233. Special Request: How to study smarter, not harder

19+ takeaways from this 60 minute lecture:

Learning requires a conscious, dedicated effort.

00:01:12 ‘Must-have, high-potential, high-performing professionals have learned how to study. They have developed their ability to concentrate productively for as long as 4-5 hours at at time. However, the average professional can only concentrate productively for around 25 minutes at a time before losing focus. This applies to university lectures and employee meetings as well as note reading and revision.

So the average human productive attention span is 25 minutes, and most learning takes place within that time frame. Yet the average university lecture lasts 50-90 minutes, and business meetings last hours on end.

Understanding and accepting this limitation in human concentration, setting a goal to ‘study for 6-hours every night’ is neither an effective nor realistic goal because trying to “study” when brain can no longer concentrate is not actually studying.

“Things that are reinforced, we tend to do more of. Things that are punished or ignored, we tend to do less of.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in the book What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard that in negotiation people typically behave in ways that benefit them until the outcome is no longer acceptable, at which point they will modify their behavior.]

00:06:20 The moment you start getting distracted and losing focus is your brain telling you you need to take a minimum 5 minute “fun” break to reward yourself for efficient study and to reset your mind and to return to efficient study mode. This rule applies at university as well as at work.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in his book Rules of Work Richard Templar outlines two rules to becoming identified as a high-potential, high-performing candidate:

  • Never let others see how hard you work
  • Aim to complete a day’s worth of work by lunch time, that way you can focus the second half of your day on talent development and preparing for your next career move.]

00:08:54 Always reward yourself after successfully completing a series of successful efficient study rounds: a pint of cold beer, a long bath, 30 minutes of online gaming, a 10 kilometer bike ride…

Getting drunk and then going home to study is a bad idea. State-dependent memory is “the phenomenon through which memory retrieval is most efficient when an individual is in the same state of consciousness as they were when the memory was formed.”

Plan your day around study/work, and during times when your brain is naturally at it’s highest functioning.

00:09:43 As a result, you’ll discover that your 30 minute concentration limitations will turn into hour-long and eventually longer sessions of uninterrupted, efficient learning.

00:10:13 Where you live, you absolutely must have a place in your apartment whose sole function is dedicated to study/work and productivity.

Trying to study in:

  • Your bedroom (where your brain has learned it sleeps)
  • Your kitchen table (where your brain has learned it eats)
  • Your living room (where your brain has learned it relaxes)
  • With others around (who keep interrupting you socially)
  • Facing your bar (where your brain has learned it relaxes)
  • With Netflix in the background (where your brain has learned…
  • With lyrically-based music in the background…

…is self-defeating. Rather than controlling and creating an environment that trains your brain to concentrate and learn, you’re wasting your time trying to be productive in an environment where your brain is primed to do anything but.

00:13:02 When you ask an entire room to ‘raise your hand if you agree,’ most people will raise their hand out of reflex – without thinking. But ask a person independently and by name, you’re more likely to get an honest answer. Face-to-face exchanges are verbal exchanges.

00:14:00 The University of Hawaii asked students “What is the biggest problem you face when trying to study?” Student responses amounted to “We can’t get into studying.” At the time of the study, they housed students in dorm-room style housings, which is a small, single-room chambre de bonne with a bunk-bed, kitchen, window, small closet and study desk all within very close proximity to one another. Further, these dorms are typically shared with at least 1 other student, and the entire floor may have 20+ dorms. Essentially, these student’s brains had learned to socialize, sleep, have sex and study in a ridiculously small space.

Result of this study: by taking control of their environment, facing their study desks towards a blank wall and away from their bed and relaxation-inducing objects (bed, bar…) and dedicating a “study lamp” on the desk in the student’s dorm room with explicit rules to only study when the study lamp was on, and to turn the lamp off and leave the study area each time the student’s attention waned and subsequent grades increased.

Students who dedicated a part of their apartment ONLY to studying increased their grade by a minimum of one grade-point within 3 months.

00:18:14 It’s easy to sit through a presentation that ‘teaches’ strategies to improve yourself, and then leave said presentation and do absolutely nothing. This is because unless your behavior changes, you haven’t actually learned it.

2 popular yet ineffective ways of learning include:

  1. Rote learning includes reading and repeating content over and over. This, unfortunately, is how the majority of humans have been taught to learn. Regrettably, rote leaning isn’t the most effective way of learning.
  2. Highlighting and underlining important sentences in content is likewise how the majority of humans have been taught to learn. Again regrettably, it isn’t learning at its most effective.

