You can’t control what’s outside of your mind

In 21st century people can do lost of things. We can fly to the Moon, build super-powerful computers, research ocean streams from orbital stations, look deep into the cells, and cure most of bothersome diseases. We can control really much things and processes around the world and that is great. Though, when it comes to our lives, it’s hard to say that we can control hardly anything.

Reading about stoics, I found this quote by Epictetus:

We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children, or country—anything with which we might associate.

And I find this particularly sobering. I analyzed my life and think that the only thins I can control is my mind. Even my physical body isn’t completely within the circle of my powers. In the end, I am often struck with illnesses which are mostly out of my control. Going wider, I can’t choose the country I was born in, the language I speak, the mentality I was grown into. Surely, there’s a huge variety of ways to change at least something, but you can’t change everything.

But this is actually a good news. This notably reduces the amount of things we should care about. We can free ourselves from the list of responsibilities a mile long, because we are not responsible for them. We’ve already got one and the hardest thing to manage — our mind.

There is a huge advantage of this way of thinking — acceptance. We all know how easy it is to judge people based on their skin color, education, family, accent, country, traditions, religion, physical attractiveness, and the list can be much longer. The truth is that these things are out of our control, so why bother? I might not like one thing in others and people might not like the other thing in me, but does it really worth it? I think we’d rather care about the only one thing I can control — my mind.

Accept and give up

There are things that bother me.

One of my friends is lazy to self-develop and is afraid of trying something new. It bothers me and I always try to change him and show “the better way of living.”

Leonardo da Vinci. A deformed couple facing each other.

These two are mocking each other on the Leonardo da Vinci drawing, 1645. I think they have something to rave about.

The problem is that when something bothers me, I am losing my energy. I already lack it. Plus, when I spend the depletable resource on internal conflict, I don’t have energy on work, blog, family, and art.

I come to conclusion: accept and give up.

Sorry for one more trivial thing, I’m just learning to live in this world with all the different people.

Accept: my friend lives his own life and I have a zero chance to influence it. I can’t make other choices for him — that’s only he can do. Thus, having the hands tied, I stopped to offer options. He doesn’t need it, but I can save some energy.

Give up: don’t even try to analyze people’s attitude towards life and why they make choices that hurt them. I can make my life better in a way that I understand what is better. People have their own projections of world in their heads and think they know what’s better for them.

I have huge mood swings which can happen during one day. I try to maintain balance in emotions to prevent emotional ups and downs. Balance rules everything. I think it’s more rational to spend a little strength on maintaining the balance than raging, which eventually might make you lose a whole productive day.

Don’t rave. Don’t waste your energy. Accept and give up. Everything is fine.

How to admit guilt and who is Asoh

Naturally people want to hide their fails. Nobody likes being judged and we created all the bunch of variants to self-defense. Though, there is a story of Asoh, which proved that admitting failure is better for all: for you and your judges.

On November 22, 1968, a Japanese plane Douglas DC-8, flying from Tokyo to San Francisco, mistakenly landed the plane in the shallow waters of San Francisco Bay, two and a half miles short of the runway. Luckily, none were injured in the landing. Here is this plane:

asoh plane and admit guilt

The investigation was conducted by the National Council for Security in Transport of the United States. Asoh, the captain of the plane, was summoned as a witness and asked the question: “How could such an experienced pilot manage to land an airplane five kilometers away from the airport straight into the water?” The commission expected Asoh to justify himself, referring to bad weather conditions or fatigue, but Asoh did not. Asoh answered: “I fucked up.” This disarmed the commission and the case against him was immediately closed down.

The high point of Asoh’s defense is that when you start blaming you and admit your failure, the audience begins to justify you or just respects for honesty.

How to live with our emotions

Many of us don’t know how to live with our emotions from childhood. We learn through experience during all life then. What if you could learn some effective skills earlier? This video by Mindful Schools shares children’s interpretation of their own understanding of emotions. They also share simple strategies for how to cope through breathing and meditation.

Why “be yourself” is the worst advice

The worst thing you can advise to somebody — be yourself.

Why?

Because this phrase includes the logic of double bind.

