Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Intelligent Attitudes (Part 1)

This will be the first of three (or four) parts on attitudes that will help you learn more in all areas of your life. Not only are these tips are useful in an academic sense, they are even more useful for learning as a whole.

1) Be humble in knowledge

No matter how much you know in about a subject, there is still always more to learn. There are so many different ways to view current paradigms, and theories are constantly in flux. It is very difficult to be sure that one has heard it all. If you believe you know everything, there is no room for education. Making mistakes is one of the best and fastest ways to learn. Yet when our minds are closed off because we think our knowledge is fixed, when we find out what we "know" is wrong, we just freeze. As the study in the link shows, what we believe can shape our brains.

I'm sure you have experienced this: you are so sure about some fact; let's say that it's about the capital of Australia, which you believe to be Sydney. You've known this for so long. They even had the 2000 Olympics there!

But then your friend tells you that Canberra is the capital. You flatly deny it. "No way, Sydney has so many people." You even start to yell, "what are you talking about?!" After much flailing and harsh words, you will come to accept that Canberra is the true capital; only through the influence of the internet's second greatest resource. This information could have been more easily learned without arrogance surrounding our opinions. In the cases where there is no other direct proof, I have been known to simply dismiss someone's claim as completely erroneous, rather than check it out.

My father once told me that one of his most cherished lessons came in university. Initially, I didn't realize its importance, but now I am beginning to see its power. "Be slow to form your opinions, and slower to say them."

The amount of knowledge out there is frightening and thrilling. To say that you have enough information about a topic to warrent having a fixed opinion is quite reckless. I have been guilty of running my mouth on issues from abortion to the importance of pi. Yet with such limited knowledge, I was a fool for doing so.

What is it that can change one's perspective from smug inflexibility to maluble humble pie? Simply more information, an understanding of perspective, and an open mind.

2) All steps towards learning are important (even small ones)

This is an intelligent attitude for a few subtle reasons. Firstly, it gets you to start working. Even if it's only a little bit of work, a little bit is way better than none. Such a seemingly obvious statement becomes more practical when we consider how many times we've done the opposite. We hesitate to start studying because it is complicated. We don't read a philosophy book or art magazine because we worry that we won't get it.

However, if we read over the text and understand even a little bit more, we have gained a greater footing on the mountain that is knowledge. In skimming over that magazine, the ideas and vocabulary are subtly entering your brain. All of this information will be easier to recall if it comes up again, and it will give you a peg for new knowledge on this subject.

Similarly, one of the great writing tips out there to get your flow going is just to write anything. You can let yourself write the crappiest first draft ever, but just write. When you forget about perfection, you allow yourself to get into a rhythm; this is when your real creativity can shine. In a similar way, when you untangle yourself from perfectionism, you lose the essence of the knowledge

The last way of looking at it is somewhat like the paradox of the heap. While we can all agree that one grain of sand doesn't make a heap. A heap of sand is just made up of single grains of sand. So when do grains of sand become a heap? Or when do isolated facts become a network of knowledge? Although this analogy is a little funny, you can see that in order to build this amazing network of information, you need to start (and continue) with single facts and relations.

So read that one extra page, watch that video that is hard to understand, keep going for one more minute. In doing so you're preparing your mind for future planting and harvest. And anyways, learning that one extra fact is much better than feeling silly when that exact section is on your test.

I have found that one of the best ways to implement this is through timeboxing. Just give yourself a set amount of time (like 30 mins) to work on something, say an essay. You don't even have to finish anything specific. Just work for that amount of time, and even if you think it's the worst work ever, it's not so bad that you can't handle it for 30mins . This is a really powerful technique to just get you going. And the awesome thing is that once you are moving, often your momentum will carry you a lot farther than you expected.

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)

Labels: , ,


At 7:38 AM, Blogger Danny Dang said...

I agree with having an open-minded thought process to allow new ideas to flow through. But I also think it is necessary to have an opinion and assert it when possible. If you stand passive in your thought process you will find that you will not learn all the different perspectives of a given argument.

What I'm trying to get at, is that when counter parties create dialog, a real truth can be derived from a lively debate and that all parties involved, as long as they are not entrenched in their positions, will learn something.

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Joshua Hwang said...

Nicely put. As well there should be room for those fighting the good fight, so I'm not opposed to people giving their opinions per se. However, some people too frequently give their opinions on matters without thoughts of educating, but rather showing off their melodious voice.


Post a Comment

<< Home