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 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

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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8. Public speaking


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

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

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


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9. Problem-solving skills


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

Problem-solving skills include subskills such as:

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

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


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10. Psychology


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

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

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

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

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


The art of persuasion

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

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

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


11. (Basic) law


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

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


12. (Basic) economics


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

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


13. Basic physics


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

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

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

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

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


14. Basic Chemistry


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

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

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

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

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

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


15. Basic mathematics

list of evergreen skills


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

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

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



16. Basic computer science


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

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


17. Languages


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

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

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


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18. Playing an instrument


Playing an instrument - cognitive benefits


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

How to Use Many Evergreen Skills in a Meaningful Way


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

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

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

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


Summary - Evergreen Skills and Knowledge


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

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


Which of those skills is the most important for you? Let me know in the comments!


Done reading? Time to learn!

 

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

I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 43 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.