Summarising books, podcasts and videos in simple language
Welcome to the Webb's Wide World!!
I read a lot of self-help books, business books and articles. I also watch informative YouTube Videos and listen to Podcasts. I couldn't remember everything I viewed, listened to and read. This was a problem for me, so I started taking notes.
I have spoken to lots of people who claim they don't have time to read, watch videos and all the other ways I like to learn new things. Since I was learning all these things anyway and keeping notes, I decided some people might like to see what I've learnt. So on this blog I hope to summarise information I found interesting in simple language. I find simple language the easiest to read and therefore the easiest to learn from, so you will never read a post where I have vomited a vulgar cacophonous plethora of obnoxiously grandiose words. I just write simply.
Hopefully you learn something useful or interesting, if not I will do my best to change that.
Does your work light a fire inside you or does it consume you? If you’re passionate about work, it can be the best feeling in the world, or it can burn you out.
This is the kind of passion you want in life.
Harmonious passion will give you energy, harmonious passion will give you meaning, harmonious passion will make your life vibrant.
You will perform better at work, you will seem happier to your friends and you will be more resilient to the struggles of life.
Then there is the other kind of passion…
Obsessive passion is always on your mind, even when you don’t want it to be.
Obsessive passion interferes with your social life, you just can’t help but check your emails over dinner. You find yourself unable to hold conversations because you’re too distracted and anything not building your dream feels like a waste of time.
If something goes wrong at work, your whole world comes crashing down. You feel like your value and self-worth comes from your work, so if you fail or get fired, you are a failure.
As you master a skill, you will find there are fewer resources available and fewer people who’s skill level exceeds your own.
Once you reach the boundaries of human knowledge in a subject, there is no set path to improving.
You have to experiment and figure out what works for yourself.
3 Types of Experimentation for Learning
Experimenting in learning is about testing an idea, seeing if it works and doing more of what works.
Experimenting with Resources
To experiment with your resources plan a small project using a new medium or learning resource, dedicating a noticeable amount of time to it.
Then move on to the next if you don’t like it, if you do, then stick with it.
Experimenting with Technique
Once you have the basics of a skill down, its less about “how should I learn this?” and more about “what should I learn next?”.
If you were learning to draw, you may have got by doing perspective by eye, but you could try improving your perspective with vanishing points or a full perspective grid.
Experimenting with Style
There’s no one right way to do art or solve a problem.
Raphael, Picasso and Van Gogh all have completely different looking art, yet they are all considered masters.
Maybe you can’t draw with a pencil, but you create beautiful paintings or charcoals. Try each style aggressively before you move on.
Learn your strengths and weaknesses so you can cultivate your favourite styles or create your own.
This is a combination of a Growth Mindset (knowing that your knowledge and skills are not fixed, but can be improved at any time) and the knowing that you don’t know what you don’t know.
You can only find out by exploring for yourself.
How to Experiment
It’s all well and good, knowing that experimentation helps, but how do you do it?
Copy, then Create
Choose some work you admire, then copy it.
It’s that simple.
This will allow you to draw inspiration from others and help you to deconstruct what is and isn’t good practice in your chosen skill.
If you were a writer looking to explain things more clearly, you could read good explanations and break down what makes them good.
Is it their use of examples? Analogies? Or something else?
Spot the Difference
Remember the game from when you were a kid, where two similar pictures were next to each other and you had to spot where a character’s tail was missing in one or a window had a face in one but not the other?
Try this with your learning.
Take two approaches to learning a skill, then compare the results.
This could help you find a technique you prefer or it could show more than one solution to a problem.
You could, if you were a developer try solving a coding problem, use two different languages to see how they’re performance differs or if one requires less challenging syntax.
Introduce New Constraints
Sometimes being constrained actually forces you to be more creative.
One of Dr. Seuss’s most popular works “Green Eggs and Ham” came about because someone bet him he could not write a story only using 50 unique words.
Haiku’s are massively popular despite their rigid rules (five syllables, then seven, then five again) and many of Shakespeares greatest poems were confined to the rules of sonnets (rhyming as such: a-b-a-b c-d-c-d e-f-e-f g-g).
Find your unique combination of skills
You probably aren’t the best striker in the world, nor the best mathematician or best violinist.
