S2E3: Exploring the study methods of a famous American Writer

The Autodidactic Podcast
S2E3: Exploring the study methods of a famous American Writer
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Hello and welcome to the Autodidactic podcast, season 2 episode 3. I’m happy to say that I’m appearing on another podcast soon. I was interviewed by Kris Brohom from Actual Fluency Podcast about my language learning activities and advice for people studying during the pandemic. I’ll put links in the podcast transcription on the autodidactic.info website.

This episode I’m going to be looking into the study habits of a great writer and autodidactic. Before I tell you his name, let me read a quote from him.

“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

He is one of the most celebrated 20th- and 21st-century American writers, and worked in a variety of genres including fantasy, science fiction, horror, and mystery fiction. I’m speaking of Ray Douglas Bradbury (born August 22, 1920, died June 5, 2012). He was born in in Waukegan, Illinois to Esther Bradbury a Swedish immigrant and Leonard Bradbury who was a telephone lineman.

Bradbury’s most famous works include “Fahrenheit 451” and “Something wicked this way comes.”

Bradbury began writing his stories at age 11 (1931), during the Great Depression—sometimes writing on the only available paper, butcher paper. Bradbury was a firm believer in writing something every day. One incident which Bradbury attributed to his lifelong writing habit was, in 1932, when a carnival entertainer, one Mr. Electrico, touched the young man on the nose with an electrified sword, made his hair stand on end, and shouted, “Live forever!” Bradbury wanted to be immortalised forever through his writing.

Bradbury remarked, “I felt that something strange and wonderful had happened to me because of my encounter with Mr. Electrico … [he] gave me a future … I began to write, full-time. I have written every single day of my life since that day 69 years ago.”

In addition to writing Bradbury was a keen prestidigitator, otherwise known as a magician. As a boy, Bradbury attended several performances by Blackstone the Magician and, in 1931, was given a book on magic for his eleventh birthday. He was soon performing his own magic act for various service clubs and lodges, and was invited to appear at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall on Christmas Eve.

In high-school Bradbury was a member of the drama club and was a keen actor. Bradbury married his wife in 1947 and they were married for 56 years until her death in 2003. His wife was the first and only woman he’d ever dated, and they had four daughters. Bradbury never obtained a driver’s license, but relied on public transportation or his bicycle. Bradbury witnessed a fatal car accident when he was 16. Later he said:

“I saw six people die horribly in an accident. I walked home holding on to walls and trees. It took me months to begin to function again. So I don’t drive. But whether I drive or not is irrelevant. The automobile is the most dangerous weapon in our society—cars kill more than wars do.”

Bradbury was a strong supporter of public library systems, raising money to prevent the closure of several libraries in California facing budgetary cuts. He said “libraries raised me”, and shunned colleges and universities, comparing his own lack of funds during the Depression with poor contemporary students. Bradbury permitted the publication of “Fahrenheit 451” in electronic form provided that the publisher, Simon & Schuster, allowed the e-book to be digitally downloaded by any library patron. The title remains the only book in the Simon & Schuster catalogue where this is possible.

It took Bradbury just nine days to write Fahrenheit 451—and he did it in the basement of the UCLA library on a rented typewriter. (The title of his classic novel, by the way, comes from the temperature at which paper burns without being exposed to flame.)

Bradbury remained an enthusiastic playwright all his life, leaving a rich theatrical legacy, as well as literary. Bradbury headed the Pandemonium Theatre Company in Los Angeles for many years and had a five-year relationship with the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. Not only was Bradbury highly creative with language—he was also an exceptional visual artist. He would use the basement office as his studio, doodling, sketching, and painting.

He once said that when he died, he planned to have his ashes placed in a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can and planted on Mars. A more fitting memorial is the one NASA gave him when they landed a rover on Mars a few months after Bradbury’s death in 2012: They named the site where Mars Curiosity touched down “Bradbury Landing.”

So what can we take away from Ray Bradbury that would help us as autodidactics? The first is obviously the use of libraries and reading. He was at the library three days a week for 10 years. Even if he spent only an hour or two, he still invested between 520 and 1040 hours of time in the library. But from other statements he made while doing fund raising for libraries we can see that he invested a lot more time than that. He said:

“I read everything in the library. I read everything. I took out 10 books a week so I had a couple of hundred books a year I read, on literature, poetry, plays, and I read all the great short stories, hundreds of them. I graduated from the library when I was 28 years old. That library educated me, not the college.”

So Bradbury in the 10 years he invested time in the library he read about 5200 books. You can see from this quote that he was investing that reading time focused on his primary interest which was writing and theatre. Earl Nightingale said many years ago that one hour per day of study in your chosen field was all it takes. One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do. Bradbury did it for 10 years, and for more than an hour.

To paraphrase self-help guru Brian Tracy: Read all you can about your field. Subscribe to the executive book clubs and book summaries. Build your own library of important books in your field. Never be cheap about your education. If you read one hour per day in your field, that will translate into about one book per week. One book per week translates into about 50 books per year.

