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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

Remember that your 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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.

 

Over 30 Things You Can Learn from All My Failed and Successful Memory Experiments

I often talk about what effective learning methods are all about but I have almost never mentioned all the memory experiments I have run which have failed miserably. It might give you the impression that this is the knowledge which came to me easily. On the contrary.

It was like wading through the puddle of crap to pick up something which seemed to be the gem of wisdom. Only to realize later that it was actually a fossilized chunk of crap. Only to realize a couple of months down the road that it was actually a beautiful diamond hidden beneath the dry shell.

I think you get my point. It was a confusing process where I had to rediscover time and time again different truths in different contents.

Of course, my process of reasoning wasn't very rigorous at the beginning. Neither were my memory experiments. I was kind of going with my gut and trying to notice whether I remember more or less.

Only later did I start to actually construct hypotheses and test them. Everything got even easier when I started learning more about memory and reading studies related to this area of knowledge.

Before I share with you my conclusions and failures, let's start with how my experiments were run.


What was the framework of my memory experiments?

 

Over 30 things you can learn from all my failed and successful memory experiments

 

This is a simple blueprint which I have used to run my memory experiments:

  1. 1
    come up with hypotheses
  2. 2
    set yourself a suitable deadline to test the idea (ideally, at least 3 weeks - 1 month)
  3. 3
    test it
  4. 4
    measure the results at the end of your memory experiment
  5. 5
    draw conclusions
  6. 6
    rinse and repeat

How did I choose words for my memory experiments?

 

This is a very important question. Some people think that any words will do. That's far from the truth.

If you want to run a meaningful memory experiment you need to make sure that the words tested are as different from any other words and concepts you know as it's only possible.

The reason is that your current knowledge modulates the new knowledge you want to acquire.

If you know English and you're learning French your results will be immediately distorted. Depending on a source, 40-50% of English words originate from French.

If you want to get unbiased results you need to test the words from languages you know nothing of.

In my case, I frequently tried to memorize words from languages like Basque, Finnish, and Hungarian. They were absolutely foreign to me and I couldn't associate them in any way with my background knowledge.

"Collectively, these findings provide strong evidence that pre-experimental stimulus familiarity determines the relative costs and benefits of experimental item repetition on the encoding of new item-source associations. By demonstrating the interaction between different types of stimulus familiarity, the present findings advance our understanding of how prior experience affects the formation of new episodic memories." - Pre-experimental stimulus familiarity modulates the effects of item repetition on source memory - Hongmi Lee, Kyungmi Kim, Do-Joon Yi, 2018

Also, it's worth noting that a typical batch of items which I tried to commit to my memory was 20. Typically, I tried to memorize between 3-5 batches.


What did I test?

 

Over 30 things you can learn from all my failed

 

Time to get to the nitty-gritty of my memory experiments. As you already know, I experimented almost exclusively with words which were completely foreign to me in order to minimize my background knowledge interference.

Another important part is the methods I used to test my knowledge. I always tested my recalls using the following methods:



Free recall

Free recall describes 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. Free recall often displays evidence of primacy and recency effects.

Primacy effects are displayed when the person recalls items presented at the beginning of the list earlier and more often. The recency effect is when the person recalls items presented at the end of the list earlier and more often. Free recall often begins with the end of the list and then moves to the beginning and middle of the list.

For that reason, I always tried to recall all the batches at once in order to minimize the number of learning sessions. That gave me the certainty that my results were warped.


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

There are two basic experimental methods used to conduct cued recall, the study-test method, and the anticipation method. In the study-test method participants study a list of word pairs presented individually.

Immediately after or after a time delay, participants are tested in the study phase of the experiment on the word pairs just previously studied.

One word of each pair is presented in a random order and the participant is asked to recall the item with which it was originally paired. The participant can be tested for either forward recall, Ai is presented as a cue for Bi, or backward recall, Bi is presented as a cue for Ai.

In the anticipation method, participants are shown Ai and are asked to anticipate the word paired with it, Bi. If the participant cannot recall the word, the answer is revealed.

During an experiment using the anticipation method, the list of words is repeated until a certain percentage of Bi words are recalled. - Wikipedia.

The learning curve for cued recall increases systematically with the number of trials completed. This result has caused a debate about whether or not learning is all-or-none.

 

(un)succesful memory experiments

 

Why did I use both methods? Because they both show you different things.

"Free recall exercises, are good measures of initial learning and remembering (Mayer, 2009). However, transfer tasks, such as the written fill-in-the-blank activity and the problem-solving task are perhaps better measures of true learning (Mayer, 2009)."

Many people have argued with me that just because they are able to recall words after using some method, it surely means that it's effective. As you can see, it's only a part of the story.

That's why it's also so important to test any method for the prolonged period of time. Always give yourself at least 3 weeks to test your hypothesis. Then measure the results (here are examples of the things you can measure in language learning).

“There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.” – Enrico Fermi


Why even measure it at all?

 


Measuring your results certainly doesn't sound sexy but it's absolutely necessary. You can't know for sure that one method is better than the other if you don't verify it and you don't control your variables. 

What's more, if you don't measure, you can't improve. And that means a great deal in the world of language learning.  Using ineffective methods can literally mean that you will have wasted thousands of hours by the end of your life.

I am not that loco and I was never willing to take such a risk. And I am pretty sure you also don't want to be the guy with a tombstone saying, "It took him 20 years to learn a language to an A2 level, what a moron. Love, family."

Whenever you're in doubt - measure your results. It will help you get to the truth.


What does it mean that the experiment failed?


Under every experiment, you will find an explanation of why a given experiment failed or not. 

What do I mean by that?

Most of the time it means that it either didn't provide me with the results I expected or it wasn't more effective than the method I tested it against.

Of course, in a sense, none of them failed. They all helped me to understand the science of memory better and to improve my memorization skills. Or in more elegant words of Thomas Edison, I can say that:

 "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas A. Edison


The list of methods I have tested

 


Below you will find a long list of methods I have tested throughout the years. I can't vouch that I have included all of them. I have a nasty habit of throwing away everything I don't need. Unfortunately, in many instances, the victim of my habit was a bunch of notes documenting my experiment.

All my experiments are accompanied by the main conclusions and complementary articles when needed. Enjoy!


Chapter 0 - The typical school stuff


I guess this is the type of learning which is a baseline for many people. All you do is what they tell you to during a class. You read something, do some grammar exercises, write an essay and so on.


Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail? 

What you give is what you get. I think I simply didn't apply myself to learning hence my results were just terrible.


The main takeaway:

Apply yourself? Learn regularly? Take your pick. 


Chapter 1 - Using a notebook

The first learning system of my own devising was fairly uncomplicated. Ready for it? Every time when I used to encounter any English words I didn't know, I jotted them down.

Next, I rewrote ALL their meanings, collocations and such from an Oxford Dictionary into my notebook. Then I read my notes on my way to school.

You're probably wondering why I didn't just mark these words in a dictionary and read them there, huh?

Well, maybe because I was fed with a lead spoon as a child. Or it has something to do with repeatedly falling down headfirst from a tree.

I don't know. But these are some of the excuses I use. If it wasn't bad enough I used this method for at least 3 or years when I was about 18-22.

 

Things you can learn from all my failed and successful memory experiments

 

Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

The method was clearly unsustainable. It took me a lot of time to rewrite all the words I needed. What's worse, there were so many of them that I couldn't review them in any regular way.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

This was my first system. It was terrible but it also taught me an important lesson. You will always progress, no matter how slow, if you have any kind of learning system in place. Sure, this one sucked but at least it gave me a systematized way of learning new words and their meanings.


Chapter 2 - SRS programs

 

I must have been about 19 or 20 when I discovered Spaced Repetition Software.

The first program of this kind which I bought was called SuperMemo Advanced. It was a brilliant creation which ushered in the new era in the world of my personal learning.

 

SRS Programs

 

Back then, I already spoke quite good English. Or at least that's what I thought. To my surprise, it quickly turned out that out of over 10k words which this program contained, I knew almost none.

My grind started. I started slogging through all these words with dogged determination. I was terrified by the number of reviews I soon amassed but somehow I pulled through. I think it took me about 18 months to cover all the words.


What about the final result?

My vocabulary certainly expanded. Initially, I could recall a lot of words but after some time, the novelty effect wore off. I soon found myself forgetting more and more words despite working my butt off every day.

And thus, I decided to keep on searching for my Holy Grail.


Experiment status:

It kinda failed.


Why did it kinda fail?

The main reason why my experiment failed to some degree is that I didn't create my own sentences. Most programs of this kind give you ready-to-learn sentences. 

Unfortunately, if you don't actively encode words on your own, they will slip your memory anyway. The optimization algorithm which programs of this kind use is an extremely powerful tool.

Maybe even the most universal shield against forgetting we currently have. However, no amount of reviews can guarantee that the words you learn will be transferred into your long-term memory if you don't encode them (Craik & Lockhart, 1972; Craik & Tulving, 1975).


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

The optimization algorithms are your best friend learning-wise. It doesn't matter how much you delude yourself into thinking that you can learn faster by reading, listening or other means.

It won't happen.

Having a ready-to-use wordlist is extremely convenient and can speed up your learning. You won't have to waste your time scratching your head and thinking what's the next word you should learn.

A good idea is to start with frequency lists.


Read more:

 

Chapter 3 - Using a dictionary

 

I enrolled in a language school to master German and after about four years I was ready to sit the Goethe-Zertifikat B2 exam. The last trial before the real thing was a mock exam. I took it, I passed it and life felt great.

 I felt so proud of myself as I was leaving my language school, "Now I know English, German and Polish, there are 7 languages to go".

The life had different plans for me. Just as I was ambling down the street I was approached by an elderly German couple asking me if I speak any German.

"I do", I replied proudly.

"Do you know any good restaurants around here?", they asked.

As they were finishing their question something terrible happened. I froze. I couldn't spew out any coherent answer. I huffed and puffed and floundered until I managed to form some vague answer.

As they were leaving I felt devastated. I spent 4 damn years in a language school and couldn't even hold a simple conversation! On top of this, I just passed a B2 certificate.

Frustrated by this experience I decided to simply pick up a Polish-German dictionary, mark the works I didn't know but I found useful and start creating short sentences with them.

I used to take this dictionary everywhere with me. I kept my nose in it and wandered around oblivious to my surroundings.

I definitely looked strange but at least I had my pants on most of the time and didn't yell "repent sinners" so that's nice.


Experiment status:

It kinda failed.


Why did it kinda fail?

The problem with this method was that it didn't allow me to review my vocabulary in any meaningful way. I was jumping from one word to another.

Oftentimes, I spent way too much time concentrating on the words I already knew. Considering that your average pocket dictionary has usually at least 15k words, it was the problem of considerable size.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

1. Even though this method didn't seem like much, I consider it a big success to some degree. It was then that I realized that creating my own sentences with virtually any word can boost my vocabulary retention.

Contrary to the common wisdom, it doesn't matter if your sentences don't sound like something that could originate from the silky smooth lips of a native speaker.

You need to encode words on your own and you need many words in order to convey your thoughts.

2. This method further reinforced my conviction that having a ready-to-use word list can positively affect my learning rate.

Up to this day, I remain a huge fan of pocket dictionaries. Even on the days, when I don't have much time, I can encode and learn up to 30 words in 15 minutes simply by picking them up from a dictionary.

Trust me, no other method comes even close to this.


Chapter 4 - Mnemonics


My learning false starts

 

I stumbled across the first mentions about mnemonics in an article when I was about 20-21. Even though I was fascinated by the general idea behind mnemonics, I quickly forgot about it.

A couple of months later, by fate, I discovered a small book about mnemonics. It turned out to be a copy of Harry Lorayne's classic "* How To Develop a Super Power Memory (1957)".

One week later, I was a full-time mnemonics preacher.


How could I not?

Any person, who tried to learn anything with help of mnemonics can attest to their effectiveness. And that's true. Compared to your typical "cram and forget" approach, mnemonics work very well.

It takes some time and objectivity to discover that perhaps mnemonics are not as great as many experts like to believe. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Here is a list of different memory systems I have tried.


Classic mnemonics

 

If you have never heard of mnemonics, here is, more or less, how they work:

  1. 1
    Find a word you want to learn.
  2. 2
    Inspect it thoroughly and try to spot any associations or familiar word in it.
  3. 3
    Create a funny/absurd picture based on these words or associations.
  4. 4
    Place the picture in some location which is well-known to you (e.g. your home).
  5. 5
    Repeat this process for many words and make sure to connect your pictures with each other.
  6. 6
    Take a mental walk and decode these words.
Example:

Let's say that you want to learn a Spanish word for "trabajar". Upon a closer inspection, you notice that:

a) "traba" looks a lot like "drab"
b) "jar", well, it looks like a "jar".

Next, you combine those words into a short story: you work as a slave at the desk in your room producing enormous "drab jars".

Can you see it?

Great.

The only thing left is to retrieve these words by imagining this entire situation.

If you have never tried this method, it can be quite effective. And, as you can probably guess, that was my initial impression as well.


Status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

1. I have mentioned before that encoding your own vocabulary is extremely important. If that's true, then why do mnemonics work so badly for long-term memorization and retention?


Two types of encoding:

a) shallow encoding

Shallow encoding doesn't help you to connect the piece of information with other meaningful information nor does it help you to further your understanding of it.

