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Fascinating Finds: Books, Videos and the Big Bang

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

With my final exams on the horizon, I’ve been excelling at what I do best: Finding ways to procrastinate.

In my impassioned quest to find the best ways to do anything other than work, I’ve made a few interesting discoveries that I’ve been spending a lot of time on, and I’d like to share them with you. Feel free to add to the list in the comments, and I’ll check them out!

YouTube Highlight: Kurzgesagt

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One of the best YouTube channels. Ever.

I’d like to give a shout out to my roommate, Toby, for introducing me to this YouTube channel that’s virtually impossible to pronounce. Within the span of a week, I had watched pretty much every single video they’d ever produced. Kurzgesagt creates videos on scientific concepts and makes them fun and engaging to watch.

I recommend checking out their videos on overpopulation, human origins, “What is Life? Is Death Real?”, “Why the War on Drugs is a Huge Failure”, and – you know what, watch them all. They’re amazing. Amaaaaaazing.

The videos are expertly produced and each one can take anywhere between two hundred and six hundred hours to create!

They are fantastic at weighing both sides of an argument, and they present those arguments in a clear, concise manner.

Many of their videos on the universe and philosophy can induce existential dread, something they often acknowledge in their videos, but don’t let that scare you away. It’s a fantastic resource. Cheers Toby!

Check out this fascinating video they made on the topic of addiction:

 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

This is a really fascinating book about the history of humanity. It’s been out for a while, so I was quite late to the party. I’d describe it as brilliant mix of philosophy and history, and is written in a way that’s engaging. To sum it up in one sentence, Sapiens talks about the rise of humankind and how we became what we are today.

It’s an excellent book. It was a fifteen hour listen on Audible, but I found myself wishing there was more. My full review of Sapiens will be out soon, so stay tuned for that!

Food for Thought: What Existed Before the Big Bang?

Something I’ve been pondering a lot recently (mostly due to the binge-watching of Kurzgesagt videos), is the origin of the universe. More precisely, what happened before the big bang?

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What Happened Before This?  Image Credit: Wikipedia

There’s a very long winded explanation by Stephen Hawking that’s extremely interesting (although hard to understand at times) that you can check out, or you can watch the video below, also by Kurzgesagt (in case you needed more evidence of how much I love them).

If my interpretation of it is correct, the short answer is that time didn’t exist before the Big Bang, and so the concept of before doesn’t have any meaning, because in order for there to be a “before”, time itself would need to exist. Whoa.

I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around this concept myself, so if you can explain this to me, please leave a comment and let me know!

Podcast Highlight: Sir Richard Branson — The Billionaire Maverick of the Virgin Empire

This is a fascinating conversation between Tim Ferriss and British billionaire, Sir Richard Branson.

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The conversation revolves around Branson’s history, how he ended up in prison, his habits and decision-making processes, risk management, and the lessons he’s learned. It’s one of the best podcast episodes I’ve listened to and I highly recommend having a listen. If you enjoy it, his first autobiography, Losing my Virginity is definitely worth picking up as well.

 

Side note, if you’re looking for a decent podcast app, check out CastBox (thank you to my friend Harold for the tip).

If you liked this post, give it a like so I know to make more of these. As usual, drop me a line and share your top recommendations!

See you in the next one!

Image credits: Kurzgesagt, Richard Branson by David Shankbone.

Full disclosure: Some of the links are affiliate links, so if I do make a profit from your purchase, the money goes into supporting this blog!

 

Specialists vs Generalists, The Polymath Ideal

A Jack of All Trades or a Master of One: Specialists vs Generalists

The common saying, “jack of all trades, master of none”, seems to imply that specialisation is superior compared to dabbling in numerous fields. It’s incomplete however, and the actual quote conveys a different meaning:

“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

A capitalist society reveres the specialist; the more specialised you are, the more valued and respected you become, eventually leading to better remuneration. That being said, specialisation certainly has its place – there are countless specialists who have made significant contributions due to their in-depth knowledge in that specific area. In the medical field, for example, specialists are virtually a necessity as the field is simply too broad for individual mastery.

Benefits of being a specialist:

  • They are able to charge higher rates
  • They have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter
  • They can allocate all of their attention and focus on one field
  • They are regarded as experts in the field, and can act as consultants

The Case for the Generalist

Polymathy is severely underrated, especially in a capitalist economy that  idolises specialisation. I am certainly not against capitalism (we will get into this discussion in an upcoming post), but I do think that this is one of the drawbacks of the system.

If you are competent in a number or fields, you are essentially equipping yourself with a variety of resources and tools. Knowledge can be transferrable, and even applicable across disciplines – an advantage polymaths are able to capitalise on.

Benefits of being a polymath:

  • Talent in various fields
  • Able to apply knowledge gained in one field to another field
  • Ability to make connections easily
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Well rounded
  • Development in multiple areas
  • Able to apply skills in a variety of situations
  • Understand systems thinking or how concepts are interrelated
  • Yeah, this list is a lot longer than the benefits of being a specialist, I’m biased

Polymaths are able to draw upon their knowledge from multiple sources, enabling them to see and make connections that a specialist would not be able to. Innovation is often a result of combining ideas, and extending your areas of knowledge often assists in the process.

