Learning Course #8: Procrastination and Memory (week 3 lectures) #LH2L1

Here are the points I want to remember or be able to find again from the videos of the third week of the Learning course*

Tackling procrastination – It’s easier, and more valuable, than you think

  • Understanding a little about the cognitive psychology of procrastination, just like understanding the chemistry of poison, can help us develop healthy preventatives.
  • By putting the same amount of time into your learning but spacing that learning out by starting earlier you’ll learn better.
  • You shouldn’t waste willpower on fending off procrastination except when absolutely necessary.
  • Procrastination can be a single monumentally important keystone bad habit
  • Procrastination shares features with addiction. It offers temporary excitement and relief from sometimes boring reality.
  • It’s easy to fool yourself for example into thinking that the best use of any given moment is.
  • Strategies for dealing with procrastination are simple. It’s just that sometimes they aren’t intuitively obvious.

Zombies everywhere

  • Habit is an energy saver for us. It allows us to free our mind for other types of activities. It saves energy.
  • Habits have four parts. 

1. The cue. This is the trigger that launches you into zombie mode. A cue by itself is neither helpful or harmful, it’s the routine. What we do in reaction to that cue, that’s what matters.
2. The routine. The habitual response your brain is used to falling into when it receives the cue.
3. The reward. Every habit develops and continues because it rewards us. It gives us an immediate little feeling of pleasure. Finding ways to reward good study habits is important for escaping procrastination.
4. The belief. Habits have power because of your belief in them. To change a habit, you’ll need to change your underlying belief.

Surf’s up: Process versus product

  • Use mental tools and tricks to inspire and motivate yourself.
  • It’s normal to start with a few negative feelings about beginning a learning session. It’s how you handle those feelings that matters. Quit wasting time and just get on with it, once you get going, you’ll feel better about it.
  • Focus on process not product. Process means, the flow of time and the habits and actions associate with that flow of time. 
  • Product is an outcome, for example a homework assignment that you need to finish.
  • To prevent procrastination you want to avoid concentrating on product.
  • Instead, your attention should be on building processes.
  • The product is what triggers the pain that causes you to procrastinate.
  • Who cares, whether you finish the homework or grasp the key concepts in any one session.
  • By focusing on process rather than product, you allow yourself to back away from judging yourself, am I getting closer to finishing? And instead you allow yourself to relax into the flow of the work.

Harnessing your zombies to help you

  • You don’t want to do a full scale change of old habits. You just want to override parts of them and develop a few new ones.
  • Change your reaction to a cue. The only place you need to apply willpower is to change your reaction to the cue. 
  • To understand that, it helps to go back through the four components of habit and re-analyze them from the perspective of procrastination.
  • You can prevent the most cues by shutting off your cell phone or keeping yourself away from the internet and other distractions for brief periods of time.
  • The key to rewiring your old habit is to have a plan. Developing a new ritual can be helpful.
  • Your plan may not work perfectly at first, but just keep at it. Adjust the plan if necessary, and savor those victories when your plan works.
  • Don’t try to change everything at once
  • Why are you procrastinating? Can you substitute in emotional payoff, maybe a feeling of pride for accomplishing something, even if it’s small, a sense of satisfaction.
  • Can you win a small internal bet?
  • Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. It helps to add a new reward if you want to overcome your previous cravings.
  • Don’t feel bad if you find you have trouble getting into a flow state at first.
  • Also remember that the better you get at something, the more enjoyable it can become.
  • The most important part of changing your procrastination habit is the belief that you can do it. 
  • Belief that your new system works is what can get you through.

Juggling life and learning

  • Once a week write a brief weekly list of key tasks in a planner journal.
  • Write a daily list of the tasks that you can reasonably work on or accomplish the evening before. 
  • Why the evening before? Research has shown that this helps your subconscious to grapple with the tasks on the list so you can figure out how to accomplish them.
  • But once you make a task list, it frees working memory for problem solving.
  • Mixing other tasks up with your learning seems to make everything more enjoyable and keeps you from prolonged and unhealthy bouts of sitting.
  • Make notes in your planner journal about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Those who are committed to maintaining healthy leisure time along with their hard work, outperform those who doggedly pursue an endless treadmill. 
  • Try to squeeze a little break time in. 
  • Eat your frogs first in the morning. Try to work on a most important and most disliked task first.

