Saturday, May 05, 2007

Intelligent Attitudes (Part 2)

This is the second of several parts on attitudes that will put more information in your brain and keep it there. These tips are meant to be applied in all areas of life, so that maximal learning happens on every front, not just the academic ones.

The first part of Intelligent Attitudes lists tips 1 and 2 and is well worth checking out. Feel free to read them in any order.

3) Find powerful reasons to learn

Simply, we should answer to ourselves: Why do I want to learn this? or Why is this worth remembering?

Tasks get accomplished faster and with more enjoyment when they have meaning or purpose. For the most part, I would hope that we could all have lofty and noble reasons for wanting to acquire information. Reasons such as learning purely for knowledge's sake, intrinsic interest, or the hope to teach/benefit others later; even finding calm in the present moment can motivate one to study.

While these reasons may motivate us in a grander sense, I find they they may not permeate the present moment. Goals are only valuable to the extent that they affect us now. If the idea of teaching another is not exciting or powerful enough to motivate us to learn, then this idea is not useful. Often, it is other types of goals that drive our quest for knowledge.

Learning in order to improve your GPA or ensure your future success, in graduate studies for example, can be a powerful motivator. It is a very measurable factor, thus making it easier to analyze objectively and quickly. You can see if you are improving, and by how much. (Although grades and amount learned are not always directly correlated.) While some say that grades are not important, it is hard to deny their blunt efficiency as a tool to compare and rank people. From this (and for other reasons I won't get into), the grade point average can motivate.

Sexual drive is an ancient desire that can elevate people to untold heights or bring the mighty to their knees. Leaders can are often made or broken because of sex. Some even argue that this one desire is responsible for all great societies. As a result, to have this as a motivator for learning is very effective.

Yet how can knowledge be sexy? Oh, in ways too numerous to count. Common interests can often spark a magical sort of first impression. Someone mentions their philosophy course, you ask about a philosopher they might have studied, and your friend is subtly impressed. One is perceived in a better light if they are knowledgeable about certain subjects; depending on the person such subjects can include fine arts, economics, neurobiology, Tupac's greatest hits, Tupac's underground stuff, literature, etc. Even flirting and sexual practices are varieties of knowledge. Of course, this is a bit of a simplification, but if you can find personal reasons why learning a fact will improve your sexual potential, in any way, that fact will be firmly entrenched in your mind.

Related to the two above, there are cases in which specific knowledge can be impressive (or at least interesting). Cocktail parties were made so that people would have a place to talk about philosophy, among other things. People also love when you remember things about them, such as their favourite book, things about their family etc. Knowledge about a company or institution will come in useful during an interview to show that you are a thorough and intelligent person. Hell, even sports knowledge can impress your date's father in that awkward time by the front door. Remembering that all knowledge will be impressive in the future can help one to memorize even the most detailed facts.

Fuel for creativity:
Oh man, this is one of the greatest discoveries of my life. The reason I advocate creative outputs, such as writing, is that your vast pool of knowledge comes pouring out in ways that you may not have thought possible. Wit and humour are often simply the retelling of known things in a novel way. When you have more knowledge to draw upon, you can make connections between pieces of knowledge faster, these new connections are the basis of creativity. Creativity is not limited to writing; scientific discovery benefits greatly from the same fuel. Great scientist Louis Pasteur said that "chance favors the prepared mind." More knowledge about a subject will give one a larger platform from which to jump to creative solutions.

I'm always impressed with the crazy associations our minds can make. Try just going through a train of mental associations, just saying what pops into your mind after the word "coffee". If you tried it, you notice that you can get pretty far away from coffee. All knowledge is just more fuel for future creativity, helping those a-ha! moments come more and more frequently.

I would say that I use all of these desires/goals regularly in my learning. Some more than others, but I'll leave you to figure that out. One of the main factors that motivates all of my learning (from feminine hygiene products to philosophy of mind) is that I believe this knowledge will eventually have a use. I also believe that the process of learning is intrinsically valuable (a previous Intelligent Attitude [#2]).

Some may argue that we shouldn't have such "shallow" goals direct our learning and activities; however, I have two counter-points to this. Firstly, there is great energy in these desires that is often hard to embrace through other means. Ideas that can bring this energy are tremendously powerful and should not be ignored because of cultural biases. We should embrace the desires that motivate us, in order to learn and achieve more.

Secondly, to call the above categories shallow seems like a random categorization when we think about what results from them. (The ends justify the means?) Let me give you some examples. An Olympic athlete trains everyday for his/her whole life simply to qualify. The only things that motivate the athlete are the ideas that he/she will have the world record and that their place in history will be assured. After many hard years and one event, this athlete places first, giving hope and pride to their country. Is the accomplishment of the athlete less significant?

Songwriters write songs to soon women and men (often in sexual ways). Are these songs less beautiful and moving for their underlying motivations?

No, I would argue. Sometimes people, myself definitely included, get caught up in judgement of other or themselves based on the view that certain desires are wrong or bad. Yet they are quick to devour the fruits of the labour from these desires. Some dismiss those who experiment day and night to the chagrin of their families, but applaud the discoveries and prizes. People with far-out interests can be ignored, but adored for creative insight. This list goes on.

What I'm getting at here is that we shouldn't worry so much about what other people may think about our desires and goals. They should empower you, and it is you that will know if your underlying desires are "good" or not. So, remember to create goals and reasons that empower you to learn. Whatever your desires may be, if they motivate you, this makes them good.

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.)

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