Robert Twigger (a British poet, writer and explorer), in his essay “Master of Many Trades“, summarises:

The real master has no tools at all, only a limitless capacity to improvise with what is to hand. The more fields of knowledge you cover, the greater your resources for improvisation.

Famous Polymaths of the Past and Present

Widely considered the epitome of polymathy, Leonardo da Vinci clearly illustrates the point I made above. He was an influential artist, inventor, engineer, botanist, writer, and sculptor, among other things, and it can be argued that he was able to do this because he was able to apply his knowledge from one area into the next.

Other examples from the time include Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo, while modern day polymaths include Tim Ferriss and Elon Musk.

For some interesting further reading, head over to “What Happened to the Polymaths? Some Modern Examples of Homo Universalis and How to Emulate Great Thinkers“. The article poses some interesting theories as to why there appear to be fewer modern polymaths.

“Use It or Lose It”

I’d also like to highlight another point that Twigger makes, about the common misconception that it is essential for one to be naturally gifted in order to succeed in this endeavour:

The fact that I succeeded where others were failing also gave me an important key to the secret of learning. There was nothing special about me, but I worked at it and I got it. One reason many people shy away from polymathic activity is that they think they can’t learn new skills. I believe we all can — and at any age too — but only if we keep learning. ‘Use it or lose it’ is the watchword of brain plasticity.

The Overachieving Brain Surgeon

Consider this: Can a specialist also be a generalist?

Let’s look at a hypothetical brain surgeon for a second. This surgeon is an example of a specialist, but let’s assume that he or she is also a guitar virtuoso, has a decent grasp on poker and chess and happens to be an excellent swimmer. Would the surgeon be still be considered a specialist or would they now be a generalist?

Firstly, do the terms “specialist” and “generalist” only apply to attributes that are relevant to the job market? I have not found a definitive answer to this question anywhere else so far, but I’m going to say that they are not.

From my perspective, the debate about whether it is better to be a specialist or a generalist is quite irrelevant because they are not mutually exclusive. Why choose a side when you can have the best of both worlds?

What do you think? Would you rather choose a side, and if so why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

The Best Podcasts to Listen To

Podcast Picks of 2017: Productivity, Language, and Culture

Podcasts have been experiencing phenomenal growth and it’s certainly justified as they’re extremely versatile and there’s an immense selection available. This means that there’s always something for everyone Continue reading “Podcast Picks of 2017: Productivity, Language, and Culture”

Pimp Your Study Habits

Pimp Your Study Habits

Placing gummy bears or chocolates at the end of every paragraph of your textbook doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to motivating yourself for a heavy study session. For one thing, it’s not sustainable, not to mention terribly unhealthy. Motivation needs to be strong enough to push you through when you feel like giving up.

I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve when it comes to this. Let’s start with the first one:

Shorten Your Study Periods.

Haaaaaaaaallelujah! By shortening your study periods and increasing the frequency, it’s much easier to keep yourself motivated and maximise your concentration while you’re at it. The Pomodoro technique is literally the best tool I’ve found so far, and has gone a long way in helping me stay focused and highly motivated to study (I go into detail about the technique in this post).

Create Achievable Milestones

Goals or milestones are extremely powerful motivational tools. However, they need to be specific and measurable in order for them to work.

  • Set macro and micro goals, and rewards to go along with them

Break up your study goals into smaller, achievable milestones. Start with macro goals. For example, “Within 4 weeks, I need to cover x amount of material.” Then switch over to your micro goals, which involves what you need to cover today or even in the next 2 hours. 

The big question here is, how do you keep yourself motivated to achieve these goals?

This is the fun part. Set up rewards! You’ll need to set up small and large-scale rewards for this to work (you can apply this to anything, not just studying):

  • Set up mini-rewards for everyday studying. In my case, I usually reward myself with 5 minutes of playing the guitar after a solid Pomodoro session, which lasts just 25 minutes. At the end of the day, perhaps you could reward yourself with a good movie, or hang out with friends.
  • Next, set up a large reward that you can work towards. For me, I had worked over the summer and saved up enough cash to travel to New Zealand, so I made this my reward for working consistently throughout the semester. This had a powerful motivating effect, because each time I felt like giving up, knowing that I had something amazing to look forward to kept me going.
  • Plan for your rewards, but hold yourself accountable. If you don’t hit your goal, don’t reward yourself.

Set up high stakes and leverage your fear of loss

Use the power of fear if rewards don’t work for you. People tend to work much harder in order to prevent losing something, compared to the amount of effort they would invest in order to gain something.

Tim Ferriss gives an example of this in one of his talks, but he used weight loss as an example. If you have trouble sticking to your goal of weight loss, take pictures of yourself in your underclothes and give them to someone you trust and tell them to post it on the internet if you don’t achieve your goal. This might sound extreme, but if you were in that position, you’d definitely find a way to lose that weight.

Of course, you don’t have to go to these lengths, but something similar could work. For example, if you can’t motivate yourself to study, you could give a sum of money to your parents and only ask for it to be returned if you achieve your goal, or else they could spend it on themselves.

