Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich looks at one of the secrets of the brain’s incredible power: its ability to re-wire itself. He’s researching ways to harness this plasticity to enhance our skills and recover lost function. (Recorded at TED2004, February 2004, in Monterey, California. Duration: 23:07.)
13 Principles of Successful Learning
Who strives always to
the utmost, him
we can save.
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Principle 1. Believe in Yourself
You must have faith in your own abilities before anyone else will believe in you.
Granted, it takes an investment of time and effort according to a plan to achieve goals that are worthy of a sustained effort. When choosing your goals, though, keep in mind that your selection is best made not only considering what you will have achieved by its completion, but by who you become through your efforts.
Speaking of efforts, the hard part is actually knowing what you want–the easy part is the follow-through. When your eye is on the prize, hard work becomes easy. Once you know what you want, and believe that you can be, do and have it, the rest becomes clear(er).
As you take more steps towards your goal and gradually progress higher up the hill, the view widens along with your perspective. You’ll see options you hadn’t considered, you’ll find resources you didn’t know existed, and you’ll perceive how close your dreams are to realization in a variety of ways. There is more than one path to the same goal–choose the one that best satisfies who you want to become, and aligns with what you most value in life.
Remember, you can learn anything when you understand how your brain works and apply appropriate techniques.
Principle 2. Have a Plan
Once you know where you’re going, organize a few paths to get there. Write out your plan, whether it be for a study session or a workout or an essay or a trip to Bali.
This is important for a couple of reasons:
1. You will get tangible results by having tangible action items to complete, and
2. By reviewing your plan, you will envision and feel yourself completing the steps on your way to your goal.
This planning stage is important as it allows your brain to grasp exactly what you want and how you choose to get it. Consider this the pre-programming stage for your conscious mind. Your subconscious will respond to the way you feel about your goals, and by giving the same image to your conscious and sub-consious mind, in different ways, your efforts will come together faster and with greater benefit to you. The excitment that you feel as you talk about your goal, imagining its completion, feeling the results and who you are becoming, coupled with a tangible plan to get there, is the smartest way to synchronize your mind to work efficiently towards the same end.
Conflict within one’s mind is the greatest form of sabotage there is.
Program yourself literally with a dynamic plan–one that changes as you adapt to new information encountered along the way–for the progressive realization of an unchanging ideal.
Principle 3. Prepare the Way
Smart people identify their desired outcome, then create the circumstances that best facilitate its reality.
Success is created; there is a Science to Success. To achieve similar results as someone you admire, emulate their approach. Study their success, especially their mindset and their self-talk. You will find that people who are happy, associate with encouraging people, see the best in themselves, make the effort to improve each day, and have a dogged persistence to do what needs to be done, no matter how long it takes. They have a quiet confidence about them because they believe in their abilities and in a universe that supports their success as they take the steps they see as necessary to achieve something worth doing. In the process, they become someone worth being.
Principle 4. Apply the Pareto 80/20 Principle
The Pareto Principle states that, “for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes” [wikipedia]. The exact proportion isn’t the point; the point is that you should spend the most time engaged in activities or with people or with training that accounts for most of your good times.
If you want to make money, then spend 80 percent of your time and energy to develop the 20 percent of your systems and clients that are the most profitable.
Priorities are paramount. Some things are urgent, and some things are important. Make sure you do the important things, even if they aren’t urgent. Going for a run every day isn’t urgent, but it is important if your goal is to run a marathon or stay in good shape, for example.
Set priorities then spend time on tasks that will help you accomplish the goals that are those priorities.
In the midst of writing down plans, developing self-discipline, and making schedules, many [people, students] begin to feel that [work, school] is consuming their life. That is missing the point.
The work will be there anyway. You cannot avoid it. The time will pass anyway. You might as well use the time well and do the best that you can.
Proper planning is the wise path to take. It is both a preventative measure and one that gives you optimal results. Proper planning gives you the flexibility and room to breathe when things come up that you can’t control. By taking control of the things that ARE in your power to direct, you are more relaxed, expectant of doing well, have faith in your actions, and are ahead of the game in which many fail to plan or to know the rules.
Principle 5. Now for the Work: Discipline Yourself
Your character is the result of your habits. The best tools may be at your disposal, but if you have no willpower to apply them, these tools are useless.
Effectiveness is the measure of truth. If you know how to read but choose not to, you are no better off than someone who cannot read. “Take what you learn and make a difference with it.” (Thanks, Tony Robbins.)
Having goals, mentors, an organized plan of action that outlines your tasks, and a belief in your abilities all help your momentum forward–but if you have no desire to complete your goals, then no number of tools can do it for you. Stick to your goals no matter what. Remind yourself of the outcome and how good it feels to be taking action in that direction.