Summing up procrastination

  • Keep a planner journal so you can easily track when you reach your goals and observe what does and doesn’t work.
  • Commit yourself to certain routines and tasks each day.
  • Write your planned tasks out the night before so your brain has time to dwell on your goals and help ensure success.
  • Arrange your work into a series of small challenges.
  • Always make sure you, and your zombies, get lots of rewards.
  • Take a few minutes to savor the feelings of happiness and triumph, which also gives your brain a chance to temporarily change modes.
  • Deliberately delay rewards until you’ve finished a task.
  • Watch for procrastination cues.
  • Try putting yourself in new surroundings with few procrastination cues, such as the quiet section of a library.
  • Gain trust in your new system.
  • You want to work hard during times of focused concentration and also to trust your system enough so that when it comes time to relax, you actually relax without feelings of guilt or worry.
  • Have back up plans for when you still procrastinate.
  • Eat your frogs first every day.

Diving deeper into memory

  • We have outstanding visual and spacial memory systems that can help form part of our long-term memory. If you were asked to look around a house you never visited before your mind would acquire and retain thousands of new pieces of information.
  • To begin tapping into your visual memory system try making a very memorable visual image representing one key item you want to remember. Part of the reason an image is so important to memory is that images connect directly to your right brain’s visual spacial centers.
  • The more neural hooks you can build by evoking the senses, the easier it will be for you to recall the concept and what it means.
  • The funnier and more evocative the images, the better. The idea should be memorable. 
  • Repetition’s important. Even when you make something memorable, repetition helps get that memorable item firmly lodged into long-term memory. Repeat sporadically over several days.
  • Index cards can often be helpful.
  • Handwriting helps you to more deeply encode, that is convert into neuro-memory structures what you are trying to learn.
  • Once you’ve given your flash cards a good try, put them away. Wait and take them out again, maybe before you go to sleep. 
  • Sleep is when your mind repeats patterns and pieces together solutions.
  • Great flash card systems like Anki have build in algorithms that repeat in scale ranging from days to months.
  • One of the best ways to remember people’s names, is to simply try to retrieve the people’s names from memory at increasing time intervals.

What is long term memory?

  • What would it be like if you couldn’t learn new things.
  • At the age of 27, HM had an operation for epilepsy that took out his hippocampus on both sides of his brain. HM could no longer remember new things. HM could learn other things, like a new motor skill, but he could not remember having learned it.
  • There are multiple memory systems for different types of learning.
  • HM could remember things from his childhood but he had trouble remembering things that had occurred in the years just before his operation, things that had not yet become fully consolidated. .
  • Memories are not fixed but living, breathing parts of your brain that are changing all of the time. 
  • reconsolidationWhenever you recall a memory, it changes, a process called, reconsolidation.
  • The green process of consolidation takes the brain state in active memory and stores it in long term memory by modifying synapses on the dendrites of neurons.
  • These long term memories can remain dormant for a long time until the memory is retrieved and reinstated, by the red process, in short term working memory.
  • The reinstated memory is in a new context, which can itself be transferred to long term memory, thereby, altering the old memory though reconsolidation.
  • Our memories are intertwined with each other. 
  • As we learn new things, our old memories also change. 
  • Like consolidation, reconsolidation also occurs during sleep.
  • This is why it is more effective to space learning over time, rather than mass learning all at once.

Creating meaningful groups and the memory palace technique

  • Another key to memorization it to create meaningful groups that simplify the material.
  • E.g.: Garlic, rose, hawthorn and mustard. The first letters abbreviate to GRHM, so all you need to do to remember is use the image of a graham cracker.
  • Many disciplines use memorable sentences to help students memorize concepts.
  • The first letter of each word in the sentence is also the first letter of each word in a list that needs to be memorized. 
  • The memory palace technique is a particularly powerful way of grouping things you want to remember. It involves calling to mind a familiar place. Like the layout of your house, and using it as a sort of a visual notepad where you can deposit the concept images that you want to remember. All you have to do is call to mind the place you’re familiar with.
  • The memory palace technique is useful for remembering unrelated items, such as a grocery list.
  • It takes a bit of time to conjure up a solid mental image.
  • But the more you do it, the quicker it becomes.
  • In using the mind this way, memorization can become an outstanding exercising creativity that simultaneously build neural hooks for even more creativity.
  • Memory tricks allow people to expand their working memory with easy access to long term memory.
  • You’ll also realize that as you begin to internalize key aspects of the material taking a little time to commit the most important points to memory you come to understand it much more deeply.

