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Learning How to Learn

What Have I Been Reading?

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by | Nov 17, 2018

This week I received some fantastic advice and decided to check out “The Odin Project”. The Odin Project is a free resource designed to guide you through specific areas of tech. As per the course beginner advice, I decided to embark on their web development course. I have been dabbling in a few resources but have recently been finding it hard to focus, so having a structured course seemed like a great plan.

The first chapter of the web development section aims to lay your foundations, which I loved. Instead of jumping right into the coding and learning programming languages, it guides you through the basics of the web. Where does your website go when you tap it into the search bar? What IS the internet? I am so used to just using the web, clicking sites, navigating to specific blogs, that I’ve never asked Why or What is it actually doing? Pretty fascinating when you really dive into it! As part of this foundation laying, The Odin Project recommends some incredible videos that I feel spoke to my soul. Although it felt like I have started skipping down a completely different path from programming, I feel this path will eventually link back and give me some pretty solid foundations to really start learning the fundamentals! Dweck discusses Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset in her Ted Talk “The Power of Yet”, and Duckworth builds on this discussing her work on “grit”. What did these teach me? That I have a very “Fixed” mindset. I hold this belief, and have done for a long time, that I am not naturally smart. The belief that people are naturally smart or they are not. If I am not naturally smart, why should I push myself to learn? because it’s not like I will ever solve that math problem, that’s something only smart people can achieve. Having a fixed mindset is detrimental to learning/growing and … it is not true! To understand a “Growth” mindset begins with understanding how your brain works/learns. The brain is like a muscle, you need to flex/use it for it to grow and develop. I wouldn’t walk into the gym and deadlift 100kg if I had never lifted a weight before, I would build up to this. That’s exactly how your brain works! Each time you push yourself out of your comfort zone, learn something completely new, you strengthen the pathways between neurons. You literally MAKE yourself smarter. So, having a growth mindset is this belief that you can develop your brain, no matter your age. The grit part comes into it by seeing this discomfort/challenges as opportunities, rather than in a fixed mindset of seeing them as proving that you can’t do something. I highly recommend watching these Ted Talks, defining moments for me! They lead me to the very point of this blog post, the Coursera “Learn how to Learn” course.

I guffawed at first. “I made it through high school, I have a degree, I know how to learn pfffft”. Three minutes in though, I quickly realised that I didn’t. I really did not know how to learn, efficiently. My study technique since I started my higher education is to read a textbook, followed by copying out the concept word for word [from the textbook]. This leads to “illusion of competence”. Because I could copy out the content, and eventually through repetition I was able to do it from memory, I thought that I understood it. Copying out something in someone else’s words, does not mean that you have a solid understanding. I had memorised the concept, not understood it. Yikes. There are some incredible techniques and concepts discussed in this course, so I thought I would share a few of them with you in my blog posts. First…

 

Procrastination 

As you can guess, the topic of procrastination featured heavily in this course. I procrastinate constantly, Netflix is my crutch. We procrastinate because something is painful and we want to avoid that pain, so we engage ourselves in something that isn’t painful: watching Netflix, meeting friends, scrolling through instagram. Understanding why you procrastinate can help you avoid it. I have always believed this takes an incredible amount of willpower, but actually willpower is a scarce resource and should be used wisely!

So, recognise that procrastination is just a bad habit, and habits are made up of four events: 

  1. The Cue
  2. The Routine
  3. The Reward
  4. The Belief

 

 

 

The Cue is the prompt, maybe the first item on your to-do list or the first question of your homework. This part does not require willpower, and can be either good or bad. It is just a prompt to do something. The Routine is whatever your mind jumps to when you receive that cue. If the cue was putting on your jumper, your routine would be putting your arms into the sleeves, guiding the jumper over your head and then pulling it into position, or something to that effect. When the routine is harmful? My cue is often “I don’t understand this first question, I can’t do this” and the routine is then Netflix. Not helpful for learning. The Reward in this scenario is the quick move from a feeling of discomfort, to a feeling of pleasure and relaxation. However you can manipulate this stage! Maybe you give yourself a reward because you focused on a difficult topic for twenty five minutes, without distraction (the pomodoro technique). For achieving this, maybe you watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or have 10 minutes of non-guilty social media scrolling. The Reward can be a powerful tool in AVOIDING procrastination. Finally, The Belief. This is where you can effectively use willpower. If I believe that the reason I can’t study early in the day is because I am not a morning person, then I will never be able to study early in the day. If I change this belief and remind myself that no one is born not being able to study early in the day, then I will be able to change my habits. If I don’t change my belief, I will never change my habit. It’s as simple as that, you really don’t have to have a tonne of willpower not to procrastinate, you just have to be smart about it!

Another useful tool to avoid procrastination is to change your focus. Often we focus on the product, the end goal. If we have homework, we focus on the finished questions or the finished assignment. This can be daunting and uncomfortable, how on earth can I finish this?! Instantly that feeling of discomfort has you running to your procrastination habit. What if, instead of focusing on the finished product, you focus on the process of getting there? Instead of focusing on the finished website, you focus on the parts that make the website. Twenty five minutes to start the HTML, maybe 25 minutes for the CSS to make it look pretty. These examples are development focused, but you can replace it with literally anything. By focusing on the “I need to do this for 25 minutes” rather than “I need the finished product” you forget to worry “am I doing enough?” “am I smart enough to achieve this?” “am I close to finishing?”. Forgetting to worry allows you to ease into a work flow and a comfortable rhythm. Finally, it is important when focusing on this process that you avoid distractions to ensure you can fully immerse yourself for that short amount of time: find a quiet working space, turn off notifications on your phone, ask your other half not to disturb you until the alarm sounds (sorry Mike!).

 

I feel that is enough of a chunk of material for one blog post, but I will follow on from this and discuss how we learn and what techniques you can use to optimise this new found knowledge of how you learn! Hopefully you find it as helpful as I have!

 

Content is cited from “Learning How to Learn”, Coursera 

Photo 1 : Google Images “procrastinate”

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