Forgetting as a Form of Feedback – How To Use It To Remember Better

Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - How To Use It To Remember Better


Forgetting is as integral to our lives as it is disliked. It takes many forms - from the nastiest ones, i.e. neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's), to relatively innocent ones (why am I standing in front of the open refrigerator again?!)

No wonder we treat this phenomenon as our worst enemy. After all, it robs you of the fruits of your work. You have put so much work into acquiring a given skill, and after a couple of months not much is left in your head. As depressing as it all might seem, I would like to show you a different perspective.

What if forgetting is not your opponent but your ally?

Your brain is actively working to make you forget most of the things you've come into contact with. It is the most sophisticated spam filter in the world. This process allows you to focus on the most important information. In other words,

forgetting is one of the best forms of feedback.

It took me many years to understand this simple truth. It was also a turning point for me, which completely changed the memory systems I created at that time. Since, as far as I know, this concept is not widely discussed, I hope this article will be a sort of "memory awakening" for you.


What Is the Purpose of Memory?


Many people believe that the purpose of memory is to store information as accurately as possible. I think this is an erroneous perspective.

Memory serves to guide and optimize decision-making by sticking only to meaningful and valuable information.

I could describe a lot of memory processes that take place during the stage of encoding or information retrieval. Still, I think it's better to focus on a very logical and practical example.


Optimization of decision-making processes as exemplified by crossing the street


Think for a moment how much information you need to safely walk from one side of the street to the other.

While performing this activity, do you analyze:
  • Wind speed?
  • Type of surface?
  • The number of people in front of you?
  • The number of people on your sides?
  • The distance you have to travel?
  • Air humidity?
  • Surface moisture?

Of course not.

Too much irrelevant information is detrimental to a given decision-making process.

If you really had to take into account all this information, it would take you forever to make any decision at all. In other words, the process would not be optimal, also energy-wise.


Thus, it is much easier to focus on activities such as:
  • checking if there are traffic lights at the crosswalk,
  • making sure the light is green,
  • looking to your left and right (and left again).

As you can see, a handful of relevant information can be more valuable to the brain than a ton of meaningless data. However, we shouldn't forget that it doesn't make sense to remember much—quite the contrary. The trick is to combine the memorized information into meaningful scripts that can be activated in a given situation.

In the example above, a type of surface is almost certainly a useless piece of information. Nevertheless, if our decision-making process required making sure that we can do a dangerous stunt on the said surface, it would be one of the first factors that should be taken into consideration.


What Kind of Information Is Meaningful To Your Brain?


Forgetting


Another question we have to answer is what information the brain perceives as valuable, and what information is the equivalent of food scraps at the bottom of the dishwasher.


In simple terms, information must meet two main criteria to be considered valuable:
  • frequently appear in your immediate environment,
  • it must be related to your life, i.e. be relevant to you.

I will discuss them in more detail later in this article. At the moment, it is worth looking at how slowly we forget information when the above two criteria are met.


Almost Complete Elimination of Forgetting



Problems with research on memory


One of the big problems that plague most of the memory studies is that they are often detached from reality. The overwhelming majority of them are carried out in laboratories. I know what you are thinking. Why would that be a disadvantage?

Laboratories are artificial creations which, according to the rules of the scientific method, try to limit the number of variables that affect the tested value as much as possible. It sounds nice until we realize that our memory does not work in a vacuum. Hundreds of stimuli and information constantly flood our minds. One should not try to artificially separate them from the process of memorizing and retrieving data.

The effect is that most such studies come to conclusions that are as out of touch with reality as a team of Marvel superheroes from a nearby asylum.

What's even worse is that there are quite a few people who accept this nonsense uncritically. I often hear some strange websites or YT channels saying that "in this or that study, scientists proved (sic!) that if you imagine that you have an orange on the top of your head, your ability to remember and concentrate will increase by 15%".

I wish it were an anecdote, but the video had over 100k views and lots of positive comments at the time. In my mind's eye, I could almost see 20,000 people sitting with their eyes rolled over and the face of a constipated walrus wondering why memorizing books didn't get any easier.


Forgetting names - Bahrick's and Wittlinger's research


Bahrick is one of my favorite memory researchers. He was one of the first scientists to insist that research of this kind be carried out outside the laboratory, despite the difficulties it poses.

One of his groundbreaking works, which he did in 1975 with Wittlinger, is about remembering the names and faces of high school friends over many years. The study lasted 50 years (!!!), and it showed for many years after graduating from high school, the process of forgetting this information occurred only slightly. Although, as always, the active recall was the first to go.



You can conduct this experiment virtually. Assuming a minimum of 10 years has passed since you have graduated from high school, check if you can still remember everyone in your class? I know I certainly didn't have almost any problems with it.


How to explain the almost complete absence of forgetting over a long period?


In one of my past articles, I mentioned the Ebbinghaus curve:


the Ebbinghaus curve - Forgetting as a Form of Feedback


Notice how huge the difference in retention (i.e., keeping the information in your head) is between Bahrick's and Ebbinghaus's experiment. Even after 7 years, the retention of names was higher than the retention of meaningless knowledge presented by the Ebbinghaus curve after 20 minutes.

The explanation for this phenomenon is based on many elements. 


1. High frequency of repetitions

Note that the contact with first and last names in high school is extremely common, be it during the roll call or the regular socialization with your peers. What's more, almost all children are forced continuously to retrieve this knowledge. It would be difficult to get through high school only by yelling, "Hey you!"



