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Becoming Self-Taught

Becoming Self-Taught

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

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  • Curiosity: Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced. People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.
  • Patience: Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information. When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts. Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.
  • A feeling for connectedness: This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic. A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry prof. demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths). The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling.

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  • Research: Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:
    1. Learning the basics: Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds. Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.
    2. Hitting the books:Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting. Then I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.
    3. Long-term reference:While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books. My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.
  • Practice: Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever. A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on. Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where a) nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and b) you never see how much you still don’t know.
  • Network: One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the listservs I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on. These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field. Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.
  • Schedule: For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge. Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from. If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t men you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes. At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Last Updated on October 30, 2018

How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now

How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now

Who needs Tony Robbins when you can motivate yourself? Overcoming the emotional hurdle to get stuff done when you’d rather sit on the couch isn’t always easy. But unless calling in sick and waking up at noon have no consequences for you, it’s often a must.

For those of you who never procrastinate, distract yourself or drag your feet when you should be doing something important, well done so far! But for the rest of you, it’s good to have a library of motivational boosters to move along.

Whether you’re starting a buisiness, trying to los weight or breaking a bad habit, you’ll learn how to motivate yourself with different techniques in this article.

13 Simple Ways to Motivate Yourself Right Now

Despite your best efforts, passion, habits and a flow-producing environment can fail. In that case, it’s time to find whatever emotional pump-up you can use to get started:

1. Go back to “why”

Focusing on a dull task doesn’t make it any more attractive. Zooming out and asking yourself why you are bothering in the first place will make it more appealing.

If you can’t figure out why, then there’s a good chance you shouldn’t bother with it in the first place.

2. Go for five

Start working for five minutes. Often that little push will be enough to get you going.

3. Move around

Get your body moving as you would if you were extremely motivated to do something. This ‘faking it’ approach to motivation may seem silly or crude but it works.

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4. Find the next step

If it seems impossible to work on a project for you, you can try to focus on the next immediate step.

Fighting an amorphous blob of work will only cause procrastination. Chunk it up so that it becomes manageable. Learn how to stop procrastinating in this guide.

5. Find your itch

What is keeping you from working? Don’t let the itch continue without isolating it and removing the problem.

Are you unmotivated because you feel overwhelmed, tired, afraid, bored, restless or angry? Maybe it is because you aren’t sure you have time or delegated tasks haven’t been finished yet?

6. Deconstruct your fears

I’m sure you don’t have a phobia about getting stuff done. But at the same time, hidden fears or anxieties can keep you from getting real work completed.

Isolate the unknowns and make yourself confident, you can handle the worst case scenario.

7. Get a partner

Find someone who will motivate you when you’re feeling lazy. I have a friend I go to the gym with. Besides spotting weight, having a friend can help motivate you to work hard when you’d normally quit.

8. Kickstart your day

Plan out tomorrow. Get up early and place all the important things early in the morning. Building momentum early in the day can usually carry you forward far later.

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Having a morning routine is a good idea for you to stay motivated!

9. Read books

Read not just self-help or motivational books but any book that has new ideas. New ideas get your mental gears turning and can build motivation. Here’re more reasons to read every day.

Learning new ideas puts your brain in motion so it requires less time to speed up to your tasks.

10. Get the right tools

Your environment can have a profound effect on your enthusiasm. Computers that are too slow, inefficient applications or a vehicle that breaks down constantly can kill your motivation.

Building motivation is almost as important as avoiding the traps that can stop it.

11. Be careful with the small problems

The worst killer of motivation is facing a seemingly small problem that creates endless frustration.

Reframe little problems that must be fixed as bigger ones or they will kill any drive you have.

12. Develop a mantra

Find a few statements that focus your mind and motivate you. It doesn’t matter whether they are pulled from a tacky motivational poster or just a few words to tell you what to do.

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If you aren’t sure where to start, a good personal mantra is “Do it now!” You can find more here too: 7 Empowering Affirmations That Will Help You Be Mentally Strong

13. Build on success

Success creates success. When you’ve just won, it is easy to feel motivated about almost anything. Emotions tend not to be situation specific, so a small win, whether it is a compliment from a colleague or finishing two thirds of your tasks before noon can turn you into a juggernaut.

There are many ways you can place small successes earlier on to spur motivation later. Structuring your to-do lists, placing straightforward tasks such as exercising early in the day or giving yourself an affirmation can do the trick.

How to Stay Motivated Forever (Without Motivation Tricks)

The best way to motivate yourself is to organize your life so you don’t have to. If work is a constant battle for you, perhaps it is time to start thinking about a new job. The idea is that explicit motivational techniques should be a backup, not your regular routine.

Here are some other things to consider making work flow more naturally:

Passion

Do things you have a passion for. We all have to do things we don’t want to. But if life has become a chronic source of dull chores, you’ve got a big problem that needs fixing.

Not sure what your passion is to get you motivated? This will help you:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

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Habits

You can’t put everything on autopilot. I’ve found putting a few core habits in place creates a structure for the day.

Waking up at the same time, working at the same times and having a similar productive routine makes it easier to do the next day.

This guide will be useful for you if you’re looking to build good habits:

Understand Your Habits to Control Them 100%

Flow

Flow is the state where your mind is completely focused on the task at hand. While there are many factors that go into producing this state, having the right challenge level is a big part.

Find ways to tweak your tasks so they hover in that sweet spot between boredom and maddening frustration.

Easily distracted and hard to focus? Here’s your solution.

Final Thoughts

With all these tips I’ve shared with you, now you know what to do when you’re feeling unmotivated.

Find your passion and develop a positive mantra so when the next time negativity hits you again, you know how to stay positive and motivated!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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