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10 counterintuitive quotes on learning that will make you a better student

10 counterintuitive quotes on learning that will make you a better student

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the most successful and impactful investors, scientists, and innovators don’t think the way most of us do about learning – and there’s a reason.

Most conventional wisdom about learning, studying, and education is either mis-guided or wrong.

Here are 10 quotes that will have you reconsidering everything you thought you knew about school.

1. “I have never let schooling interfere with my education” – Mark Twain

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    This popular Twain-ism refers to “education” more as your lifelong process of figuring out how to navigate the world. School is a small part of that, and in many ways can interfere with learning: imposing strict boundaries, oversimplifying otherwise interesting and complex topics, and more generally making “education” into regimented work rather than creative discovery.

    Action: Think about your coursework in the context of your life’s learning arc: how does it fit in and how can you take control and select what you want or need to learn along the way?

    2. “The one real object of education is to leave a person in the condition of continually asking questions.” – Bishop Mandell Creighton

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      The point isn’t to get the answer, the point is to develop understanding. Unlike what most formal learning institutions preach, the best way to do that is – you guessed it – to find the right questions to ask. (This is what Socrates knew 2,000+ years ago.) Only then should you pursue an answer.

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      Action: Stop thinking, “How do I find the answer?” and start thinking “What questions should I be asking?”

      3. “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.” – Charlie Munger

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        Munger attributes much of his (and Berkshire Hathaway’s) investing success to accumulating as many “mental models” as possible in diverse fields, by reading widely and continuously. And like Twain believed, he thoroughly embodies learning as a life-long journey. The classroom is just society’s overly-formalized attempt at capturing that process.

        Action: Don’t limit yourself to what you’re learning in class. Read widely and often, and it will pay off across the board.

        4. “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it in himself.” – Galileo

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          No one can insert knowledge into your brain, they can only guide and point you in the right direction. In this sense, teachers aren’t really “teaching” you anything, they’re only there to attempt to facilitate your own self-discovery.

          Action: Don’t rely on someone else to spoon-feed you the answer and put the knowledge in your head; only you can do that. Side benefit: most teachers actually have no clue what they’re doing, so the more you take control of your own learning future, the further ahead you’ll jump.

          5. “Slow down and remember this: Most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of mental laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” – Tim Ferriss

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            Your textbook is only important if it gives you insights that help you score well on the test.

            Your homework is only important if it solidifies your knowledge.

            Highlighting printouts of lecture slides is never important.

            So take it from the master of effective learning, and stop fooling yourself into thinking you’re being productive, when really you’re just filling your time with “studying” because that’s what everyone says you should do.

            Action: Question what you spend your study time on – and make sure it lines up with what will get you to understand the material and maximize your grade in the course. Hint: past exams and the grading breakdown on the syllabus should be the first place to start.

            6. “I’m skeptical of a lot of what falls under the rubric of education…. People are on these tracks. They are getting these credentials and it’s very unclear how viable they are in many cases.” – Peter Thiel

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              Thiel, famous for funding promising high-schoolers and early college students not to go to college with his Thiel Fellowship program, invites you to step back and think about why you’re in school. Despite your parents’ insistence, don’t get a degree just because you think you like the subject or think you need it to “get a job.”

              Action: Consider the usefulness and applicability of your degree program. And, after careful reflection, if it doesn’t make sense, don’t be afraid to get out or switch to something better.

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              7. “Some people will never learn anything for this reason: because they understood everything too soon.” – Alexander Pope

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                It’s uncomfortable to hold an un-answered question in your head for too long, but it’s a critical skill for learning.

                A typical student will try to grab onto whatever they can grasp early, and then pat themselves on the back and move on.

                A smart student will allow themselves to be confused, and work over-time to integrate a new concept with their previous knowledge, eventually developing a much deeper and nuanced understanding of the topic.

                Action: When you hear something new, wait 24 hours to form an opinion about it – let it simmer and mix with everything else you know first.

                8. “If something makes logical sense, if it’s connected to what you already know, you’ll rarely have to memorize it…” – Adam Robinson

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                  By continually building a framework for understanding the material and consolidating your notes, the information becomes cemented in your long-term memory, with the added benefit of being able to handle novel or complex test questions.

                  How much better does that sound than slogging through a 1,000+ page textbook trying to re-read the same explanation, hoping it sinks in?

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                  Action: Put away the flash cards, and start making connections to the mental frameworks you already have by practicing active learning and solving problems from scratch.

                  9. “The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion – these are the most valuable coin of the thinker at work. But in most schools guessing is heavily penalized and is somehow associated with laziness.” – Jerome Seymour Bruner

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                    Guessing is actually a sophisticated art that activates your brain and helps to solidify new information. It provides the initial point for a feedback loop that allows you to see if your final solution makes sense, and adjust your intuition to better fit the answer if your guess was off.

                    Action: On your next homework assignment, go through and write down a guess for each question before you go through and try to solve it – then check that guess against your final answers.

                    10. “Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” – Richard P. Feynman

                    Photo credit: Tamiko Thiel

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                      If you have passion for something, and make time to focus on it, you’ll find it almost effortless to learn it deeply. Learning in your own unique way also personalizes the information, and makes it easier to pull it out of your memory when you really need it.

                      Action: Ask yourself “what am I most interested in” and write down 10 different ways you could learn about it more deeply.

                      Featured photo credit: Heisenberg Media via flickr.com

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                      Last Updated on July 10, 2020

                      The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

                      The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

                      Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

                      Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

                      The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

                      Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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                      Program Your Own Algorithms

                      Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

                      Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

                      By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

                      How to Form a Ritual

                      I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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                      Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

                      1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
                      2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
                      3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
                      4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

                      Ways to Use a Ritual

                      Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

                      1. Waking Up

                      Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

                      2. Web Usage

                      How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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                      3. Reading

                      How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

                      4. Friendliness

                      Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

                      5. Working

                      One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

                      6. Going to the gym

                      If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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                      7. Exercise

                      Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

                      8. Sleeping

                      Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

                      8. Weekly Reviews

                      The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

                      Final Thoughts

                      We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

                      More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

                       

                      Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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