2. Relevance of the information

Ebbinghaus tested the information decay by memorizing nonsense letter clusters. Bahrick, on the other hand, demonstrated how we absorb vital information in the real world.

It is worth mentioning that the relevance of information automatically means one more thing - emotional load. It doesn't matter if it's positive or negative. It is an inherent factor modulating your ability to remember.

The meaningfulness of the information is a very personal and individual thing. Two different people may perceive the same facts as useless or vital. It is reflected in another one of Bahrick's (1984) studies, that showed that college professors have difficulties with remembering their students' name.

Can you see that contrast? Of course, one might argue that the frequency of information, in this case, is much lower. However, in my opinion, the decisive factor here is the indifference of lecturers. Most students are as important to them as half-dried pigeon carrion on the side of the road.

Of course, we could name more factors that contributed to the almost complete absence of forgetting in the first study. However, I think that the ones mentioned above are the most important.


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback, I.e. What Information Does It Provide You With?


The example above does not seem to be fully related to subjects such as physics, foreign languages or medicine. Regardless, I hope it convinced you of one thing - the frequency and relevance of information are among the most critical factors affecting your ability to remember information.

Thus, from now on, I would like you to change your mind about the phenomenon of forgetting. Don't see it as something negative.

Treat forgetting as the best possible form of feedback.

If you can't keep information in your head, your brain is trying to subtly say, "Hey buddy! Don't even try to make me remember this string of numbers. I don't know; I don't understand, I don't care. When are we going to do something exciting like tap dancing in banana peel shoes? 

Whenever you cannot recall information, you should ask yourself, "How can I modify it so that it makes more sense to my brain?"


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - Three Main Takeaways



1. Too little interaction with the information


Consider whether you should increase the frequency of a given element. If you use programs like ANKI, it happens organically to some degree.



2. No connection between the element and your background knowledge


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback

 

Your brain is a very practical sponge. If it finds no connection between an item and the rest of the information you have in mind, it considers that item to be irrelevant. Thus, this information is forgotten very quickly (see Ebbinghaus forgetting curve).

If you want to remember a given piece of information, there is nothing to prevent more than one flashcard from encoding a given word or concept.


3. Lack of the relevance of the information


The relevance of information always means one thing - emotional load. It is the basis of the so-called affective learning that is related to feelings and emotions.

If you are trying to learn information that has nothing to do with your life, it will not evoke any feelings in you either.

Think of it as a date, if your potential partner sparks as much passion in you as the thrilling acting of Kristen Stewart, will you remember it? I doubt it. You come home, douse yourself with bleach, you disinfect yourself from the inside and life goes on. For the same reason, we pay attention to items that stand out - they simply spur more emotions. 


You are the one who is supposed to find the reasons why the information is relevant and meaningful.


The enormous mistake people make while learning is waiting until this magical connection between some abstract concept and real life materializes itself out of thin air. Nothing could be more wrong.

If you want to learn quickly and effectively, you have to look for such connections yourself. Think about how many thousands of practical examples of different types of concepts were shown to you at school. They ranged from history, through physics to economics. Now think how much of it honestly is still kicking around in your brain.


Effective learning is measured by the amount of effort you put into the information encoding process, not by time.

If I chew an exquisite dish for you and spit this slimy mass onto a silver tray, you won't probably find it appetizing. Your brain reacts the same to the information that someone else has digested.

Of course, finding relevance can also be a natural process. Remembering all the symptoms of diabetes doesn't seem like a significant thing. You need more room in your head for more important things like memorizing all names of all the Pokemon.

However, do you think that something would change in your head if your spouse were diagnosed with this disease? Without a doubt. You would immediately begin to absorb this knowledge and remember it well for a long time. This is the power of the relevance of information.


Forgetting as a Form of Feedback - Summary


Forgetting is stigmatized nowadays with a passion that characterizes naturopaths promoting coffee enemas. However, this is a short-sighted approach. 

The inability to recall the information in question is nothing more than your brain, saying that it doesn't care.

Although there are many forms of feedback, hardly any of them is as valuable to adults as forgetting. After all, it does require teachers or coaches. A program such as ANKI and a bit of introspection is enough.  

  • Forgetting is a natural spam filter that helps us separate relevant information from the noise.
  • What's more, the primary purpose of forgetting is to optimize decision-making processes.
  • Forgetting should be seen as feedback from your brain. If you can't remember a given piece of information:
    - it doesn't often occur enough in your direct learning environment
    - it is not relevant to you in any way
    - it probably does not evoke any emotions
  • Remember, it's your job to find the relevance of the information to your life. No one else can do it for you.

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 19 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.



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. 


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

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


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

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

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


What Is Obstacle Thinking?


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


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

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

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

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


Why Not Start With Positive Instances?


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

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


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


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

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


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

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



Limitations - Why They Are Needed To Think Effectively


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

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


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

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

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


What Kind of Constraints Are There?