You may just be the best mathematical-striker-violinist.
The author of Dilbert has said before that he is not the funniest person ever, nor the best at drawing or workplace satire, but he can combine all three to make a hugely popular web-comic series.
Explore the Extremes
Many great things happen at the boundaries.
Some of Van Gogh’s best works were using the brightest colours, the thickest paints, the fastest drafts.
Take something to the limit and see what you can achieve.
Do you ever struggle to remember the Pythagoras’ theorem, even though it was drilled into your head in school?
Memory isn’t perfect.
We forget things.
Scott Young, who wrote Ultralearning, says there are 3 reasons we forget:
Memories fade over time.
Try to remember your Reception teacher’s face. What colour was their hair? What about their eyes? Did they have a soft or harsh voice?
Now do the same for your boss at work.
Much easier, right?
Memories lose their potency over time, because our brain has retrieved them recently, so the pathways in your brain become less defined, they decay.
Your existing memories can actually make it harder to make new memories.
There are 2 forms of Interference:
Something you have already learned makes learning something new more difficult.
Think of all the connotations you have for the word “Negative”.
Bad? Moody? A downer?
Then it may confuse you, when I say that in Psychology Negative Reinforcement can be a good thing.
Negative Reinforcement means to take something away.
This is neutral, it can be good or bad, the thing being taken away could be pain, which would be good. Or you could take away pleasure, which would be bad.
For example, you could have horrible pains that go away the moment you press a button. Eventually, through Negative Reinforcement, you will learn to press that button to take away your pain every time you feel pain.
This is where a new memory pushes out an old memory.
To be honest, I don’t know the neuroscience on this one, but I can tell you what happens.
An example, would be if you started to learn spanish and you began to forget your french.
This is the feeling when you are so close to remembering something, but you just can’t quite get the words out.
You know if you just hear the first letter or the start of the phrase, you could remember the name of the actor who played Professor X in X-Men.
The little jog you need to remember is your cue.
If you know your cue for remembering something, this can be very useful for triggering a memory when needed.
Like when people make L’s with their hands to remember left and right.
How To Remember
There are 3 main ways to retain memories long term
Spacing means learning your new skill over gradually increasing time-intervals, rather than all at once in one big cram session.
Spacing works best for things you can get right or wrong: facts, definitions, vocabulary ,etc.
Spacing needs to be done within reason, once a twice a week would be sensible, rather than once or twice every 10 years.
Too long a gap and you will have forgotten so much there won’t have been anything to retain.
You can keep practicing even once you have mastered the skill. You may be able to play a song end to end. Can you do it 5 times in a row with no mistakes and no hesitation? Can you play the song with no warm up? Just pick up the guitar and strum it out? If no, then you can still overlearn some more.
Practice at a level that is more difficult than required. The famous cartoon threat of “I could beat you with one arm tied behind my back” may actually have some relevance here. If you can master a song at a faster tempo than is actually required and with added accents on notes, then the real thing will be easier. If you forget your own harder version, your memory may just decay to the actual level needed.
Retention is easy to confuse with retrieval, but they are different. Retrieval is about being able to recall a memory or learned skill when needed, retention is about maintaining the same level of skill or ability to remember over a long stretch of time.
This tells you, at best, if something was good or bad.
You don’t get specific advice.
Examples of outcome feedback include:
A Grade on an exam
A view count on a video
Claps from an audience
This is a direct reaction to what you’re attempting.
This is different to outcome feedback, as it happens immediately.
With Informational feedback, you can see straight away that something is wrong, but you will have no clues as to how to correct the problem.
A native speaker looking confused when you use a word incorrectly in their language
An error message telling you your code couldn’t run
Throwing a dart and missing the board
This is advice given by a mentor, teacher or expert.
The most useful and sadly least common type of feedback. This is because it requires the most effort to give to you.
A teacher can see what you’ve done wrong and offer ways for you to improve.
Amateurs may offer you corrections, but their advice is less likely to be accurate or helpful.
Examples of corrective feedback include:
A driving instructor helping you correct a manoeuvre
Ideal solutions to a maths problem set
A Yogi correcting your posture
How to Improve Feedback
You can’t always get corrective feedback, but Young has some tactics to improve any feedback you can get.