It usually concentrates on meaningless banalities.


Example:
You are trying to memorize the word "skada" (Swedish for "to damage"). The prime example of shallow encoding would be to start counting the number of vowels or consonants in this word.

In our case, it would also be creating meaningless pictures based on abstract associations which has nothing to do with the actual use of the word.

b) deep encoding

The absolute opposite of shallow encoding. This time you are trying to make meaningful information between different items.

The more the better. In the case of language learning, it's simply building sentences with the words you want to learn.

2. The other reason is fairly simple. Sometimes it takes a lot of time to find the right associations. Needless to say, spending 5 minutes on every word in order to do this is pointless.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

1. Even though this method didn't seem like much, I consider it a big success to some degree. It was then that I realized that creating my own sentences with virtually any word can boost my vocabulary retention. You need to encode words on your own and you need many words in order to convey your thoughts.

2. This method further reinforced my conviction that having a ready-to-use word list can positively affect my learning rate.


Read more:

My system of mnemonics

 

After some time, I decided that the main problem was the time I needed to find my associations. I decided to identify the most important prefixes for any language I was concentrating on at that point.


Example:
The prefix "ent" is fairly popular in German. I decided to substitute it with the word Ent which is a race of tree-resembling creatures from Tolkien's fantasy world Middle-earth.

 

Learning experiments

 

Every time I encountered some word starting with "ent" I could immediately create a picture involving the Ents.

How did this method affect my learning pace?

I started memorizing words lightning fast. Partly because I have created my own "mnemonic picture dictionary" which consisted of over 1000 syllables with their respective pictures.

And yet, once again.


Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

Unfortunately, I failed to recognize that quick short-term memorization doesn't equal successful long-term memorization.

Sure, I was memorizing word quicker but I still had problems using them in conversation and kept on forgetting them anyway.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

Please check the main takeaway for classic mnemonics.


Mnemonics and meditation

 

Another brilliant idea of mine was thinking that if I only improve the vividness and clarity of my pictures, I will be able to retain them much longer.

I decided to include a 30-minute meditation session to my learning schedule. During that time, the only thing I did was revisiting my mnemonic stories and making them more vivid.


Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

No matter how clear your pictures are - if you don't apply active encoding to your learning, you will inevitably fail.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

Please check the main takeaway for classic mnemonics.


Mnemonics with SRS

 

The next step for me was combining mnemonics with SR programs like ANKI.
I figured out that if I only optimize my repetitions, my retention rate will go through the roof.

Even with this method, I was using a lot of variations. Among others, I tried to:

  1. 1
    use Google map images to memorize thousands of words at the same time
  2. 2
    use  virtual and phantom locations and connect them into memory palaces
  3. 3
    shrink my stories to squeeze even dozens of them into one room
Experiment status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

This is where I gave up on mnemonics. My stats and personal experience were very clear about this method of learning.

It doesn't matter how much I tweak every tiny element of this method - it will always suck as it fails to encapture the very essence of learning - applying contextual learning and deep encoding.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

Please check the main takeaway for classic mnemonics.


Read more:

Chapter 4 - Traditional approaches

 

I started looking into passive learning years after I started my language learning/memory journey. I didn't do it because I believed they are very effective.

On the contrary, I have never been a fan of passive learning and I don't understand why so many language bloggers promote them.

Passive learning, as appealing as it might be, has been found, time and time again, terribly ineffective compared to active learning. 

The best argumentation for this line of learning I have seen so far is quoting the misbegotten theory of Krashen who was debunked one year after it was published.

As negative as this introduction may sound, I still was very curious how many words I can pick up and activate from passive learning.


Extensive reading


successful memory experiments


Experiment 1:

I have always been a bookworm so this experiment was quite pleasant to me. In 2016 I decided to read about 60 Swedish articles in the span of about 2 months.

At that time I was already on a C1, or maybe C1 / C2 level. That means I could read without any problems.

In total, I read 52000 words, mainly from the major Swedish news outlets. At about 300 words/min, it took me about 17 hours to go through them all and about 2 hours to find something interesting to read.

I didn't write down any words, I was just trying to memorize them while reading (without mnemonics).


The final result?

After a careful analysis of my vocabulary, I found out that I picked up 5 extra words.

In other words, I spend 19 hours and had nothing to show for. To fully showcase how ridiculously slow that pace it's worth reminding you that on a bad day, I can encode and learn up to 30 words in 15 minutes simply by picking them up from a dictionary and encoding them in ANKI.

That experiment definitely echoes the experience of my students. Even though it's only an anecdote.

Over one year ago, a student of mine who learned German decided to read the first two books of the Harry Potter series in German.

At the time, she was on a B1/B2 level. I tried to discourage her from doing it and direct her efforts to active learning but she put her foot down.

After about 4 months she told me that she finished reading them - in total about 1000 pages or so.

The result was once again quite depressing. Once she told me about her intention, I started jotting down EVERY NEW WORD which came up during our classes. It wasn't difficult at all as I taught her from the very beginning. I knew exactly which words she already used.

After 4 months, countless hours, 1000 pages she managed to introduce 0 extra words to her parlance.

 

All my failed and successful memory experiments

 

Experiment 2:

In my next experiment conducted in May 2018, I set off to check how many new words I can pick up from watching English movies with French subtitles. I was pretty sure that this method would be more effective since it involves more sensory channels.

In total, I watched about 60 hours worth of TV series. My level at that time was about B1. During that time I was able to pick up 11 words, most of which I was able to use spontaneously.

I haven't been able to memorize other words than the ones I learned before. In other words, it allowed me to learn more.


Experiment status:

it was a success and a failure at the same time.


Why did it fail/succeed?

1. The experiment was certainly a success because it confirmed something I have been telling for a long time. Passive learning can be an amazing tool if you use it as an adjacent method.

Every day you should do your best to concentrate on active learning. Once you're done and you can't din more words into your head, feel free to read or listen as much as you want.

Spontaneous activation of words is much easier once you already have these words in your head. This is definitely something my experiment confirmed.

Even though I avoided speaking for 2 months, my fluency was actually higher after 60 hours of reading. Mind you that I didn't pick up almost any new words. But the ones I knew came to my mind much quicker.

2. The experiment also failed because clearly reading was subpar to basically any active learning method, I have ever tried.


The main takeaways (i.e. what I learned):
1. "Free recall exercises, are good measures of initial learning and remembering (Mayer, 2009). However, transfer tasks, such as the written fill-in-the-blank activity and the problem-solving task are perhaps better measures of true learning (Mayer, 2009)."

Just because you have a general impression of remembering words after a reading session, it doesn't mean that you've committed them to your memory. The only tests which can confirm involve the active use of the said words.

2. Acquisition of new vocabulary from reading will be terribly slow and ineffective until you learn about 5k words. 5000 words allow you to understand about 98% of most ordinary texts (Nation (1990) and Laufer (1997)).

Such a vocabulary size warrants also accurate contextual guessing  (Coady et al., 1993; Hirsh & Nation, 1992; Laufer, 1997). If you're hell-bent on learning this way, make sure that you know at least 3k words as it's the minimum threshold needed for contextual guessing. (Hazenberg and Hulstijn, 1996).

3. Your ability to speak fluently and produce spontaneous speech is dependent to a high degree on the amount of input you expose yourself to.


Read more:

Extensive listening

 

effective learning methods

 

As painful as it is for my analytical heart, I have never run any rigorous memory experiment involving extensive listening. All I have are my anecdotes concerning three main languages I teach (Swedish, English, German). For that reason, please take it with a grain of salt.

I haven't done any form of extensive listening practice for any of those languages until I was at least at a B2 level. In other words, my vocabulary amounted to at least 5k words which warranted quite accurate contextual guessing.

Even though I can't give you any specific number, we're talking about thousands of hours of listening practice for English and hundreds of hours for both Swedish and German. My main listening activities concentrated mainly on watching TV series and movies.


Status:

It succeeded!


Why did it succeed?

Despite the lack of detailed stats, I could definitely notice that my ability to produce spontaneous speech and to understand was greatly increased.

What's more, vocabulary acquisition was also much higher compared to extensive reading. The probable reason is, once again, the wealth of stimuli, which is related to watching movies.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

1. Extensive listening is certainly the most useful form of passive learning. Especially up to a C1 level. 

2. The vocabulary acquisition rate is also quite high provided that you build your core vocabulary first. I can only speculate that on earlier stages, it would be quite ineffective since the cognitive load would be too high to enable effective learning.

It's worth keeping in mind that extensive listening is still quite a terrible tool of acquiring vocabulary compared to almost any active learning strategy. Once again, it can be treated as a perfect supplement to active learning.


Chapter 4 - Random memory experiments

 

All the experiments presented here reflect a very interesting stage in my memory journey. Back then, I was willing to run almost any memory experiment as long as there is at least one scientific paper behind it.

In hindsight, sometimes I don't know what the hell I was thinking!


Holding my urine

Judge me all you want, I did it. Years ago I read this study whose conclusion was that holding your urine improves decision making before choosing an immediate or a delayed financial reward.

As you can see, it had nothing to do with language learning or memory improvement. Of course, that didn't stop me. The experiment went on for 3 weeks. During that time I almost pissed myself a couple of times but it certainly did nothing for my retention rate.


Fun fact:

a Dutch scientist conducting this study, Mirjam Tusk, was actually awarded Ig Nobel.


Status:

a debacle


Why did it fail?

Because I was a silly and impressionable dummy. But hey! At least I have an anecdote to share!


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

Screw you Miriam and your research.


Learning in nature


failed and successful memory experiments

 

There are a lot of studies which show that spending time in nature helps to boost your memory. Some of them even show that staring at a photo of trees or a brisk walk in the woods can improve your memory and attention performance by 20%.

And obviously, that was a good enough reason for me to try it.

For three weeks in 2014, I spend 1 hour per day learning Swedish in the nearby park. The results were quite clear - no advantage whatsoever compared to studying at home.

Status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

Because the memory experiment conducted in the lab are usually detached from reality and don't carry over to real life? That would be my guess. Interestingly, I noticed that my attention performance dropped while learning in the park. I was constantly distracted by damn squirrels, dogs, and bawling children. The general conditions weren't very conducive to studying.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

Learn where there is a minimal amount of distraction in order to maximize your memory performance.


Emotional modulation of the learned material

One of the undeniable laws of learning says that we always remember better items which are emotionally salient. That gave me the idea that if I learn how to modulate this saliency, I could use it to my advantage to boost my retention.

I did lots of weird things to achieve this goal. I screamed foreign words out at the top of my lungs. I made myself furious or jealous with the help of my imagination and then proceeded to memorize short lists of words.


Status:

It failed.


Why did it fail?

Truth be told, I was able to remember a lot of these words right away so the first impression suggests that the method works. But as I usually say, in order to truly discover whether something works you need to run delayed recall tests.

You have to wait at least 1 or 2 weeks before you retest your memory. Only then do you get a clear answer about whether a method works or not. This strategy failed. 

In hindsight, the reason is simple - if everything stands out emotionally, nothing stands out emotionally.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

Just don't.


Learning before going to sleep

Another great strategy which I have heard about was learning before going to sleep. Like all short memory experiments of mine, it lasted 3 weeks in September 2015. The idea for this experiment was sparked by research showing a correlation between time of studying and how it can potentially improve your recall.

The protocol was very simple. I tried to memorize 10 random words from languages I knew right before going to sleep.

How did I fare?

Not much better than usually. My retention rate was improved by about 4%.


Status: 

It failed.


Why did it fail?

I know that you might think that 4% is not too shabby and it's worth something. However, in my case, I deemed the results less than impressive. Especially considering that I tried to memorize words from the languages I already knew which was a major mistake.

What's more, if we include other co-founders, my results won't be much better than the chance. I had definitely better results with practicing motor skills before going to bed.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

Try at your own risk - I don't see any super-duper benefits. It's much more important to have a sound sleeping schedule than to practice at any specific time.


Combining learning with physical activity

 

Experiments

 

There is plenty of research demonstrating the benefits of combining physical activity with learning. The general idea is to space your learning sessions and to interrupt them with bouts of vigorous exercise.

Here is a great excerpt from Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (2011).

One immediate outcome of the research is a process known as spaced learning, in which teachers give short lessons, sometimes of less than ten minutes, before changing to physical activity and then repeating the lesson. In one trial, the pupils scored up to 90 percent in a science paper after one session involving three 20-minute bursts, interspersed with ten-minute breaks for physical activity. The pupils had not covered any part of the science syllabus before the lessons.

I started testing this idea in early 2016. Since I dislike gyms, I decided to weave in quick calisthenics workouts into my learning schedule.

Long story short, such an approach managed to significantly improve my attention span and slightly boosted my recall.


Status: 

It succeeded!


Why did it succeed?

Even though there is a lot of great science which explains in a detailed way how exercise can help you with studying, I think it has a lot to do with Serial-position effect.

Serial-position effect is the tendency of a person to recall the first and last items in a series best, and the middle items worst.

Why do I think so?

Because I have noticed similar improvements while taking so-called meaningful breaks i.e. taking a walk, or just lying down and breathing mindfully.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

Mixing work-outs with your learning is certainly worth replicating.


