Learning How to Learn Week 3 - Procrastination and Memory

My notes from an online course that claims to 'teach powerful mental  tools to help master tough  subjects'. My interest in this is actually pedagogical and cross referencing the techniques with my own experiences and teaching style.

Focusing on process not the product of work:

  • Tackle procrastination with techniques that don't take will power.
  • Procrastination or avoidance might be a 'keystone' bad habit. An habit that influences others areas of your life.
  • Visualize inner zombies and zombie mode (with habits)
  • Chunking is related to habit and habit is an energy saver, neurologically speaking.
  • Habit components according to this class - The cue, the routine, the reward, the belief
  • Focus on the process not the product - so on putting forth your best effort for 25 minutes instead of 'finish this article' [yup, 90 min code timer and timeboxing in general]
  • It is okay to have negative thoughts about starting something challenging, but start as fast as possible and move through those negative thoughts quickly.
  • The inner zombies like processes, routines that you can just flow into 'mindlessly' and just do. Thinking about completing a product is what triggers that (mind) pain that causes you to procrastinate.
  • Enlisting inner zombies to help by noticing and changing reaction to cues.
  • Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. Only when your brain starts expecting that reward, will the important rewiring take place that will allow you to create new habits.
  • Another trick is the better you get at something the more you enjoy working on it.
  • The pomodoro technique mentioned several times.
  • Decide a quitting time for the day so not to be in an always 'on' mode.
  • Learning is building neuro scaffolds bit by bit and day by day. So that is why tackling procrastination is important. These neuro scaffolds cannot be build well by cramming it all in within a day (analogy with buiding muscle by lifting weights and resting time for muscle)


  • We have a super-sized visual spatial memory system, based on evolutionary needs to remember where thing are and how they look. We can tap into the memory system to remember more abstract ideas by using visualizations.
  • To move something from short term memory to long term memory, it must be 1. memorable and 2. repeated. Repetition is important even for memorable things.
  • Memory in the brain - STM to LTM in the process called memory consolidation. Retrieval then leads to reconsolidation, which may change the original memory due to new context.
  • Astrocytes are supporting cells in the brain connected to learning, they provide nutrients to neurons among other things (apparently einstein had more of these in his brain than the average human).
  • Memory palace technique - imagining different items in a list in different room in your house, for example. This speeds up the chunk acquisition and moves novices to expert quickly. By memorizing material that you understand you can internalize it a more profound way. You are reinforcing the mental library you need to become a genuine master of the material.

Nelson Dellis, Memory Champion Interview

  • There are memory championships and it tests remembering things like the a deck of cards, digits, names.
  • Most memory techniques involves two things - visualization and location (i.e. memory palace)
  • Same techniques of visualization and storing in a memory palace can work for more abstract concepts and texts, etc.
  • Brain health as we get older - stay mentally active/learn new things, physical activity, social, diet DHA Omega3 (so nothing new the same simple things)
  • Extreme memory challenge, Dart Neuroscience, Alzheimer's research

Dr. Robert Gamache

  • Bilingual in English and French. Researcher and professor. He is dyslexic.
  • Study whatever you want learn or master every day.
  • Stumbled upon learning techniques - repetition and practice to hardwire your brain for problem solving, for example
  • What to do when getting stuck - deliberately take a break. diffuse mode
  • Family life important to him and mentions on the website and asked about in the interview - downtown with family, keeps his "brain refreshed" and he doesn't worry because the "wheels are always turning in the background"

Keith Delvin, NPR "Math Guy"

  • Solving difficult Math problem - bash away at the problem first, try everything you know and see how and why it doesn't work. Then 3 or 5 hour run or bike ride for his diffuse mode thinking. And it's important that you do the focused mode work first to setup the brain to do the 'mysterious work it does' in the diffused mode.
  • Getting inside the problem and thinking about it for a long period of time so that it's really familiar to you (as if it's a member of your family, haha - and human brain is good at solving social problems, has evolved for this at least vs. abstract problems).
  • You don't need to work fast (for solving complex mathematical problems). This is something we have to unlearn from school and formal education and timed tests. You have to take your time and let the process take it's course. [This reminds me of Math Meets from high school]
  • Is the mind separate from the body? He doesn't think so. Learned this pattern of thinking, doing, thinking, doing. Try to solve a problem, then do some physical activity.
  • Procrastination and how he works - many different initiatives going on (company, teaching, on twitter). Does not multi-task but works on one things straight for number of days until it's done - focus on that and nothing else. (Mentioned twitter a few times haha). Procrastinations comes into play for him when switching from one project to a different one, as the brain would need to get into a different groove and that does require some willpower and energy. Once you're in the groove you don't want to stop doing the thing.

These are my notes from this Cousera course.  If you're intrigued my these notes and decide to take the course, send me a message. I'd be curious to hear other's thoughts and observations!

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