As autodidactics much of our primary focus will be on using books for learning. Even if you’re learning a more physical skill such as sailing or painting there are numerous books written by professionals in your area of interest. If you’re interest is more academic then the library shelves are full of things you need.

Where I live the library provides an online catalogue of all their books, not just in my local library, but all the libraries run within the district I live in. They allow me to place an order for any book in any of the 75 libraries under their control and they will deliver it to my local library for me to walk over and pickup. While not every library provides this type of service, it is certainly worth investigating what is available to you via your local library.

Libraries contain not only books for study, but audio and visual works as well. If you’re learning a language then there is a good chance you can pick up some courses at the library with audio included.

Another thing we can take away from Ray Bradbury is the concept of Synergistic Learning. I don’t mean some kind of new-age buzzword. But rather knowledge gained in pursuit of one area, often has application in others. Bradbury introduced a concept of magic or mystery into many of his stories, and used the plays and poems he’d read to help give his writing a more lyrical feel. He applied his writing to a number of areas. In fact Bradbury’s first pay as a writer was for a joke he sold to comedian George Burns.

Being an autodidactic typically means that you’ll be learning more than one topic. These topics of interest can spread over a widely divergent set of things, but can be related. Synergistic learning is simply looking at your various topics of interest and seeing if there is any common ground. If there is you can focus on that area and gain knowledge in two interests not just one. For example, many topics need a good knowledge of maths.

Often we think of self-study as being simply sitting at a desk with a textbook. While that is valid, it isn’t the only thing that should be done. If you’re interested in Nutrition Science. You shouldn’t just be reading textbooks, you should try to also read websites, government guidelines, weight watchers magazines, cooking books, watch YouTube cooking channels, read about agriculture techniques, gardening books, wine and food magazines, etc.

Don’t narrow your focus too much, try to keep an open approach. You can focus when you start to get overwhelmed with information, but having a wider general knowldege of the subject will benefit you when you narrow your focus as well.

Well that is all for this week. If you enjoy the show, please give a rating on the platform you’re using to listen, and please share the podcast with friends and family who might be interested. Also let me know if you find these explorations of the methods used by other autodidactics useful, and if there is someone in particular you’d like me to research. As always you can leave feedback on the website autodidactic.info, or send me an email to rick@autodidactic.info.

Thank you very much for listening.

Actual Fluency Podcast

S2EP2: Exploring the study methods of Ben Franklin.

The Autodidactic Podcast
S2EP2: Exploring the study methods of Ben Franklin.
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Hello and welcome to the Autodidactic podcast, season 2 episode 2. I’d like to apologise for the delay in getting this weeks episode out. I ran into some technical issues and also getting a quiet area to do the recording. Hopefully I’ll be able to be more consistent in future.

This week I’m going to start delving into the lives and study methods of autodidactics through the ages and into modern times. I’m going to start with a person who most listeners inside the United States would need no introduction. I haven’t yet worked out the format of these podcasts about autodidactics, but I will generally start with telling you a little about the person, what they accomplished, and what we know of their methods. Then I’ll try to dig a little deeper into the methods they used and relate it to what we can emulate today.

The person I’m going to talk about today is Benjamin Franklin. Ben Franklin was born in what would become the United States on January 17, 1706 and died on April 17, 1790. Franklin was an American autodidactic and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was a leading writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. Franklin became a successful newspaper editor and printer in Philadelphia, the leading city in the colonies, publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette at the age of 23.

Benjamin Franklin became a luminary in everything from politics to physics, and he did this without modern educational techniques such as schools, teachers, or the Internet.

Franklin was a prodigious inventor, but Franklin never patented his inventions. Probably the first advocate of opensource/open knowledge movement he wrote: “… as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”

Franklin studied, electricity, ocean currents, population and demography, wave light theory, meteorology. He was an avid chess player, and with a friend learned Italian. The loser of these matches had to perform some task given by the winner, such as reciting sections of Italian grammar, or 100 animal names at the next meeting.

Ben Franklin’s autobiography can give us many clues about the man and how he used his time and many of his writings are available online to read. I’ll put links to his writings at the end of the transcript on the autodidactic.info website.

Although there is a lot to learn from his writings, I believe that Franklin had two methods we can emulate as autodidactics. The first is known today as “deliberate practice” and the second is measurement or monitoring.

Of all the things Franklin does these two things lend themselves most to self-study and autodidactism.

First let’s look at deliberate practice. What is it?

Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance. What sets deliberate practice apart from other training methods is a rigorous sequence of ongoing performance assessment, tailored goal-setting, and systematic skill-building informed by expert feedback.

Franklin shows us how he used deliberate practice when he taught himself to become an author and better writer. Let me read an excerpt from his autobiography.

About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try’d to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.

—Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

Here Franklin is doing what is known as “deliberate practice” in order to improve his writing. K. Anders Ericsson likens it to how artists practice by trying to imitate some famous work. Mathematicians are taught to attempt to prove most theorems themselves when reading a book or paper — even if they can’t, they’ll have an easier time compressing the proof to its basic insight.

Deliberate practice can be used to learn any skill from music to computer programming.

Let’s use some examples of how you could use deliberate practice for something other than writing as Franklin does.