I can not be somebody other by default. I am I. But this phrase insists the opposite.

It’s not clear what means the verb “be”.

At first, it’s strange to advise somebody to be themselves, because it’s not clear what we’re talking about.

If you hardly want to tell somebody “be yourself”, then you’d better explain the context and describe the exact behavior: “You have a great sense of humor, try to keep it in hard situations. I believe it might help you then.”

Yeah, it sounds unusual.

The question is, what do you want for: say something just to say or show the option that a person could not even notice at all?

Secondly, that this “be yourself” can drive a person into the worse position in which he already is.

Then it would be more logical to advise him to stop being himself, which already led him into the bad life, and try “to be somebody else”, which can show him new horizons.

Don’t always say that we should look for inspiration from other people? Compare your difficulties with people like Nick Vuychich. Yes, you can’t even imagine what his life is. But you’d rather try to be somebody other you want to be, then just be yourself, buried in the deep abyss of despair.

Learning how to learn — course notes

Using the Focused and Diffuse Modes — Or a Little Dali will do You

There are two modes of thinking:

Focused mode: Concentrating on things that are usually familiar.

Diffused mode: A relaxed mode of thinking “your thoughts are free to wander”.

Focused Versus Diffuse Thinking. Diffuse — more relaxed way of thinking. Broad picture of prospects. New ways of thinking. New concepts. Pictures explaining Focus mode and Diffuse mode.

Week 1: What is Learning?

Brain Facts:

Cells of the nervous system are called neurons. Information from one neuron flows to another neuron across a synapse. Human brain has a million billion synapses.

Your brain creates synapses whenever you learn something new. Sleeping helps “update” your brain cells.

Dendrites of neurons before and after learning and after sleep. Many new synapses (connections) are formed on the dendrites.

You go to sleep one person, and wake up as another.

Learn more about the brain: www.brainfacts.org

Why do we procrastinate

Problem:Learning a new thing or doing something you would rather not do can be stressing. This can cause anxiety at first. This activates the area associated with pain in the brain (insular cortex).

Your brain looks for a way to stop that negative feeling by switching your attention to something else more pleasant.

Solution:

The trick is to just start. Researchers discovered that not long after people start actually working out what they didn’t like, that neuro-discomfort disappeared.

Remember that the better you get at something, the more enjoyable it can become.Consider using the pomodoro technique.

Learning hard and abstract things

The more abstract something is, the more important it is to practice to create and strengthen neural connections to bring the abstract ideas to reality for you. Practice makes permanent memory.The best way is to learn a little every day, than all at one. Because the brain makes better connection when you add information little by little.

Long term memory and working memory:

Every time you learn something new, it activates the wirking memory. If you want the information to be stored for longer period and you might use it everytime you need, you have to practice spacious repetition.

Spacious repetition is a technique, when you repeat the information over growing periods of time: 1-1-2-2-4-8… days.

This helps our brain to update neurons and store data in a long term memory.

Practical advice

When you don’t desire learning something, go through it and just start. The discomfort goes away and, in the long term, this will lead to satisfaction.

When you learn something new, make sure to take time to rest, then come back to it and recall what you learnt. This is very important. Don’t cram information in one day. This leads to inefficient learning. It’s like building a wall without letting it dry.

Revisiting and practicing what you learn is important. Research shows that spaced repetition (repeating things after few days) is the best way to build and strengthen the synaptic connections.

Sleep is very important. It clears the metabolic toxins from the brain after a day. It is best to sleep directly after learning new things.

It was shown that exercising and/or being in a rich social environment helps your brain produce new neurons. Don’t lock yourself in your room. Stay active and spare time for exercise (including general physical activities) and friends daily.

Sleeping in learning

While sleeping the brains cleans itself off the metabolic  toxins.

While sleeping your brain organizes ideas and concepts you’ve learned during the day. It erases the working memory and simultaneously strengthens the storage. While sleeping the brain rehearses difficult material — going over and over again of what you’re trying to learn.

Readings from the first week I liked

Week 2: Chunking

Chunks are pieces of information, neuroscientifically speaking, bond together through use and meaning. They can get bigger and more complex, but at the same time, they are single easy to access items that can fit into the slot of the working memory.