Summing up memory

  • Long term memory, which is like a storage warehouse. You need to practice and repeat in order to store items in long term memory so you can retrieve them more easily.
  • Practicing and repeating, all in one day, is a bad idea.
  • Working memory, which is like a poor blackboard that quickly fades. You can only hold about four items in your working memory.
  • When you master a technique or concept in some sense, it compacts the ideas so they can occupy less space in your working memory when you do bring them to mind.
  • This frees your mental thinking space so that it can more easily grapple with other ideas.
  • We have outstanding visual and spatial memory systems.
  • If you tap into those systems, it will help improve your memory.
  • To begin tapping into your visual memory system, try making a very memorable visual image representing one key item you want to remember.
  • Beyond merely seeing, try to feel, to hear and even to smell something you’re trying to remember.
  • The funnier and more evocative the image is, the better.
  • As always, repetition over several days is really helpful.
  • Another key to memorization is to create meaningful groups that simplify the material.
  • Try associating numbers with years or with systems you’re familiar with like running times.
  • Many disciplines use memorable sentences.
  • The memory palace technique, placing memorable images in a scene that’s familiar to you, allows you to dip into the strength of your visual memory system, providing a particularly powerful way of grouping things you want to remember.
  • By making meaningful groups and abbreviations, you can simplify and chunk what you’re trying to learn so you can more easily store it in memory.
  • And by memorizing material you understand, you can internalize the material in a profound way.

Interview with Dr. Robert Gamache, an award-winning bilingual scientist

  • I use a bilingual as an example of why students should study every subject every day.
  • If you study it every day, it’s just there in your brain and you don’t have to do a lot to recall information.
  • I think of it as like strumming a guitar. After you strum it, it resonates and it continues to, to resonate and send out the sound
  • I hardwired my brain to solve problems. Like learning an instrument. By practicing continuously, you can bring those, those parts of a melody to mind instantly, and, and play them and fit them together in new ways more easily, and that can be a very effective technique for learning.
  • My discovery was serendipitous. While eating dinner and conversation, suddenly the answer would just pop up in my mind.
  • Downtime can be very beneficial. The gears are always turning.

Interview with Dr. Norman Fortenberry – Learning at MIT

  • The key lesson in, in collegiate study, at least in engineering school, is you are part of a team. And if you don’t have a team, you find a team.
  • I didn’t suddenly become less smart once I got to MIT. There were some extremely bright people, but I was one of those bright people. And that I needed to build a community of support around me. I gave support. I received support.
  • The objective is to finish the class. Even in grad school, the objective is to get the degree. And you keep your eye focused on the prize, and you fight it out, and you get through.
  • Write it out by hand so that you’ve got the muscle memory, repeating it back to yourself. See it, say it, spell it, whatever.
  • As many input modes, you’ve got your auditory learners, your visual learners.
  • Multi-mode input is critical for learning.

Interview with Scott Young, a “Marco Polo” of learning

  • How do you avoid illusions of competence in learning?
  • Dive into a position where you might be wrong as soon as possible.
  • Do your best to do the problem sets without having the solutions at hand.
  • Test yourself as frequently as possible.
  • He want through meticulously, not only trying to understand everything that was in that paper, but of the papers it sourced.
  • The first rule is not to fool yourself, but you are the easiest person to fool.
  • Find simple analogies that are, are metaphors … looking through your mind for examples or stories or things that you are familiar with, and like, fitting a jigsaw piece into a puzzle
  • The most creative professors are always the ones who use these kinds of analogies. And the ones who are more pedantic, a little more by the book, often aren’t as creative about how they approach things.
  • If you’re not used to math, don’t take that as a sign that maybe you’re bad at math, but just that you need to put more time in.
  • If you are willing to be bit more adventurous, there’s literally almost no topic you can’t learn through this kind of structured, university-like format through the resources available online.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” course I am taking.

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