All entries for Thursday 21 April 2005

April 21, 2005

Paying attention to what's important

The Creating Passionate Users blog had a post a while ago called ‘Dealing with a legacy brain’ which talked about how it’s neigh impossible to pay full attention to whatever is important at a given point in time.

For learning, one of the best things you can do is whatever it takes to convince your brain that what you're learning is life-threatening or life-saving. What does your brain think is important? Novelty. Surprise. Sex. Danger. Shocking things. Stories. Human faces. Pleasure. Things that make you emotional. Things that move you, and things that cause you to move. Things that cause you to think deeply. Solving puzzles. Stories.

See the problem there?

Your stats textbook probably doesn't warrant a checkmark next to any of those. So, you'll have to retrofit it yourself. To trick your brain into thinking that what you're learning is important, find ways to add some of those things into what you're studying. But you can't do it by passively reading.

Towards the end of the post are a few suggestions on getting round the problem. As exam time looms, it may be worthwhile looking at a few of them.

A couple of examples:

  • Make pictures! Draw mind-maps. You can't possibly buy too many of those flip-chart-sized post-it notes, with some colorful Sharpie markers. If an illustration that the author creates is worth a thousand words, the picture that you draw is worth 10,000.

  • Use chunking and patterns — (more on that in another post) to group the content into meaningful arrangements, so that you don't have to learn as many individual arbitrary bits, and can focus on bigger chunks.

  • If you can find a way to link what you're studying to sex, go for it. Your brain won't forget, and your study partner may thank you. (Or, alternatively, slap you. Your brain won't forget that either.)

The latter suggestion may prove tricky when studying maths/stats/whatever, but there you go. The full post is here.

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