Getting back on your horse, no matter how many times you’ve fallen off.
Project Journal Bar
In my last post,
I talked about the struggles and failures I’ve faced the past few
years. I’ve been thinking about how to tackle my short-comings and
problems to solve a single, relatively-simple issue that’s plagued me
nearly my entire life: consistency in my work ethic.
needs to be more hand-holding involved — change does not come quickly
nor simply. So I’ve devised an entirely new project for myself: Journal Bar.
This is a new blog that I’ve made where I’m going to be posting about
the progress I’ve been making weekly. The (very simple) ingenious part
is that I’m tracking the posts I write.
So, this is a sort of meta-accountability
experiment. Having a goal that’s in charge of making sure I keep
on-track with all of my other goals. The idea behind this is so simple
that I’m kicking myself for not thinking about it sooner.
idea and the progress I’ve made is very new, but I feel as though I’m
going slowly enough to ensure that I don’t fizzle out quickly and lose
interest or energy for it. In addition to keeping track of my progress,
I’ve also elected to use the blog as a space to write rough ideas that
I’ll want to implement into articles later.
Going through the whole Beeminder process again opened my eyes to a few things that I believe will be helpful regarding perseverance with long-term results:
A post-capitalist critique on boiling frogs, minimum-happiness, harmful-easy things, and lists.
Over two years ago, I wrote The Tao of Bees, where I dutifully explained the differences between commonly-used to-do lists and the more long-term, uncommonly-used system thinking as a method to maintain and accomplish your goals. In my second article, The Sting of Work, I delved deeper into the ideas behind setting better goals and maintaining them.
What has happened in the time since then? There is a rich irony in this — A schadenfreude that can be had over the fact I failed to eat my own dog food.
can be chalked up to a multitude of reasonings: No longer finding
interest in Beeminder, having a change of direction in my life, hitting a
deep episode of depressive thinking, general sheer laziness and
hypocrisy, et cetera, et cetera.
After reviewing both my minor successes and major failures over an extended period of time, there are more mature conclusions on the idea of system thinking as a way of living that I can share. This is in sharp contrast to the more idealistic and frankly naïve explanations I had a few years ago.
How to unlock the full potential of a new era of education.
For the past few years, the world of MOOC (Massively Open Online Courses) has become a fiercely large phenomenon. Across Medium and Reddit you can find great, comprehensive lists of free classes you can take:
This, however, is not one of those lists. With this new paradigm of learning, there comes the need to figuring out new methods of understanding and synthesising what is being learned. There is no curriculum, no consequences, no deadlines. This requires an exercise in self-reliance to institute. The student, in a way, must also learn how to become the teacher.
Creating lesson plan — let alone a learning path for yourself — is no simple task. And following through with it is another thing entirely. I am no expert myself, so take this rhetoric with a grain of salt. The examples I am going to be showing are only my own, as I’m using myself as a case study.
Use It or Lose It
This guide is meant as a way for you to take what you are learning and apply it in a meaningful way. It is not learning for the mere sake of learning — anybody can do that. In fact, that’s what is required of us throughout our schooling years.
The reason we forget what we learn in school is because we don’t use it in our every day life. In fact, that’s one of the biggest complaints people have in school.
One of the most effective methods to understanding the materials that you’re studying is to be passionate about them. This is the beauty of MOOCs — the idea that you can pick and choose to learn exactly and only what you want to.
Don’t jump into a new study without having a plan for it. Whenever you feel discouraged or frustrated, you can take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
There’s plenty of meaningful applications for learning new skills: to further your career, to find a new skill to freelance or moonlight with, or to contribute to a hobby or non-profit cause for the sake of goodness.
When you have a mindset of passion — of having a reason to learn and a future goal to look forward too — it is far easier to focus and digest material on a deeper level of understanding, beyond simply learning from rote.
Schedule With so much choice and freedom, it can be easy to try to accomplish too many things at once, only to end up neglecting your studies altogether. This is why it’s so important to chart out a path for yourself once you figure out what you want to accomplish.
Ask yourself how much time you’re able to sacrifice and how much effort you’ll sincerely put into this. Once you have those answers, you’ll be able to plan your own curriculum of sorts.
The Elements of a Successful Course
I’m going to break down what I think are the most important aspects when you’re learning something new on your own.
1. The Lesson
The first step is the most important part, obviously. Whether you’re taking an online course, reading a book, or studying another way — you need the content to be able to learn it. However, it’s a mistake to think that this is enough. This is really just the beginning.
2. Note Taking
The second step is to go beyond the course. Note-taking is the most often used method of retention and synthesis of learning. There are many different styles of note-taking — from traditional, to Cornell, to mind-mapping.
The exacts of successful note-taking vary from person-to-person, but I find it’s very useful to begin to index your note-taking with what you expect the themes of your learning are going to be for that lesson, followed by reviewing what the most important things you learned at the end.
There is nothing wrong with a pack-rat mentality of keeping track of everything that you’re learning, so long as it doesn’t detract from you fully comprehending what is most important.
I also suggest that you take notes by hand first — for a few years I tried to take notes on my computer, and found that even though it made organisation and searching a breeze, I felt as though I retained less. Once you have the notes written out, though, I find that migrating them to the computer does help retention and organisation.