Many people are self-taught programmers who use a programming textbook to learn a programming language. But if you just read the book and cover to cover you’ll not get the maximum value from it. Instead when you come to a section in a chapter showing a small snippet of code to open a file. Look at the snippet, close the book and actually try to create the program yourself without opening the book. Chances are you’ll fail, however when you open the book back up you’ll be able to compare your work against the snippet. You’ll get some immediate feedback about where you’ve gone wrong.

Otherwise when studying you can use this method by simply reading a page of the book you’re learning from, a recorded lecture, etc. Close the book or pause the video/audio and try to write down everything you’ve just read or listened to. Try not to do a summary, but to remember everything. It would be tedious to reproduce and entire book verbatim but this method would give immediate feedback about knowledge gaps. It might show you that the information you’ve missed tends to always been at the end of paragraphs, so you can modify your behaviour to focus on the end of paragraphs as well.

But deliberate practice is bigger than this. The exerpt I read from Franklin didn’t cover the three primary things you must do for deliberate practice. Mostly because Franklin himself had done the other steps “off camera”.

The three steps are:

  1. Have a specific goal, and break it down – Break down what you want to know or practice into a well defined small amount. For a textbook this might be into chapters for example.
  2. Create a plan – Have a written plan for how you’re going to practice, with times and a schedule. For example, you might decide on a chapter per week, with X number of exercises.
  3. Get a coach (or some form of feedback) – this is probably the most important thing to have. Remember Franklin used the original Spectator articles as feedback to compare against his own writing. You also need some type of feedback mechanism. In the programming example you have the authors version of the file opening snippet.

When you do your plan you need to keep your goal in mind. When you break this down into practice sessions you need to have a goal in mind for each section.

Goals like:

  • Play or sing a certain song at a specific speed with no mistakes three times in a row.
  • Memorise the first 10 digits of pi.
  • Type at 50 words per minute with no errors.
  • Summarise each page of the textbook with no gaps.

If you’re interested in deliberate practice I recommend the book Peak by K. Anders Ericsson

The other area we can emulate from Franklin is tracking or monitoring of progress. Franklin had a little book where he would track his errors each day, monitoring himself to try to improve.

A phrase most managers in most companies will immediately recognises is “You get what you measure.” It’s human nature to shoot for the objectives set, and it is human nature to pay attention to the metrics which are being measured. However, a word of caution here. You need to make sure that you’re measuring the correct thing, or that the instrument you’re using to measure is correct. Just measuring time studying doesn’t indicate amount learned.

Sir Arthur Eddington, an English astrophysicist, told a short story involving a scientist studying fish by pulling them up with nets. After checking all the fish hauled up, the scientist concludes that there is a minimum size of fish in the sea. But the fish seen were determined by the size of the holes in the net, the smaller ones having slipped through, unmeasurable. The instrument you use affects what you see.

So you need to think carefully about what you are trying to learn and try to find a way to measure your ability.

If you are learning from a textbook you might create a simple form to fill out at the end of each chapter with some questions rating from 1-7 where 1 is defiantly not, and 7 is defiantly yes. Some statements might be:

“I understand ALL the concepts in this chapter.”

“I found this chapter easy.”

This type of survey would let you judge how well you learned from this book, and if you should re-read, or find an easier or more difficult resource.

If you were learning a skill such as learning how to remember names you might score yourself 2 points for all names remembered and -1 point for any name forgotten. Then you review your scoreboard each week, plotting it to spot trends. You might discover you typically fail to remember when introduced to a group of people at the same time, but are ok individually. Then you can use deliberate practice to focus on remembering names at group introductions.

If you were learning photography you might have your photos scored based on framing, lighting, focus, filtering, exposure, etc. Then you design practice sessions with deliberate practice on the elements you score low in.

For monitoring you need to:

  • Break down and list your goal into things which can be measured.
  • Eliminate things from the list who’s measurement isn’t essential
  • Be clear on what you need to measure, why you are measuring it, and how you’ll measure it.
  • Schedule periodic reflections on the measures
  • Design repetitive, deliberate practice to overcome measured defects.

Remember you can’t improve what you don’t measure, but measuring the amount of time spend generally isn’t useful. Review what you’re measuring in order to design better practice, and review your measures to ensure you’re still measuring essential matrix.

Well that is all for this week. If you enjoy the show, please give a rating on the platform you’re using to listen, and please share the podcast with friends and family who might be interested. Also let me know if you find these explorations of the methods used by other autodidactics useful, and if there is someone in particular you’d like me to research. As always you can leave feedback on the website autodidactic.info, or send me an email to rick@autodidactic.info.

Thank you very much for listening.

Writings of Ben Franklin

NOTE: I apologize for the transcript not being 100% accurate this week, I had some difficulties getting it out.

EP13: Gaining qualifications or certification from self-study

Today we’ll discuss how you can find exams or vocational awards to gain qualifications and certifications for the things you’ve learned through self-study.

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP13: Gaining qualifications or certification from self-study
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Hello and welcome to the autodidactic podcast. This is season one, episode 13. If your a returning listener then welcome back! If you have just started to listen then welcome aboard.