Studies have shown that among the best way to learn is by discerning and internalizing concepts and facts:

  1. Facts are discreet pieces of information. Facts are important, however not the most critical element to learning. Facts change with education, time, and technological advancements. This is why we have search engines such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn (yes, social media sites are essential search engines), reference books, etc.
  2. Concepts are how facts are combined and applied to solve complex problems. Concepts can last a lifetime and can be extrapolated and transferred. Respectable university lecturers emphasize concepts over facts. In the work place, high-potential, high-performing candidates grasp concepts.

00:22:14 Depending on the subject and the expectations:

  • Older professionals (Boomers & Generation X) understand concepts are whats most important to problem-solving, to be effective at work, and to make our lives better. Facts, while important, are things we can look up, and even manipulated as needed to meet our goals and needs.
  • Younger professionals (Millennials and beyond) tend to be very talented at learning facts yet struggle to understand concepts and how they can be applied

When learning, first deal with concepts. Then learn facts.

00:23.38 Focus on concepts. Not facts. You haven’t ‘learned’ a concept until you can explain the concept into your own words.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: To be truly persuasive/manipulative, until you understand your target audience and can put the concept into the words your target audience, you aren’t truly persuasive. For more on how politicians answer questions with the intent of persuading/manipulating, check out How Donald Trump Answers a Question.]

00:27:13 Effective note-taking is the best thing you can do to help you remember afterwards. Short-term memory only lasts 20-30 seconds, after which it is forgotten if it hasn’t been written down or moved into longer-term memory. Sitting in class/meeting and not taking notes is the most ridiculous thing you can do because 90% of what was said during a meeting will be forgotten within 30 seconds.

APHBIHPTYYADHR’ vs ‘HAPPYBIRTHDAY

Which letter sequence above is the easiest for you to remember? How you organize your thoughts and notes is critical to how much you remember.

00:28:20 When studying concepts, don’t simply try to memorize the definition word-for-word. Instead:

  1. First, think of how useful the concept is and rate that concept on a scale of 1-5 in terms of how valuable it is to your every day life for problem-solving
  2. Then, explain the concept in your own words
  3. Next, put yourself in a teacher’s position and explain the concept from your student’s perspective
  4. Lastly, combine other related concepts you’ve already learned and explain their relationship to each other

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For another great example of deep learning processing, refer to lesson 230 on effective note taking and lesson 231 on learning how to learn.]

Organize your mind as a filing system such as the Dewey decimal system or for a computer drive; the more organized, accessible, and relevant your thoughts, and the easier it is to add new information, the more and quicker access to information you’ll have.

00:31:34 Information is ‘meaningful’ when it relates to information you already know. You could right now be holding $1 million in sunken Spanish treasure in your hand or have a 1943 US penny worth $1.7 million sitting in your pants pocket, but unless you can identify these rare treasures sitting there for anyone to take, the information is meaningless.

(Good) teachers always try to make concepts meaningful by including stories and examples, but sometimes the teacher’s examples don’t work for the student.

00:32:43 Study groups are extremely powerful yet highly under-valued as a means of learning. Your professor/trainer/coach/mentor… can only use emotional intelligence so much to translate information to you in a way you can understand. Beyond that it will be others, your trusted network, who may be in a better position to explain it in terms you can relate to. The simple act of explaining something to someone else is a powerful way of learning.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In his video Using Stoicism to Become Unbeatable, Ryan Holiday encourages you to use the “Plus, minus, equal system: To improve your skill sets, train with someone who is better than you, with someone who is equal to you, and someone who is not as good as you. This makes you better and keeps your ego in check.”

00:34:12 Highlighting markers were invented in 1965. Since then students have been incorrectly using them and thus sabotaging their ability to study effectively. By highlighting everything, you are be default highlighting nothing.

Recognizing something isn’t the same as remembering it. Re-reading previously highlighted text does not mean you’ve understood the concepts and definitions.

00:36:51 You know you something when you can return to the information after taking a break from it and explain it in your own words.

People sabotage their study efforts by not getting enough sleep.

00:39:01 Note-taking and review, ideally just after your meeting or class, is critical to learning and comprehension.

80% of your studying should be spent reciting, with only 20% of your time spent reading.

00:43:23 (Good) Textbooks and handbooks are psychologically designed to maximize learning, and are thus an extremely powerful tool. Unfortunately most people haven’t been taught how to use them correctly.

The survey, question, read, recite & review (SQ3R) method maximizes your learning comprehension.

Image from www.toolshero.com

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on the foundations of learning, refer to lessons:

One Comment on “233. Special Request: How to study smarter, not harder

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