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Adventures with Oneself - Part I

August 7, 2018 Voices Dr. David Wong-Campos

It is safe to assume that at some point in our lives we’ve wanted to master some skill or be good at a subject such as, say, playing the banjo or maybe mastering quantum mechanics. If you ever wondered how to do so, you might have stumbled upon Malcolm Gladwell's 10000 hours rule [1]. Although invalid, the rule posits that to be good at anything, you should spend about 10,000 hours on such subject, which is funny, since we spend a lot of our childhood and adulthood in places like schools or colleges giving us a grand total of more than 20,000 hrs by the time we are done with high school (yes, that is a conservative estimate!).

Thinking on it, I asked myself, did I really master anything after all those years? The answer was an absolute no and it has been pretty much a source of frustration over the years. I eventually came to the realization that what is really important is the intensity to which we learn something. By intense, I mean that we focus, as much as we can, our senses and attention on a given task or subject. In fact, actual scientific studies [2] reveal that this is indeed true, and after two weeks of learning something, we tend to remember 90% if we simulate the experience/lesson or practice the skill while only 20-30% sticks with us if we either watch videos or hear somebody speak. It is clear from those studies that active learning (the one that uses our full mental and physical attention capacity) tends to engrave knowledge deeper into our brains than just watching someone explain or do something.

It is no surprise why we don't learn too much during our school years, and this is exacerbated by the fact that we don't all learn the same way, i.e. some people are more visual than others. For these types of people, the system's rigid boundaries can hamper creativity and free thinking. We are talking that from those +20,000 hrs, less than 4000 might have represented a meaningful academic learning that stuck with us in the upcoming years.

Good examples of high-intensity learning are the people who migrate to a country of another tongue and are forced to understand and be understood in the shortest amount of time, usually within a few months. Although the intensity of this example is fueled by need, and possibly despair, other examples such as young homeschooled kids performing above their grade level show that intensity fueled from things like close personal attention during the learning process can also stimulate fast learning.

So, I guess it’s time to get intense with our senses.


Source Material
[1] https://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/complexity-and-the-ten-thousand-hour-rule
[2] For more references, see article: https://www.revinax.net/virtual-learning-and-memory/

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