lot about how to take care of your pet would be considered evergreen. That wouldn't be the case for anyone who generally dislikes animals.


Example #2 - Material Engineering

The same would be true for anyone whose area of speciality oscillates around material engineering. In that case, advanced knowledge of chemistry and physics would be a must. Would this kind of knowledge be useful for you and me? Highly unlikely.


Example #3 - Investing


Investing - crucial skill


This is an area that applies directly to my life. I am an active trader, and I focus mostly on short-term investments. To be able to do it effectively, I need lots of information regarding the branches that interest me.

Of course, this kind of knowledge would be useless to a non-investor.


News vs information

This is a moment where we should make a distinction between news and information.

Information is a representation of knowledge that feeds your decision-making process. It's almost immediately valuable and useful.

News is just noise - worthless bits of trivia that do nothing to improve any area of your life and feed mostly primitive, emotion-driven parts of your brain.

Unfortunately, I can't help you with deciding what knowledge is personally evergreen for you. This is a one (wo)man job, and you're the person to do it. I would suggest you take your time and compile a list of skills that will be of immense help to you.

In this article, I prefer to focus on universally evergreen skills and why they are worth learning.


A List of Universally Evergreen Skills and Knowledge


For your convenience, press a link to go to the chosen section.

These are the skills that I deem universal for any adult. Not only do they allow you to build a successful and happy life, but also will enable you to overcome any hurdles that you might stumble upon.


Evergreen Skills and Knowledge - Why Are They Necessary?


1. Learning how to learn


Usually, I am first to admit that I am biased in some areas. However, this time, I believe I am stating the obvious.

Knowing how to learn effectively is the single most crucial skill you can master in your life.

Nothing else comes even close. I know that educators from lots of other fields say the same thing about their specialty. They say that mathematics is the king, chemistry is the queen, painting with watercolors is the very essence of life and all that jive.

The thing is that without the knowledge of how to acquire information properly, you will quickly forget all the other information. This way, your life turns into a twisted version of alcohol-infused reality. You learn to wake up the next day and realize that all you have is vague recollections of what you did the night before.

The art of learning should be the very first thing we teach our kids at school. If we did, the standard of living in most countries would rise dramatically. We're talking about flying toilet bowls, and laser sabers here!

Sadly, this world doesn't exist. All we have is an endless game of playing intellectual catch-up and being happy with achieving  survival level of professional competence.


Suggested articles:
Suggested books:

2. Money-related skills


Money is an indispensable part of our lives. Yet, not many people take their time to learn how to handle it. 

Saving is considered this thing that crotchety old people do. Investing is deemed as a gateway drug to becoming a blood-thirsty, three-piece suit capitalist - not something that honest people do. Budgeting seems like a good idea only when your financial situation is so dire that when you open a toilet bowl, a court executioner pops up humming "Money money money."

Generally, I think that learning more about Business and money is a great way to not only guarantee you financial stability but also to multiple what you already have.


Suggested books:

3. Analytical skills


Analytical skills is an umbrella term for subskills such as:

  • logical and critical thinking
  • conducting research
  • interpreting information
  • etc.

The amount of knowledge in the world is growing at a dizzying pace.


"Buckminster Fuller estimated that up until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By 1945 it was doubling every 25 years, and by 1982 it was doubling every 12-13 months. IBM estimates that in 2020 human knowledge will be doubling every 12 hours." - Modern Working Place


evergreen skills - doubling information


In theory, it should be great news. More knowledge and better access to it means that the quality of our lives and decisions should be increasing as well; except it doesn't.

The most prevalent reactions to this information overload are either:

  • accepting everything without questioning, 
  • avoidance of all the information (manifested as an escape toward TV, computer games, addictive substances, etc.),
  • always-on lifestyle in which one seeks constant stimulation by jumping from one source of information to another.

Analytical skills are the only way out of this madhouse. They allow you to apply a calm, cold, methodical approach to every problem. In the era of widespread misinformation and ignorance, this knowledge seems to be more critical than ever.

Just in the last couple of weeks, we have all had a chance to read the COVID-19 is a hoax created by lizard people who are transmitting via 5g technology. All this to inject you with a bogus vaccine that contains a chip that will travel to your brain to control your bowel movements. What a time to be alive.