Read more:
  • John J. Ratey - Spark, The Revolutionary New Science Of The Brain And Exercise

Learning with pictures

 

1. a traditional approach

I am more than sure that even if you haven't tried using pictures in your own studies, you at least heard how great of a method that is.

Is there any truth to it?

First of all, it's slightly easier to memorize words which are accompanied by pictures. It's related to so-called "Jennnifer Aniston neurons" (I am not making it up!) - the firing of a single neuron for a single image to form a concept.

That's why you definitely increase your chances of memorizing a word by adding pictures (read more about the picture superiority effect).

But the real question which many people seem to ignore is - how much does it really help?

My answer is - not that much. Most of the time you will be able to just remember a picture very well. Based on my experiments I can say that the overall benefit of using pictures in learning is not big and amounts to less than 5%. At least when you stick to a typical approach i.e. adding random pictures to your ANKI flashcards.

Is there a better way?


2. a different approach

Since my initial results with this method weren't very satisfying I decided to step it up and tried to check how different kind of pictures affect my recall. What's more, I also verified how using the same picture in many flashcards affects my learning.

 

What kind of pictures did I use?

I concentrated on pictures which are emotionally salient. I tried everything starting from gore pictures to porn pictures. The results, especially with the latter, weren't very good. I was sitting there like a horny idiot and couldn't concentrate even one bit on any of the words. It's like having a sexy teacher in high school. You can't wait till you get to your classes but once you do, you don't hear any words.

 

Funny enough, I remember most of the pictures from this experiment to this day which only further proves to me that your typical approach won't work here.

 

So what kind of pictures did work?

Pictures from my personal collection. I found out that if I use one picture in a lot of flashcards where every flashcard concentrates on one word, I am able to recall words extremely easily. In addition, my retention rate has also been improved, although not as significantly as my ability to retrieve words.


Status: 

failure/success.


Why did it fail?

While it's true that it's really easy to memorize picture, I haven't noticed any amazing benefits using a typical approach i.e. inserting a new picture into every flashcard.


Why did it succeed?

I think that my approach to using pictures in language learning is so effective because it mimics a lot how we normally acquire vocabulary as children. It's much easier to memorize names of different objects and phenomena if the same situation occurs frequently.

I have never seen any scientific experiments in this vein, so I hope that the linguistic community will pick it up one day.


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

If you want to use pictures in your language studies, don't waste time trying to find a new picture for every word. Choose one picture and use it multiple times in different flashcards. Each time try to memorize a different word.


Learning with GIFS

 

Learning with GIFS

 

Don't worry, this will be a short one. If you haven't known this before, you can insert GIFs into your ANKI flashcards. Overall, it will give you an additional recall and retrieval boost.

Status:

It succeeded!


Why did it succeed? 

GIFs are very similar to real life situation. There is some dynamism there connected with visual stimulus.

The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned): 

It works provided that, once again, you use the same GIF for many flashcards.


Writing vs speaking

Another interesting experiment which I set out to conduct, in 2017 if I am not mistaken, was to settle once and for all what's better for language learning memory-wise - writing or speaking?

I won't elaborate about it since I have already written a full article about this problem (you can find the link below).


The main takeaway (i.e. what I learned):

All in all, my opinion is that for the most people out there, speaking is the superior learning method as it allows you to practice what probably matters to you the most – being able to communicate. What’s more, writing offers almost no benefits memory-wise compare to speaking.

Having that said, you should remember that the ultimate answer might be more complex for you. Some learn a language to write, some to watch movies and some to talk. Choose your goal and choose your preferred learning method in accordance with it.


Read more:

How my learning pace changed over the years

 

Even though conducting all these experiments might seem like a lot of work, I think it was more than worth it. Especially since I have always been more interested in how memory works than knowing many languages.

I thought that it might be interesting for you to see how my quest for better memory has influenced my learning speed throughout the years. However, please remember that using the right methods is one thing. Another is that with every next language, it's getting easier and easier to learn the next ones.

Of course, even a layman might learn extremely fast if they know how to do it. I have managed to teach a lot of people to a B2 level in a couple of months with just 1 hour of classes per week so it can't be that bad (read more). Heck, some people who took my course Vocabulary Labs managed to do it without any help whatsoever within that time frame.

Side note: the numbers below don't represent my current levels, just how fast I learned these languages to a B2 level.


My learning pace over the years


The languages below are chronologically ordered starting with the ones which I learned first. I never bothered tracking how much time I needed to get a C1 level and beyond in most of these languages. The number below don't represent my current levels, just how fast I learned these languages to a B2 level.

Learning English

When did I start? When I was 12.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 7  years

Was the level verified? Yes, an FCE certificate

Learning Russian

When did I start? When I was 15.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 10 years

Was the level verified? Yes, by a private tutor

Learning German

When did I start? When I was 20.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 4-5 years

Was the level verified? Yes, a mock Goethe-Zertifikat B2

Learning Spanish

When did I start? When I was 25.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 1-1,5 year

Was the level verified? No

Learning French

When did I start? When I was 26.

Time needed to get to a B1 level: 6 months

Time needed to get to a B2 level: about 2 years

Was the level verified? No

Learning Swedish

When did I start? When I was 27.

Time needed to get to a B2 level: 3,5 months

Was the level verified? Yes, a multifaceted, internal verification in one of the global corporations

Read more about this missionLearn by talking to yourself.

Learning Esperanto

When did I start? When I was 28.

Time needed to get to a B1 level: 3 weeks

Time needed to get to a B2 level: ???

Was the level verified? Yes, by my Esperanto teacher

Learning  Czech

When did I start? When I was 29.

Time needed to get to a B1/B2: 4 weeks

Was the level verified? Yes, two separate online placement tests

Read more about this missionHow to learn communicative Czech in one month

Czech was also the last language I learned. About that time I decided to focus on other fields of science and improving my languages.

Right now, for the most European languages, I don't think it would take me more than 6-8 weeks to learn them to a B2 level. When it comes to trickier languages like Hungarian or any Asian language it's hard to say as I never looked into them deeply. Although probably if enough number of people are interested I will do another language mission in the future and will document my progress thoroughly.


Does it mean that these methods are bad?

 

failed memory experiments

 

As you have seen, I have classified quite many methods with which I have experimented as a failure. Does it mean they are inherently bad? Not necessarily. Depending on your current stage in language learning, many of them might boost your learning significantly provided that the one you're using right now is bad.

Even my results which show modest boosts (e.g. 5%) in recall and retrieval rate should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, if you're a person who is not very physically active, you might experience a significant increase in your ability to recall if just work out more.

Regardless of that, a lot of my experiments should show you rough effectiveness of many of these methods. I hope that one day I will find time to come back to this article and expand my lists of experiments including some others which I missed this time.

You might also wonder why I haven't covered many of the popular apps and learning systems in this article. The answer is very simple - I didn't have to. There are dozens of principles of memory to master in order to learn effectively. Once you acquire them, you can simply disregard many popular solutions because you can spot all the mistakes they are perpetuating. Not every experiment is worth your time.

How many of these methods have you experimented with? Let me know. 


What To Do Instead of Nootropics In Order To Maximize Your Brain Power Permanently

What To Do Instead of Nootropics

Nootropics are certainly one of those things that capture your imagination. You pop a pill and everything becomes clear. You are more vigilant, more observant.

Sure, three months down the road you start resembling a patient with a full-blown neurological disorder. You catch yourself scratching your arms nervously while your eyes twitch.

And if your pill is nowhere to be found you drop on the floor and start rhythmically convulsing.

But hey man! Those moments of clarity!

In all seriousness - nootropics have definitely become a thing in the last couple of years. The appeal is understandable.

At the price of a pack of pills, you can become a better version of yourself.

Is it really the case? Nope.

If you ask me, it's definitely more of a fantasy for the naive. Let me explain step-by-step why it is so and what you can do instead to become this sexy learning-machine.


What Are Nootropics?

 

Not everyone is familiar with this notion. Since I don't want to risk keeping you in the dark, let's delve into it.

Nootropics are natural and synthetic compounds that can improve your general cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, focus, and motivation.

As a rule of thumb, natural nootropics are much safer and can actually improve the brain's health (see Suliman et al. 2016).

As you can see the definition is very far from being precise.

Let's suppose you go into the panic mode before an important meeting and your colleague bitch-slaps you. You suddenly become more focused and sharper.

Can this backhander be treated as a nootropic?

Once again, the definition is unclear. What is clear is that, even though you might not realize it, you probably take some of them already.


Some Of The Available Nootropics?

 

What To Do Instead of Nootropics

 

Our civilization can pride itself on having a long, rich history of drugging ourselves to feel better and smarter. Here are some of the weapons of the mass enlightening:


Caffeine

If your head bobs like a crazy pigeon if you don't get your daily fix, you are probably not surprised to see it here.

These days, it can be found almost everywhere. Especially in soft drinks, dark chocolate and, of course, in coffee.

Effects: 
At normal doses, caffeine has variable effects on learning and memory, but it generally improves reaction time, wakefulness, concentration, and motor coordination. - Nehlig A (2010). "Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer?". Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


L-Theanine

L-Theanine, or simply theanine, can generally be found in tea.

The amount is dependent on the kind you drink but generally, you can get more in black tea than in green tea.

Effects:
Increases BDNF and attenuates cortisol-to-DHEAS, also has low affinity for AMPA, kainate, and NMDA receptors.


Curcumin

Great news for any enthusiast of Indian cuisine.

Effect:
Produces neuroprotective effects via activating BDNF/TrkB-dependent MAPK and PI-3K cascades in rodent cortical neurons.


Lithium

Elevates BDNF by inhibition of GSK-3, which also increases skeletal muscle growth.


Asian Ginseng

One of the most famous herbs which can boast such effects.

Effects:
Improved memory, enhanced focus/attention (similar to caffeine), enhanced mood through reduced anxiety, enhanced performance: reaction time, endurance, memory retention.


What About Real Nootropics?

 

I know that you probably want to learn more about "real" nootropics. Here is a short list of some of them.


Racetams

Effects:
Enhanced brain metabolism, better communication between the right and left brain hemispheres


Rasagilin

Effects:
Offers neuroprotection via stimulation of PKC phosphorylation; upregulation of PKCepsilon mRNA; induction of Bcl-X(L), Bcl-w, and BDNF mRNAs; and downregulation of PKCgamma, Bad, and Bax mRNAs.


Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Effects:
An antioxidant that also stimulates NGF. Found to be a potent enhancer for the regeneration of peripheral nerves.


Selegiline

Effects:
Elevates NGF, BDNF, and GDNF.


Lion's Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus)

Effects:
Stimulates NGF


Lithium

Effects:
Elevates BDNF by inhibition of GSK-3, which also increases skeletal muscle growth.


Magnesium-l-threonate

Elevation of brain magnesium increased NMDA receptors (NMDARs) signaling, BDNF expression, density of presynaptic puncta, and synaptic plasticity in the prefrontal cortex.

The list goes on and on. As exciting as it all sounds, I would advise against taking most of them. Especially the ones which are intended for the patients with neurological disorders.


Why You Should Stay Away From Most Nootropics



Caffeine is still one of the best nootropics around

 

Maximize Your Brain Power Without Nootropics


If you take caffeine in any form, it might be more than enough for you. Last year, a famous study compared the effectiveness of the CAF+ nootropic to caffeine.

The CAF+ contains a combination of ingredients that have separately shown to boost cognitive performance, including caffeine, l-theanine, vinpocetine, l-tyrosine, and vitamin B6/B12.

It was supposed to be the next big thing in the world of nootropics. Alas, it turned out to be a flop.

Here is the conclusion:

We found that after 90 min, the delayed recall performance on the VLT after caffeine was better than after CAF+ treatment.

Further, caffeine, but not CAF+, improved the performance in a working memory task. In a complex choice reaction task caffeine improved the speed of responding.

Subjective alertness was increased as a result of CAF+ at 30 min after administration. Only caffeine increased diastolic blood pressure.

We conclude that in healthy young students, caffeine improves memory performance and sensorimotor speed, whereas CAF+ does not affect the cognitive performance at the dose tested.

And that's exactly my point. A lot of those compounds which are being plugged shamelessly by different fancy-sounding brain websites are close to useless.

Do yourself a favor and stick to the devil you know.

It's expensive

It's not uncommon to find comments on a Reddit about Nootropics saying that:


"500$ for nootropics is not that much. This is just the price of admission for finding the one which is right for you."


It doesn't sound alarming at all. No sir. Don't think of yourself as a cowardly version of a heroin addict. You're a brave brain-explorer! On a more serious note - a lot of these nootropics are not only shady but expensive as well. Keep that in mind, if you decide to try them out.


Unknown long-term effects

Even though natural nootropics are potentially safe, or even very safe, it definitely can't be said about synthetic nootropics. By taking them you automatically volunteer to become a guinea pig.

Many of the nootropics change your levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamineserotoninGABA and many others.

The thing is that so do many drugs like cocaine.

The long-term effect is usually a strong imbalance of transmitter levels in order to compensate those extremes.

It reminds a lot of enthusiasts of brain-zapping couple of years ago. Even though there were almost no double-blind studies confirming its effectiveness, people glibly jumped on this bandwagon.

Of course, you didn't have to wait long for the first papers showing that brain-zapping might not be as great as we once thought.

As Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir explain in the journal Nature, we don’t know how extended use might change your brain chemistry in the long run.