Chunking is the act of grouping concepts into compact packages of information that are easier for the mind to access.

Formula of making good chunks: focus + practice + repetition

Just learning a fact, doesn’t help you understand the context and how the concept fits with other concepts you are learning.

How to form a chunk

Using work-out examples to help you in starting to form chunks can make harm. It can be all too easy to focus too much on why an individual step works and not on the connection between steps — that is, on why this particular step is the next thing you should do.

Focus attention. Turn off distractions. You want to use all the four slots of your working memory when studying. Learning will be inefficient if some of those slots are connected to something else.

Understand the basic idea what you’re trying to chunk. Find the gist of the subject. Understanding creates broad traces in brain what can link to other traces.

Practice. You have to solve the problem yourself. Just because you see it, or even understand it, doesn’t mean that you will be able to solve it (Illusion of competence). It is always easier to look at the material, even if you think it’s easy, then doing it yourself.

Remember, it gets easier. When you think that a chapter or a book has too much information and that there’s no way to go through them all; just focus on whatever section you’re studying. You’ll find that once you put that first concept in your mental library, the following one will be easier. This concept is called Transfer; a chunk you have mastered in one area can often help you much more easily learn other chunks of information in different areas.

Master the major idea and then start getting deeper. However, make sure not to get stuck in some details before having a general idea. Practice to help yourself gain mastery and sense of the big picture context. Try taking a “picture walk” before you dig through the material, this means, look briefly at the pictures, chapter titles, formulas used… before diving into details.

Get context. Learn not only how, but when to use this chunk. This is beyond the first problem of solving a problem. Context helps to see a big picture.

Illusion of competence, the importance of recall, mini-testing, and making mistakes

Recall mentally without looking at the material. This is proven more effective than to simply rereading. Reread only after you try to recall and write down what was in the material.

Consider recalling when you are in different places to become independent of the cues from any giving location. This will help you when taking a test in the class.When we retrieve knowledge, the retrieval process itself enhanced deep learning and helps make chunks.

Illusion of competence. Looking at solution doesn’t make make you learning. Just reading doesn’t help you. Wanting to learn the material and spending a lot of time with it doesn’t guarantee you actually learn it.

Test yourself to make sure you are actually learning and not fooling yourself into learning. Mistakes are a good thing. They allow you to catch illusions of competence.

Don’t always trust your initial intuition. Einstellung problem (a German word for Mindset). An idea or a neural pattern you developed might prevent a new better idea from being found. Sometimes your initial intuition on what you need to be doing is misleading.

You’ve to unlearn old ideas and approaches as you are learning new ones.

Mix up the problems (interleaving) from different chapters. This is helpful to create connections between your chunks. It can make your learning a bit more difficult, but it helps you learn more deeply. Interleaving is very important. It is where you leave the world of practice and repetition, and begin thinking more independently.

Practical advice

Don’t:

Highlighting too much and creating maps are often ineffective without recalling.

Repeating something you already learnt or know very well is easy. It can bring the illusion of competence; that you’ve mastered the full material when you actually just know the easy stuff. Balance your studies and focus on the more difficult (deliberate practice). This sets the difference between a good student and a great student.

A big mistake is to blindly start working on an exercise without reading the textbook or attending the class. This is a recipe of sinking. It’s like randomly allowing a thought to pop off in the focus mode without paying attention to where the solution truly lies.

Motivation — how to learn when you’re into it

Why is that that learning something you’re interested in is easy? Neurons carry information about what is happening around you. The are some projecting system which carry the information of what important and value to your future.

Neuromodulators:

Acetylcholine — important for focus learning.

Dopamine — responsible for motivation. Controls rewards system. Dopamine releases from the neurons when you get an unexpected reward.

Serotonin — affects your social life.

Emotions strongly affect learning.

The value of a library of chunks: compaction, transfer, creativity, and the law of serendipity

When you have many chunk patterns, the process of thinking is much better organized and functions better.

Transfer — when the idea/chunk is useful in other ideas or problems.