3. Flashcards / Quizzes
The third step to better your learning is to then take your notes a step further by converting them into materials that you can test yourself with. This is why it’s so important to make sure you have the most important material kept, so you can easily create Q+A’s for it.
Some courses already have quizzes, which is excellent, but by creating your own, you’re coming up with questions as well as answers.
For flash cards, I recommend the software Anki, and this guide for it.
4. Assignments / Projects
The fourth step is what I believe is the most important. Traditionally speaking, assignments are simply another part of the system. They are usually rather dry, and have no inherent value other than for the course itself.
But with MOOCs, you have the ability to push yourself to use the knowledge that you’ve gained to create your own projects that you can freely share and use. Apply your learn and thus gain something outside of the learning as the reward.
A good example of this is that I’m in the process of making a blog with Jekyll, which has the twofold benefits of learning web development, as well as having a place to document my other learning, which leads into #5.
5. Share Your Work
Once you have finished a course, you have not only have you improved your own learning by creating all of the above resources, but you now also have the opportunity to share them with others.
Create a blog or use other social media to share what you’ve learned and what you’ve made in the process. Find others that you can collaborate and study with. Build a community of learners and creators. There is no reason to go at this alone.
The best skills to learn first are ‘meta-skills’, such as learning how to learn, time management or other skills that you can use in your studying.
Figure out a system and stick to it. Once you have a schedule made, find a way to link it to your created materials, as well as any other important information. (My personal recommendations would be OneNote for Windows, or using Sublime Text w/ Markdown for Linux.)
When you’re writing about what you’ve learned, don’t be afraid to add your own personal story or information — conglomerate multiple sources of learning for a more thorough discourse.
How to effectively go about doing what’s truly important.
PART ONE: HAVING FAITH IN GRAND DREAMS Understanding the why of the work is the most important thing that’s needed when starting out. It’s so easy to become discouraged when you’re in the the thick of the weeds, when you need to do difficult or tedious. Motivation and discipline to do such work comes from having a bigger picture — a purpose.
This purpose comes from a place of realistic optimism and idealism. It’s a messy and bold goal. A tangible, yet implausible objective without conventional measure or perspective. There’s a lot wrong with the world — and a lot of people that will complain about it — but how can you improve it? What troubles are you willing to tackle head-on for the good of humanity?
It’s a lot to ask, to a point where most people don’t even push themselves to even attempt it. And those that doattempt to achieve something grand usually stop after failing only once or twice.
The reason so few people succeed in capturing the essence of a heartfelt purpose is a lack of faith. Having the faith in yourself that you’re truly capable of accomplishing that goal, no matter the obstacles, or opinions, or failures that you will inevitably face. It takes a fair amount of foolishness to ever succeed in accomplishing audacious.
Don’t back out of a goal as soon as it looks like it’s going to fail — have more trust than doubt. Many people discuss the learning opportunities that reside in failure, but the truth of the matter is that gritting your teeth and persevering and eventually finding success is a far more enriching learning experience.
It is important to understand the context of where you currently stand in history. Research your contemporaries that have similar goals — especially if they’re currently doing far better than you are. Research the great thinkers and creators of the past, as well. Having this contextual model will not lead you to achievement, but will guide you in the right direction, like a compass.
At the same time, you must not be rigid with your objectives, either. Do not let pride get in your way — redirect your efforts if you need too. Being agile is far more intelligent than abandoning your efforts altogether and starting from square one.
PART TWO: ELIMINATING EVERYTHING NON-ESSENTIAL Simply understanding what you want to accomplish will not allow you to actually get it done. The what of work is doing the technical and nitty-gritty, which is the contrary of the initial motivating and lofty goals.
They both outstandingly require one another. Being only an idealist thinker won’t get anything done. While being only a busy-bee worker won’t get anything meaningful done.
It doesn’t matter if you are clueless when you’re first beginning — that’s normal. Mastery of any knowledge or skill requires only deliberate practice and enough time. Be humble enough to absorb the knowledge of everybody around you. Learn to constantly ask critical questions. Be resourceful with the amount of information you can find both locally and online.
Figure out priorities, examine what work needs to be done as opposed to what’s just easy and non-essential filler. The next part is vital: look at your schedule and block out large chunks of time (four to seven hours) where you just work on what’s most important.
You cannot allow yourself to be interrupted by others, or distract yourself with the plethora of attention-grabbing media that’s currently at our disposal. This can be extremely difficult at first, but don’t be afraid to communicate with others that you’re busy with something and that you’ll talk to them later.
Similarly, push yourself to sticking to one tab or application open at a time. Stop yourself from constantly jump from one inquiry to another. Be mindful of how you’re using technology — take a break every once in awhile.
A lot of people say they simply don’t have the time in their schedules to devote themselves so deeply to something. But the truth of the matter is that even if you have other responsibilities, you can fit this work into your calendar by understanding and eliminating the time you’re currently wasting — because we all waste time.
CONCLUSION: I believe we’re all given the opportunity to achieve goodness in the world that’s beyond ourselves — whether it’s in small ways or big ways. We’re all born being good at something — technical or creative — and with an intense curiosity of the world we live in.
It is far too easy to veer off the path of pioneering, to instead be comfortable with letting life pass us by. I believe that we can make the conscious decision to change that — at any point in our lives — and instead aspire to greatness. All it takes is a little courage, and a lot of reckless abandon.