In the name of Allah, most gracious and most merciful,
Thanks to Allah I have managed to succeed on the second day of the 40-day challenge. I was nearly highly engaged on average throughout my day. In this post, I will share the challenges I faced, how I overcame them, the key takeaways from these things, and some useful information that I learned.
1. Challenges I faced and how I overcame them
1.1 Challenge 1
I wanted to sleep but after 30 minutes has passed, so I decided to take a break while doing something useful because the nap time didn’t come yet.
Now, I have finished the break. I am studying something new and interesting but it is in a course format and it is hands-on. In the last session, I started the course without taking any notes since I saw that as an introduction. However, no more procrastination, and I have to write or engage as much as I can with the material. I prefer to take hand-notes to limit my notes to the most important key information, and because I know that writing with your hands is somehow better in learning than typing because by typing you just touch the keyboard with your hand but by writing you draw the words, and your hand moves in a non-linear way which is actually more creative. In addition to this, you can draw whatever you want, you can use mind maps, divide and try to understand a complex problem. Therefore, hand-sketching is very important. Don’t ever skip active learning (i.e. being engaged with what you are doing) or you may fall into the delusion that you are learning when you are just looking at some information and not actually learning them.
Since at the end of the last session I learned passively I somehow felt sleep (as expected as one of the passive learning consequences), but after taking notes, and engaging more with the material I was able to understand more of the material.
1.2 Challenge 2
A big problem that I was facing the day before was that I was preparing for a certain technological exam that I must take in about two months from now. After many trials, and errors throughout my learning journeys I loved learning from books more than courses because books are generally more comprehensive and give you the big picture, and you can even skim through the table of contents and the material to know where you are from your final goal. However, I still believe that if something is somehow new to me, an interactive course with videos will give me a good start and will disambiguate some of the new things.
Before starting my study, I intended to go for the book and didn’t even look at any courses. However, after I was stuck for a while yesterday, I decided to go for a course instead. But things didn’t go that well because I was not motivated and I feel very lost. It was really challenging. Therefore, I decided to try a certain approach that will hopefully work. Here is it.
This exam is testing certain topics and each of the course and the book are preparing me for the same exam, and therefore their sections are divided similar to the exam’s topics. So, I decided to do the following:
- Read the whole topic from the book while highlighting at most one sentence per paragraph. I don’t have to understand everything. I will just highlight, and I won’t take any hand-written notes now. I know that it is not the best thing, but it is faster and I think will do the job since I was really busy to do everything in the optimal way. So, I think there is no problem with sacrificing some of the optimum things for being better prepared for the exam on time although that doesn’t necessarily mean that I understood the material so well. Here is the first exposure.
- After this, I will reread my highlights and then take hand-written notes of them by drawing and trying to understand more. Here is the second exposure.
- Then, I will watch the same topic’s videos in the course while adding to my hand-written notes. Here is the third exposure.
- The course includes some hands-on so I will do them. Here is practical hands-on first exposure.
- Then I will return back to the book, and apply some of the book’s recommended hands-on projects to practice more. Here is practical hands-on second exposure.
- I will do the exam’s questions that are given in the book’s chapter. The exam is theoretical, but of course it measures my theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience through its questions.
- Then finally I will return back to my hand-written notes and see if there is anything I will need to add.
- Finally, I will write a blog post about this topic while having my hand-written notes in hand.
I must stick to this technique for at least one week before evaluating its effectiveness because keeping jumping between techniques of studying of approaching the material at a very high pace will not give me enough time to truly experience their effectiveness because at the end of the day seeing any results or progress needs time. Therefore, I have to be patient and see what will happen.
I know that this seems to much even on me, but I know that this exam is important, and understanding these things on this level of depth will be important to my career. Moreover, I think it will not take much time if I get accustomed to it. Maybe at first, it will take much time, but after this, it may hopefully become more automatic, and enjoyable especially if I began to reap its benefits.