Of course, establishing whether something is true or not is a process. It requires suspending your belief and opinions until you learn more about a given subject. Unfortunately, not many people are willing to take their time to do it.


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4. Nutrition


Considering that eating is something we do multiple times per day, it seems crazy for me not to study this topic in-depth. Your health is dependent on how good your diet is and how happy or miserable your life will be. It was the main motivation that led me to become a certified nutritionist.

Interestingly enough, becoming knowledgeable in this field requires a mix of other evergreen skills, namely:

  • knowing how to learn
  • analytical skills
  • mathematics (or statistic to be more precise)

If you accept current nutritional recommendations from your government without doing any proper research and knowing how to interpret the data, you are going to have a bad time.

Just the other day, I had a consultation with a woman who religiously followed all the current guidelines—lots of green veggies, whole-weed bread, etc. She also suffered from a hypothyroid and couldn't fix it even with drugs. You can imagine her shock when I explained to her that cruciferous vegetables that she consumed 5 times per day block absorption of iodine and impair the function of the thyroid. The same goes for the infamous gluten. After eliminating those foods from her diet (and some others as well) and adding some supplementation, her thyroid was alive and kicking in about 4 weeks.


5. Medicine and health


Many people treat doctors as an excuse to ignore this field of knowledge. After all, you are not a trained professional, so why would you even bother?

The reasons are plenty. First of all, modern medicine is strictly drug-based. While it's entirely ok in some, especially acute cases, it's subpar or harmful in others.

Secondly, no doctor will follow you around to check whether you or your relatives are ok. Some basic medical knowledge will allow you to spot many health-related problems from miles away. What's more, no doctor will care about the well-being of you and your family as much as you do. It's precisely this emotional engagement that allows people to dig way deeper into potential solutions than many medical professionals.

Last but not least, there are not many good specialists in any area, including medicine. I used to live in this conviction when I was younger that every doctor is a giant, squishy brain with legs attached to it. Sadly, once I started teaching medical professionals how to learn, I quickly realized that they struggle a lot with remembering. Of course, that weighs a lot on potential diagnoses.

Personally, I can't get enough of this domain. So far, I have created 30k + flashcards from this discipline and did governmental certification to become a trichologist and personal trainer, and I know it's just the beginning!


6. Productivity


Productivity is another essential skill everyone should learn. You're going to work most of your life. Being able to get the most out of it is an obvious choice.

Productivity includes subskills, such as:

  • task delegation
  • setting goals
  • prioritizing
  • motivating 
  • building habits
  • time management
  • task automation
  • sleep management
  • choosing the right tools and applications 
  • etc.

This skill tied beautifully with knowing how to learn. Once you get a grasp of how to acquire knowledge effectively, increasing your productivity will allow you to work more efficiently and realize projects related to the information you have acquired.


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7. Creativity


evergreen skills and knowledge


More and more people are getting anxious about the changes our world is going through. AI and the ubiquitous automation threaten to make dozens of professions obsolete in the upcoming decades. And rightly so - it's not fear-mongering. The process is happening as we speak, starting from self-driving cars, warehouse robots, and ending with the pattern-matching AI software. Heck, not that long ago, a Japanese company replaced office workers with artificial intelligence.

However, there is one thing that won't be replaced for a long time, or maybe ever—our boundless creativity and all the emotions that underpin it.

Of course, opinions about whether creativity is something uniquely human are split. However, we can't argue about is that AI programs are typically good at just one thing. Moreover, they need millions of data points to be able to perform this activity. 

The same constraints do not limit us. We still need input, but unlike machines, we can make crazy logical and creative leaps between seemingly unrelated subjects.

It's quite a safe bet that unless the processing power of computers increases by hundreds, if not thousands of times or more, the true creativity will remain a hallmark of humanity.

The big advantage is that just learning a couple of basic strategies can make you a way better thinker and problem-solver.


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8. Public speaking


Whether you like it or not, public speaking is yet another skill that we cannot escape. Depending on your line of work, you will be forced to step in front of a bunch of people quite often enough.

Learning the basics of public speaking will allow you to feel more confident and make a far better impression than you would otherwise. If you have experienced the soul leaving your body during one of such presentations, you know what I mean.

What's more, it doesn't take much time to acquire this knowledge at a satisfactory level, which makes it even more logical choice for your to-do list.


