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How to Hack Your Education: 5 Things to Consider

How to Hack Your Education: 5 Things to Consider

I have been self-educating since I finished school. I’ve tried all kinds of different ways to learn and to educate myself. Over time I became so good in my field that I not only got several jobs, but also surpassed people who only went to university. During the past three years, I’ve learned which five things you need to take care of in order to easily surpass regularly educated people and successfully hack your education. Here they are:

1. Develop a routine.

Since you don’t have a professor or teacher “harassing” you with deadlines and “forcing” you to study, you need to develop solid working habits. You have to experiment and try out different things. This is the first hard step and where most people fail because they are not able to maintain discipline and work on a proper routine. Unfortunately, there are no universal guidelines as to what works and what doesn’t, so you need to find out for yourself.

There are two books that are incredibly helpful in getting the necessary motivation and being inspired by what successful daily routines look like. Nick Winter’s Motivation Hacker will give you a dozen techniques on how you can ensure you’re motivated to work every day, get up early, and keep up with your schedule. In his book Daily Rituals, Mason Currey summarized the working habits of 200 famous artists, writers and scientists. You can get inspired by the habits of Goethe, Einstein, Hemingway and Andy Warhol.

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2. Learn to learn.

Most of us who come straight from school or college have horrible learning routines. Often many students rely on the strategy of cramming the night before exams. If you want to educate yourself and learn something in order to apply it in real life, you need to develop good learning strategies. You should also experiment on these and not stick with the first one that works, since the better your strategies, the more effective you are.

Here are two books and blogs essential to learning how to learn and taking your learning techniques to the next level. Cal Newport, a straight-A student, analyzed the way America’s best students are able to learn and still have a lot of spare time. His book, How to Become a Straight-A Student, will help you learn more effectively and enable you to have tons of free time. He also has a blog.

Scott H. Young might be the role model of many self-educators. He studied four years of electrical engineering at MIT in only one year, without being enrolled at MIT. Scott has an incredible work routine and amazing discipline. Check out his blog, where you can find all kinds of information about learning techniques and developing a successful working routine.

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3. Find the best resources.

Nowadays, you can learn from a lot of quality resources, completely for free. Most of these resources are either identical to a college education or far better. Find out which resources are the easiest to study for you. I am a huge fan of reading books and developing a relationship with the authors and asking them more detailed questions. Also, since I am becoming a therapist, workshops and seminars are essentials for me. Check out different things and track your learning progress to find out what suits you best.

Websites like Kahn Academy or MIT Open Courses often provide very good content and can also be a major resource.

 4. Learn from the best.

The advice above will put you ahead in terms of knowledge compared to those people who follow a conventional education. But still, a college degree comes with a certain status. Therefore you need to put yourself ahead of the usual learners when it comes to status. Telling a potential employer or partner that you read a lot of books or studied online won’t necessarily impress him or her as much as a college degree. So, in order to keep up with applicants or competitors with a college degree, you need to find another way to display professionalism and status.

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Since it is possible to connect with everybody world wide, start to connect with the leading figures in your field of interest. Outstanding figures in a certain field are often willing to answer your emails, as long as your questions are smart or interesting enough. Send out different emails to the stars of your field and evaluate which get the best responses. By asking the best in a field you will get unique insights, as well as valuable connections. In the first years of my career, I built almost all my reputation this way, and often knew things others didn’t because I talked to the people on the cutting edge on a regular basis. Having these connections will give you unique knowledge and will show a potential boss that you are not a scam.

 5. Learning is more valuable than money (at the beginning).

Since you are not following a regular educational path, you need to hustle for internships or opportunities to gain hands-on experience and to show what you are capable of. Students often have this included in their course of studies, but you don’t.

At an early stage, you should take on any job and any offer and even work for free. You need to build a portfolio and display your skills. For me as a coach and speaker, I was hustling for any possible speaking gig or for any opportunity to coach people. This gave me experience, as well as a reputation. During the first year, I was giving talks at esoteric fairs next to fortune tellers and people who claimed to talk to ghosts. I did this because somebody offered me the opportunity to talk there. Obviously, this is not an area I want to be associated with, but it was my best chance to get hands-on experience and talk in front of over 200 people. Eventually, this helped me land my next speaking gig at a university, and later to organize my own workshops and seminars. I never wanted to speak at the esoteric fairs, and felt completely out of place, but it was necessary to do so simply to become a better speaker.

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Whatever your field of expertize is, try to gain hands-on experience as fast as possible. In some areas it is easier than in others, so be creative and think outside of the box!

Over time I have met many outstanding self-educators, who have helped me to improve and develop my own strategies. A great platform to meet other self-educators is Extreme Learners, from Institute for the Future. I am super excited to hear about your strategies, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: UGL_UIUC via Flickr

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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