Two ways of solving a problem:

  1. Sequential step by step reasoning – each little step leads towards a solution
  2. Holistic (global) intuition — creative way of diffuse mode

You may think there are so many problems and concepts just in a single chapter of a subject you’re learning, that it’s almost impossible to learn and understand all of them.  –> Low of serendipity — Lady Luck favors the one who tries. 

Focus of one section of what you’re learning. Don’t try to get all in one.

Overlearning, Choking, the Einstellung Effect, and Interleaving

Continuing learning the information you’ve learned over the session is overlearning. It can produce automaticity. For example, famous public speakers can overlearn 70 hours to prepare 20 minute TED talk. But repetitive learning over one session is a waste of valuable learning time.

Einstellung Effect — when the idea you’ve already have in mind, or neural pattern you’ve already developed and strengthened, may prevent from a new better idea being found. h

Interleaving — when solution of one problem interleaves with the problems of different types. Mix up your learning. Make your brain used to thinking that knowing how to solve the problem isn’t enough. You also need to know when to use it. Thus, interleaving helps you learn deeper.

Reading from the second week I liked

Week 3: Procrastination and Memory

Procrastination works like this: screenshot.

The routine, habitual responses your brain falls into when you try to do something hard or unpleasant. Focusing only on making the present moment feels better.

Unlike procrastination which is easy to fall into, willpower is hard to come by. It uses a lot of neural resources and you shouldn’t waste it on fending off procrastination except when really necessary. You actually don’t need to.

The long-term effect of Procrastination can be dangerous. Putting your studies off leads to studying becoming even more painful. Procrastination is a habit that affects many areas of your life, if you improve in this area, many positive changes will unfold.

Procrastination shares features with addiction. At first, it leads you to think that if you study too early you’ll forget the material. Then, when the class is ahead of you, it leads you to think that you are inadequate or that the subject is too hard.

You want to avoid cramming which doesn’t build solid neural structures, by putting the same amount into your learning, and spacing it over a long period by starting earlier.

First time learning something

The first time you do something the deluge of information coming at you would make the job seem almost impossibly difficult. But, once you’ve chunked it, it will be simple.At first, it’s really hard, later it’s easy. It becomes like a habit.

Habits

Neuro-scientifically speaking, chunking is related to habit.

Habit is an energy saver. You don’t need to focus when performing different habitual tasks.Habits can be good or bad, brief or long.

4 Habits Parts

The cue: The trigger that launches you into zombie mode (habitual routine).

  • Recognize what launches you in zombie procrastination mode: Location. Time. Feelings. Reaction to people or events…
  • Consider shutting your phone/internet for brief periods of time to prevent most cues.

The routine: Routine you do in reaction to the cue.

  • You only need to use your willpower to change your reaction to the cues.
  • Actively focus on rewiring your old habits.
  • You need a plan. You need some willpower.

The reward: Habits exist because they reward us.

  • Give yourself bigger rewards for bigger achievements. But after you finish them.
  • Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. It helps to add a new reward if you want to overcome your previous cravings.
  • Only once your brain starts expecting a reward will the important rewiring takes place that will allow you to create new habits.

The belief: To change your habits, you need to change your underlying belief.

  • Habits have power because you believe in them.
  • Joining a student community helps, either online or in real life.
  • Trust your system. You have to feel happy and worry-free when you are resting.

Tools and Tricks to beat procrastination

Weekly/Daily list: Researchers showed that writing your daily list the evening before helps you accomplish them the next day. If you don’t write them down, they will take the valuable slots of memory. Plan  leisure time. Plan your finishing time, this is as important as planning your working time.

Try to eat a frog in the morning. Work in the most important and most disliked task first, even if it’s only one pomodoro.

Take notes about what works and what doesn’t.

Have a backup plan for when you will still procrastinate.

Focus on Process: Focus on process (I’m gonna work for 20 minutes), not product (I have to finish this big home assignment).

You should realize that it’s perfectly normal to start a learning session with a negative feeling even if you like the subject. It’s how you handle those feelings that matters. Focus on the process, not the product. The product is what triggers the pain that causes you to procrastinate. Instead of saying “I will solve this task today”, put your best effort for a period of time continuously over the days.