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


(1) Permanent constraints

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


Examples: 

(1) Using context in language learning

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


(2) Removing harmful compounds while composing diets

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


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

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


(3) Differential diagnosis

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


(2) Temporary constraints

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


Examples: 

(1) Budget

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

(2) Computational power

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

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

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



Requirements for Using Obstacle Thinking Effectively


(1) Ability to amass and manage your knowledge

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




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

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

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


(3) Time

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


(4) Ability to suspend your opinion 

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

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

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


An Example of Obstacle Thinking in Action


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


(1) Limitation #1 - Passive rehearsal


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

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

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

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

Limitation #2 - Habituation



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

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

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

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

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


Obstacle Thinking - Summary


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

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

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

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


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

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

 


How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Your Action Plan and Recommended Strategies

How to master many fields of knowledge

 

Growing-up has to be one of the saddest things ever from the outside perspective. It’s like a backward evolution. You see how amazingly curious creatures turn into mindless corporate drones. You see how the pursuit of knowledge turns into the pursuit of money.

I believe that curiosity and the power to create are the very things that can ward off all the negative in the world. However, for those qualities to survive, you have to feed them continuously. The problem is that modern times actively discourage people from becoming a polymath.

What’s more, we live in the conviction that there is not enough lifetime to master many areas of expertise.

I want to show you that it’s possible if you play your cards right. Within your lifetime, you can become great at many things. But before we get to the specifics, let’s start with a fundamental question:

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Is It Worth It?

 

How to master many fields of knowledge

Photo by Jared Craig on Unsplash

 

I like to think of knowing many things as of the magical glasses – the more you know, the more you can see.

 

Being stuck in one field of specialty is nothing short of being blindfolded. You can go throughout life without being able to spot all those enchanting intricacies coming from the expanded perspective.

 

Everything starts making sense. You know why leaves are green. You know why bread turns brown.
Unfortunately, being good at many things is not encouraged these days. We want everyone to be ultra-specialized, which breeds ignorance in almost all other areas.
Kant elegantly touched upon it years ago:

 

It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all.

I need not think, so long as I can pay; others will soon enough take the tiresome job over for me.

The guardians who have kindly taken upon themselves the work of supervision will soon see to it that by far the largest part of mankind (including the entire fair sex) should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but also as highly dangerous.

Having first infatuated their domesticated animals, and carefully prevented the docile creatures from daring to take a single step without the leading-strings to which they are tied, they next show them the danger which threatens them if they try to walk unaided.

Now this danger is not in fact so very great, for they would certainly learn to walk eventually after a few falls.

But an example of this kind is intimidating, and usually frightens them off from further attempts.”

 

It couldn’t be any more accurate. Of course, we don’t have to know everything. But will it hurt to learn just a little bit from many areas of knowledge? Were we created to be stuck in one groove all of our lives?

 

Why You Should Master Many Fields of Knowledge

 

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

~ Robert Anson Heinlein

 

Even though it’s advisable to master at least one field of knowledge intimately, it’s usually not necessary to do it for more than one.

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – the Pareto Principle

 

 

One of the first logical foundations which will allow you to build a wide array of skills is the Pareto Principle.

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

 

In other words, find out what’s essential in a given field of knowledge and learn it. This way, you will be able to double-down on what’s important and save a lot of time in the process.

 

How much time is needed to be good?

Of course, just telling you to apply the Pareto Principle would be lazy. We need more specifics.

From the work of K. Anders Ericsson, we know that to be world-class at something, you need about 10k hours of deliberate practice.

Of course, throughout the years, many other researchers have proven that this number might vary depending on, among others, the complexity of a given skill.

However, for simplicity’s sake, I will stick to this number.

 

Even though the number looks scary, you should not forget that you don’t need to become world-class in every field of knowledge. With just about 1-2k hours, you might become an ordinary expert.

 

If you apply the Pareto Principle to this number, you will see that with just 200-400 hours of your time, you will be able to understand most of the things in this field.
Yikes. Maybe that still looks way too scary. But there is one more thing you can do to learn even smarter.

 

Working smarter – The Pareto Principle of the Pareto Principle

 

 

Once again – the Pareto principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. However, if you apply the Pareto principle to the Pareto principle, you might see that roughly 64% of the effects come from 4% of the causes.

 

It means that if you can determine the absolute essentials, you will be able to become good at something while spending only 4% of your time/effort.

 

In other words, with just between 40-80 hours, you will know your way around a given discipline.

Example 1

For example, what if you don’t trust your endocrinologist and would like to, sort of, become one.

Easy, it’s enough that you learn:

  • what hormones are
  • how they function
  • what are the main hormones in our body
  • how they are produced
  • sprinkle on top some knowledge about Type 1 and 2 Diabetes, thyroid disorders, PCOS, cortisol- and testosterone-related disorders.

As difficult as it’s to believe, most specialists deal with the same old cases day in, day out.

 

Remember – you don’t need to know every possible exception to every possible rule to be good.

 

Example 2

What if you want to be a semi-professional gourmet? No problem! Memorize the scale for describing foods and start tasting!

Mayonnaise, for example, is supposed to be evaluated along:

  • 1) six dimensions of appearance

(color, color intensity, chroma, shine, lumpiness, and bubbles)

  • 2) ten dimensions of texture:

(adhesiveness to lips, firmness, denseness, and so on)

  • 3) and fourteen dimensions of flavor split among three

subgroups:

a) aromatics (eggy, mustardy, and so forth);

b) basic tastes (salty, sour, and sweet);

c)  chemical-feeling factors (burn, pungent, astringent).