When I actually started implementing this by reading the book while highlighting it, I noticed a high boost in my understanding and satisfaction. It is as if having a structure as a beginner makes me concentrate more on doing what I am doing instead of letting my mind wander on how to search for different techniques. In other words, doing this has freed up my mind from worrying since it already knew what it is supposed to do. Just concentrate now, and don’t worry since there is an underlying promising system that will hopefully help you achieve better results. By putting a system my mind didn’t worry about developing new techniques but it focused on doing what it has to do now. Remove the noise, and focus.
Important Keytake away (Beginners vs Experts)
This reminds me of something I read in the Pragmatic Thinking and Learning book which states that beginners want recipes and rules while experts work by intuition. Not only this but he said that rules ruin experts. We could rephrase these words to be “Let the beginners mind focus on doing the effort necessary for learning whatever he is learning since nothing really fancy for a beginner to learn the basics since they are not that hard, but free out the expert’s mind from rules since they already know the basics so well to the extent that they became second nature, so let expert’s focus on how to connect things differently and how to find new solutions instead of following a certain predefined structure).
In other words, beginner’s problem is to learn the basics which are easy to learn and just needs effort so beginners mind wandering is considered procrastination from doing the right job so putting a structure for them is important while the expert’s challenge is to develop new solutions and to even discover new things so remove the structure for them and don’t put rules for them. Experts’ mind wandering is essential for developing new solutions and exploring unexplored terrains.
Note: I mean by mind wandering letting the mind wander to find different solutions. For beginners, they need more focus on learning what is already there since how could they develop solutions without having the correct foundations. While for experts the need to focus more on wandering and seeing things differently since they already have strong foundations, and creativity needs less structure because it is something new. If you want to know more about these things, then search about something called the diffuse mode of thinking
1.3 Challenge 3
After the end of one of my sessions, I really wanted to sleep again. However, I continued writing this blog instead, and since I love writing I became engaged, and after finishing the part I want to write I didn’t want to sleep anymore and I just started another work or learning session.
This reveals something super important. We are capable of doing much better if we knew how to trick ourselves because we are lazy by nature and want to rest so our mind will try to find an excuse for not doing the work. However, by experimenting and giving our minds more useful breaks and actions that engaged him we could get better results from it. Never leave yourself to what it wants, because human is lazy by default. Even in nature electricity and water flows from high potential energy to low potential energy, and any system wants to reach the equilibrium states. However, to produce electricity and kinetic energy we have to exert some work on the system and change the comfort zone state to a more challenging zone. Muscles grow better after restructuring them by exercise, and our brains may be like muscles, the more we stretch them the stronger they become. The trick is to push them and stretch them consistently step by step even if you don’t challenge them too much. But these small actions will aggregate through time and you could see dramatic differences. The trick is to challenge yourself and to know what you know is important to do and to trick yourself to do what it doesn’t necessarily want to do since at the end of the day nothing is really easy. Yourself is your biggest enemy, so know how to control it to get the most out of it.
1.4 Challenge 4 (The Biggest Challenge)
Here is the biggest challenge I have faced throughout the day. I am about to fail in the challenge from the second day. Why? Well, I really really want to sleep, not engaged at all in what I am doing, I have about 4.5 hours left until my sleep deadline comes including the 1 hour and 25 minutes threshold for extreme cases, and I have about 3.5 hours that I didn’t finish yet in one of my tasks. Moreover, I didn’t complete that post yet. In addition to this, I was not engaged to the extent that I was continuously watching the time for the 25 minutes to end to take a break.
But returning back to the challenge, I have to be engaged, focused, do a good job, finish everything on time, and write this blog post as well. How on earth will I do all these with that time left, and when I want to sleep that much.
