Tag Archives: personal-development

Timed Exposure Can Be As Good As Practice

We know that deliberate practice is an important part of learning (and mastering) new skills–but what role, if any, does mere passive exposure play? Can relevant background stimulation help us to reduce the amount of effort and practice necessary to master a skill?

To answer these questions Jonah Lehrer contacted the authors of a recent paper studying exactly this and found that passive exposure can be as effective as practice, drastically cutting the effort required to learn.

These experiments […] demonstrated that listening to relevant background stimulation could be just as effective as slaving away at the task itself, at least when the subjects had practiced first. In fact, the scientists found that we don’t even have to be paying conscious attention to the stimuli – subjects still benefited from the stimulation even when distracted by an entirely unrelated task. […]

Yes you do have to do the task, just not for the whole time. The main result is that if you practice for 20 minutes, and then you are passively exposed to stimuli for 20 minutes, you learn as if you have been practicing for 40 minutes. You can cut the effort in half, and still yield the same benefit. […]

On a practical level, the present results suggest a means by which perceptual training regimens might be made markedly more efficient and less effortful. The current data indicate that it may be possible to reduce the effort required by participants by at least half, with no deleterious effect, simply by combining periods of task performance with periods of additional stimulus exposure.

Along with the obvious caveats (the study looked only at auditory discrimination tasks), the published article offers some practical clarifications:

Learning was enhanced regardless of whether the periods of additional stimulation were interleaved with or provided exclusively before or after target-task performance, and even though that stimulation occurred during the performance of an irrelevant (auditory or written) task. The additional exposures were only beneficial when they shared the same frequency with, though they did not need to be identical to, those used during target-task performance. Their effectiveness also was diminished when they were presented 15 min after practice on the target task and was eliminated when that separation was increased to 4 h.

To Complete Goals, Concentrate on ‘The Big Picture’ (Not Subgoals)

To help control and manage progress on a difficult or long-term goal, we often split that goal into many individual subgoals. Once we begin to complete these subgoals, our continued motivation and progress toward the main, or superordinate, goal can be compromised.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2006 shows that by putting people in mind of their subgoal successes or on their main goal commitment causes drastic differences in their future effort (the latter is better):

The authors show that when people consider success on a single subgoal, additional actions toward achieving a superordinate goal are seen as substitutes and are less likely to be pursued. In contrast, when people consider their commitment to a superordinate goal on the basis of initial success on a subgoal, additional actions toward achieving that goal may seem to be complementary and more likely to be pursued.

via Derek Sivers (Yep, via the post I linked-to in my previous post. I felt that this needed its own post as I wanted to provide a balanced view on the study, not just saying, somewhat incorrectly, “success on one sub-goal […] reduced efforts on other important sub-goals”.)

Evidence-Based Study Tips

A recent issue of The Psychologist included a “rough guide to studying psychology” by the editor of the excellent Research Digest blog, Christian Jarrett. In his guide, Jarrett provided nine evidence-based study tips:

  • Adopt a growth mindset: [Students] who see intelligence as malleable, react to adversity by working harder and trying out new strategies. […] Research also suggests lecturers and teachers should […] avoid comments on innate ability and emphasise instead what students did well to achieve their success.
  • Sleep well.
  • Forgive yourself for procrastinating.
  • Test yourself: Time spent answering quiz questions (including feedback of correct answers) is more beneficial than the same time spent merely re-studying that same material. […] Testing ‘creates powerful memories that are not easily forgotten’ and it allows you to diagnose your learning. […] Self-testing when information is still fresh in your memory, immediately after studying, doesn’t work. It does not create lasting memories, and it creates overconfidence.
  • Pace your studies: The secret to remembering material long-term is to review it periodically, rather than trying to cram. […] The optimal time to leave material before reviewing it is 10 to 30 per cent of the period you want to remember it for.
  • Vivid examples may not always work best: Students taught about mathematical relations linking three items in a group were only able to transfer the rules to a novel, real-life situation if they were originally taught the rules using abstract symbols. Those taught with [a metaphorical aid] were unable to transfer what they’d learned.
  • Take naps: Naps as short as ten minutes can reduce subsequent fatigue and help boost concentration.
  • Get handouts prior to the lecture: Students given Powerpoint slide handouts before a lecture made fewer notes but performed the same or better in a later test of the lecture material than students who weren’t given the handouts until the lecture was over.
  • Believe in yourself: Students’ belief in their own ability, called ‘self-efficacy’, and their general ability both made unique contributions to their performance. […] Instructors that focus on building the confidence of students, providing strategic instruction, and giving relevant feedback can enhance performance outcomes.

Life Advice Through Management Theory and Business Strategy

When Harvard Business School’s class of 2010 invited professor Clayton Christensen (expert on disruptive technology and innovation, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma) to address them, they requested he talk on how to apply management theory principles to one’s personal life. Christensen responded by answering three questions:

How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?

One of the theories that gives great insight […] is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements. […] My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team. More and more MBA students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.

I want students to leave my classroom knowing that.

How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

If a company’s resource allocation process is not managed masterfully, what emerges from it can be very different from what management intended. Because companies’ decision-making systems are designed to steer investments to initiatives that offer the most tangible and immediate returns, companies shortchange investments in initiatives that are crucial to their long-term strategies. […]

When people who have a high need for achievement […] have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. […] In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. […]

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most. […]

Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.

How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

We’re taught in finance and economics that in evaluating alternative investments, we should ignore sunk and fixed costs, and instead base decisions on the marginal costs and marginal revenues that each alternative entails. We learn in our course that this doctrine biases companies to leverage what they have put in place to succeed in the past, instead of guiding them to create the capabilities they’ll need in the future. If we knew the future would be exactly the same as the past, that approach would be fine. But if the future’s different—and it almost always is—then it’s the wrong thing to do. […]

Unconsciously, we often employ the marginal cost doctrine in our personal lives when we choose between right and wrong. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK.” The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. […] Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.” […]

It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis […] you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.

The entire article is well worth a thorough read; it’s full of interesting insights and great advice.

Letting Go of Goals

Designed to help you find focus and tackle “the problems we face as we try to live and create in a world of overwhelming distractions” is focus : a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction.

This is Leo Babauta‘s latest book and he is producing it iteratively online. One issue I have is that if there are two current trends that I’m undecided about and feel have been blow out of proportion it’s the minimalist lifestyle and the notion that modern life is distracting.

Regardless, I enjoyed the following from the chapter letting go of goals, describing why we should do exactly that:

They are artificial — you aren’t working because you love it, you’re working because you’ve set goals.

They’re constraining — what if you want to work on something not in line with your goals? Shouldn’t we have that freedom?

They put pressure on us to achieve, to get certain things done. Pressure is stressful, and not always in a good way.

When we fail (and we always do), it’s discouraging.

But most of all, here’s the thing with goals: you’re never satisfied. Goals are a way of saying, “When I’ve accomplished this goal (or all these goals), I will be happy then. I’m not happy now, because I haven’t achieved my goals.” This is never said out loud, but it’s what goals really mean. The problem is, when we achieve the goals, we don’t achieve happiness. We set new goals, strive for something new.