 

Example 3

What if you want to get good at persuading people (because manipulation is such a dirty word)? I would dare to say that reading Cialdini’s classic book should be enough to be at least decent at this craft. The rest is practice and the automation of those rules.

A famous quote by Bruce Lee echoes that thought:

 

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

 

Oftentimes, you might discover that a slightly smaller knowledge that is automated is much better than knowing a lot of theory.

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

 

Your Action Plan

 

Even though we are talking about mastering potentially a lot of fields of knowledge, we all have to start somewhere. Here is a simple list that might help you with the preparation process.

 

1. Make a list of all the things you want to learn and choose no more than 3

Once you master those fields of expertise, you will be able to move on to the next ones.

 

2. Make sure they are potentially applicable to your life

I want to emphasize that you can learn whatever you want. However, if you choose useful skills at the beginning, you will find it much easier to find time to practice them.

Learning practical things is also extremely rewarding and can help you keep your motivation high.

 

3. Choose how much time you want to devote to them daily

 

I don’t want to be too lax in my calculations, that’s why I am going to assume that being good enough at something requires 100 hours.

 

That tells us that with about 1 hour per day for each field of knowledge, you should be able to know them relatively well in a bit over three months.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the more you know, the easier it will be for you to acquire even more skills and knowledge (so-called the Snowball Effect).

Remember that you don’t have to cling to these numbers religiously – they are here to impose some general guidelines.

 

4. Determine what you should learn

You can try to google what are the essentials of the given area of specialty or contact somebody who does it for a living. That should do the trick.

 

5. Get your learning materials

Once you know what to learn, this step shouldn’t be too difficult. The only thing I can add here is this – make sure that your source of knowledge is reliable. You don’t want to waste your time remembering things that have no reflection in reality.

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Recommended Strategies

 

Your action plan and basic strategies

 

Congratulations! Now you know roughly how to organize your learning. It’s time you familiarized yourself with the strategies which might help you achieve your goals faster and with less effort.

 

1. Use deliberate practice

 

Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity engaged in with the specific goal of improving performance. – source.

 

Common characteristics of deep learning:

  • it gives you a specific goal
  • it requires your full attention
  • it’s energy-devouring and exhausting but not time-consuming
  • it gives you feedback

 

In other words, deliberate practice gives you a goal and tells you to mercilessly concentrate on a given concept until you’re ready to move on to the next one.
I will be the first to admit that it’s not the most pleasant learning strategy. However, if you power through it, you will find out that it’s the quickest one out there. For me, a little pain for a lot of gains is undoubtedly a trade-off I am willing to make (read more about deliberate practice here).
 

2. Combine skills (aka laddering, skill transfer)

 

It’s important to realize that a lot of different skills might be combined to save you time and make your practice sessions more productive.

 

For example, you can:

  • exercise and listen to a lecture at the same time
  • learn a language and use it to master a particular area of knowledge
  • learn how to negotiate to get a job in a different department where you will be able to use your newly acquired programming skills

The number of combinations is endless. Give it some thought and contemplate what kind of combinations might work for you.

I like to watch pointless YT videos from time to time, but I never do it without a work-out session.

 

3. Use and automate your knowledge 

Not every skill has to be useful, but it’s certainly much easier to maintain it if you automate its use, and you can use it. At least on a semi-regular basis (read more about automating your skills here).

 

4. Do interesting things / choose difficult projects

Simple tasks don’t require much brainpower – probably that’s why soon multifunctional AI blenders will replace 50% of our planet.

If you want to let, your talents shine, always strive to take up challenging projects which involve the use of many different skills. It doesn’t matter whether they are a part of your job description or just a personal project. Try to make them relatively challenging relative to your current skill set (read more about doing the hard work here).

 

5. Help others

Helping others has to be one of the best ways to master many fields of knowledge. There are thousands of people in the world who might benefit from your expertise. Find them and do your best to help them alleviate at least part of their problems.

 

Not only will you feel slightly better and decrease your chances of becoming a skull ashtray for all the hellish abominations below us, but you will also consolidate your skills significantly better.

 

Why?

Because the more you’re able to embed your knowledge in reality, the easier it is to remember it.

 

How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Summary

 

Many people think that trying to master many fields of knowledge is silly. Why bother if you can pay somebody for their expertise or do something less taxing.

However, the truth is that doing so can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. Once you wrap your head around main concepts from many different disciplines, your life will improve. You, in turn, will become more confident.

And the entire process doesn’t have to take that much time if you stick to the strategies mentioned in this article. Good luck on your journey!

 

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.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


What Are Side Projects?


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

Side projects have absolutely nothing to do with overwhelming pressure.

Here is what side projects all about.


1. Any field of knowledge


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

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

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

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

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


2. No daily goals or deadlines


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


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


3. There may be more than one of them


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


Benefits of Side Projects


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


1. Rediscovering the joy of learning



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

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

Does Homework Improve Academic Achievement?

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


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


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

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


Freedom of choice means more fun from learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2. Developing the habit of learning



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

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


3. Knowledge and development


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

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

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


Examples of Side Projects of Mine


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


1. Toxicology


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

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

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

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

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

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


2. Geography


Side Projects – an easy way to rediscover

Photo by Brett Zeck on Unsplash


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

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

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


3. DDD (Disinfection, Deratization, Disinfestation)


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

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


How Side Projects Turn Into Serious Ones


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

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


Investing


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

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

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


Trichology


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

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

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


Side Projects - Summary


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

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

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


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


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


Taking to Yourself - Why so Many Bad Associations?