My final task was involving reading from a book to learn something. However, I thought that this if I could find an alternative more engaging medium. I found a great course covering the things I am learning but not as the book of course. However, there were relevant videos. I started watching it and found it really useful. I didn’t take as much information as I took from the book but the course was picking some new things that I thought the books have missed, but after this, I went to another section in the book and found these parts are somehow explained and even in more details. In my opinion, books are definitely more professional than courses. So, I decided to learn some of what I might need from the course since the book was not engaging to me now. I started, and my focusing improved however I still want to sleep and feel that I won’t be able to meet the challenge today.
Here something important kicked in. If I failed in the challenge, it will be difficult to control myself after this since I will get accustomed to failing in challenges. I think I will lose interest in challenging myself again, but it is still not the end of the world since whatever number of times I failed I could still try again and succeed, but in this challenge, I really felt that it will be a big problem to not do it. Therefore, I decided to do the following:
- Take about 20 to 25 minutes break while listening to an audiobook, eating, and then have a drink to completely pick myself of that bad mode and that sleepy state.
- Put a plan of how on earth I will do that challenge no matter what I will do. I don’t know what I will do exactly.
After taking my break I decided that there is no way but to plan every minute until the day ends. No waiting for motivation, and I must concentrate. I decided to do 3 hours of work separated by 10 minutes break when I will write parts of this blog post, and I will finish the left half hour of work, and the rest of the blog in the final left time. The estimate will work but will be very difficult. There will be no room for any rest apart from the 10 minutes during writing the blog since I love writing.
I decided to take what I wanted from the course to stay engaged, and then revert back to the book. So essentially, I will have two ways of learning (book, and course). My main focus will be the book, and I will go to the course when I am not engaged to find something close to what I want to learn even if it is somehow indirect but that will give me good information in a different context, then I will return back to the book.
It really worked. When I started it was very tough, and I couldn’t get my head around how this will happen but I kept pushing myself until it somehow felt a little bit easier, but not too easy to be sincere. I think my concentration was not the best, but I was not sleepy, and my state was far better before I took the break. When I put structure and challenged myself, and I knew that it was possible after making my estimates I was somehow motivated to keep up with the challenge.
2. Key Takeaways
- Keeping up with your promises make yourself more committed. Commitment is like a muscle, the more you train the better it becomes.
- Have more than one source for learning in different mediums or at least different sources like a course and a book or several books so that when you are disengaged from one of them you could go to the other one temporarily which will give you another perspective while keeping yourself overall engaged.
- Go over the difficult material more than once so that your mind makes more sense of it. Not only this but only go over it in different formats like videos, books, and practicing by hands-on. May be the more senses you use in your learning the more you prevent mind wandering and try to push yourself to stay engaged.
- You don’t have to understand everything in 100%. It is like solving a puzzle. Therefore, going back and forth through different mediums, and in different times while having a main source to give you the big picture will be a good thing. Have one big source, and many other reference sources in case you are stuck. And no problem if you didn’t understand, think critically move forward and then return back to the concept later. Try, and experiment smartly until you finally understand. Learning is an art, and it I s a lifelong process.
- Beginners should have some structure in their learning to avoid too much mind wandering without real focus while experts could mind wandering if they are doing so in a specific way to connect the dots and solve new problems. It depends on what you mean by mind wandering. I have explained this in details in one of the challenges.
3. Useful Pieces of Information
- What you eat, and what you concentrate on shapes your body and mind.
- Don’t break boredom and loneliness with your smart phone and social media, and instead try to connect with yourself at these times, try to be creative, and to train yourself to focus while not feeling tempted to check your phone.
- Connecting to people face to face is not like online connections. Don’t forget your family and people who are close to you.
Thank you. I hope this post has been beneficial to you. I would appreciate any comments if anyone needed more clarifications or if anyone has seen something wrong in what I have written in order to modify it, and I would also appreciate any possible enhancements or suggestions. We are humans, and errors are expected from us, but we could also minimize those errors by learning from our mistakes and by seeking to improve what we do.
Allah bless our master Muhammad and his family.