We are at the end of season one. I had intended to do another show with answers to any questions I’ve received, but I think I can cover those at the end of today’s show. So unfortunately I’m going to end on unlucky number 13 for this Season.

I’m ending this season a bit early for a couple of reasons. The first reason is another Lockdown in the UK because of the Covid virus will mean I’ll not have the peace and quiet required to record a show, and because it is quickly approaching the holiday season. Therefore, I’m going to end Season One and return again next year for Season Two.

I haven’t yet made the show schedule for Season Two, so if you’re interested in hearing something in particular please email me at rick@autodidactic.info. If you’d like me to expand on anything we’ve already discussed in Season One I’m happy to do that as well.

Today I’m going to talk about getting qualifications or certifications for things that you’re self-studying. This is a difficult topic to cover in detail, since I don’t know what you may be studying. However, I’m going to give some examples of qualifications or certification testing which you can do in some topics which I’m familiar with and hopefully you’ll be able to apply what I’m saying to the area that you’re studying.

Professional qualifications are vocational training courses relating to a specific industry or career path. They are typically regulated and awarded by relevant professional bodies, and are designed to ensure that everyone employed in a particular job meets the minimum required standards of professional expertise.
The first example I’m going to give is related to Information Technology. Previously I had mentioned surveys indicated over 60% of all programmers were self-taught. Many Project managers, or other IT professionals are also self-taught and then take a relevant certification test in order to prove their knowledge to a standard. Some examples are Prince2 project management training, Togaf technical architect training, Microsoft Certified Engineers and many others.

For some jobs in the UK for example a professional qualification is required. For example, to work as a qualified solicitor you must take the Legal Practice Course (LPC), and to become a chartered accountant you’ll need to pass the relevant exams.

There is some form of professional qualification available in most industries. In the UK these include:
• Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
• BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT
• Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
• Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)
• Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
These are just a small selection – there are many more.
• HR courses
• Management courses
• Marketing courses
• Sales training courses
• Social work courses
• Travel and tourism courses
The entry requirements for professional courses depend entirely on the qualification and what it leads to.
Many professional bodies offer different levels of vocational qualification, suitable for school leavers, graduates and experienced professionals. Typically, when you complete one exam, you become eligible to work towards another qualification at a higher level. Possessing some relevant work experience or having a demonstrable interest in the subject is often essential.
So how can you find out about some of these? Well in the UK you can contact the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) – the trade association for professional awarding organisations offers a wealth of information and contacts. If you’re not in the UK search for trade organisations in the area that you’re studying and see who awards any qualifications or certifications.

Another area where you might want to gain qualifications is languages. For example the DELF, HSK, or other language proficiency examinations which will give you a standard level which you can then use as your official level in the language.

But outside of vocational training and languages what can you do to apply your self-study toward a degree program?

In the USA you can get some college credits using CLEP testing. CLEP stands for “College Level Examination Program.” It’s a set of tests developed and administered by the College Board.

So what exactly are the CLEP tests? They’re exams that test your knowledge of a variety of academic subjects. Many colleges and universities will give you credit towards a degree for each CLEP test you pass.

CLEP exams are much cheaper than a full college course. With the right CLEP tests and undergraduate program, you could get your degree in as little as a year. But you must find a University which accepts CLEP testing. There’s no point in taking CLEP tests if you can’t transfer your passing scores for credit.

Many countries will have similar systems for allowing you to bypass courses in favour of self-study.

Many MOOCs (Massive open online course) will allow credit if your signed up with the University.

It might be that you’ve decided you’re going to do a self-study course through a “mail-order” course, although nowadays they call it “distance learning”, which gives qualifications at the end. This is a good approach, and in the UK you can even get a degree completely through distance learning from the Open University.

So although it is difficult for me to give anything other than general guidelines, hopefully you can see that there are many different ways to have your self-learning and autodidactic work recognised by the rest of the world through some type of testing.

But remember that it isn’t always necessary to have a qualification to become a recognized expert. A simple example of this was my father, who although never had a single qualification as a car mechanic managed to have everyone we knew around to the house anytime there was a problem with their car. He loved working on cars and through self-learning had taught himself everything need to repair a car.

I’m sure you can think of someone who is a recognised subject matter expert without any formal qualifications.

Well that covers just about everything I can think of regarding getting qualifications as a self-learner. Lets move on to the questions I’ve had from listeners.

The main question I’ve been asked boils down to: “What have you taught yourself?”

I have taught myself quite a bit over the years by self learning. I’ve alluded to some of these in previous podcasts. I don’t want to “toot my own horn”, but since you’ve asked…

I have taught myself French and Italian to a good level over a number of years, and I’m currently toying with Mandarin Chinese. I also administer a language learners forum (links in the show notes) and so get a lot of advice and assistance there. If you want to learn another language then I highly suggest you take advantage of all the great advice and lists of resources available there. It is all free, no advertisements or anything so make use of that if you can.

