Correcting Misconceptions

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What you believe about learning, and what you believe about your capabilities are surprisingly potent.

Consider this:

Patients in a hospital were suffering from chronic aches. They would often prefer to lie in their beds than to move around.

In order to alleviate their discomfort, a doctor spoke to each patient and told them they would be prescribed a proven and highly effective painkiller, Advill, specialised to ease all forms of aches.

Over the next few days, most of the patients started walking around and their complaints of aches had largely declined. The pills worked.

But there is a twist: the pills administered were empty capsules yet the patients reported the pills had an effect. Their beliefs in Advill, though erroneous, had gone on to genuinely influence their levels of comfort.

This is known as the Placebo effect and a testament to how frighteningly powerful the mind can be – beliefs can trump reality. Consequently, your views on learning DO influence performance and often in ways difficult to measure. Always remember – you are your own worst enemy.


Hard work Vs Natural Talent

Talent is misunderstood; what seems like talent is the result of massive time investment in a single skill, around the score of thousands of hours. If you can work at it, you can overcome your deficiencies or hone your expertise.

It’s discipline, grit and willingness to keep trying that provides the persistence needed for higher learning. The simple and profound realisation is this: the power to increase your abilities lies largely with your own control.

If you are incompetent in something, apply yourself in that area and do it correctly. If you are just grinding away at the same task without conscious effort, that’s not hard work, that’s just trying to grind an iron pillar into a needle – good luck with that.

Be reflective on your weaknesses (always)

We tend to generalise our weaknesses. Saying you are weak in Math is as unhelpful as asking a blind man for directions. Be incisive and critically precise in pinpointing your weaknesses and develop strategies designed to improve that skill component.

Don’t fixate on your test results. Instead, think on what went right or wrong in how you approached your test. If it went well, you have a huge challenge because changing from better to best is exponentially difficult. Don’t think to yourself. Write it down because you are more likely to follow up.

The Law of least Effort

When presented with choices, our brain will always instinctively gravitate towards the easiest option. The choice between gaming, reading and writing, if left entirely to our brain, is an obvious one. To be effortful is to be conscious of your choices.

In order for learning to take place, it must be effortful. You must feel discomfort, and you must struggle. There is no way around that. Take charge of your learning to keep it challenging, because the other option, auto-pilot, is like manuveuring a boat in a bath tub – just a waste of time.

Forget about multiple intelligences or learning styles

Believing you are better at certain intelligences or styles is harmful – you end up backing yourself in a corner and giving yourself a mental handicap. Nobody masters a language by memorising the alphabets or basic strokes.

Learning is diverse and varied. You will need to draw upon multiple approaches to solve a single problem. Don’t cater to one specific approach – the theory of multiple intelligences doesn’t have much  evidence going for it.

Develop habits over a long period of time

You don’t break a sweat handling your smart phone even as you multi-task chats and apps. You use your phone every day, and are rewarded with finesse.

What you do today, the day after, or the week after, or even in a month, matters far less than what you do everyday for many months or years.

Focus on the task at hand

To be meaningfully engaged with the task at hand, for learning to feel suitably effortful but not entirely impossible, and to proceed with a single mindedness that allows the minutes to fly by.

Benefits are not immediate

The approaches outlined here are focused on long term learning and retention, or gradation. There is no immediate comfort to be had, only what awaits at the end of effective studying and habit-building: mastery.

Continue to Make It Stick : Part 1/2