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

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

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


Cognitive Benefits Of Talking To Yourself


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Benefits of Talking to Yourself - Overcoming Stage Fright


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


Have a presentation?


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


Have an interview?


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


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


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

And so on. You get the idea.

Proper preparation kills stress and anxiety.


Benefits of Talking to Yourself - Practicing Languages


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

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

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

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


How to Talk to Yourself?


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

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

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

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

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



Overcome Weirdness of Talking to Yourself


Benefits Of Talking To Yourself


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

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

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

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


Other Benefits of Talking to Yourself


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

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

Benefits of Talking to Yourself - FAQ 


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

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

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

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


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 9 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.

 


How To Read Books Fast Without Speed-Reading (Which Sucks Anyway)

 

Being able to read books fast is undoubtedly a fantastic skill and a very tempting one.

Can you feel the thrill of endless possibilities? If you just knew how to do it, you could read, like, ten books per week!

No wonder speed reading is a huge business. There are probably thousands of books written on the subject. And 99% percent are crap – promises-flavored crap.

Sure, everyone would like to be the guy who picks up a thick book, thumbs it through in two minutes to say, “Do they have to dumb down everything these days?”.

Can you become such a person? Definitely no. Can you become a person who reads very fast? Yes. However, if you are looking for a quick and easy solution, you will get severely disappointed.

Let’s start with some basic facts to help you read books fast without speed-reading.

 

Want to Read Books Fast? Forget About Speed Reading

 

Read Books Quickly Without Speed-Reading

 

I know that some might take this statement very personally or even be offended. 

“How dare you smear the good name of the speed-reading community?!” However, it has to be said as it frustrates me endlessly.

Almost anywhere I go, I encounter opinions that it is entirely possible. From Tony Buzan’s classic to Tim Ferris’ article, everyone claims that reading with a speed of 1000 words/min is entirely achievable.

Some even go a step further. Comments under any article on speed-reading usually spiral into some bizarre contest.

“800 wpm (words per minute)? That’s laughable, man. Try getting to 2000 wpm, like me, to see what REAL speed reading is!”

Sounds great, right? It doesn’t work. 

Before we get to the specific methods, I think you should know a thing or two about my reading background.

 

MY EXPERIENCE WITH SPEED-READING

I started my speed reading journey about 12 years ago. I have always been a great believer in the capabilities of a human mind. No wonder, I quickly got sucked into the speed-reading world.

Initially, I thought that I was a speedy reader. It quickly turned out that my typical reading speed of >300 wpm was pitiful.

Wouldn’t you feel that way?

You start reading about people who underwent a special kind of speed-reading training. About some super-geniuses, or so I thought, who can read with 3000 wpm or even 8000 wpm?

I felt inadequate.

I started reading every speed reading book I could ferret out. There were good books, and there were terrible books. Ok, mostly they were awful.

Some titles sound as if a shitfaced magician concocted them. Here are some of them. But just a word of warning. Don’t buy them. They are crap. Get yourself drunk instead. Or buy your horse a three-piece suit, It will be a better use of your money

 

  • A Course in Light Speed Reading A Return to Natural Intuitive Reading
  • The Alpha-Netics Rapid Reading Program
  • The PhotoReading Whole Mind System

 

Did I get better? Yep. At least in some way.

 

Trying to Read Books Fast – My First Results

After a couple of weeks of training, I could read with a speed of 1000 words per minute. Then I pushed myself even more, and I got to 1400 wpm. 

There was just one problem I couldn’t spot back then. The speed was there, but I understood almost nothing.

I guess Woody Allen summarized it quite brilliantly when he said, ” I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

It was a very disappointing experience. I needed some time to digest the burden of this conclusion. When I did, it became clear that:

 

1) Nothing worth reading can/should be read fast.

 

and

 

2) You can read books fast, but you can’t understand and analyze information quickly.

 

That’s why, as far as I am concerned, anyone who is selling “photographic reading courses” should be pilloried while a fat dude named Stanley sticks a tongue in his ear (so-called “seashell”).

Ok, we got this covered. Let’s move on to the things which can help you read faster.

 

How To Read Books Fast – Strategies

 

  1. Know Thy Goal
  2. Separate Learning from Reading
  3. Learn What You Read
  4. Skim
  5. Learn Core Vocabulary
  6. Build Core Knowledge
  7. Read a Lot
  8. Use the Knowledge You Learn

 

1) Know Thy Goal

 

Read Books Fast Without Speed-Reading

 

    Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
    and some few to be chewed and digested. –

FRANCIS BACON (1561–1626)

 

When in doubt, trust in Bacon. He was definitely onto something.

The very first thing you should do before you open a book, and a waft of the paper hits your nostrils, is to decide why you want to read it.

It doesn’t sound sexy. I know. You are a bad boy, and you’d rather slap that book open right away. However, you need to restrain yourself as it is a crucial step.

You might not feel it, but your decision, subconscious or not, will weigh heavily on what your mind concentrates on. And on what you extract from the text.

You usually read for

  • knowledge
  • inspiration
  • relax

 

Try to choose one of the said purposes. 