I have taught myself a lot of programming languages over the years, so many in fact I’ve probably forgotten a few I did know. But these include Assembler, C, C++, Java, Javascript, Rust, Perl, Python, Tcl/tk, and a lot of database stuff, SQL, PLSQL, etc.

I taught myself Lean management, which used to be called the Toyota method. But having a need for this I read every book and resource I could find for over a year, averaging 5-10 books per week on the subject until I knew just about everything there was to know.

Another question I have gotten is related to this. “What are you studying right now?”

Right now I’m teaching myself basic electronics, ARM assembler programming, Flutter programming, and Mandarin Chinese. I also have an entire bookshelf of maths books ranging from basic maths to Calculus and Discrete Mathematics. I’m slowly making my way through these books a few minutes each day.

So you can see that I really do practice what I preach.

And the final question I want to cover is one that came in recently. Francois asked: “I have tried mnemonics but I still struggle to remember the stuff I’m reading. How can I improve my retention?”

There are a couple of things you can do, some of which I’ve covered before but just to emphasise they are:
• Take notes about what your are reading. Write them in the margins or in a notebooks
• Make up questions about what you are going to read and try to find the answers while you’re reading.
• Reading out loud frequently helps with retention. So if you can find somewhere you will not be disturbed and read out loud.
• Try reading at night. According to some studies retention is better if you read in the evening, and the reading is processed while you sleep.
• Where possible use physical books rather than ebooks. It seems readers forget more of what they read in an ebook.
• If you are going to use an ebook, try to get an ereader which will read to you. Some programs like Fbreader will read the text to you.
• Always skim before reading checking out the headings and making questions.
• Read in smaller chunks. Don’t read 10 chapters a day, read 10 pages and try to suck all the information you can from those few pages. Bite-sized is better.
• Try to summarise in your own words what you have just read. You can do this at the end of each page, just say it out loud.
• Always quiz yourself on what you have read.

So that is it for Season One!

I hope you enjoyed the show and the rest of the podcasts and I look forward to returning in the New Year. Meanwhile I hope you have a wonderful time of study and learning while we are apart. I really would like to gather listener feedback about the shows, and I’m interested in hearing what you’d like me to discuss in Season Two. So as always you can email me at rick@autodidactic.info or you can leave a comment on the website: https://autodidactic.info

See you next year.

EP10: Solving concentration problems

The Autodidactic Podcast
EP10: Solving concentration problems
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Hello and welcome to the auto didactic podcast. This is Season 1 Episode 10 If you’re a long-time listener, welcome back to the show. And if you’re joining us for the first time, welcome aboard. As always, I just want to say that I enjoy getting feedback for the show. So if you have any feedback, feel free to email me at rick@autodidactic.info, and you can request topics or give feedback or give your experience.

Today we’re going to talk about concentration. Now, when you study, concentration is very important, and it’s something that you may have in abundance or something that you might not have, but it is definitely something that can be acquired.

So what is Concentration? Concentration is focusing your attention on what you’re doing, and concentration is an important in just about everything, especially reading or listening or studying. It’s very difficult to say what concentration is, but it’s very easy to explain what it isn’t.

For example, if you’re reading a chapter in your textbook, you’re concentrating only as long as you’re thinking of nothing else, as soon as you start to think about how many pages you have left to read or what time you’re gonna eat dinner or a soon as you start to think about something else then you’ve been distracted and you’re not concentrating.

So if you think about the fact that you should be concentrating, that means you’ve actually lost your concentration. So, for example, if you were in some sort, of course, or watching a YouTube video and you become interested in something that’s happening outside your window or behind you or other people talking, then you’ve lost your concentration. And you’ve probably missed some of the points that the person was trying to make.

Being distracted interferes with your ability to focus, and in each of the sort of examples I’ve given you are actually concentrating on something. The problem is, you just were concentrating on something other than what you wanted to be. Now the difficulty with concentration is a pretty common place for most people on.

I think basically, there three types of concentration and improving your concentration is something that’s very important if you’re going to become an autodidactic. Studies say that there are three levels of concentration.

So as you’re reading your text assignments. Time yourself for 20 minutes, and each time you think of something else or look up from what you’re doing, put a tick mark in the margin of your book. You’ll find out that you probably weren’t concentrating at the level that you should have been. And at some points during the 20 minute period, you’ll have noticed that you were more focused on the material than other times. If you look back at the tick marks that you made in your books, you can see where you were starting to lose concentration. And typically, most people find that these are in the early parts of the study section or the section, which you’re studying.

Why is that? Basically, most people are less distracted toward the end of the 20 minute period. Let’s take a little look at how concentration works. You have what they call light concentration, moderate concentration and deep concentration. A light concentration is typically when you first sit down and you first start a task. So at this stage it lasts, probably for the first five or 10 minutes of your activity on. Then, as you get settled into reading or studying or whatever it is you’re doing, you can see that in the first few minutes you’re not really as focused as you should be, and you wiggle about in the chair or you pull your hair or you start twiddling a pencil or doing something.

So when you’re in light concentration mode, you’re easily distracted. So if somebody starts talking behind you or you see people walking around outside or whatever or some noise occurs, you may find yourself thinking about other things, and you typically don’t accomplish much in a light concentration phase.