It's a short-term fix

Call me old-fashioned but if somebody needs a pill every time they want to feel smart or sharp, maybe they are not that smart or sharp? After every use, it's time for a cold and lonely wake-up call.


It's a lazy solution

The important question to ask here is:

what kind of people would like to take such pills in the first place?

There are two groups:


a) lazy-ass slackers and loafers

These are people who have probably never put effort into any of the things they have been doing in their life. I know that you're not one of them because you can read. That takes us to the second group.


b) high-achievers

You know much, you've achieved much but you want more. That's great. That's admirable.

But as a high-achiever, you know that there is no such thing as a lunch for free. Things which are worth your time come with a price.

There are a lot of better, and more permanent, solutions to becoming a person with an extraordinary mind.


What to do instead of nootropics?

 

What To Do Instead of Nootropics In Order To Maximize Your Brain Power Permanently

 


1. Improve short-term memory

Your short-term memory is the bottleneck of your ability to acquire knowledge. By improving it, you can greatly accelerate your learning rate.

Mnemonics are definitely one of the best ways to do it. Read more about improving your short-term memory here.


2. Improve your diet

If you eat like crap (e.g. a lot of processed foods) and you look at a cucumber as if it touched you in your childhood, you should definitely take care of this problem.


3. Fix your dietary indeficiencies

If you have problems with brain fog, concentration, and mental sharpness, there is a very good chance that your diet caused a lot of deficiencies. No nootropics will fix that for you.

Get your blood checked to see what minerals and vitamins you're lacking.

Not sure if you lack anything? Check your nails.

Healthy nails should be smooth and have consistent (pinkish) coloring.

Any spots, discoloration and so on should be alarming.

What's more, most of the time, you can basically assume that you lack Vitamin D3. Especially if you have an office job or don't live in a sunny climate. You probably also lack magnesium unless you're a health buff.


4. Improve your lifestyle

More sport and more physical interactions with people. Both these things will give you a nice dopamine and serotonin kick. If you suspect that nobody loves you, try hugging stray dogs. Even this will do.


5. Learn how to learn faster

Call me biased but no pill will substitute this kind of knowledge. Let's assume that you want to learn a language and you gobbled up a magical tablet. If you use bad learning strategies, you will still get nowhere. This time, however, a little bit faster than before.

Knowing how to learn is a permanent power.


6. Learn how to be more productive and how to focus

If you don't know how to prioritize, nootropics will only make you browse all the cat pictures faster. Here is a good place to start.


7. Learn how to take meaningful breaks

Doing something all the time is definitely one of the worst learning strategies ever. Breaks and a good night sleep are a part of the job.

I should know. I consistently ignore and rediscover this piece of advice.


8. Learn how to make better decisions and how to think

There are dozens of mental models and biases which invisibly shape the decisions you make. Get to know them in order to reason more efficiently.


9. Be consistent and build your knowledge over time

This is probably the best piece of advice I can offer anyone. You need a lot of facts in order to think efficiently and recognize patterns.

Their accumulation won't happen overnight. It can be most aptly explained by one of my all-time favorite anecdotes.


How geniuses are made


Knowledge builds on knowledge; one is not learning independent bits of trivia.

Richard Hamming recalls in You and Your Research:


You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive.

One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not.

Well, I went storming into Bode’s office and said, How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does? 

He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said,

You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years. I simply slunk out of the office!


What Bode was saying was this: Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.

Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works 10% more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former.

 

The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest.


I don’t want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate.


Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.


I took Bode’s remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done.


Final words

 

As enticing as nootropics might seem, I would strongly advise against using them. There are literally dozens of other, more permanent solutions, which you should try out first.

And I can tell you this - once you try most of them, you won't even remember why you wanted to give them a try in the first place.

Would you ever consider trying nootropics? 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 26 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 Magnet Theory – Why Deep Understanding and Problem-Solving Starts with Memorization

The quality of your life depends mostly on your ability to make the right decisions and to solve problems.
One could think that in the world of almost unlimited access to information our decision-making abilities should be getting better and better.

Is it really the case?

I don't think so. There are many explanations for why it is so.

However, instead of delving into them, I would like you to show you how to improve the quality of your thinking and problem-solving skills with the concept of my own devising - The Magnet Theory.

But first things first. Let's start with a structure of knowledge.


Bloom's Taxonomy - the Hierarchy of Knowledge

 

Not a week goes by when I hear someone say - if you don't understand something, don't learn it. And some part of me crumbles away every time when I hear it.

Why?

Because nothing could be further from the truth.

Understanding is very often the by-product of all the information at your disposal.

Let me explain why. Let's start with fundamentals i.e. Bloom's taxonomy.
Bloom's taxonomy depicts the structure of knowledge and how it is organized.

 

The magnet theory

 

Take a look at the foundation of this pyramid. Can you see it? That's right. Understanding doesn't seem to be the most important element of knowledge.

Why do you think it is so? I will tell you why - because you can't think without facts.

Facts are frequently the foundation of good solutions and thinking.


Why Understanding Is Overrated

 

My guess is that most of the time, on the surface, it is easier to understand something than to memorize dozens of different facts.

We like to assume that if A leads to D then it surely happens in a nice progression - A causes B. B causes C. C causes D.

The reality is that most of the time progression looks more like this.

A -> L -> B -> G -> C -> K ->  X -> E -> D

It's an interaction of dozens of different elements which we very often don't see because of our limited knowledge. This phenomenon is called "The illusion of explanatory depth".

 

"People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins."

“This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe.


The Real Reason Why Understanding Starts With Memorization

 

Why understanding start with memorization

 

As you probably know, your short-term memory is the bottleneck in the learning process. It can only accommodate a couple of pieces of information at the same time.

That doesn't inspire much confidence comprehension-wise, does it?

How many concepts do you know that can be understood by knowing just 3-5 facts? I can tell you right away, that there are not many of them. And even if you find any, they probably won't be worth your while.

In order to see the big picture, you need a lot of facts. Which, truth be told, can be problematic.

Why?

Because you don't know how many puzzle pieces are needed to create it. That leaves you just one choice - you have to keep on memorizing things even if they don't make any sense at the moment. You need to memorize facts before you understand what they mean.

If you memorize just the things you understand, you will never be able to look beyond the obvious. The problem nowadays is that almost nobody is willing to do it. Why bother if all the knowledge you need is at your fingertips?

This phenomenon is known as the Google effect or digital amnesia.

It is the tendency to forget information that can be found readily online by using Internet search engines such as Google. According to the first study about the Google effect, people are less likely to remember certain details they believe will be accessible online.

The thing is that if you want to be the best at something, you need all those pesky details.


My process of knowledge acquisition 


Throughout the years of running this website, I have received tons of questions about my process of writing and thinking (e.g. The truth about the effectiveness and usefulness of mnemonics in learning).

My answer has always been the same and possibly disappointing to others - I try to memorize everything.

I don't care how abstract or vague a given piece of information seems. I will commit it to my memory.
I do it because I can't possibly know which fact will tip the scale and raise the curtain to reveal the magnificence of understanding.

That's why I can't be picky.

At some point, the facts always come together to form a clear answer. Sometimes, you just have to wait for it.

For example, right now I can tell you quite exactly what science currently has to say about the process of working-memory consolidation. This knowledge includes even tiny facts about frequencies of different brain waves.

And I will be honest with you. I don't know right now the purpose of this information. I am more than clueless. But I am pretty sure it will come handy one day. Maybe in one year, maybe in ten. Whenever it might be, I know that I will be ready.

It might not be the most pleasant way to acquire expertise. However, it's sure as hell the fastest and the most certain way to do it.


The Magnet Theory - How to Understand the Process of Effective Thinking

 

Effective thinking


Years ago, I was obsessing over the question - how come two smart individuals can arrive at completely different conclusions?

I knew that asking good questions was important in that process. I also understood that you couldn't think effectively without facts.

 The effect of these cogitations turned into something I dubbed The Magnet Theory.

It's a very elegant way of understanding the process of problem-solving and effective thinking.

 Think of any question or problem you might have as a powerful magnet. The minute you encounter some riddle, the magnet starts doing its magic. It starts scouring your mind and attracting everything which might be useful in the process of cracking a given problem.

 And I really do mean everything - anecdotes, scientific facts, your personal experiences and so on. The whole comes together and creates a solution to the problem.

There is one more component of the magnet theory - your ego. It filters and potentially distorts all the potential conclusions you may reach. Even if all the facts are in favor of one solution, your ego might nudge you to reject them all.


The Consequences of the Magnet Theory

 


1. Almost everyone has an opinion


How many people do you know who don't have an opinion on some matter? Not many.

That's the thing. Any question you ask or problem you state is a potential magnet for the mind of your interlocutor. The magnet will scrape up every little bit piece of information. As a consequence, this motley clue of assorted facts and anecdotes will form an opinion on a given topic.

Are these opinions worth much? You can answer this question yourself.


2. Your thinking is as good as the information you remember


Remember that you will always have an answer to almost every question. That doesn't mean that the answer you come up with is any good. As the great and late Richard Feynman used to say

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.

Don't rush to the conclusions. Before you make a decision ask yourself this - how many good facts do I have at my disposal? Not opinions, not anecdotes but the cold scientific facts.

If the answer is "not many" then do your research to give your magnet some "better food".

I routinely distrust anyone and double-check any kind of information myself. Maybe I am paranoid but my behavior is driven by one simple question - how many people appreciate the importance of memorization and treat it as an indispensable part of their expertise acquisition?

The answer is - close to zero.

That automatically renders most of the opinions you will ever hear in your life invalid. Or at best they might be classified as half-truths. It sounds callous but it's definitely true.

 

Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. - Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds | The New Yorker


3. Your ego can be the end of you


Thinking and problem-solving


It's worth keeping in mind that the more somebody holds himself in high esteem, the slimmer the chances that they will be swayed by facts that contradict their opinions.

What's worse, everyone is affected by this bias. Especially all the people who think of themselves as experts or have fancy titles like a Ph.D. or a professor.

Alas, the titles don't mean diddly-squat if you don't have vast knowledge.

 

If I invited you to a blind taste test of a $12 wine versus a $1,200 wine, could you tell the difference? I bet you $20 you couldn’t. In 2001, Frederic Brochet, a researcher at the University of Bordeaux, ran a study that sent shock waves through the wine industry. Determined to understand how wine drinkers decided which wines they liked, he invited fifty-seven recognized experts to evaluate two wines: one red, one white.
After tasting the two wines, the experts described the red wine as intense, deep, and spicy—words commonly used to describe red wines. The white was described in equally standard terms: lively, fresh, and floral. But what none of these experts picked up on was that the two wines were exactly the same wine. Even more damning, the wines were actually both white wine—the “red wine” had been colored with food coloring. Think about that for a second. Fifty-seven wine experts couldn’t even tell they were drinking two identical wines. - I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi


Example 1 - Vitamin C

It reminds me of a great story. A couple of years ago, there was a lot of controversy in Poland around the man called Jerzy Zieba. What did he do, you might ask?

He wrote the book called "The Hidden Therapies - What your doctor won't tell you". It shook the medical world in Poland to the core as it exposed incompetence and rigidness of the Polish health care. In one of the chapters, he described wonderful qualities of Vitamin C which can be used among others to:

  • treat cancer and various diseases
  • lower cholesterol
  • lower blood sugar
  • substitute anti-allergic medicine

As a result, the real shitstorm ensued. He was publically flailed and tarred and feathered at the altar of science. There were literally thousands of medical professionals who mocked him to no end.

After all, he was not a doctor. So what that in his book he quoted hundreds of scientific studies from all over the world to back up his claims. He was no one and had no say in the matter.

I saw professors of medicine and oncologists saying straight to the camera that this is scientific tosh and they haven't seen even one scientific paper who proved it.

So why I am telling you all this?

Because each one of these detractors was dead wrong. There are actually hundreds of scientific studies proving the efficacy of vitamin C in treating almost every possible malady.

This anecdote is especially important for me because I have been personally interested in medicine for a long time now as it's definitely one of the main fields of knowledge where you are only as good as your memory. Throughout the years I have read, gathered and memorized dozens upon dozens of articles and studies about vitamin C which confirm its effectiveness.

In the end, the professors were wrong. The ego got the best of them.

It's an important reminder for all of us to never get too cocky. In other words - be humble or be humbled.


Example 2 - Losing Weight

Let's ponder over the following problem. Let's say that your aunt Elma wants to lose weight.
She has been buying Vanity Fair for a long time, so she knows that even though she accepts herself, she is fat and hideous, and needs to slim down.

The years of reading have equipped her with a truly powerful, intellectual toolkit.

She knows that she has to:

  • move more
  • eat less
  • eat healthier
  • stop chugging gin before she gets to work

Is losing weight really that simple?
It might seem so. After all, doing all those things takes us from point A to point B.

Before, I move on. ask yourself the same question. Be sure to follow the whirlwind of incoming thoughts.
Can you feel how they are trying to organize themselves? Or do you maybe feel like you have a ready answer?

I can bet that your first instinct is to start spewing out all the facts in your head. I know that it is typically my first reaction.

However, what's on the surface might be merely a tip of the iceberg. But only once you take a peek "under the hood", will you be able to see the real complexity of the issue at hand.

