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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 17, 2019

                      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

                      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

                      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

                      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

                      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

                      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

                      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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                      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

                      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

                      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

                      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

                      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

                      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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                      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

                      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

                      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

                      The Neurology of Ownership

                      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

                      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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                      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

                      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

                      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

                      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

                      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

                      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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                      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

                      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

                      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

                      More About Goals Setting

                      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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