Diving deeper into memory

Use your visual memory to remember things.

Images help you encapsulate a very hard to remember concept by tapping into visual areas with enhanced memory abilities.

The more neural hooks you can build by evoking the senses the easier it will be for you to recall the concept.

Keep repeating what you want to learn so that the metabolic toxins won’t suck away the neural patterns related to that memory. Spaced repetition is the key.

Flashcards help. Consider using Anki.

Handwriting helps you deeply convert what you are trying to learn into neural memory structures.

Memory Techniques

Create meaningful groups and abbreviations.

To remember numbers, associate them to memorable events.

Create mnemonic phrases from first letters of the words you want to remember.

Memory Palace Technique: Use a familiar place (like the blueprint of your house) and associate visual images of things you want to remember with physical places.

This is not easy. You’ll be very slow at first. But with practice, you’ll get better. The more you practice your “memory muscle” the easier you’ll remember.

Reading from the third  week I liked

Week 4: Renaissance Learning and Unlocking Your Potential

How to Become a Better Learner

You should know: Exercising is by far more effective than any drug to help you learn better. It helps new neurons survive.

Learning doesn’t always progress linearly and logically. Inevitably your brain will hit a knowledge-collapse sometimes. This usually means your brain is restructuring its understanding, building a more solid foundation.You learn complex concepts by trying to make sense out of the information you perceive. Not by having someone else telling it to you.

Metaphors and analogies are very helpful, not only to memorize, but to also understand different concepts. It is often helpful to pretend that you are the concept you’re trying to understand.

Intelligence does matter. Being smart usually equate to having a large working memory (more than just four slots). However, a super working memory can hold its thoughts so tightly that new thoughts won’t easily find a way into the brain. Such a tightly controlled attention could use an occasional breath of ADHD. You attention shifts even if you don’t want it to shift.

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life. Deliberate practice is what helps the average brain lift into the realm of those naturally gifted. Practicing certain mental patterns deepens your mind.Brilliant scientist like Ramón y Cajal, the father of neuroscience, or Charles Darwin, were not exceptionally gifted. The key to their success was perseverance, taking responsibility for their learning and changing their thoughts.

Take pride in the qualities you excel at. Tune people out if they try to demean your efforts.

The Value of Teamwork

Right hemisphere: helps us put our work into the big picture perspective and does reality checks. When you go through a homework or test questions and don’t go back to check your work, you’re acting like a person who’s refusing to use parts of his brain.

Left hemisphere: interprets the world for us but with a tendency for rigidity, dogmatism and egocentricity. May lead to overconfidence.

Practical advice

Always step back and recheck to takes advantages of abilities of both-hemispheres interactions.

Brainstorm and find focused people to analyze your work with.

Your errors are sometimes easier to be found by others.

Explaining yourself to others helps you understand more.

Studying in a team helps you catch what you missed, or what you can’t see.

Don’t fool yourself. Don’t blindly believe in your intellectual abilities. Having a team can bring those projections down.

Checklist to test how well you prepared for the test

Did you make a serious effort to understand the text?

  1. If you had a study guide, did you go through it?
  2. Did you attempt to outline every homework problem solution?
  3. Did you understand all your homework problems’ solutions? If not, did you ask for explanations?
  4. Did you work with classmates on homework problems? checked your solutions?
  5. Did you consult your instructor/teacher when you had a problem with something?
  6. Did you sleep well the night before the test?

Test Taking Technique

Hard Start — Jump to easy.

  1. Take a quick look at the test when it’s handed to you to get a sense of what it involves.
  2. Start with the hardest problem.
  3. Pull yourself out if you get stuck for over 2 minutes. Starting with a hard problem loads your focused mode first and then switches attention away from it. This allows the diffused mode to start its work.
  4. Turn next to an easy problem. Solves what you can, then move back to a hard one. This allows the different part of your brain to work simultaneously on different thoughts.

Being Stressed before a test is normal. The body puts ups out chemicals when it’s under stress. How you interpret the body reaction to those chemicals makes all the difference.

Shift your thinking from “I am afraid of this test” to “I am excited to do my best”.