Discipline in pursuit of your goals and dreams is not a restriction of your freedom. Those things that distract you from dreams are the real limitations.
Sure, it may seem as though you are punishing your social life at times when others want to go and sit at the pub every night for hours, but remember that you’re investing in long-term gains. Any discipline it takes to stay on your chosen path is freeing.
Principle 6. Focus
Focus is a sibling to Persistence. If you want something, you give your attention to it. You continue to give your attention to it (by planning, taking action, expecting its attainment) despite all obstacles.
Focus is the mark of commitment. When you commit to something, you give your word that you will follow through. You make a promise to yourself and thus strengthen your Character by continuing to concentrate on getting what you want and wanting what you have.
Just keep on keeping on. Persistence is more important than talent, genius, or luck. All those will be useless without persistence, but persistence can bring success without them.
Principle 7. Gratitude
This is a biggie. What you appreciate, grows. Gratitude is another sibling to Focus. Focus on the good things in your life and you will have more of the same to appreciate.
When the going gets tough, just think about how fortunate you are to have your problems: if you’re a runner, remind yourself that few people know the joys of the adrenaline rush as they cross the finish line, or stick to a discipline long enough to reap the rewards. If you’re complaining about your school work–yay for you, you’re getting an education. Think of the Big Picture. Feeling a sense of Gratitude puts your life and your problems in perspective. With a refreshed attitude, you are ready and focused on taking the right actions.
Principle 8. Do a Little Each Day
Divide and conquer! This technique is also known as “chunking” larger projects into smaller tasks.
Consistency in carrying out your daily duties is key. A little investment each day in your goals will pay huge dividends.
To chunk larger goals or projects into smaller, doable tasks:
1. Analyze your project
2. Divide it into smaller separate tasks
3. Write out a list of these smaller tasks
4. Arrange these tasks in order of priority in a way that makes the most sense.
Cross off each item as you complete it, and soon enough, your long list of action items will shrink and give you further motivation to carry the momentum into your next project.
Principle 9. Filter Information: Take What is Useful
Learn to distinguish between what is useful and what is not. Keep in mind your bottom line and question the relevance of all incoming data to your goals. If something is not useful or does not serve, directly or indirectly, your ability to excel in your chosen field or to reach your chosen goal, then disregard this new information.
This is where good note-taking techniques enter into the equation. I will post an article about this. Remind me.
Principle 10. Be Results-Oriented
Working hard is dumb if you have nothing to show for it. (Hard Work is not a value in and of itself; Strength of Mind and Character, yes.) Remember what results you want, and practice producing this level of quality that you require of and for yourself.
Instead of putting in 8 hours a day just for the sake of putting in your time, aim to complete one project per week or per day, as appropriate. In terms of output, the value is the result itself, and not the length of time it takes to achieve that result. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well; focus on quality and stop watching the clock.
Principle 11. Take Responsibility for Yourself
Oh, sweet responsibility. It is a concept both freeing and overwhelming, depending on the person.
Liberty means responsibility.
That is why most men dread it.
(George Bernard Shaw)
People who shape their life circumstances and take full responsibility for themselves are the ones at the top. They cannot be kept down, for they know that despite appearances the world can change in an instant for the better. They emanate an incorrigible optimism backed by their solid character. These are the people to befriend, and to become.
Principle 12. Watch What You Internalize
Think about what you see, hear or read BEFORE committing it to heart. This requires you to be active with the material and information by processing it in terms of output. Ask yourself, “What is the significance of what I am reading? How does this affect me? What are the underlying assumptions about the world?”
As soon as you hear or read something, you need to do something with it immediately in your brain. Think about it, evaluate it, and decide where it fits in relation to other information. This is the best way to selectively internalize or filter out new knowledge.
Collecting and synthesizing new information into your brain in an organized way boosts intelligence. Mindmaps are physical representations of how the brain makes connections between different things. The more connections your brain makes to one concept, the better will be your understanding of that concept. This brings us to the idea of engaging as many of your senses as possible when learning something new. Fully experiencing the sights, sounds, texture, feelings of being there or experiencing the topic in question will create stronger associations in your brain for recollection and reflection later.
Principle 13. Make Mistakes
I suppose this could have read “Go for it” and it would mean the same thing. The point here is to take action on your dreams. Experiencing failure and making mistakes is part of the fun. You haven’t really failed if you keep going and pull yourself back up! Stick to your plan, have a reason for the faith that is in you, and enjoy the ride! You’ll have the most fun as you drive to your chosen destination. A few pitstops along the way, a few waterfalls and walks through the park for photography lessons, a few pregant women delivering babies by the side of the road–all part of the journey. Be prepared by knowing that you are resourceful and have a brain wired for optimal outputs.
First we form habits,
then they form us.
Conquer your bad
habits, or they’ll
(Dr. Robert Gilbert)