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9. Problem-solving skills


If there is one thing we are not short of is problems. Every day we face dozens of decisions and dilemmas of different magnitude. Being able to tackle them in a systematic way is a very desired competence. 

Problem-solving skills include subskills such as:

  • emotional intelligence
  • troubleshooting
  • risk management
  • decision making
  • drawing plans and diagrams

What's more, it can be reinforced by many other skills on the list like knowing how to learn, creativity, psychology, and analytical skills.


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10. Psychology


Psychology is the science that studies what influences our minds and behaviors. It's a critical component of our everyday lives. It helps to unveil all the hidden and unconscious mechanisms that drive our lives.

Studying psychological concepts will allow you to both improve relations with your directs surroundings as well as learn how to stop sabotaging ourselves and get out of your own way.

Once again, there is a certain overlap between psychology, creativity, and problem-solving.

Psychology was my first love way before the memory came into the picture. I was brought up in a dysfunctional family. My father was a mean, abusive alcoholic, and that inevitably shaped me as a young kid - and not in a good way. I was terribly aggressive and constantly got into trouble.

When I was about 11 or 12, I entered a bookshop and out of boredom picked up some random psychology book because it sounded smart. My life has never been the same since then. Concept by concept, I could understand where my behavior and actions came from, and I began to fix them. This is the power of psychology - 10/10 would recommend.


The art of persuasion

One of the most readily accessible subbranches of psychology is the art of persuasion. We all have to "sell" ourselves or our ideas in one way or another. You might as well learn how to do it effectively!

It's also worth keeping in mind that the art of persuasion is a double-edged sword. It can also be used against you as a tool of manipulation. Even if you're not interested in learning it to become more convincing yourself, it's worth doing so to become aware when others try to manipulate you.

As the old poker adage goes, if you don't know who the sucker in the room is, it means you are the sucker.


11. (Basic) law


The law doesn't evoke the most pleasant associations. Regardless, our every action is bound by it. Sadly, like many other evergreen skills, it's usually brushed off throughout the education system.

Learning its basics, be it, basic humans rights or tax regulations, will allow you to become a more aware citizen as well as bring you many other benefits, including the financial ones.


12. (Basic) economics


Economics is a field of science that explores how society uses its limited resources to best meet its needs. Both macro- and microeconomics can be applied to many other branches of knowledge, making it a universal tool to understand the economic reality we live in.

You can use it mostly to optimize your financial decisions. It can come quite handy both in investing or choosing the right moment to purchase different goods.


13. Basic physics


Physics is one of a few branched that made the modern world possible. Its applications can be found all around us in every device we use: batteries, cell phones, computers, cars, and constructions of any kind.

Even though it seems abstract at first, it can help you get a better grasp of dozens of everyday phenomena. I find it especially practical when combined with other evergreen skills like nutrition, medicine, and chemistry.

For example, my mom is a cosmetician, and I have always been, somewhat organically, fascinated by this field. One of the cosmetic preparations that are all the rage among ladies is hyaluronic acid.

Very often, it is as expensive as hell. What's more, companies do their best to convince you that it can miraculously regenerate and moisturize any type of skin even if it looks like a 15-year old tire. Sadly, these claims don't hold true. Once you learn a bit about dermatology and combine it with physics (i.e., the concept of permeability), you will realize that most hyaluronic acid preparations are too big to pass through the first layer of skin called stratum corneum. Just like many other preparations, I might add.

You see? A bit of reading will have saved you thousands of dollars.


14. Basic Chemistry


I still remember this memorable saying from school that chemistry "feeds, heals, clothes and defends." It's true. 

Chemistry is a tenacious companion of our everyday struggles. It can be found in cosmetics, drugs, clothes, cleaning products and weapons. Knowing just a bit of chemistry can be extremely helpful, especially if you combine it with other evergreen skills.

Personally, I love how medicine and chemistry go hand in hand. For example, once you learn about displacement reactions, you can apply this concept to understand one of the causes of hypothyroid. 

It turns out that halogens, i.e., elements like chlorine, bromine, and fluoride, can displace iodine that is responsible for producing your main thyroid hormones. In other words, accidental drink of the tap or swimming pool water or eating your toothpaste might mess you up.

The same goes for drinking too much tea because its leaves, especially young ones, are full of fluoride.