Now, after that first five or six minutes, you start to move into a moderate concentration mode, and at this point you begin to seriously pay attention to what you’re doing on the task that you’re doing or what you’re reading, etcetera. Now you may find that you’re actually interested in in this material on what you’re doing, and at this stage you’ll find that you’re not as easily distracted as you were before. So although you might lose your concentration at this point if somebody actually speaks directly to you or knocks on the door or whatever, typically you’re going to stay focused on what you’re doing, and then at some point you might move into deep concentration.

And this means you’re completely engrossed in what you’re doing reading, studying, etcetera and you aren’t thinking about anything except what you’re doing. It’s this. This is the sort of phase where you jump when somebody comes up behind you and touches your arm because you’re so sort of engrossed in what you’re doing that you didn’t even notice the person. Enter the room or say your name when you’re in deep concentration. You’re not really aware of doors opening, clock’s ticking, other sounds that you may have found distracting. And this is the stage of concentration where you’re working the most effectively and you’re gonna have the highest comprehension.

This is the mode that you want to get into, and this is where you’re gonna learn the most and complete the most amount of work.

How do you get into a deep concentration? Concentration typically is a cycle, and you might be thinking that it’s easy to get to a high level of concentration. You know you work for 10 or 15 minutes and then buying you’re in deep concentration, but it really doesn’t work like that. What typically tends to happen is you’ll be able to work up into deep concentration for 40 minutes of say in our study session. Typically, the first few minutes is not really any good to you. And unfortunately, some people never actually get into deep concentration. They flip back and forth between light and moderate because they’re more or less constantly distracted.

Every time you’re distracted, you move back to a lesser stage of concentration. So if you’re in deep concentration, you get distracted urine sort of moderate, and then if you’re in moderate, you go back to light. What you need to do is keep interruptions very short if they happen or not at all. And you need to do this until you get deep into the material. This might take you. You no longer than five or 10 minutes to do. But you’re still gonna have to move through these two other steps of light and moderate before you could get into deep or heavy concentration. And this is gonna take you a while.

So you’re gonna need to study in places where you’re not interrupted as much where you’re you’re gonna be able to basically concentrate for longer periods and your your ability to concentrate. It’s gonna vary from task to task and depends on what you study in the text and things on the time what you’re doing, it etcetera. One of the things you definitely don’t want to be doing is studying in a noisy or distracting area where there’s loads of people and you should actually try and study at the same time each day because you just get into a habit of studying. Most people, as I said, have concentration problems. But most people don’t actually have problems concentrating, which sounds a bit weird, but people have the ability to concentrate. No problem. They just have problems getting into concentration.

So there’s three kinds of problems that are typically found. There’s difficulty focusing at will like you know immediately when you want to. There’s a difficulty sustaining that focus over a longer period of time, and there’s a different difficulty in limiting the focus toe one task at a time. So let’s discuss the first one focusing it will. So have you ever noticed that you have difficulty concentrating when somebody starts lecturing or when you start to the video you may find yourself looking around or thinking about you know, when you’re when you’re gonna be able to get thio whatever you’re doing next. But you basically have trouble focusing all your attention on the task at hand, and this is focusing at will, being able to turn your attention on and off like a light switch. Now some people can concentrate immediately. Others find it difficult.

Many people have developed techniques to focus their attention on the task at hand. You picture yourself of that critical minute when you’re gonna make your move, and you go through some sort of ritual to calm yourself or focus your attention. People that play sports ballplayers, bowlers, tennis players, runners, etcetera have strategies to focus their attention. Many people use self talk to focus yourself, so you might say things like, Okay, pay attention. I’m gonna do this. Some people give themselves a little pep talk. You know, pay attention. I need to do this. I need to concentrate, etcetera. Some people have sort of a totem, you know. They put a pen or highlighter in front of them, and they, you know, they know that they’re going to start studying or they have ah, particular place where they study and they associate their concentration with that area, so these sorts of things help them to focus their will.

The other problem that people have is sustaining that concentration once you actually start, as we discussed previously, the concentration is a cycle, so it’s not as easy as it sounds just to keep in that mode. And some people have difficulty maintaining concentration. Regardless of the task, Some people can focus for long, long, long periods without ever becoming distracted. Why is there this difference? Well, the difficulty of the task level, the person’s interest in the material, their motivation can all be factors in what is the ability to sustain this focus? The final type of problem is, uh, limiting your focus toe one task at a time.

Now, a lot of people think that it’s good to multitask, but most of the time this isn’t a good idea, especially when you’re studying or trying to learn something, you need to focus your attention on the task at hand without being distracted by, you know, another uh, text that you need to review or another thing that needs to do but happen or something else on your to do list. Various strategies around this include, you know, having a good study environment that helps you avoid distractions.

Strategies for setting goals and time management and prioritization will all help you. When you find yourself thinking of other things staring out a window or being distracted, you may have difficulty focusing at will, sustaining your focus or limiting your focus on one task. The rial cause of most problems for concentration are simply a lack of attention, lack of interest or lack of motivation. The two main signs of poor concentration are external internal distractions. Distraction is anything that divert your attention from the task at hand. So external distractions or things like doorbells or people walking past etcetera, internal distractions or things that you’re thinking about or you’re worrying about, or you know, something that pops into your head while you’re while you’re working.