If you want to lose weight, you have to:
  • increase lipolysis 
  • improve fatty acid oxidation
  • increase insulin sensitivity
  • increase the breakdown of fat storage
  • improve fat burning capacity
  • manage blood sugar levels

Of course, it would be just the beginning of your investigative journey. Next, you would have to learn what is responsible for each of these functions.

Only then will you be able to truly understand what is required to lose weight.
And it would be a truly amazing journey because the truth is that there are thousands of possible solutions. If you dig long enough, I am sure you will be able to find the optimal one.

Do we have to understand all the things deeply?

I don't mean to make you paranoid. Of course, you don't have to possess a profound understanding of everything. Although I would suggest you do it for every area of knowledge which is of interest to you.


The Magnet Theory - Summary

 

The Magnet Theory is an easy way to understand how the processes of thinking and problem-solving work. It can be summarized in the following way:

  • Problems and questions act as magnets.
  • Those magnets attract every last scrap of information they can find to form an answer.
  • The final answers can be potentially distorted by your ego.

The theory leaves us with three conclusions that are applicable to every area of life.

  • (Almost) everyone has an opinion on anything. The magnet will always attract something which can be used to form a conclusion.
  • Your conclusions are only as good as the information at your disposal.
  • Your conclusions can be easily distorted by your biases and ego.

There you have it. I hope that you will be able to apply this theory to improve your quality of thinking.

Do you have anecdotes where some tiny piece of information helped you understand something? Please 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 12 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.


How To Build Durable Habits In 4 Easy Steps Even If Your Motivation Is At An All Time Low

If you ask almost anyone, he will tell you this – “Building durable habits is damn hard”.

I find it really fascinating!
We have literally dozens of automated routines which we carry out throughout the day.

You wake up – you brush your teeth.
You hear your mobile buzzing – you reach for it to check a new text message.
You pass the confectionery, start drooling, run inside and shove your head into the nearest cake.

Yet, just a few of them are truly positive and life-changing.
I mean, it is understandable if you really think about it.

Our default mode is energy conservation.
My brain, your brain, every brain is the same.

It doesn’t give a flying f* about coming up with new ideas or creating new learning systems.
You have to trick it into doing it.

What Habits Really Are

 

Once again – your brain couldn’t be bothered less to learn Swahili or another language which you don’t have any contact with. That requires energy. And energy is in short supply.

Basically, any new activity which you take up is very energy-consuming.
There are no established, efficient neural networks which are able to diminish the energy costs.

Because this is exactly how you should start thinking about habits.

Habits are simply neural pathways. The more you strain them, the thicker they becomeIf they become thick enough, carrying out a giving activity goes into an autopilot mode.

It’s true for any kind of activity. Lick your foot every time you have a glass of water and soon enough you will find yourself doing it in the most unusual places.

How To Build Durable Habits

 

One of the frameworks which I teach my students is this (interested in other super-effective ways of creating habits? – click here):

  • 0) Be brutally honest with yourself
  • 1) Decrease activation energy of an activity
  • 2) Remove / minimize distractions
  • 3) Set goals at the absolute minimal level
  • 4) Tie a new habit to the preexisting routine / habit

Let’s see how these elements come together.

Be Brutally Honest With Yourself

 

 Build Durable Habits

 

Although it is not really a part of the framework, it is definitely a prerequisite.

You know that feeling when a person close to you regularly does something stupid?

You try to beg, plead and bargain to prevent him from doing it.
You appeal to his common sense. All in vain.

Usually, you get lackluster, “sure, I think I will try it”, in return.
Which, of course, is just another way of saying, “no way in hell I am doing that”.

But it’s easy to notice such a headstrong attitude in others.

But what about you and me?
Isn’t that just the typical the-pot-calling-the-cattle-black attitude?

It is. It always is.

We are masters of rationalizations. 

Warlocks of bullshit excuses.

I know I am.
I consider myself very good at creating habits.

Still, every now and then I discover that I am feeding myself beautifully packed lies and excuses.

Example?

My writing. In last 3 months, I wrote 3 articles

3 articles. This is a joke.
And the joke is definitely on me.

I have tried to justify it in dozens of ways.
And they all sound so right.

“I would like to write more but I …

  • have to concentrate on my learning
  • on my composing
  • go out more often and meet people
  • concentrate on reading more
  • concentrate on my company
  • don’t have enough time.

The list goes on and on.
I feel sick when I just look at it.

Only recently did I grab the hammer of truth and tear down this wall of mendacity.
In the last few weeks, I have been writing at least 4-5 times per week.
And it feels great!

How did I do it?

I followed my own advice!

It doesn’t matter what problem you have. The following framework should help you solve it. As long as you are honest, that is.

It’s also worth mentioning that some of them require some planning in advance.
But you know – it’s well worth it.

Decrease Activation Energy Of An Activity

 

Would you jump 5 times right now if you wanted to, or if there was some reward involved?
No doubt you would.

And one of the reasons why it would be so easy is the low activation energy of this activity.

The activation energy is the energy you need to start carrying out a given activity.
The lower the energy, the easier it is to start doing it.

But how does it exactly work?

Imagine that you live on the fifth floor and you would like to start running 4 times per week.
There is just one problem – your running shoes are in the basement.

Would you go up and down the stairs 4 times per week just to have a run?
Highly unlikely.

That’s why, your first task is to eliminate superfluous obstacles which prevent you from taking up your desired activity.

Would you like to read a book in your target language 4 times per week?
Great. Then always keep it handy.

Would you like to listen to songs in your target language every day?

Great, then download a truckload of songs on your mobile.
It’s much easier to play them if they are just one click away.

Remove Distractions

 

Durable Habits

 

Decreasing the activation energy of your future habits is a good start.
But it is not enough.

You also have to make sure that you either eliminate all the distractions or increase their activation energy.

I know. It sounds very basic and you have heard about it 3472 times before.
But this time, don’t just nod and do the things the old way.

This time, be a bit more strategic.
Plan ahead the plan of actions.

Distractions usually fall into one of 3 categories:

1) Technological distractions

 

The main culprits which pull you away from your work are mobile phones and the internet.
Shock, surprise, and astonishment! I know. It was hard to envision.

Turn off your mobile phone.

Block the time-devouring websites or temporarily disconnect your internet.
If it happens that you zone out and suddenly find yourself looking at the writing:

“Check your internet connection”

You will know that you tried to visit Facebook or other websites of this kind.

2) People

 

It always sounds wrong and cold but, anyway, here it is: people should also be classified and treated as distractions.

I know you love your wife/girlfriend very much but if she can’t help but interrupt you every couple of minutes, you should have a talk with her.

Negotiate some distraction-free time so you can learn peacefully.

3) Environment

 

How To Build Durable Habits

 

It is definitely good to learn in as many places as it is possible – it is beneficial for your memory, after all.
Just make sure that they aren’t too noisy so you concentrate on the task at hand.

How Effective Is Increasing of The Activation Energy?

 

I get it – you probably still have some doubts.

Is increasing the activation energy of activities really that effective?
Can it really help me eliminate the pesky habits?

Yes and yes!

Just take a look at the results of this research:

Walking one-third of a mile longer from home to the nearest tobacco shop to buy cigarettes was associated with increased odds that smokers would quit the habit in an analysis of data in Finnish studies, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Another great example of increasing activation energy to get rid of the unwanted behaviors is … donating organs.

Here is the excerpt from Money – Master The Game by Tony Robbins:

If you are in Germany, there’s about a one-in-eight chance you’ll donate your organs—about 12% of the population does. Whereas in Austria, Germany’s next-door neighbor, 99% of people donate their organs. In Sweden, 89% donate, but in Denmark, the rate is only 4%. What gives? Why such a disparity?

If you expect to hear some Jedi mind tricks which are used to manipulate the minds of Swedish and Austrian citizens, think again!
The secret lies in the wording on the form.

In countries with the lowest donor rates, like Denmark, there is a small box that says, “Check here if you want to participate in the organ donor program.” In countries with the highest rates, like Sweden, the form says, “Check here if you don’t want to participate in the organ donor program.”
That’s the secret! Nobody likes to check boxes. It’s not that we don’t want to donate our organs. That little bit of inertia makes all the difference in the world!

I hope you are convinced by now!
Let’s move on!

Set goals at the absolute minimal level

 

Being ambitious is good. No, it’s great!

But here is the uncomfortable truth which we all have to face – we suck at predicting pretty much anything.

We can’t reliably fathom how much time we will spend doing something.
We have no idea how much money we will spend the next month.

And we are terrible at predicting how difficult our goals are.

Example?

At the turn of each year, the flock of uber motivated people hit the gym.

Goal?
Work out at least 2…, no! 4 Times per week!

It doesn’t matter that the last time they worked out was about 4 years ago.
There is simply no time to f*ck around!

Of course, after about 1-3 months, depending on their motivation, they run out of steam.
Going to the gym becomes a thing of the past.

It happens to the best of us.
But why exactly?

Setting goals is, without any doubt, useful.

But goal-oriented productivity has one, gigantic flaw – It rarely acknowledges that you and I are human beings.

You have bad days. Days when just a mere thought of doing anything productive revolts you.

So you come back from work.

Instead of starting your language learning session, you put on your I-am-a-lazy-and-disgusting-slob pants and start watching The Game of Thrones with a bag of chips.

 

Building Durable Habits

 

And, needless to say, you feel like “sh*t”.

Repeat the above scenario a couple of times and you will find yourself ditching any budding habit.

Even though I have nothing against SMART goals, I don’t believe that the productivity based on ambitious goals will get you far.

The most effective learners rely on systems.

Systems, on the other hand, are built of habits.

In order to create a durable habit, you should start with being consistent.
And there is no easier way to become consistent than choosing absolutely minimal goals.

How To Choose Your Minimal Goal

 

What I would suggest is:

1) Choose the frequency of your habit
2) Carefully examine your resistance to a potential intensity of your soon-to-be habit

Do you know that overwhelming feeling of resistance when you think about some very ambitious goals?
That’s your brain saying, “Nah, thanks. We need energy – let’s pulverize some chocolate pretzels and snort them!”.

It’s really easy to evoke this feeling. Test it yourself!

Imagine that your goal is to run 4 km 5 times per week.
Or learn 150 new words every day.

Try to analyze incoming feelings and thoughts.

If these activities are beyond your current reach, you will experience the overall feeling of anxiety. The more ambitious the goal, the more resistance you feel.

That’s why, first of all, you should concentrate on being consistent in order to create durable habits
The rest will come.

Here are some practical examples.

1) I want to learn a foreign language regularly

 

Building Durable Habits
Depending on your current needs, you may choose one of the following goals:

Read one page of a book of your choice per day.
Learn 3 new words per day.
Listen to 5 minutes of radio.

If you feel the slightest prickle of anxiety, lower the bar even more.

2) If you want to run 3 times per week

 

Put on your shoes and walk at least 300 m away from your home.
Don’t run. Just walk

If you still feel like running after covering this distance – go for it. If not, just call it a day. You did your job for today.

How Minimal Goals Turn Into Durable Habits

 

As you can see, these are not ambitious goals.
You don’t set a bar. You basically put it on the damn ground.

That’s why your brain is really ok with it.

After all, such activities require almost no energy – hence the lack of resistance.

And this is where the gist of this method lies.
You should choose your goals so that they don’t trigger “No way in hell” response.

But am I really suggesting that you only do these tiny things throughout the day?
Of course not.

I love pushing the boundaries.

800 words per day? Hell yeah!
Getting headaches because of overlearning? Yes, please.

The thing is that the secret about doing anything regularly is showing up.

You have to let your neural networks strengthen enough so you don’t have to even think about doing something anymore.

Happen what may – just don’t break the chain.

Because this one day break is not a separate point in time, nor is it an unconnected incident. It actually affects the person you are trying to become.

Here is the amazing thing about being consistent – you build your endurance over time.

Even if you do as little as learning 3 words per day. Even if you run just 60 meters.

After some time, you get used to the intensity of your actions. And with the same amount of effort you can actually learn 6 words. And then 10. And then 50!

I still remember vividly the feeling of terror I felt when I thought about learning 20 words per day! It seemed like an impossible thing to do.

Many years have passed and these days, I consider myself lazy if I do less than 40-50 words per day.

Here is the quote to ponder:

‘We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training” – Archilochus

I will repeat once again. We suck at predicting almost everything.

Most of the time you might be convinced that you will perform some action. However, when push comes to the shove you fall flat like a hockey puck.

But if you do just a tiny bit day by day, you will create the system.

And make no mistake – having a learning system based on habits makes you a truly unstoppable human being.

Why?

Because systems are, most of the time, immune to any internal and external obstacles.

Years ago when I used to spend a lot of time at work.

You know the scenario. 10 hours at work, 2-hour commute.

You come home angry because the public transport sucks and a bunch of semi-retarded teenagers were blasting music through their mobile phones.

What’s fascinating is that even then, I grabbed a quick bite and started poring over books.

I didn’t really think about it. It was an impulse.
As if a little geek inside me was telling me to do it.

It’s admirable but it’s not as difficult as you might think. It’s just a habit.

The one which took some time, of course. The habit nonetheless.