If you are stressed during a test, turn your attention to breathing. Relax, put your hand on your stomach and slowly draw some deep breaths. This will calm you down.

Relax your brain on the last day before a test. Have a quick final look at the materials. Feeling guilty the last day is a natural reaction even if you prepared well.

Good worry motivates you. Bad worry wastes your energy.

Double check your answers. Look away, shift your attention, and then recheck.

Reading from the fourth week I liked


Acknowledgements and references:

  1. The base notes from the course by melfou
  2. Original course Learning how to learn on Coursera

 

World of distraction and growing up

Distraction habit comes from childhood. When a baby grabs something not supposed to have, parents distract him from that thing with sticking a bright ring in his face or something he wanted to have. When a baby gets older, distraction gets more complicated, but it’s a huge form of manipulation.

There are important questions: how the world is run, what the government does with our tax money, what our representatives do with our lives. There are trivial questions: what smartphone to buy or which singer is in trend.

The government and big companies use the same sort of distraction as our parents to move our attention from the really important questions to those unimportant. We are drugged by trivial choices that we forget that the really important choices are.

We can choose trivial things and it gives us the appearance of choice ways without realizing that actually the important choices are out of our hands. The worst part is that when we grow up we give up thinking about big questions. We think about the money, the staff we could buy for them. We move from the outward perspective, how to make the world a better place to live, to egocentric one, like which app to download and which shop to buy food at.

Remember yourself as a child. You wanted to be active, you wanted to be a part of the world and change it. But you were fooled.

I don’t want to be fooled and drugged by trivial choices, thus I need education. I have to educate myself, my family and people around me if I want to have a more democratic society.

Grownup is a matter of balancing idealism with pragmatism.

I think the first thing you need to do is to reexamine the idea of what it means to be a grownup. It’s definitely not about possessions and right social behavior.

More to read:
  1. Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age
  2. Why Growing Up Is Hard to Do
  3. Shadow Work and the Rise of Middle-Class Serfdom

Umwelt — the universe inside the head

Umwelt — the universe in our brain, the full set of patterns, meanings, symbols, histories, stories, and predictions.

Our umwelt is our internal model of the universe. When we are born, our umwelt doesn’t include much more than the smell of our mother, light and dark, heart beats, and whatever music our parents were listening to when we were in utero.

When we start to understand and learn about new things, the umwelt shifts to allow for new experience. New data get added to our umwelt and we learn how to recognize it, correlate it with other patterns we already know.

Each of our umwelts are a unique interpretation and model of the universe. There are seven billion different umwelts on the planet.

We spend a lot of time under the assumption that my umwelt is the same as yours. Growing up is about creating an umwelt that can consistently predict how other umwelts will react in different circumstances.

In our umwelt, patterns are lists of other patterns, and are indistinguishable from memories and stories.

Most of the data in the universe is invisible to us. Even the tiny fraction that reaches us in some way or another, has to be sifted out. Only data that will help us tell better stories, find better patterns, and create more meaning in our existing umwelt will be stored for later use.

What remains is a poorly drawn stick-figure drawing of the universe in our minds. Which is, to us, dazzling in its complexity, delightful in its intricacy, wonderous in its expansiveness. A poorly drawn stick-figure, but the only one we will ever know.

Origin

Dunning-Kruger effect and inadequate level of competence

The Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyse their performance, leading to a significant overestimation of themselves.

In simple words it’s “people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.
The inverse also applies: competent people tend to underestimate their ability compared to others; this is known as impostor syndrome.

The principle is illustrated indirectly by the common saying that

“I’ve learned enough about ________ to know what I don’t know.”

The implication is that someone who hasn’t learned much about the subject would have no appreciation for how much there is to learn about it, and so might grossly overestimate their level of understanding.

If you have no doubts whatsoever about your competence, you could just be that damn good. On the other hand you can be significantly wrong.

Comparison of actual score vs perceived score

A well-calibrated and honest set of predictions would follow a straight line (i.e., prediction of ability matches the outcome). However, experimentally it was found that people consistently over-estimated their ability. Graphed as a proportion of the over-estimate, those in the lowest quartile were guilty of the most significant over-estimation.

Dunning-Kruger effect

Original