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the exact purpose of reading. Nevertheless, you always do your best to determine it as precisely as you only can

 

2) Separate Learning from Reading

You are ambitious – that’s great. It’s even admirable. And very likely, it is an invisible burden that hovers over your head and stops you from reading faster.
Why?
Let me guess. Are you trying to read and analyze information at the same time? You see something thought-provoking, adjust your monocle and say, “Oh my, utterly marvelous. Let’s ponder over it for a while.”
Do you?
Then if your goal is to read books fast, you are setting yourself up for failure. There is one crucial lesson here you need to understand.

 

Reading is not learning. Learning is not reading.*

*it’s a good tattoo idea if you ever need one

 

Your brain is not a computer. It can’t switch effectively between two different activities. Do it for a short period, and you will burn through all the glucose stashed in your brain.

Result? Headaches, the feeling of general fatigue, malaise, and so on. After a while, your brain becomes impervious to new information. This method of reading is not very sustainable.

Mind you that I am not saying that you can’t read and learn at the same time. I am just stating a simple fact that it is not a very effective method of reading.

 

Read Books Fast Without Speed-Reading

 

How to Separate Learning from Reading

To be honest, I have struggled with this problem for quite some time until the two beautiful words dawned on me.

*whispers sensually”

 

Batch working.

 

I am sure you are familiar with the term but just to be sure, let’s explain it:

 

Batch working is a process of grouping items because they are similar, or because we plan to do something similar to them.

 

For instance, it wouldn’t make much sense to make a massive omelet without preparing products beforehand. Can you imagine how ineffective it would be?!

“I need twenty eggs to make this omelet.”

*takes two and cracks them open into a bowl*

“I need two more.”

*opens a fridge and takes another two*

Doesn’t it sound frustrating?

That is why you should always try to group similar tasks. It is the method which, I am pretty sure, saved my sanity.

 

1) First mark/highlight

Whenever you stumble across something that is

  • interesting
  • thought-provoking
  • vague
  • incomprehensible
  • you don’t agree with

mark/highlight it in some way.

Jot it down on a margin or copy it into some file. Don’t try to dismantle any of the concepts you have read about. The time for that will come.

Done? Good. Keep on reading. Have you marked another fragment? Good. Keep on reading.

 

2) Learn/analyze

After reading a certain number of pages, set aside some time for a more detailed analysis.
Go crazy, analyze the heck out of everything.

Refute, digest, criticize to your heart’s content.

Learning is demanding enough on its own. Don’t mix it additionally with reading.

 

3) Learn What You Read

 

Learn what you read

 

This one comes from a very frustrating experience.

About two years ago, I was binge reading about 3-4 books per week. Of course, being a sensible learner, I took notes and scribbled my remarks about everything, even mildly interesting.

In quite a short period, I amassed notes from over 40 books. The bad luck had it that I hit a rough patch and didn’t have so much time anymore. After everything settled, I came back to reading. I didn’t do anything with the notes, mind you. They just sat soused in my notebook.

Fast forward year and a half, I was reading some interesting excerpts from a book on cognitive neuroscience. My eyes lay on a particular sentence, which solved one of the biggest obstacles I had at the time concerning my memory experiments.

I was freaking ecstatic! The worst part?

A couple of months ago, I finally strapped myself to a chair and started going through the notes mentioned above. A couple of minutes into the reading, I saw it. There it was, guffawing blatantly at my helplessness — the same damn fact.

The miracle solution was there all along. I didn’t learn it. In the process, I wasted myriads of hours on useless experimenting.

Lesson learned:

 

Before you move to the next book, learn what you have read before.

 

Almost Every Book Is a Treasure Trove of Knowledge

It makes perfect sense, even more so if you want to specialize in some area. Your average author spends hundreds of hours researching his book or summarizing his knowledge.

Without notes, you will spend dozens of hours reading it and end up with almost no knowledge. You will remember just a couple of main things. Nothing more. And it would be a damn shame.

Thanks to this strategy, your ever-growing knowledge will help you go quickly through most of the books.

How quickly?

It’s not unusual for me to read a 400-page book in less than two days. There is not enough new information for me to absorb. Sometimes you have to do the hard things first, so it gets easier.

Read more: How to Master Many Fields of Knowledge – Your Action Plan and Recommended Strategies.

 

4) Skim

 

Skim While Reading

 

You don’t have to read everything.

 

You can skim through some paragraphs or descriptions. Nobody will judge you.

 

I am yet to hear, “John is such a filthy, primitive animal, I have heard he skips paragraphs. He sickens me!”

What is important for an author might be meaningless to you. Take this article as an example. I thought it was essential to include my personal experiences. But maybe you don’t care. That’s ok, skim through such passages until you catch a glimpse of something more interesting.

 

5) Learn Core Vocabulary

A specific lingo permeates every industry and area of specialization. Love it or hate it; it’s still something you must learn.

My main area of specialization is learning/memory and everything in-between, like productivity.

Not knowing what the hippocampus, the dentate gyrus, or the Premack’s principle is, would have the paralyzing influence on my reading ability. It would be equivalent to kneecapping myself and expecting to run.

 

If you care about being good in the area of your choice, always try to master every word you encounter.

 

6) Build Core Knowledge

 

In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you. – MORTIMER J. ADLER

 

I can safely assume that whatever you read, you read because you want to learn more. Or you want to master a given field of knowledge. In any case, you should know that initially, your pace of reading will always be slow. But that’s good.

 

Slow is new fast. This deceptive sluggishness is the speed of light in disguise.