In fact, according to a Duke University study, 45 percent of a person’s behavior stems from habit alone. And it’s difficult to change a habit if you don’t even think about it any more! – The Coaching Habit – Michael Bungay Stanier

The beautiful part of forming durable habits is that you actually learn to love whatever you do. The habit actually becomes a part of your self-concept!

Tie a new habit to preexisting routine/habit

Here is not so complicated logical loop:

Building a habit takes some time. And until a given activity becomes a habit, it’s not automatic. And if it’s not automatic, there is no certainty that you will remember to do it.

The solution?

Tie your new habit to preexisting routines.

Of course, you can try to rely on your willpower but such a strategy is rarely successful.
You don’t want to drive yourself to the point of decision fatigue.

Example?

Let’s say that you drink a cup of tea when you go back from work.
It might be a trigger for your new habit.

Learn a couple of words every time you grab your cup of tea. In no time, you will discover that learning new vocabulary has become an indispensable part of your tea-drinking ritual.

 

Building Durable Habits

 

Once you get used to learning new words every day, you can expand this mini-habit and tie it to other routines.

Although most of the time it won’t be necessary. Usually, after a couple of weeks, you will discover that your mini-habit turned into a durable habit!

You might actually start feeling anxious when you can’t indulge yourself in performing a habit of your choice!

Back To You

So what about you?

Are there any habits you are trying to build?

Let me know!

 

A Simple Learning Plan To Get The Most Out Of Your Study Time

You know that feeling, don’t you?

You have finally mustered the motivation to sit down and learn. It’s better than that – you actually know what you want to learn! But somehow, you can’t get in the “right mood.”

There are so many things to do. Where should you start? The clock keeps ticking, but you still gaze emptily at your book (or screen).

Another tick of the clock. You start getting anxious. Your initial excitement starts dwindling. Another tick. “UMM, maybe today is not the best day to learn.” A few ticks later, you find yourself spiraling down into the blame and shame of watching dozens of silly cat videos on YT.

The thing is – it’s not your fault.

You didn’t even notice that Chaos and his buddy Disorganization had snuck right behind you and silently strangled your will to learn.

The truth is that in order to learn effectively you need a learning plan.

And no – it doesn’t need to be overly sophisticated.

Here is the simple learning plan I like to use to explain how effective learning looks like.

How to Create a Simple Learning Plan

 

1. Elimination of distractions

 

Let’s be honest for a second – you’re not a 17th-century hermit. Learning a language for 3 hours might not be as tempting as watching another “7 reasons why you should learn a foreign language” video on YT.

It’s perfectly understandable. It’s within our defective nature to be distracted. If you’re delusional, you will try to rely only on your strong will.

For all the others – I would suggest that you turn off your mobile phone and block distracting websites with software.

Done? Great.

There is one more thing to take care of. Eliminate the human factor. The true work is always done in solitude.

Take it from Franz Kafka. As much as he loved his lovely fiancée, he couldn’t stand her presence while he was working.

You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case, I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind.… That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.

 

2. Allocation of attention

 

Blocking or at least limiting the number of distractions allows you to focus more deeply on your learning task. On just one task. Not four or two – one is the number.
“But why? What about multitasking? I am good at it!”
First of all, no, you are not.
Secondly, let me ask you a question. Do you remember when you were little, and you believed in Santa and elves?

Only when you grew up, it turned out that your toys weren’t produced in a magic factory. It was a filthy sweat house somewhere in Asia. Being able to multitask is just another myth we like to believe in.

The Math Of Attention

Let’s say that your attention equals 1. What if you divide it between two tasks?
It seems reasonable to believe that each one of them would have an assigned value of 0,5, right?

RINGDINGINGING. Wrong.

It would be more like 0,3, at the very best. We weren’t born to multitask. Especially when it comes to cognitively demanding tasks. The sooner you come to terms with it, the better.

 

3. Encoding strategies

 

Simple Learning Plan

 

The next step is to define your preferred encoding strategies. If the only encoding strategy you have used so far is mindless cramming – please stop. A small panda dies somewhere in the world every time you do that.

The choice might be difficult. There are myriads of strategies to choose from. You should start experimenting with as many of them as you can to find the ones you prefer.

It might seem like a daunting task.

However, taking into consideration that you have 3-4 decades of professional learning ahead of you, I would strongly suggest that you at least get familiar with them.

You can use:

  • mnemonics
  • associations
  • metaphors
  • Mind Maps
  • distributed practice
  • stories
  • practice testing
  • visualization
  • acronyms
  • deep processing
  • visceralization
  • self-talk
  • chunking

And dozens of others.

They are not equally useful, and their choice may depend on the subject you learn. But one thing is clear – the more methods you master, the more effective (and fun) your learning gets.

4. Evaluation

 

Good learners always evaluate their learning effectiveness. The common mistake many people do is saying, “This method works for me.”

But how can you tell?

Do you track your effectiveness?

Pay attention to how much you remember after a certain period of time after your studying session. Examine how this result is correlated to your encoding strategy.

Creating a Simple Learning Plan – Summary

 

Learning is not just about finding motivation and merely sitting down. You and I live in a world that is hell-bent on distracting us. And it does that amazingly well.

What’s more, without reflecting on the effectiveness of the methods you use, you might find yourself spinning your wheels and making the same silly mistakes time after time.

Having a solid plan, however simple it is, is a step in the right direction.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time And Stay Sane

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time

It would be beautiful if you could always just sit and learn, wouldn’t it be? Unfortunately, as you know, it doesn’t work this way. It seems as if the time is never right. And even when you sit down, you often don’t know where to start. Or what to start with.

If you find yourself in this description, why not give yourself a rule or two to make your life easier?
And the process of learning more automatic! Having rules will get you learning and keep you learning. You won’t be doomed anymore to ask yourself the ultimate question, “What do I do now?”.

What Is A Rule?

 

Just to be sure that we get the foundations right, I would like to quote definitions of both “a goal” and “a rule”. I know it sounds silly but I have had my fair share of situations when someone tried to convince me that they are “basically the same”

Rule
The Merriam-website dictionary gives the following definition of a rule:

  • a statement that tells you what is or is not allowed in a particular game, situation, etc.
  • a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system (such as a language or science)
  • a piece of advice about the best way to do something

Goal
Business dictionary defines it as:

An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed timeframe

In essence, you can treat it as a logical loophole:

IF … then … and …

Of course, there can be some overlapping between these two. But that shouldn’t be a problem.

Great. But What Are The Rules In Practice?

 

A rule can be a number of things. Let’s go through some of the examples:

  • It can be a specific writing technique which you want to use in your freelancing

IF I write then I use a free writing technique.

Such a rule is simple and actionable. It’s not perfectly measurable, but I would say that it is good enough.

You can track your writing output throughout a specific period of time. You can also ask your friends about the quality of your writing just to make sure that it doesn’t deteriorate.

  •  It can be a philosophy which guides whenever you find yourself in a specific emotional state

IF I’m afraid to take a bold step then I’ll think about death and potential regrets

Once again, the philosophy is simple and actionable. It can also be measured easily by comparing the number of projects which were successfully concluded when you used this rule.

Of course, you have to compare the number of successes within a given period of time with a number of successes within a comparable period of time when you didn’t use this rule.

  • It can be a strategy which helps you to deal with your finances

IF I want to spend some money then I’ll make sure that it costs less than 15% of all my financial resources

This is a personal example. Whenever I make a financial decision, I double-check if I don’t spend more than 15% of the money I have. If the answer is positive, it simply means that I can’t afford it.

The rule is so deeply ingrained in my decision-making process, that very often I don’t even think about it! And I’m more than sure that these rules have saved me from dozens of stupid financial decisions.

Otherwise, I would be buying myself a vibrating rubber finger that massages your gums. Yep, this is a real thing.

What Rules Are The Best?

 

The best rules tend to meet the following three criteria. They are:

  • actionable
  • simple
  • measurable

The acronym SAM can help you to memorize these qualities.

Why this “trinity”?

Firstly, you have to be sure that the rules you have chosen can be easily implemented into your learning process. Complicate them too much and after a couple of attempts you’ll become bitterly discouraged and will drop them.

Secondly, if you don’t measure in some way how these rules affect your learning, how will you know if they are worth anything?

How To Use Rules In Your Learning?

 

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time

Picture by: Allan Ajifo

To use the rules effectively, you have to know what problems you have.

1) Find a specific problem

Take a moment to think about it.

Once you find it, you can come up with a specific rule to aid your learning.

2) Choose a rule

Let’s choose a quite common language learning problem, i.e. “I don’t know which resources to use”.

What kind of rules could you use to solve it?

My take on this would be to separate language learning competences. Then I would attribute a specific rule to each of the competences I care about.

a) IF I practise listening then I’ll use X radio station

b) IF I want to improve my vocabulary then I’ll write down the words from a dictionary and read something

c) IF I want to read something then I’ll read X newspaper

3) Track your results

As I have mentioned before, you have to track your (potential) progress to know whether the rule is good enough to keep it. After checking data, there is just one more step to take.

4) Decide whether to stick to the rule or replace it

Not much more to add here. This is self-explanatory 🙂

Personal Example – How I Juggle 8 Languages Using Rules

 

Believe me, if I didn’t have rules to guide my studying process, learning languages would be a living hell. I would throw myself from one language into another. Without any clue what I’m actually doing. Luckily, I have experimented a little bit and discovered what works for me.

As a disclaimer, I must add that I use this rule for 4 languages. The other ones I either use regularly or teach.

a) One week – learn Russian and French

b) Every second week – learn Czech and Spanish

Of course, this is a simplified version but it helps me to go through the weeks hassle-free.

How Will Rules Change Your Life?

 

As you can see, using rules in your learning and life can be surprisingly easy! And extremely beneficial. However, beware of one weird misconception – some say that having rules makes your life miserable and strips it of spontaneity.

Of course, that’s a lie. Using rules doesn’t mean that you will become a soulless robot eating nothing but bolts and screws for breakfast. Treat them like walking with a compass and map. You wouldn’t say that these are stupid, right?

Now…think about the rules which you might use in your (language) learning or life. How can they improve your life?

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – The Best Way Of Learning Languages

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly - The Best Way Of Learning Languages

Do you know what all the people who fail in language learning have in common? They don’t think. They are dull and unoriginal. Actually, being “creatively challenged” is probably the main reason of failure in about anything you do.

Take a hard, good look at yourself. Are you one of them?

I know I was. For way too many years. I used to buy almost every memory book I could find. I was looking for the ultimate method to remember everything. To my disappointment, almost every book was the same. It took me a lot of time to come to realize that all the solutions are in my head. I just haven’t discovered them yet!

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – How To Do It Step By Step

 

Usually, there are three steps most people go through.

1) The First Stage – The Sleeping Giant

 

How can you tell if that’s you? It’s extremely easy to diagnose yourself. I’ve prepared a checklist for you. Or rather The Loser’s Credo. If you tick more than one field, I have bad news for you…

  • you don’t like to ask questions
  • you don’t like to think about problems
  • you think that the old way is the only way
  • you are happy where you are currently at
  • you can’t take criticism
  • people who are better than you in any way are either lying or born special
  • you don’t see anything funny in this joke: “Dad what’s ignorance?”, “I don’t know and I don’t care”
  • you never question authority (The Big Lebowski anyone?)
  • you like to wait for the inspiration to act
  • you think that calling somebody “weird” is offensive
  • you try once, fail and never get back up

Frankly, I don’t believe that any of you fall into this category. At least, not when it comes to learning.
But we’re all there when it comes to other areas of life – relationships, the way we work, etc.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

But what if you know anyone who falls into this category? How can you help him? Well, you can suggest it as subtly as you can. After all, understanding the problem is half of the solution.
What’s the next step? There is none. I’m sorry.

We generally change ourselves for one of two reasons: inspiration or desperation” – Jim Rohn

I changed my approach to learning due to desperation.

Many moons ago I was attending a German course at one of the local language schools. I felt very proud. It was my second language and after three years, the school classified my level as B1.

It was an amazing feeling. WAS.

After the first conversation with a native speaker The Evil Bubble of Hubris burst. I didn’t understand much. I started stuttering madly. Much like a retarded version of Mr. Snuffalufagus.

So yeah. I was desperate. This soul-crushing experience helped me advance to the second category.

2) The Second Stage – The Awakened Mind

 

You read. Maybe a lot. Maybe a little. But definitely enough to know that there are many strategies to achieve your goal(s). So you read and read. And then read some more. But the moment comes when you get stuck. And you’re desperately looking for people who might give you the answer.

But why would most people give you their best ideas. They spent years trying to come up with them!
Haven’t you heard of the rule?

 

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly - The Best Way Of Learning Languages

 

I hit this stage about 17 months ago. I can’t recall any specific situation which led to it. I simply knew that I had to change the way I approach learning. And then I found myself in the third stage.

3) Third stage – The Creative Behemoth

 

There are three characteristic qualities of all the people in this category:

  • you question most of the things until proved otherwise
  • you start coming up with dozens of potential solutions to your problems
  • you never feel fully satisfied with your ideas

It’s like the mental hunger you can’t satisfy. You can only alleviate it with new ideas and concepts. Once I started coming up with new hypotheses on how to memorize faster, it took me less than half a year to achieve such results. And I’m not done yet.

The beauty of this stage is that you can question almost anything.

For example – why do we shave with foam or gel? Hell, I started to do it with a mix of shampoo and soap. And believe me – it’s much more effective way to shave (try it and thank me later).