Everything is connected, and chemistry is an integral part of the whole.


15. Basic mathematics

list of evergreen skills


I love mathematics with all my heart. This was one of the mains reasons why I chose Econometrics as my major. That's why it hurts me a lot to see a lot of disdain for mathematics these days. All of a sudden everyone seems convinced that calculators and Excel are our saviors.

It's painfully wrong. I agree that not many people need to know advanced math. However, a lot of basic concepts and a general numerical is necessary. 

I would argue that basic statistics is one of the most mat skills one can possess. Without them, it's difficult to interpret any scientific research or even numbers communicated to us by our governments.



16. Basic computer science


There is no denying that we spend almost every day plugged to digital reality. There is little hope that it will ever change.

For that reason, it's definitely worth learning a bit about computers, programming languages and even network infrastructure. It doesn't take much time, but it can certainly improve your understanding of this area of life.


17. Languages


If your native tongue is anything else than English than knowing at least this one language is undoubtedly an evergreen skill. English is the language of knowledge; the modern Latin if you will. If you want to know anything about anything, you need to know it.

However, even if you're an already native speaker, mastering another language should be a must based on the cognitive benefits it delivers.

Nevertheless, I don't think you should overdo it. I believe that knowing more than three foreign languages is rarely practical and worth your time unless you really love this area of knowledge, or you have other good reasons. 


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18. Playing an instrument


Playing an instrument - cognitive benefits


I know what you're thinking. Playing an instrument is a direct contradiction of my definition of evergreen skills. It's certainly not something one does every day.

I have placed it on my list because just like languages, it's one of the best cognitive boosters in the world. If you care about your or your children's mental well-being, I would consider putting it on your to-do list.

It sure as heck is more effective than investing in some stupid brain-training games or thinking that Sudoku will enlarge your brain enough as to bend space-time.


A couple of benefits of learning how to play an instrument:

  • 1. improved reading skills
"Children exposed to a multi-year program of music tuition involving training in increasingly complex rhythmic, tonal, and practical skills display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers, according to a new study." - Science Dailly

  • 2. improved working memory
"Musical training seems to hone auditory memory skills. Musicians have better auditory working memory (Chan et al., 1998; Jakobson et al., 2008; Parbery-Clark et al., 2009b2011a; Strait et al., 2012b2013a), potentially accounted for by musicians' increased activation of larger neuronal networks involved in cognitive control and sustained attention than non-musicians when confronted with difficult memory tasks (Gaab and Schlaug, 2003; Pallesen et al., 2010)." - Art and science: how musical training shapes the brain

  • 3. improved brain size and connectivity
"Musicians have a larger corpus callosum, the fiber tract underlying most interhemispheric communication, with musicians who started training at an earlier age having a larger corpus callosum compared to musicians who started later (Schlaug et al., 1995; Wan and Schlaug, 2010). Musicians' larger corpus callosum volume may reflect decreased interhemispheric inhibition (Ridding et al., 2000) and more communication between the two hemispheres."

How to Use Many Evergreen Skills in a Meaningful Way


Evergreen skills are easy to activate by their very nature. However, a great way to use them at the same time is to come up with a project

Most of the projects are characterized by a high degree of complexity and necessitate the use of many different skills. What's more, they are a preferable way for many people to learn. Not everyone can pore over books for months without any specific purpose. Projects, on the other hand, are meaningful and highly engaging.

They can also be a gateway to a better and more successful life - also financially. For example, I did my trichology certification for fun, as a personal project. Would it be difficult to open my practice or team up with someone to open a clinic? I don't think so. Nevertheless, it all started as a fun side project. 

Think whether there is something you have always wanted to do or create and start working towards it step by step. Acquire all the necessary evergreen skills on your way there and observe how much easier your project comes. There are truly few things in life that give as much satisfaction as seeing your vision come to life.


Summary - Evergreen Skills and Knowledge


Evergreen skills and knowledge should be a top priority for any ambitious individual. The time you devote to their development is among the best investments in life you can make as they can be used in every single area of your life.

The best part is that the more of them you learn, the more powerful those evergreen skills become. It's a beautiful demonstration of the synergy effect where the sum of parts is way greater than the individual part themselves.


Which of those skills is the most important for you? 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 43 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.

 


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.