 

Look at this excerpt.

 

In an imagery study by Okado and Stark (2003), increased PFC activity for false memories was localized to the right anterior cingulate gyrus. Given the role of the anterior cingulate in response competition and conflict (Kerns et al., 2004), the authors concluded that this reflects the increased effort involved in incorrectly endorsing an imagined item as “seen.” ERP studies also support the conclusion that frontal regions may distinguish between true and false memories, and be engaged in greater monitoring and evaluation associated with false retrieval (Curran et al., 2001; Fabiani, Stadler, and Wessels, 2000; Goldmann et al., 2003; Nessler, Mecklinger, and Penney, 2001; Wiese and Daum, 2006).

 

It is a typical excerpt from a book on neuroscience. If you have no scientific foundation, it can be hard for you to read even a couple of pages from such a book. Let alone an entire book.
It is precisely where building core vocabulary and knowledge comes together.

 

It’s one thing to get familiar with the nomenclature. But do you really understand how these terms interrelate?

 

Do you understand, at least superficially, what is their function? If not, you have to analyze it. Only then can you move on. It’s not fast. It takes time. But there is not even one discipline in this world where you can skip basics.

Read more: The Magnet Theory – Why Deep Understanding and Problem-Solving Starts with Memorization.

 

7) Read a Lot

 

Read Books Fast Without Speed-Reading

 

The more you read, the more efficient the reader you become. The reader who knows the ins and outs of different styles of writing. The one who knows when to skim and when to read deep into a text.

 

These benefits alone explain well why you should try to read as much as possible. But there is one more reason.

 

The spiral theory of knowledge.

 

The Spiral Theory of Knowledge

The spiral theory of knowledge describes a fascinating phenomenon.

First, when you encounter a particular idea, you might not notice or comprehend it. Not fully anyway. Then you move on to something else. You learn other subjects, read other books. Then, after some time, you reencounter the same idea, and only then can you get your Eureka moment.

“How could I not understand it before?! That was so easy. The answer was there all along!”

And that’s a great question. How come you didn’t understand this concept before? Your knowledge was to blame. At the time, it was patchy and full of gaps. You were not ready to comprehend the full scope of the idea then.

The potential answer to whatever questions that might be bugging you, consciously or subconsciously, lies in yet another book.

Yes, there is a door behind the door. But you will never know if it has the answer written on it until you open it.

 

8) Use the Knowledge You Learn

Many people love to brag about the number of books they read every month. They are like beautiful shiny badges. The phenomenon is so well-known that Issac Watts wrote about it in his book “The Improvement Of The Mind” in 1821!

 

Such persons are under a great temptation to practice these two follies. (1.) To heap up a great number of books at a greater expense than most of them can bear, and to furnish their libraries infinitely better than their understanding. And (2.) when they have gotten such rich treasures of knowledge upon their shelves, they imagine themselves men of learning, and take a pride in talking of the names of famous authors, and the subjects of which they treat, without any real improvement of their own minds in true science or wisdom. At best their learning reaches no further than the indexes and table of contents, while they know not how to judge or reason concerning the matters contained in those authors. And indeed how many volumes of learning soever a man possesses, he is still deplorably poor in his understanding, till he has made those several parts of learning his own property by reading and reasoning, by judging for himself, and remembering what he has read.

 

Don’t be one of those people.

 

Try to find even the slightest use, if it is only possible, for whatever that is you’re reading. Impress someone or help a friend with some problems. Find a better job. Anything will do.

 

Just don’t let it go to waste as I did for such a long time.

Years ago, I used to learn every single fact about almost anything. And I am sad to inform you that it was mostly wasted effort. I don’t remember almost anything I learned.

Why would I?

My brain didn’t find this knowledge useful, nor did I find it helpful – and so it had to go.

 

How To Read Books Fast – Summary

 

We are wired to follow the path of the least resistance. No wonder. We are drawn to, seemingly, easy solutions such as speed-reading.

But you already know the truth, don’t you? There are no easy fixes. There are no easy solutions. And yet it is still possible to read fast. Even very fast. But first, you have to put effort into building a foundation.

The very same effort which will make your newly acquired skill taste so sweet. Enjoy it.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Knowledge coherence - the best predictor of one's expertise

 

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

 

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

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

Why wouldn't we?

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

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

Why is that? 

After all, the knowledge presented to you was structured.

What went wrong that you couldn't remember it?

The answer is "Easy come, easy go".

Learning takes effort.

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

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

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

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


Course-oriented thinking - a general overview

 

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

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

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

Pay attention to the words I have used.


1.   The best course in the world


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

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

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


2.   The most comprehensive course in the world


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


3.   It has to be structured and organized


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

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


4.   You're going to sell it


Course-oriented thinking

 

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

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

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

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

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


5.   It's going to be YOUR course


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

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

Example:

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

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

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

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


Course-oriented thinking - how to structure your course



1.   Tips for rookies


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

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

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


2.   Tips for old-timers


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


3. The general advice


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


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

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

Don't get too attached to its current form.


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

 

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

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

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

Here are some places to start:

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

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


Your mental framework for approaching new information

 


1. Be critical


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

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

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

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

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



2. Stay open-minded


Improve your knowledge coherence and create potential products

 

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

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

Strong opinions loosely held

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

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

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

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


What to do with the contradictory information


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

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

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


The best program to structure your knowledge


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

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

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


Improve your knowledge coherence


Course-oriented thinking - a long-term perspective


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Examples of practical, long-term courses


CREATE POTENTIAL PRODUCTS


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


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

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

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

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

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


A summary

 

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

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

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


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

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

 


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

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

Hah! You wish!