Fail Fast and Fail Epicly – How To Do It

 

There are two steps in this strategy.

1) Create the hypothesis.

The planning process looks more less like this:

  • Define what the problem is

This is the question you have to start with. Let your brain know that there is some obstacle to overcome.
From that moment on, you’ll start cracking it both consciously and subconsciously.

  • Learn the essentials of the subject you’re trying to master

It’s very important step. If you skip it, you might find yourself reinventing a wheel.
No need to waste your time like this.

Start with mastering the rules. Find out how others approach solving your problem.

  • Train your ability to observe

Start paying close attention to things which might contribute to the solution of the problem.

  • Create a hypothesis based on your observations

It doesn’t always have to be very logical. Go with your gut feeling.

For example. It’s generally proven that intensive emotions help us to remember better.

Start shouting out loud 4 random words everyday with your best furious voice. Or go to the graveyard and check if the general sadness of this place contributes to better learning.

2) Perform an experiment to test those predictions

Give yourself one week to test your hypothesis. Then measure the results (here are examples of the things you can measure in language learning).

There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.” – Enrico Fermi

In our case, a discovery simply means that the hypothesis wasn’t very good. It’s also great news.
Simply move to the next hypothesis.

If the results are better than the ones you got before, it’s even better news.
You can start using YOUR new strategy right away. You don’t need the old one anymore.

Final Thoughts

 

As you can see, the essentials of my method can be encapsulated in three points:

  1. come up with hypotheses as quickly as possible.
  2. set yourself a suitable deadline to test the idea (for me it’s almost always one week, but feel free to experiment with it as well)
  3. test it
  4. measure the results at the end of the experiment
  5. draw conclusions
  6. rinse and repeat

The faster you fail, the faster you can move to another potential solution.

Of course, there is one more thing to bear in mind. Before you start experimenting, measure your current pace of learning words or whatever else you’re trying to do.

I failed more times than I succeeded. But the moments of victory brought me unbelievable results. And believe me – once you experience the thrill of discovering, you will never stop experimenting.

I see it that way:
If you want to be mediocre – stick with one method.
If you want to be effective language learner – try at least few methods.
If you want to be exceptional – try A LOT of them.

Fail fast and fail epicly.

Now, I want you to come up with your own method of learning and test it within next 10 days.

And as always, let me know how it goes.

Why Do We Forget and How Mnemonics Can Help You Alleviate This Problem

Why Do We Forget and How Mnemonics Can Help You Alleviate This Problem

We’ve all been there. Sitting at the party and calling everyone “hey dude” because you can’t recall their names. It was there just a moment ago but obviously, your brain deemed that remembering lyrics of some silly song might be more useful.

Well, sc*ew you brain!

So why do we forget? And why should you care? Firstly, it’s fascinating but if it’s not enough for you I want to appeal to your practical side. Understanding why we forget might actually help you remember more effectively.

What’s more, I’m going to show you that using mnemonics can actually solve all your problems with memory! Let’s take a look at some common reasons behind forgetting, as identified by Elizabeth Loftus.

1. Failure to Store

 

I’d argue that this is the most important reason for not remembering. You can’t recall something that you haven’t actually committed to memory!

Day in, day out we are flooded with thousands of pieces of information from various sources. Brain largely ignores them since they are not important for your well-being. So what actually stands a chance of being remembered?

The information which you

  • a) pay attention to
  • b) encode (well)

Take your watch as an example (or a jacket). How well can you describe it without looking at it? Usually, the results are lousy. Sure, you remember the general shape and maybe a couple of details. But that’s it. And there is a good reason for that. You didn’t pay attention. You don’t need this info to enjoy your watch or jacket after all.

What about encoding?

Let’s take a look at the following medical term: medial epicondylitis. The mere staring at this term won’t magically transfer this knowledge into your long-term memory.

What about repeating it over and over again? Well, it’s as effective as putting your shoes on your hands when you’re cold but why not?

So how can you encode this term well?

You might have noticed that the word “medial” consists of “me” and “dial”. “Con” in Spanish means “with”. What’s more, you pronounce “dylit” like “delight”.

I can imagine myself saying “me dial” a number. If I want to do anything epic con delight in my life I might need this hand. Not bad, right? But we can also step it up and imagine the pain and the location where the said call takes place.

And that’s actually how mnemonics work! You dissect a word, create a story and place it in some location.

2. Interference

 

This theory says that information in long-term memory may become confused or combined with other information during encoding thus warping or disrupting memories.

It seems that forgetting happens because memories interfere with and disrupt one another (Baddeley, 1999) There are two ways in which interference can cause forgetting:

  • Proactive interference is when an old memory makes it more difficult or impossible to remember a new memory.
  • Retroactive interference occurs when new information interferes with your ability to remember previously learned information.

That’s why it is really difficult to learn two languages which are similar. The brain quickly becomes confused and start mixing everything up. A good piece of advice is to space learning of similar information over a longer period of time.

Mnemonics come in very handy again. When you precisely encode information, the possibility of interference occurrence is greatly decreased.

3. Retrieval Failure

 

There are many theories which explain why we are often unable to access information. One of the most popular is the decay theory. The theory has it that a memory trace is created every time a new memory is formed.

With the passing of time, these memory traces begin to fade and disappear. If the information is not retrieved and rehearsed, it will eventually be lost. Of course, the greater the interval time between the time when the event from happening and the time when we try to remember, the bigger a chance of memory being lost.

It’s worth remembering that some memories are context or state dependent. They are hard to access when there are no appropriate retrieval cues

Consolidation

The simplest solution to this problem is simply consolidation. When we learn new information, a certain amount of time is necessary for changes in the nervous system to occur – the aforementioned consolidation process – so that it is properly absorbed. The information moves from short-term memory to the more permanent long-term memory (read more about how to improve your short-term memory).

Mnemonics can help with this problem as well. Storing information in certain locations makes it easy to access regardless of retrieval cues. But you still have to remember about consolidation. There is no shortcut here.

4. Your health and emotional state

 

I guess it’s stating the obvious but when you’re stressed, tired or in a bad shape, your retrieval and processing capabilities (and retention) gets worse. Usually, it goes together with worsened concentration.

The remedy is quite easy here. Get a good night sleep, eat well and don’t get stressed too much.
Gee, if only life was that easy.

Do you have any stories of how your memory back-stabbed you when you needed it the most? Let me know!

 

10 Bizarre Ways To Improve Your Memory And Mental Performance

10 Bizarre Ways To Improve Your Memory And Mental Performance

 

I’m sure that you know many ways to improve memory and IQ. Learn a language, use mnemonics, get enough sleep, exercise and blah, blah, blah.

But what if they are too boring? You’re a descendant of great explorers after all!

Where’s the adventure?! Where is the madness chasing away the shadows of conservatism? What if the method for the perfect memory is licking your knee while wearing a helmet filled with cottage cheese?!

I guess we will have to wait a bit for the final answer. But find comfort in the fact that scientists are relentlessly looking for out-of-the-box ways to boost your memory.

Just take a look at this bizarre list!

1. Clench your right fist

 

10 Bizarre Ways To Improve Your Memory

Picture by: Robbie Veldwijk

 

Pretty weird, isn’t it? Scientists from Montclair State University established that a group of volunteers who clenched their right fists while acquiring new material and then clenched their left fist when recalling that material remembered more than control groups who didn’t clench their fists at all.

2. Hold Your Urine

 

You’ve heard me right. Next time when you have to go wee-wee, hold your horses. It seems that holding your urine improves decision making before choosing an immediate or a delayed financial reward.

The research was appreciated all around the world – a Dutch scientist conducting this study, Mirjam Tusk, was actually awarded IgNobel.

3. Spend a Few Minutes Looking At Trees

 

10 Bizarre Ways To Improve Your Memory And Mental Performance

Picture by: Andreas Krappweis

If you are not a nature-loving and tree-hugging hippie you might want to reconsider – staring at a photo of trees or a brisk walk in the woods can improve your memory and attention performance by 20%.

4. Think Aloud

 

A study with 30 younger and 31 older adults showed that thinking aloud boosts the performance of older adults on a short form of the Raven’s Matrices (Bors & Stokes, 1998, Educational and Psychological Measurement, 58, p. 382) but did not affect other tasks.

In the replication experiment, 30 older adults (mean age = 73.0) performed the Raven’s Matrices and three other tasks to replicate and extend the findings of the initial study. Once again older adults performed significantly better only on the Raven’s Matrices while thinking aloud. Performance gains on this task were substantial (d = 0.73 and 0.92 in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively), corresponding to a fluid intelligence increase of nearly one standard deviation.

Source: “How to Gain Eleven IQ Points in Ten Minutes: Thinking Aloud Improves Raven’s Matrices Performance in Older Adults” from Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, Volume 17, Issue 2 March 2010, pages 191 – 204

5. Sniff Rosemary

 

Memory And Mental Performance

Picture by: Hagit Berkovich

 

One study revealed that memory in healthy adults could be improved by the aroma of rosemary essential oil. People in a rosemary-scented room performed better when it comes to remembering events and being aware of the need to complete tasks at particular times (McCready & Moss, 2013).

6. Wear Red

 

You must admit, there is something intensive about this color. Russell Hill and Robert Barton, two researchers at the University of Durham, have systematically analyzed all the matchups of the 2004 Athens Olympics.

In 2008 they conducted the analysis of the teams of England’s Premier League from 1947 to 2003 which brought similar results.

The theory has it triggers feelings of dominance among the players wearing that color while having a threatening effect on the opponents.

7. Eat Cocoa Flavanols

 

10 Bizarre Ways To Improve Your Memory And Mental Performance

 

It seems an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose with age.
Participants with the memory of a typical 60-year-old improved to that of a 30 or 40-year-old after only three months.

They drank a mixture high in antioxidants called cocoa flavanols for three months and performed better on a memory test in comparison with people who drank a low-flavanol mixture.

But before you start smearing chocolate all over your body with a manic look on your face read this:

To consume the high-flavanol group’s daily dose of epicatechin (one of flavanoids), 138 milligrams, would take eating at least 300 grams of dark chocolate a day — about seven average-sized bars. Or possibly about 100 grams of baking chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder, but concentrations vary widely depending on the processing. Milk chocolate has most epicatechin processed out of it.

So I guess we will have to wait till some new product is created. Shame.

8. Chew Gum

 

Doing it might increase your recall by 20% on a short test due to improved blood flow to the brain. Additionally, it helps you to stay more focused on a task. On the other hand, it increases your chances of beings socially isolated if you can’t help but smack your lips!

9. Eat Walnuts

 

Ways To Improve Your Memory And Mental Performance

Picture by: Adrian van Leen

Why? Well, walnut? (shut up, I AM hilarious!), The research showed a significant improvement in learning skills, memory, reducing anxiety and motor development in mice fed a walnut-rich diet.

Scientists suggest that “the high antioxidant content of walnuts may have a contributing factor in protecting the mouse brain from the degeneration typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease.”

10. Ignore Stereotypes

 

That’s one is pretty ironic – if you remind older people of stereotypes about age and memory, they will perform worse in tests (Hess et al., 2003). One can only wonder if this phenomenon has the same effect on blondes. Anyway – ignore stereotypes and you’re good to go.

Why don’t you give them a try? Just don’t use them all at the same time. That might be awkward.

Are you going to use any of these methods? Let me know!

 

9 Powerful Tips To Untap Your Memory’s Potential Using Rhymes

9 Powerful Tips To Untap Your Memorys Potential Using Rhymes

 

Did you know that Mark Twain used to memorize a lot of stuff thanks to (silly) rhymes? Well, now you know. And it’s the best recommendation and reason why you should do it as well. Actually, I should finish this article right now!

Ok, small rant first. So many people complain that learning is a drag. Do you know why learning is painful? Because it’s no fun. And it really does baffle me. As a society, we seem to place a high value on humor and wittiness.

Yet, almost everyone seems to ignore it when it comes to learning! A peculiar paradox I might say.
What about you? Are you guilty as well? Probably.

The chance is that you were stripped of the need to have fun while learning by the soulless system of education. But good news everyone! With some intentional effort, you can get it back!

First, let’s take a look at what you can use rhymes for:

Untap Your Memory’s Potential Using Rhymes

 

Here is one of the hundreds of rhymes I’ve used to learn vocabulary.

поэтому что всегда заявка когда ты звезда
на вес золота моя поездка

(because there’s always an order when you’re a star

my trip (ride) is worth its weight in gold)

le manque d’air sur (la) marche d’un escalier

(lack of air, on the step of stairs)

You see my friend how terrible my rhymes are. You might even feel sorry for me right now but I’m going to high-five myself anyway for this fine piece of art!

USE RHYMES TO MEMORIZE (FUN) FACTS

 

It’s one of the rhymes which I’ve used to memorize what Cecilia Payne became famous for.

Cecilia Payne doesn’t need mars
cause she discovered composition of stars

 

USE RHYMES TO MEMORIZE DATES

The Spanish Armada met its fate in fifteen hundred and eighty-eight

If I’m not mistaken this was actual rhyme used by Mark Twain

And of course, these are just a few of hundreds of possible application of rhymes. With a little bit of creativity, you can memorize anything this way.

SO WHY WOULD YOU DO IT?

