Education · English

Lessons on Learing How to Learn

I started the course on LEARNING HOW TO LEARN because I wanted to lose my fear of tackling difficult subjects and tasks. Some call it procrastination, and I was a mistress on this subject. It never seemed too dangerous to me because, during my school years, I would do well on tests without much effort. I had good grades, but I wanted to be an average girl and not call much attention to myself. I almost made a point in not doing any extra effort, to avoid doing too well. As a result, I never used this capability as an extra power to tackle more difficult subjects. At the end, I became lazy and undisciplined to study and work.

Then I grew up, finished Law School and moved to Spain. Here I started two Masters in different fields. As much as I enjoyed going to class and learn, discuss and be around great minds and ideas, I could not finish any of the final thesis. Hence, I don’t have either certificate. My mom says I was too proud to admit that I needed help. That I didn’t want to show that couldn’t do it all by myself. But looking backwards, I felt a pressure (from myself) to keep being good without doing much so, if something was actually hard, I would give up completely, in order to avoid the shame of not being perfect. Moreover, I lived by the belief that we have natural talents. So if it was not easy, it was simply not my thing. I ended up without options, because I didn’t think I was really good at anything.

Still, I am very proud of the choices I made in my life, and I know that what I am and what I do now is a consequence of those choices. So, as much as I don’t want to change my past, I would like to send a message to my younger self. Tell her the things she couldn’t see so clear at the time. And hopefully, it’ll help me to move forward, in the direction I want to go. I concentrate you the things I learned in the course, because I think it could really help a lot of other girls out there.

Dear young Me,

As much as you find it weird (to speak with an older version of yourself) I am probably the person that knows you best, so stay with me.

I know how boring it can be to study again at home what you have just learned at school. But whatever you are watching on tv right now is such a waste of time and won’t take you anywhere. Consider studying a little bit everyday. It doesn’t need to be hours, in fact, your study sessions should be divided in shorter periods of intense concentration, with some time to relax in between. There are studies that say repetition, recalling and doing self-tests are useful strategies to build chucks and move them to the long-term memory. Besides, you can train to become a teacher, which is something that you could get really good at.

You procrastinate because you think whatever task you have at hand is too painful to do it now, so you postpone it into the future and do something pleasurable instead. But studies say that once you start doing whatever you had to do, the feeling of pain dissipates. So you just need to start, really. The Pomodoro technique is a trick to allow you to start, because you tell your mind that you will work on the task for just 25 minutes and then rest or do something else that you like for 5 minutes. You can use a timer to set the limit. During the Pomodoro, it’s important to concentrate on the process, not the product, as the product is what causes the pain.

When you feel stuck when writing, consider two things. First, it doesn’t need to be perfect, or the best thing you ever wrote. Actually, it’s probable not going to be perfect, but god is good enough. And practice makes better! Try the “Pomodoro” technique again for the first draft and never, never edit while you write. Second, try using mind mapping to put all your ideas on paper before writing the actual paper. This way, you can more easily tap into your diffuse, more creative mode and have a picture draft to work on.

Talking about focused and diffuse mode, remember when you day-dreamed during classes in Law School? That all of a sudden you would wake up and make very pertinent comments and questions? You would feel a little ashamed, but it’s a valuable ability to move from the focused mode to the diffuse mode of thinking and back. Some great inventors and artist came up with little tricks to get into the diffuse mode, where the insights happen. But you can do it in the blink of an eye, so use it to your advantage. In order not to lose track of all those great ideas you have, keep a notebook ready. Putting ideas on paper also frees up memory slots on your working memory. So you feel more relaxed and your mind is free to learn even more.

Being around creative minds is one thing you can do to be more creative. So it’s good that you choose well what groups you want to work with. It’s also good that you can change from the “top of the class” to the “group of the back”. They have different interests, so it helps you interleave and transfer knowledge from one field to others. Learning unrelated subjects can help you excel in other fields. Don’t get stuck with this idea that you should put all your energy on the subjects that are easy or natural for you. It’s an illusion, after all. It’s only when you put your mind to use, through practice, memorization and other techniques that you can really feel that you know things. Besides, it’s only when you can do it yourself that you truly can say that you understand how thing works.

I know that you dislike physical education but I don’t remember any trauma that could lead to that. Maybe a natural clumsiness derived from being so tall? Exercising help you learning better, too! It’s hard to keep the good vibe when it’s so hard to take the three steps, jump and throw the ball? Think of it as anything else that you have to memorize, such as a formula in Chemistry, or your morning routine. I am sure you never forget to put on two socks before putting on your shoes? The same should happen with volleyball and everything else. I know that have pain in your joints, but it’s because you are growing so fast. Exercise can help you on that too.

Finally, there’s a last thing that you help you a lot. It might actually change everything. You know when sometimes you are not sure if your friends and colleagues really like you or not? Well, they do. You have true friends that like you for who you are and a lot of other people who admire you. You throw parties that people want to come and this will be true in the future, too. But nothing that I say now will change anything if this little thing doesn’t happen first. You must BELIEVE in it. As much as you can’t read other people’s mind, you got to believe that you are good enough. In the course they call it IMPOSTOR’S SINDROME and it happens a lot, more than you imagine. The fear of inadequacy, of not being able to live up to others’ expectations can lead to negative feelings. But when you believe, you become bold and fearless, you risk being wrong and ultimately you learn. It’s not a destination, it’s a requirement.

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