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

Why is it so?

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

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

 

Difference between remembering and retrieving a word

 

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

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

  1. encoding
  2. storage
  3. retrieval

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

It means that:

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

What is retrievability?

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

 

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

 

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

Let’s dig deeper.

 

Fundamentals – Retrieval Cues

 

Whydifficult to recall vocabulary

 

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

Everything starts with a retrieval CUE.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Types of retrieval cues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Memory principles governing recall

 

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

 

1) The encoding specificity

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

It states that:

 

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

 

This gives us our first rule:

 

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

 

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

 

Example:

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fun fact

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

 

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

 

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

 

2) The strength of associations

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

However, make no mistake:

 

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

Example

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

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

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

3) Number of cues

 

 

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

From this it follows that:

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

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

 

Don’t overdo it – a cue overload effect

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

It happens so because:

 

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

 

Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4) Distinctivity of cues

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

 

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

 

But why do we need distinct retrieval cues?

 

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

 

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

How to build good cues 

 

difficult to recall and retrieve vocabulary

 

Good quality retrieval cues often have:

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

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

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

 

Examples of learning methods which impede retrievability

 

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

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

 

Mnemonics

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

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

 

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

 

Quite straightforward, isn’t it?

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Associations

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Teaching/learning styles

 

difficult to recall vocabulary and retrieve it

 

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

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

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

Although, you have to appreciate the effort, right?

 

How to maximize your chances of recalling words – Summary

 

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

 

  • 1. You should be the person who generates cues

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

 

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

 

  • 2. Retrieve vocabulary in different conditions

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

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

Remember:

 

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

 

  • 3. Memorize natural phrases / collocations

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

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

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

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

Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

Here are a couple of arguments to bear in mind.


1. Expertise Reversal


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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

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

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


Polygot Tips - Reading vs. Listening


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


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

2. Confidence can be misleading



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

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

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

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

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


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



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


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


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


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

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

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


4. Achieving a certain skill level ≠ efficiency


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

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

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

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


5. The warping effect of background knowledge



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Factors affecting your ability to learn



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

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

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

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

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


Learning Czech in 1 month


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

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


Why is it important?

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

Here are the implications of these numbers:


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


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

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

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

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


Summary -  Polyglot Tips, Advice, and Strategies 



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

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

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


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

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

 


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

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


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

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

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

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


What You Need to Know About Overwhelm


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

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

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

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


How To Deal With Overwhelm



1. Be primitive


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

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

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

In other words, focus on primitive tasks.

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

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

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


2. Identify the constraints


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

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

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

Keep in mind that your constraints can be:

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

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


3. Lower The Intensity


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

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

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

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

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

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


4. Take more breaks


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


How to deal with overwhelm

How often should you do it? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whenever you:

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

it's time to pause.


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

Rest for as long as you need.

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


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


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

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

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


6. Organize your learning better


overwhelm while learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7. Make a shift


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


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


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


8. Break down your project into smaller chunks


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

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

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

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


EXAMPLE

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


10. Pep yourself up



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

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

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

How to deal with this situation?

Pep yourself up!

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

Here are some things you might try:

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

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


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


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

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

To deal with overwhelm, try to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What is interleaving?


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

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

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

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

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


Is interleaved practice always the right choice?


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

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


Studies on interleaved practice in different disciplines


1. Languages

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


2. Mathematics

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

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

The results were as impressive as they were surprising.


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

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

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


The necessary condition before you apply interleaved practice


mazimizer your learning pace

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

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

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

It's simply too much.

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

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


The expertise reversal

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

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

Why might lower variability be better in the beginning?

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

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

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

What does it tell us?

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

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


Interleaved Practice - Summary

(1) Interleaved practice is perfect for:

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

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


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

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

 


Evergreen Skills and Knowledge – What’s Worth Learning?

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


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

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

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


Why Should I Focus on Evergreen Skills and Knowledge?


1. It's immediately applicable

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

But is it really?

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

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

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


2. It makes life easier

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

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


3. It gives you a sense of direction

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


What Knowledge and Skills Can Be Defined as Evergreen?


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

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

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

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

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

  1. Universally evergreen knowledge
  2. Personally evergreen knowledge

Universally evergreen knowledge


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


Personally evergreen knowledge


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

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


Example #1 - Pets

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


Example #2 - Material Engineering

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


Example #3 - Investing


Investing - crucial skill


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

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


News vs information

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

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

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

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

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


A List of Universally Evergreen Skills and Knowledge


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

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


Evergreen Skills and Knowledge - Why Are They Necessary?


1. Learning how to learn


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

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

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

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

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

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


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2. Money-related skills


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

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

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


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3. Analytical skills


Analytical skills is an umbrella term for subskills such as:

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

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


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


evergreen skills - doubling information


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

The most prevalent reactions to this information overload are either:

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

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

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

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


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4. Nutrition


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

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

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

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

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


5. Medicine and health


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

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

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

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

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


6. Productivity


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

Productivity includes subskills, such as:

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

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


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7. Creativity


evergreen skills and knowledge


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

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

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

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

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

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


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