Common internal distractions, air sort of anxieties, personal worries, indecision, etcetera. You probably find that it’s really easy to concentrate when you’re interested in what you’re doing. So when you’re focused on something that you’re doing, like a hobby or or whatever you find it easy to let the time slip away. You’re very focused on what you’re doing. Your level of interest in this particular course from the material that you’re studying, maybe part of the problem with A without having a high level of interest. It’s easy to get distracted, especially when you’re surrounded by distractions. I like the motivation is another cause If you really don’t care about what you’re studying or you have no motivation to complete on, learn what you need to learn, then you’re really not going to see the relevance, uh, toe what you’re trying to study or or what your you’ve assigned yourself to do on. It’s hard to exert.

You know that extra willpower to get it done, you really need to have a motivation and and find out, you know, why am I doing this? Why am I trying to learn this? You know what is my motivation and keep that motivation of mind. It will help you improve your concentration. If you’re motivated to succeed, these problems can be marked. Is AIM (Attention, interest and motivation).

And they’re the real reasons that distractions interrupt you. Internal distractions are difficult to put away. It’s very difficult to not worry about personal problems or think about what you have to do later, or if you’re feeling hungry or tired, you know is another common distraction. You need to make sure that you try and solve these types of problems before you sit down to study, you know, have a snack. Eat something before you start. Try and make sure you’re getting proper sleep and things so that you’re not tired, and you need to make sure that you’ve got the right attitude towards what you’re doing so that you’re motivated, that you know what you want to do and you’re ready to do it. There’s a lot of people have concentration problems when they’re reading assignments, unlike the person speaking or varying the pitch of their voice or the tone or the changing environment around them. These folks can keep you from being distracted and can keep you interested in what’s happening. But if you’re lying in bed reading a textbook, well, you know it can affect your ability to concentrate. If you try and read late at night, you’re gonna experience more difficulty staying focused because you’re tired.

Concentration actually requires effort, so it’s hard to make that effort if you’re tired and you have difficulty maintaining concentration when you’re reading for long periods of time without a break. Okay, So how do we improve concentration? How do we go about making the concentration better? Well, by now, you realize that concentration is pretty common for everybody. And although it makes you feel a bit better to know you’re not the only person who has this problem. It doesn’t actually help you.

Look at ways to fix our concentration strategies. There’s various motivational and organizational strategies we can use to improve concentration. And probably the most helpful ones are a positive attitude. A general interest in the task in hand, goal settings and scheduling yourself. You know, your study periods.

So you need to develop a positive attitude towards what you’re gonna what you’re gonna do. You need too. Want to do the study you need to see it is relevant and valuable and important. So before you even begin to do all of this stuff, have to think about how it benefits you, right? And, answer the question of why you want to do this and then have some self belief. You know, you can do this assignment. It’s not a problem. You have successfully completed things before and you’ll successfully complete.

If you’re having any self doubts or frustration, they’ll interfere with your concentration. You need to have a positive attitude, and then you need to be interested in the task If you’re not already interested and you’re gonna have a lot of difficulty in doing, uh, this task If you need to read a two part data sheet on, uh, microprocessors or something, then you’re gonna need to be interested in that. In order to sustain your focus, you’re gonna need ways to find to make this material interesting on dso that you can generate an interest in what you’re doing.

Now, one way is to preview the thing before you read, so you have a good idea of what you’re going to go through. You know, we’ve talked about this before where you review the chapters. You look at the headings, you sort of have a good idea of what’s gonna happen before you start to read. And in order to increase your motivation, you start to ask some questions from the headlines on the headers so that you are looking to answer these questions as you’re reading along so that that gets you more motivation and more interest in the topic because you’re actually searching for answers at this point.

Another thing that you might try is to break up, break up this task into smaller chunks so that you don’t have to read eight Chapter Section one of this book. You break it into smaller chapters or half a chapter so that you’re basically doing one task at a time, and you’re taking your way through it so it won’t matter as much if you’re distracted midway through if you’re only midway through a relatively small section. The other thing you might try is if you’re not particularly interested in this particular topic and you have another topic what you are interested in, you can try flipping between them so that you know you force yourself to do 20 minutes of mathematics in order to read 20 minutes of history book.

Now you can use goal setting strategies, so set a clear specific goal to help you concentrate. So if you know what you need to accomplish, then you can limit your focus to that tasks of it again. If we go back to asking questions, you’re focusing on answering your own questions rather than just reading the text. But having a clear purpose in mind can help you limit the distractions that you run into on time. Management strategies are very important, you know. Have a to do list. Have a reverse revision, spreadsheet, that sort of thing. To develop a steady schedule study schedule for yourself each day. Then you need to create a positive environment. You need to be able to reduce the number of external distractions on.

