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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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    Published on July 9, 2019

    The Power of Tapping into Your Hidden Creativity

    The Power of Tapping into Your Hidden Creativity

    Despite what you might have been taught — everyone can be creative.

    It’s too easy to think of creativity as just being reserved for musicians, artists and writers. In reality, creativity can be used in all jobs and in all areas of life.

    I’m referring to creative traits such as thinking outside the box, finding new solutions to old problems, and combining two ideas to invent a new one.

    For example, think of Henry Ford. He gave people automobiles, when at that time, they probably just wanted faster horses!

    And, then there is Elon Musk. He found a workable solution to the problem of congested roads in towns and cities — the Hyperloop! This is an underground tunnel system that is designed to connect major conurbations using clean, ultra-fast capsules that can carry passengers, cars and freight. In the case of cars — Musk envisages elevators taking the cars down to the tunnel system. Ingenious.

    As a final example, I want to tell you about Saltwater Brewery in Florida. They’ve created six-pack rings that are edible by marine life. So instead of the six-pack rings ending up in the ocean and killing sea creatures, these rings actually feed them. They’re made from the by-products of beer brewing, and contain either barley or wheat, and are not just safe for fish to eat — but humans can eat them too!

    Let’s turn now to see how improving your creativity can improve your life.

    Creativity Will Improve Your Outlook

    As a Psychology Today article reveals, people who practice everyday creativity (like finding new ways to work, preparing meals and solving crosswords) share personality traits with those we regard as ‘genuinely’ creative, such as: artists, designers and musicians.[1]

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    The shared traits include:

    • Curiosity

    • Drive

    • Open-mindedness

    • Persistence

    • Positivity

    Some studies also suggest that people who regularly indulge in creative pursuits are less judgmental and more flexible.

    It’s no wonder then, that there is a proven link between creativity and enhanced mental health (this could be due to creative thinkers’ superior problem-solving skills).[2]

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    I hope I’ve said enough to convince you that exploring your creative side can improve your outlook on life.

    So what’s the best way to get creative? 

    Boost your confidence.

    When you have ample self-confidence, you won’t be afraid to try new things and to break out of your comfort zone. Both of these things will put you in touch with your inner creative genie — who’s just waiting to work their magic on your behalf!

    But, how can you boost your confidence? 

    …by constantly facing and overcoming challenges.

    Creativity Will Increase Opportunities

    Creative individuals often notice more opportunities in life.

    How come?

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    Because they’ve learned how to find a way to turn any obstacle into an opportunity by tackling it from another angle. They’re also more likely to SEE the opportunity in the first place, just by having an open mind; whereas someone who is not tapping into their creativity may miss these hidden opportunities. 

    For example, one of my friends recently lost his job as a senior administrator for an insurance company. He’d worked there for more than 10 years, and although he wasn’t excited by the job, it paid his bills.

    When he was told that his job was to go, he was initially shocked and knocked off track. However, my friend is a resilient and creative soul, and within a few days, he’d formulated a plan to not only secure a new job, but also to make a positive change in his career. He did this by taking his administrator skills and his deep knowledge of finance and insurance and turning himself into a business consultant.

    It’s still early days for him, but he’s already secured several clients, and I predict his new career will be a happy and successful one.

    If you feel stuck in a rut, then try some (or all) of these things to break yourself free:

    • Get moving – yes, staying still is staying stuck; moving is getting unstuck!

    • Look for the positives – when you do this, you’ll open the door to opportunities.

    • Start small – you don’t necessarily need to make a big jump; instead, you can make small changes that create an unstoppable forward trend.

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    Creativity Gives You Freedom to Mess Up

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ― Thomas A. Edison

    I love that quote, as it cleverly demonstrates that creativity is all about experimentation. And, experimentation often means making mistakes!

    If you’ve ever watched a graphic designer at work, you’ll notice one thing: they’re constantly changing things until they get the look and feel that they desire.

    That’s how most creative people work. They keep trying new and different things until they have that aha moment.

    So how about you? 

    Are you currently afraid to try new things? Perhaps because you’re worried about losing face? 

    If you are, then you’re holding back your creative potential. To unleash it, I recommend throwing caution to the wind and pushing yourself through your self-created mental barriers.

    Once you’ve learned to have thoughts and ideas that are free from your current conditioning, then you’ll have learned the secret to living a creative life.

    We all have creativity within us. And, by adopting the suggestions above, you can tap into this hidden force for good. When you do that, your life will take on a new trajectory — one that leads to happiness, fulfillment and success.

    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Psychology Today: Everyday Creativity
    [2] CNN: A Creative Life is a Healthy Life

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