In this post I’d like to discuss learning and ways of learning new material. This is by no means a complete list and like other posts on this blog, you’ll need to do a bit of research and practice of your own to get better at it. The goal is to introduce ways to make learning a bit easier and to make your learning sessions a bit more productive.

For some, learning can be a very difficult task and it takes a lot of effort to get the information committed to long term memory. This isn’t something you’re either born with or not, it’s possible for everyone to become a great learner. Whether you’re 16 or 60, you’ll be able to learn new things easier once you understand why you do things and how to get yourself in a position where learning becomes easier.


Focussed and defused modes of thinking. (focus intensely on a specific problem you’re working on) (defused is when you open your mind to wonder, a more relaxed state)

There are two different modes of thinking, focused mode and defused mode. Focused mode is when you are concentrating on a specific problem or piece of information you’re trying to commit to learn. A very good example of focused mode is when you do a Pomodoro technique, a 25 minute session of focus with no interruptions. Just you and the work you’re trying to learn. After a Pomodoro session you should reward yourself for the effort you put in.

Diffused mode is when you’re relaxing or doing something like jogging or just taking a stroll and letting your mind wonder. This state of mind can help strengthen what you were learning in the focused mode. Allowing yourself to go into diffused mode will often help make connections to other parts of information that could help you see the bigger picture of what it is you’re trying to learn.

It is important to switch between these two modes when your trying to learn new thing, it gives you a bit of time to absorb the info and get it into your permanent memory. One also needs enough sleep to for your body and mind to rest and refresh, this can also be a great way to let your mind make connections with other pieces of the proverbial puzzle.


Procrastination: How to deal with it

Procrastination is another big problem when it comes to learning. It’s all to easy to look at the work you have to do and think to yourself that there is a lot of other things you would much rather do. This is where the problem comes in, it’s a lot easier to do things you want to do, not so simple if you don’t want to do it. Procrastination is linked to the same feeling as pain and when you trigger the pain you immediately try and avoid it by doing something you’d rather do, then the next time you’re further behind causing you to trigger more pain and again trying to fix that by doing something you like doing. This is one serious snowball waiting to happen. The way to deal with procrastination is relatively simple, next time you feel like rather doing something else, tell yourself you need to do the work and the best way is to just make a start. Something you need to remember and take note of, when you have something you have to do it’s best to do it with spaced repetition, a little bit at a time spread over a few day. If you try to cram in all the infor mation the night before it won’t have time to make all the mental connections and you wouldn’t remember nearly as much info as you would spacing the info out over a couple of days. Spaced repetition will help you cement the information into your mind making it permanent and not temporarily like a cram session.


Over learning, illusions of competence and deliberate learning.

When you’re learning new problems in math, science of whatever topic, it’s important to test yourself with the problem. When you practice enough you make your practice permanent. There isn’t any point in hammering yourself on the same problem the whole time, remember spaced repetition. Another problem we sometimes make is to keep practicing the same problem over and over thinking you’re learning, but what you’re really doing is creating illusions of competence. What that means is your practicing the same problem over and over thinking you know it, but you’re not gaining knowledge, you’re just practicing the same thing, nothing more. Practice does make permanent, but you need to do some deliberate learning. Deliberate learning is when you deliberately try problems your struggling with, that way you’re challenging yourself and practicing stuff you’re not comfortable with and at the same time learning the things you don’t know yet.


In this blog post the idea is to get you to realize that everyone can be good at learning, you just need to use the right tools and understand why you do what you do. This is a topic that this blog post has just touched on the tip of the iceberg, if you’d like to learn more about how to learn, please visit Coursera and have a look at Learn how to learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski.

So go on, go learn how to learn and make your learning sessions be a bit more productive.

Happy learning.

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