If you are writing a blog and one post happens to go viral, think to yourself
“Is this my best post?”
In situations such as these that can’t be easily measured for quality, try to not confuse luck with skill.
Try to pick measures of success that more accurately describe success, for the blog example, this could be people leaving relevant comments on the post, to show you they really engaged with the content.
Hitting the Difficulty Sweet Spot
Every practice session, ask yourself if you are finding it too difficult or too easy.
If it’s the former, find a way to make the task easier, if it’s the latter make it harder.
Making a task harder could be playing a song faster than usual, or adding accents to the notes.
Making a song easier to play, could be to play slower, or just focus on the rhythm until you have that part down.
You can analyse your learning technique by collecting data as you go.
If you were doing maths, you could compare how many questions you get correct week on week.
If it was a language, how many mistakes you make in each conversation.
If you notice you are progressing slower than you were before, it would be a good time to consider making some improvements to your project.
High-Intensity, Rapid Feedback
This can be emotionally very difficult, at first.
Getting severe, critical feedback doesn’t feel nice, but getting used to that feeling and realising you can use it to progress is an excellent way to improve.
If you are learning to draw, expose your drawings to a teacher or a forum where people will criticise your work.
If you are doing a team sport or music, get out there and play in front of people
If you want to create a product, start selling it to people and give them a way to leave reviews, angry people are more likely to reply, but that gives you plenty of access to information on how to improve.
If this post was helpful or not please let me know below, try to offer corrective advice when you do ;).
Think about something you are learning. What’s the part you find hardest to improve? That’s the thing you work on.
Focusing on the parts you enjoy feels nicer, but it is not the best way to learn. To improve, to really improve, you need to focus on what you really struggle with and attack that problem ruthlessly.
Remove the Noise
Drills take away all the parts of what you want to learn, except the one aspect you want to improve.
If you’re playing guitar, you need rhythm, pick technique, finger placement etc. To drill, you would pick one of these and work at just that.
Last week, we looked at why Directness is the best way to learn a whole skill.
Drills are the opposite of Directness. They help you improve a small slice of a skill.
They remove all the real-world subtleties you can’t simulate, doing nothing but drills would mean you wouldn’t be able to Transfer your skills.
Drills are for improving weak spots, not replacing your whole project.
To overcome lack of Transfer, you work directly on the problem, then drill your weak point, then go back to directness and cycle through as needed. Keeping all that precious Transfer.
How Do You Drill?
Designing a good drill, requires that you know what to drill, how to do it and that you actually do it.
Take a small piece of the main skill and work on it. Once you’ve mastered it, use the small piece as part of the whole again, for example:
Go over the few tricky bars in a song, then practice the whole song.
Take the same type of shot in football, then play a match.
Go over key phrases in a new language, then talk to someone in that language.
Skills are actually multiple smaller skills put together. Removing all the other parts you need to focus on, allows you to hone in on the one bit you want to drill.
Going back to the guitar example, if you wanted to work on rhythm, you could strum the beat of the song and mute the strings with your hand, so you don’t have to worry about the melody or your left hand at all.
Copying other work reduces the amount of thinking required to create the drill, so you can focus all your mental effort on the drill itself. You don’t have to work so hard to design a drill if it’s already been designed.
If you wanted to practice being more succinct in your writing, you could take someone’s essay and try to summarise it in fewer words. You could even do it with your own writing.
Magnifying Glass Method
If you can’t find a way to extract the specific sub-skill you want to improve, spend more time and effort on it instead.
If you want to do better research for projects, spend 10 times longer than you normally would.
Start learning a skill without learning all the things you “should” learn first.
You can waste a lot of time and a lot of motivation learning all the basics you think you should learn first.
For example, when learning to draw, you can just start drawing, but you may realise that things at a distance don’t look right, so you learn perspective, you carry on drawing, suddenly things don’t look 3d enough, so you learn proper shading, rinse and repeat.
Whereas if you started off with perspective and shading, you might never have enjoyed drawing in the first place.
Drills aren’t fun, but they are an effective way to aggressively improve. Learn the rest of the principles here.
Let me know some ideas you’ve had for effective drills below.