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What Storytellers Can Teach You About How to Learn Faster

What Storytellers Can Teach You About How to Learn Faster
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    Storytelling is a demanding craft. Not only do you have to be able to write or perform the story accurately, you need to create vivid descriptions. Boring, complex or difficult to understand metaphors can turn an imaginative journey into a lifeless plot.

    You may not think of it deliberately, but learning is very similar to storytelling. You need to give yourself vivid, memorable and emotionally descriptions of the information. When you learn with compelling metaphors, information seems to stick easily. Without metaphors, ideas are dry and slip through your ears without a second thought.

    Metaphors and Holistic Learning

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    Awhile back I mentioned about how I use holistic learning to get good grades with little studying. My current GPA sits between an A and an A+, and I’ve aced many of my finals with no more than a fifteen minute scan before walking into the exam room.

    Holistic learning is based on the principle that learning works as a whole and not through rote memorization. When all of your ideas are connected together, it becomes far easier to remember them. When you have many different associations to the same idea, you can still retain the information even if you forget one association.

    The storyteller’s art of metaphor is crucial in holistic learning. Remembering mathematical concepts is easier when you have metaphors that relate them to real life events, not just symbols and equations. Becoming a storyteller with your subjects and using powerful metaphors can make even the driest subject stick.

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    How to Create Good Metaphors

    After writing extensively about holistic learning and metaphors previously, I’ve received comments from people asking how they can find metaphors for math, physics, biology, philosophy or some other subject. The problem with this approach is it believes that there is some universal metaphor for a subject. And that once you find that perfect metaphor you can use it to explain everything.

    Storytellers understand that there is no perfect metaphor. There are good, if incomplete, descriptions. I used the word “create” deliberately in this subheading. Attaching good metaphors to information you are learning is a creative act, just as it would be if you were describing a story.

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    That said, there are a few ways you can improve the quality of your metaphors and your ability to think of them. Coming up with metaphors isn’t as difficult as it sounds, but it requires that you drop your search for the perfect description and look for multiple, simplified images. Here are a few thoughts on becoming a storyteller with your studies:

    1. Isolate a Characteristic. Novelists often try to pick a single remarkable feature of a character to describe. Trying to give a complete image of an entire person would be incredibly difficult. Do the same thing with your studies. Pick apart only a small formula, concept or system that you want to create a metaphor with and build from there.
    2. Vivid is Better. Which creates a stronger image in your mind, “She was cold”–or–“She felt as if the wind was biting at her with small, icy teeth.” When looking for metaphors, visual impact is more important (at least early on) than perfect accuracy. You can fix up problems with false analogies later, focus on getting a good picture first.
    3. Quantity over Quality. Having ten metaphors to describe a topic puts you in a far better position than one really good metaphor. The more ways you can describe something, the more links you create to that idea inside your head. The more links, the more memorable your ideas are.
    4. Draw it Out. If finding a metaphor is difficult for you, pull up a piece of paper and start drawing concepts out. Forming rough diagrams make it easier to look for patterns or possible metaphors.
    5. The 10-Year Old Rule. Ask yourself if you could explain your metaphor to a ten-year old. If the answer is no, reformat it until you come up with a more vivid and easily understandable metaphor. Your goal with metaphors is to take an abstract or complex idea and anchor it down into something easy to understand.
    6. Processes Become Stories. If you need to learn a sequence of steps, or a process, use a story. Processes are mechanical, stories are human. What was once an abstract formula, computer algorithm or chemical transformation can become an interaction of different characters. Your brain was formatted to understand incredibly complex human interactions easily, apply that power towards non-human interactions.

    Taking Metaphors Further

    Who do you think could create a better story on the spot: you or Shakespeare? Ignoring the fact that good ol’ Bill has been dead for some time, in his life he had a lot of practice creating metaphors. All of that practice helps him as a storyteller.

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    Similarly, if you want to use metaphors to cut down your studying time, you have to practice. You have to make finding metaphors to lock in ideas a habit. If you are curious about building storytelling techniques into your studying I recommend taking on a short and simple 2-week challenge when you start hitting the books again:

    • Once a day, every day, for the next two weeks, pick at least one idea, formula or concept from your studies.
    • Write out that idea on paper and break it down until you can see it in front of you.
    • Then time yourself to come up with as many possible metaphors for describing the idea or part of it in the next 3 minutes.

    Repeating this metaphor exercise improves your ability to naturally see possible descriptions and images when you encounter new ideas. When metaphors happen automatically, any ideas you encounter become easy to remember.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on September 16, 2019

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

    You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

    We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

    The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

    Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

    1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

    Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

    For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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    • (1) Research
    • (2) Deciding the topic
    • (3) Creating the outline
    • (4) Drafting the content
    • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
    • (6) Revision
    • (7) etc.

    Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

    2. Change Your Environment

    Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

    One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

    3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

    Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

    Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

    My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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    Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

    If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

    Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

    I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

    5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

    I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

    Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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    As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

    6. Get a Buddy

    Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

    I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

    7. Tell Others About Your Goals

    This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

    For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

    8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

    What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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    9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

    If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

    Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

    10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

    Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

    Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

    11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

    At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

    Reality check:

    I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

    More About Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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