The easiest way to do that is just just eliminate them by going and hiding away somewhere where you’re not gonna be distracted. You can avoid most external distractions by closing yourself off or getting yourself alone somewhere. Find yourself a nice, quiet study place. Limit your distractions. So even in your study place, you can put your desk against the wall. Eso you can’t look out the window. Turn off emails, etcetera. Use your desk to study, you know, Don’t use it for everything else. Don’t eat your dinner there. You know it’s just for studying and don’t get a comfy chair to study in. Get something that’s not too comfortable that basically keeps you awake. Never study while you’re lying in bed, because basically, you fall asleep. Um, you can try and turn off your phone, or at least screen your phone calls. Turn off radios, televisions, radio, etcetera. If you need something sort of white noise, you can use soft, familiar music or because even APS you can download that have sort of a sound of falling rain. Etcetera.

Try and study when where you’re at is the most quiet. So if you’re studying at home, when your family members or asleep or outside, um, try and consider going to maybe a library or somewhere quiet If you can’t get any quiet time at home, try and just reduce or remove all distractions in order to get your place. Get yourself into a place where you could go into deep concentration. Now again, everybody says multitasking is great, but really multitasking is not great for study. You need to focus on what you’re doing. You can’t be, you know, studying mathematics While watching football on television. You might think that you’re able to but you just can’t because you’re concentrating on neither thing. If you’re trying to listen to your, you know, respond to text messages on your phone while you’re studying, it’s just not gonna work. Don’t do it. Focus on the task at hand. Minimize all your distractions.

Try not to focus yourself internally, so don’t think about you know the things you could be doing or should be doing or want to be doing. Uh, that’s not the time to be focusing on that. Focus on what you’re doing. Task at hand. And when you find yourself drifting off and thinking about something else, pull yourself back and the more often you pull yourself back and focus, the easier it will be for you to focus later. So one of the better ways to keep distractions from actually getting to you in the first place is to generate a high level involvement using active learning strategies. You may understand video tutoring better if you’re writing notes at the same time. If you’re physically actively writing notes, um, or you know you may have other um, strategies for, I don’t know, looking for grammatical errors and sentences, etcetera. So all of these sort of active strategies to get you involved and focus your attention on the task.

The other problem that you may have is that your you prefer one type of activity over another. So, for example, you may prefer to watch video tutorials rather than read text, which is fine. But you need to be able to make sure that when you’re doing a an activity that you don’t particularly like so much that you’re focusing and concentrating on that as well. Now, one of the things we said earlier was to put a check mark or a tick mark in the book. Every time you’ve got distracted Onda at the end of the study session, you can count the number of interruptions. One of the things that you can do with this is you can use this as a monitor to see if you’re improving your concentration. The way that you do that is, you basically put a tick mark or something in the margin of your study book or in your notes.

If you’re in a lecture hall or you’re watching a video or whatever, each time you get distracted and then what, you’re gonna try and do is make a commitment to reduce the number of ticks and distractions in order to force yourself to concentrate when you notice that you’re distracted or day dreaming or thinking about something else and you’re putting that tick in the in the margin or in your notes or whatever, then have a think about what actually caused you or triggered you to lose your concentration. And if you can pinpoint the cause of your distraction than your step closer to coming up with a solution.

So, for example, if you if you’re studying and you over the course of two or three days, you notice that you’re always constantly distracted by the the postman putting post through the letter box, it might not be, you know, a good idea to stop the postman from delivering your post, but you can at least try and schedule your study time after the postman has been, for example, or if you know, approximately the time that they’re going to show up. Schedule a study break, then, rather than having it being forced upon you many benefits to improve concentration, and obviously the most obvious one is that you’re making better use of your time, and you’re actually studying more but improves concentration while studying has another benefit, which is, Actually, it improves your concentration the rest of the time, bringing your attention back on point. Every time it goes off, you’re training yourself to become more focused and more aware of what you’re doing and better able to fix your concentration at will on a particular thing.

This is something that a lot of people who meditate have found that their ability to meditate and to focus on one thing allows them much, much better ability to get in the flow of something and focus and concentrate. Monitor your distractions so you can hold yourself accountable and try and figure out what is causing these distractions or lack of concentration. So you can try and come up with some sort of improvement method or system or something that will help you do it. And if you’re putting in the time but not getting much done, then you probably have a concentration problem, and you and you need to work on fixing your concentration problem.

I hope you enjoyed this weeks podcast, and I hope you have found something to take away and improve your studying and improve your concentration.

Next week in next week’s podcast, I want to cover off something that you might have been wondering, which is has an auto didactic. You don’t have a teacher or professor or someone showing you what to learn. And, of course, you yourself don’t actually know yet about this subject in full. So how do you go about creating your own self directed learning plan or curriculum for yourself? Next week? We’ll cover off some of those topics just to try and cover what it is you should try and look for when you first start out and how you plan create an Evolve, a learning plan that helps you become a lifelong learner and also to cover the topic that you’re interested in. So that’s it for this week. I hope you enjoyed the podcast. And, as always, if you have any feedback, please email me at rick@autodidactic.info. Uh, with any questions, feedback, anything you want to discuss. Thank you very much.

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