For better recall

If you still recall alphabet by singing ABC Song then you KNOW how powerful rhymes (and melody) can be. No need to be ashamed, you’re not alone. We’re strong in numbers.

But don’t take my word for it. Look around to find some real-life examples. What would you remember better – a bunch of some unrelated words liar, pants and fire or a powerful rhyme: liar, liar pants on fire!

Because it’s fun!

You can basically come up with any silly rhymes you want. There is no judging. You don’t have to show them to anyone!

Learning must go through your emotional filter in order to be processed effectively. That’s why emotional memory is a critical component for the learning process.

When you have fun, your brain not only learns faster but also keeps you more interested in what you learn. Thus, increasing your attention span.

To save time

Sure, rhyming some words might seem time-consuming. And I guess it in comparison with mindless cramming. But in the long run, you can actually save a lot of time.

I can guarantee you that there’ll be many situations when you memorize some words after rhyming them and you won’t have to review them ever again! They will be etched in your memory.

For experimentations’ sake

Come on, you’re basically talking to yourself right now reading this. Writing some kick-ass rhymes won’t harm your respect in the ‘hood! Who knows, maybe you’ll develop some mad rap skills as a bonus after some time?!

So why not try it just to see if it’s a good fit for you?

HOW TO DO IT?

 

I know. These are just simple rhymes. Nothing too fancy. Regardless of that, it’s worth taking these tips into consideration.

1) don’t be afraid and let go of any inhibitions

I rhyme frequently about stuff which I’m not comfortable with sharing. And that’s perfectly ok.

2) start small

Regardless of what you want to memorize, you don’t have to start creating lengthy poems in order to do this. Choose two or three pieces of information and bind them with some nice rhyme.

Once you feel comfortable using rhymes, you can start writing entire poems to memorize bigger chunks of knowledge.

3) add them to Anki

Adding such rhymes to Anki will increase your recall even further.
It’s like using gauntlet instead of a fist to make your brain understand that YOU MUST learn it by heart.

4) use emotions

Do you remember one of the rules from my mnemonics course? Involve emotions, make your rhymes disgusting or funny. Just to give you an embarrassing example -I disliked my ex-boss.

That’s why I have a short rhyme involving words (ugh) “blade” and “anal insertion” in Russian, and his name. Result: some chuckling and a powerful recall rate of a couple of words.

5) choose a melody from some song (karaoke YT version) and sing your rhymes

 

6) rhymes can include vocabulary from many languages

Rhymes don’t have to consist only of the vocabulary from the target language, mix it with some words from your native language. For example:

It’s not easy to borrar (Spanish – erase), when yo’re a handsome rock star

7) brag about it

Read your rhymes to others, if you feel comfortable with it. It will make the information even more memorable.

8) choose your style

What’s your style? Do you want to write limericks or maybe like Dr. Seuss?

I’m not a fan of rap so I prefer (actually LOVE) cheesy rock lyrics and rhymes. And that’s basically how my rhymes sound – cheap and cheesy. But if you prefer something more sophisticated e.g. Eminem’s lyrics, go for it. Try to imitate them. Or simply copy them, throw away some word and insert your own!

BONUS TIP: And remember – you are not allowed under any circumstances to call your friends homies!

9) what’s most important – have fun

Because that’s the point!

 

The Beginner’s Guide To Improving Short-Term Memory

Improving Short-Term Memory

It’s a safe bet that you have heard about short-term memory (a.k.a. working memory).

But have you ever considered it a potential source of problems with knowledge acquisition?

Personally, it took me a long time to see it that way. We all know and have heard about not multitasking and about avoiding distractions when we try to do something productive.

But as it turns out these are merely a part of the bigger picture. But first thing is first – capacity of working memory is often described using Miller’s number. Basically, it means that you can memorize 7 (give or take 2) bits of information

What’s more the duration of short-term memory seems to be anything from 20 seconds up to 40-50 minutes, depending on the kind of information and the way of encoding?

Let’s try to imagine a process of memorization in some picturesque way.

A funnel might be the capacity of our working memory, while donuts are bits of information we want to absorb. Let’s say that the information is stored when a donut passes through the neck of the funnel.

So what might go wrong?

What narrows the neck of the donut funnel?

In other words – what decreases the capacity of working memory? Well-known culprits are:

lack of sleep

We all have met some guy (once or twice) who say “I swear man, I can pull a couple of all-nighters without any problem” But then you look at him and it turns out that he’s having a feverish conversation with a chair.

Depending on the study, a week of sleeping 4-5 hours per night seems to be an equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. In the meantime, your brain burns through the sugar stored in your body making you crave all the sugary goodies.

Did I mention that the first parts of the brain which fall victim to sleep deprivation are the ones responsible for higher order thinking? Because who really needs abstract thinking when you barely stand on your feet!

Remedy: try to get at least seven hours of sleep per night

lack of exercise

Shortly – many studies have proved that exercise stimulates new brain cell growth, increases connections between cells, and improves attention span.

Remedy: run fatty, run!

improper nutrition

Your brain is a powerful and formidable machine which needs its fuel to function properly. And let’s be honest – you know that McDonald won’t cut it.

Remedy: In order to keep your brain well-oiled and ensure the formation of new brain cells feed your brain with proteins, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B, folate, zinc and drink much water.

stress

Stress triggers the Flight-or-Fight response. As a result, your body releases hormones like adrenalin or cortisol.

You know the feeling  – your heart rate increases, your hands get all sweaty, you feel the surge of anxiety mixed with energy. And the thing is that, of course, such a reaction is completely natural. The problem appears when you face chronic stress.

As a result, you may fall victim to obesity, depression, ulcers, sexual dysfunction.

Remedy: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Remember to do something to unwind every day. Get a massage, play with your kids, feed the pigeons – whatever floats your boat.

multitasking

In today’s world, it’s considered normal to multi-task at work or at home. Many people take great pride in doing many things at the same time, or in switching from one task to another. It saddens me greatly.

Cognitive costs of such a behavior are really huge. That’s not a big deal when you don’t work on anything productive at the moment. But if you really want to be productive and achieve some goal, you should learn how to focus on just one thing in any given moment.

Such an approach helps to tune out all the distractions and get the most out of your time. And don’t be one of those people who say “BS, I know how to multi-task productively”. You can’t.

Remedy: Turn off your mobile-phone! Buy ear-plugs (this is my method) and find some quiet place to work on your project(s).

How to widen the neck of the donut funnel?

Trying to stuff 20 or 50 donuts through the narrow neck of the funnel would be plain crazy. Logic tells us that we should do something to widen the neck of the funnel.

So how can we do it?

Well, there are temporary solutions like medication and electrical brain stimulations but I guess they are a bit risky. More permanent solutions cover two things:

mnemonics

Let me quote you results from one of the latest studies concerning working memory (it can be found here):

Crystallized intelligence (Gc) is thought to reflect skills acquired through knowledge and experience and is related to verbal ability, language development1, and academic success. […] While previous studies have indicated that gains in intelligence are due to improvements in test-taking skills, this study demonstrates that it is possible to improve crystallized skills through working memory training. Tracy Alloway and Ross Alloway

Such a training concentrates mainly on mnemonics. It is important to know that memory uses them to trigger various physiological responses.

Depending on the techniques you use, mnemonics might include tastes, touch, emotions (fear, love, anxiety, pleasure), images, sounds, etc. All together they help you to remember better.

What’s more, since all the images created with help of mnemonics are placed in different locations, it’s much easier to “widen” the neck of our donut funnel and increase the amount of information you acquire.

chunking

The second method which can help us with widening the neck of the donut funnel is called “chunking”. The essence of this method is to break up strings of information into units, or chunks if you will. It simplifies such a string and makes it easier to memorize.

Example:

424862365935636235861

It seems impossible to memorize it quickly. But let’s try to slice this string into smaller 3-digit strings.

424 862 365 935 636 235 861 

Now let’s imagine that these numbers express how far you were able to throw a rotten herring. You started with a decent throw of 424 m then it got better. And so on.

If you are a sports fan you might try to use 4-digit chunks and treat them as the time needed to run a 400 m. Be creative and come with some other way of breaking up this string!

Conclusion

The main takeaway is that you can improve your working memory by either unburdening it or by training it. As always – it’s not easy and takes dedication. But once you take the first step in the right direction it gets only better.

Think ahead and imagine how much you can change and achieve in your life if you only improve your memory. And don’t put it off. Choose the first strategy which you want to implement and start using it!.

I’ll leave with a great talk about working memory. Enjoy!

How pretending to be an assassin can help you remember poisons in food better

remember poisons in food better

Wouldn’t it be great to be an actual assassin? 

Not to mutilate anyone, of course, but to have his confidence, strength, KNOWLEDGE… (and it’s sure as hell more interesting than being “Jeff, an IT guy.”)

And we all know that no assassin would be complete without secret knowledge of poisons. With knowledge like that – who would ever tread on you?

But what does it have to do with learning?! I rush to explain.

Usefulness In Learning

There are many principles which help us to understand how to memorize more effectively.
But there is one which has a key function in our lives.

USEFULNESS

Your brain discards most of the information you come into contact with.
It is useless. Why would you remember some date or a name of an obscure plant?

SURVIVAL – that’s what important.

And needless to say, your profession is indispensable to your survival. Cooks remember recipes better than most non-cooks. Programmers have a better memory of code than people who simply dabble in coding.

Sure, there are factors which come into play:

And the list goes on… But let’s concentrate on USEFULNESS.

Who Would You Like To Be?

I know that you have your profession. This is what you’re great at and you stick to it – fully understandable. But what if you could create a set of characters to improve your life (and your learning curve)? Just like in role-playing games (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons).

You could be anyone you want, even if just for a day!

The Power Of Belief

But does pretending to be someone you’re not make some knowledge useful? Yes, it does. It does if you choose to believe that you can be that person. Our brain is the most magnificent thing in the whole universe. And it has a truly breath-taking quality.

It can’t tell fiction from reality. Just look at what power of belief can do to you:

  • Memory Implantation – Does the thing you remember really happened?
  • Stress – very often the biochemical reactions of our body depend on our perception of this situation
  • Rationalization – we can justify even the stupidest decisions or choices and remain convinced that we’re right
  • The Placebo Effect
  • Multiples Personalities Disorders – where one of the personalities is allergic to some specific food while others are not
  • Mental training in sports

So are you ready to become an assassin?!

Remember poisons in food better

I’ve prepared a list of 5 popular food products which contain various poisons. Of course, such products would be lethal only in extreme situations (and large doses) so take it with a grain of salt!

cherries – contain cyanogenic glycosides

Cherry (Prunus cerasus), as well as other Prunus species such as peach (Prunus persica), plum (Prunus domestica), almond (Prunus dulcis), and apricot (Prunus armeniaca). Leaves and seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides. (Wiki)

“When the seeds of cherries are crushed, chewed, or even slightly injured, they produce prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide). Next time you are eating cherries, remember not to suck on or chew the pip” (http://listverse.com).

apples – their seeds contain cyanide

“Apple seeds are very often eaten accidentally but you would need to chew and consume a fairly high number to get sick.

There are not enough seeds in one apple to kill, but it is absolutely possible to eat enough to die. I recommend avoiding apple eating competitions!” (http://listverse.com).

tuna – contains high levels of mercury and frequent source of salmonella poisoning

marlin – contains high levels of mercury

“Most people are unaware that marlin has been documented to accumulate harmful levels of mercury.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health guidelines for fish consumption indicate that any fish with a mercury level greater than 1.5 parts per million (ppm) should not be consumed in any amount.

Marlin, especially large specimens, have been found to contain mercury levels as high as 15 ppm, or 10 times the EPA limit.” (Source: http://takemarlinoffthemenu.org)

potatoes – contain poisonous glycoalkaloids

Potatoes contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, of which the most prevalent are solanine and chaconine. Solanine is also found in other members of the Solanaceae plant family, which includes Atropa belladonna (“deadly nightshade”) and Hyoscyamus niger (“henbane”) (see entries below). The concentration of glycoalkaloid in wild potatoes suffices to produce toxic effects in humans. (Wiki)

“Potatoes (like tomatoes) contain poison in the stems and leaves – and even in the potato itself if left to turn green (the green is due to a high concentration of the glycoalkaloid poison).

Potato poisoning is rare, but it does happen from time to time. Death normally comes after a period of weakness and confusion, followed by a coma.

The majority of cases of death by potato in the last fifty years in the USA have been the result of eating green potatoes or drinking potato-leaf tea”. (http://listverse.com)

Prepare “The Action Plan” – A Story That Is

We also tend to remember stories better than facts. That’s why, to remember these poisons better, we can come up with some interesting story.

Let’s say that you have an imaginary enemy called Bob. And, to put it gently, you’re not the biggest fan of his. Why not invite him for a fancy dinner?

Compose the aforementioned products into the meal which Bob won’t ever forget. Let it be a reminder to him that nobody messes with the assassin!

Conclusion

The huge takeaway from this article is that our brain creates its own realityIf you believe it – it’s true.

So try to be creative – come up with your secret alter egos which can help you to memorize information better from the fields of your interest. Fake it until you make it.

And remember to put your knowledge to good use! I guess to balance this article, next time I should write about being a druid and healing…!

What other poisonous food ingredients do you know?

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