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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 28, 2020

    How To Study Effectively: 7 Simple Tips

    How To Study Effectively: 7 Simple Tips

    The brain is a tangled web of information. We don’t remember single facts, but instead we interlink everything by association. Anytime we experience a new event, our brains tie the sights, smells, sounds and our own impressions together into a new relationship.

    Our brain remembers things by repetition, association, visual imagery, and all five senses. By knowing a bit about how the brain works, we can become better learners, absorbing new information faster than ever.

    Here are some study tips to help get you started:

    1. Use Flashcards

    Our brains create engrained memories through repetition. The more times we hear, see, or repeat something to ourselves, the more likely we are to remember it.

    Flashcards can help you learn new subjects quickly and efficiently. Flashcards allow you to study anywhere at any time. Their portable nature lends them to quick study sessions on the bus, in traffic, at lunch, or in the doctor’s office. You can always whip out your flashcards for a quick 2 to 3 minute study session.

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    To create effective flashcards, you need to put one point on each flashcard. Don’t load up the entire card with information. That’s just overload. Instead, you should dedicate one concept to each card.

    One of the best ways to make flashcards is to put 1 question on the front and one answer on the back. This way, you can repeatedly quiz yourself into you have mastered any topic of your choice.

    Commit to reading through your flash cards at least 3 times a day and you will be amazed at how quickly you pick up new information.

    As Tony Robbins says,

    “Repetition is the mother of skill”.

    2. Create the Right Environment

    Often times, where you study can be just as important as how you study. For an optimum learning environment, you’ll want to find a nice spot that is fairly peaceful. Some people can’t stand a deafening silence, but you certainly don’t want to study near constant distractions.

    Find a spot that you can call your own, with plenty of room to spread out your stuff. Go there each time you study and you will find yourself adapting to a productive study schedule. When you study in the same place each time, you become more productive in that spot because you associate it with studying.

    3. Use Acronyms to Remember Information

    In your quest for knowledge, you may have once heard of an odd term called “mnemonics”. However, even if you haven’t heard of this word, you have certainly heard of its many applications. One of the most popular mnemonic examples is “Every Good Boy Does Fine”. This is an acronym used to help musicians and students to remember the notes on a treble clef stave.

    An acronym is simply an abbreviation formed using the intial letters of a word. These types of memory aids can help you to learn large quantities of information in a short period of time.

    4. Listen to Music

    Research has long shown that certain types of music help you to recall information. Information learned while listening to a particular song can often be remembered simply by “playing” the songs mentally in your head.

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    5. Rewrite Your Notes

    This can be done by hand or on the computer. However, you should keep in mind that writing by hand can often stimulate more neural activity than when writing on the computer.

    Everyone should study their notes at home but often times, simply re-reading them is too passive. Re-reading your notes can cause you to become disengaged and distracted.

    To get the most out of your study time, make sure that it is active. Rewriting your notes turns a passive study time into an active and engaging learning tool. You can begin using this technique by buying two notebooks for each of your classes. Dedicate one of the notebooks for making notes during each class. Dedicate the other notebook to rewriting your notes outside of class.

    6. Engage Your Emotions

    Emotions play a very important part in your memory. Think about it. The last time you went to a party, which people did you remember? The lady who made you laugh, the man who hurt your feelings, and the kid who went screaming through the halls are the ones you will remember. They are the ones who had an emotional impact.

    Fortunately, you can use the power of emotion in your own study sessions. Enhance your memory by using your five senses. Don’t just memorize facts. Don’t just see and hear the words in your mind. Create a vivid visual picture of what you are trying to learn.

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    For example, if you are trying to learn the many parts of a human cell, begin physically rotating the cell in your minds eye. Imagine what each part might feel like. Begin to take the cell apart piece by piece and then reconstruct it. Paint the human cell with vivid colors. Enlarge the cell in your mind’s eye so that it is now six feet tall and putting on your own personal comedy show. This visual and emotional mind play will help deeply encode information into your memory.

    7. Make Associations

    One of the best ways to learn new things is to relate what you want to learn with something you already know. This is known as association, and it is the mental glue that drives your brain.

    Have you ever listened to a song and been flooded by memories that were connected to it? Have you ever seen an old friend that triggered memories from childhood? This is the power of association.

    To maximize our mental powers, we must constantly be looking for ways to relate new information with old ideas and concepts that we are already familiar with.

    You can do this with the use of mindmapping. A mind map is used to diagram words, pictures, thoughts, and ideas into a an interconnected web of information. This simple practice will help you to connect everything you learn into a global network of knowledge that can be pulled from at any moment.

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    Learn more about mindmapping here: How to Mind Map to Visualize Your Thoughts (With Mind Map Examples)

    Featured photo credit: Alissa De Leva via unsplash.com

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