TL;DR

  • To motivate yourself use these tricks:
    1. Shorten your study sessions and increase the frequency. The Pomodoro technique is perfect for this.
    2. Set up mini-rewards for everyday study sessions and one large-scale reward to work towards.
      • Mini rewards could include listening to music, an entertaining video, a healthy snack, etc. Larger rewards could be a road trip, a vacation, or something else that you really want. This is very important to keep you going.
    3. Use the power of fear. Setting up stakes can keep you motivated.
      1. If you make a bet, losing that bet could entail you having to do something embarrassing in public if you don’t achieve your goal for instance.
How to Learn Any Skill in 20 Hours

Learn Any Skill With The 20 Hour Rule

Does It Really Take 10 000 Hours?

In his book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the 10 000 hour theory, which basically says that in order to master any skill, it takes 10 000 hours of deliberate practice. His research took the world by storm, and led to many studies, some of which claim to have disproved the theory. However, while I think there may be some truth to the 10 000 hour theory, this post is about becoming good at any skill, not necessarily becoming a master of the skill.

I’m going to use learning the guitar as an example. When I suggest that someone try their hand at learning to play the instrument, people often say “I can’t do this. It’s going to take too much time to learn”.

I can tell you without a doubt, this is not true.

I’ve had numerous people ask me how long I’ve been playing the guitar, wondering if they can pick it up too. Whenever I say that I started at the age of eight, there’s usually a look of demoralisation. The usual response is:

“Okay, I’m never going to be able to do this”.

Deconstructing a Skill to Learn it Faster

It certainly did not take me 13 years to become “good”. In fact, I know numerous guitarists who started just a couple of years ago and are already light years ahead of me in terms of skill.

I have taught people with no prior knowledge how to play a song in under a week! Most people think they’re going to be stuck at the beginner “I can barely hold the strings” stage for a few weeks before they can start playing songs. Not true!

When I was being taught to play, it took me a couple of weeks before I was able to play a simple two-chord song. The reason my progress was so slow was because of the method in which I was taught. It was a very ineffective. Once I quit those lessons and taught myself to play, my progress was exponential because I changed the way I was learning the material. I started using the 80/20 rule which you can read about here.

Once I got to a level where I felt that I had enough knowledge to share, I deconstructed the way in which I had learned, removed all the useless bits, rearranged it, and began to teach it to people in the most effective way possible. In fact, if you deconstruct a skill before you learn it, you can pick it up much faster. I’ll get into this in a future post.

Introducing the 20 Hour Rule

For any skill, all you need is 20 hours.

20 hours! That’s nothing! Especially when compared to the 10 000 hour theory. In order to actually be able to start applying the skill, all it takes is 20 hours. Once you get past that threshold, you will experience that the skill starts to become drastically easier as time passes. This could be applied to anything! It could be a language, drawing, dance, public speaking, acting, chess, any kind of sport, and indeed, the guitar.

In fact, this raised an interesting thought to me. Many people have told me that they’re not good at drawing. So many people are quick to say, “I have no talent”. I wonder how many hours they actually put in. If they had just put in 20 hours of deliberate practice, they might have had a very different response.

I recently watched this TED talk (you can watch it below) and it basically puts everything that I had discovered before into words with an excellent structure. Josh Kaufman breaks it down extremely well and it is very helpful to gain an understanding of what to do. It’s an excellent talk and I definitely encourage you to watch it. He also mentions starting with the 10 000 hour theory and how he discovered his 20 hour method.

The ramifications of this discovery are incredible! You can pretty much learn anything you want, in a very short space of time. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Before you say “I’m not good at that”, ask yourself: Have I put at least 20 hours into it?

TL;DR

  • It takes only 20 hours to pick up a skill and be able to apply it at a functional level
  • 10 000 hours enables to you master a skill, not simply become good at it
  • If you deconstruct a skill into its various parts, rearrange it and focus on the most important things, you can pick up the skill much faster
  • Watch the TED talk, “The first 20 hours — how to learn anything | Josh Kaufman | TEDxCSU“. It’s an excellent talk, and highly recommended.

 

How to Study Less and Get Better Grades

How to Study Half as Much and Get Twice the Results

I have a very short attention span when it comes to studying. If it was anything else, like playing the guitar, learning a language, talking about interesting ideas etc., I could spend hours without getting bored. I sense you might agree here, so now that we’ve established that we all get bored with studying (and if you don’t, I’d like to do research on you, so leave me an email), this post details how I hacked my study sessions to ensure I study a lot less and at least achieve a distinction average.

Honestly, I could write a few posts on this because there are a number of tricks you can use to ensure that you study a lot less. However, much like the extremely powerful 80/20 principle I wrote about in this blog post “The 80/20 Rule: Meta-Learning and Productivity Life Hacks“, I am going to give you my best tip. This is the 20% of my tool kit which provide me with 80% of my results.

Space Out Your Study Sessions

Okay, let’s get to it.

The secret is to break up your study into 25 minute intervals, with 5 minute breaks in between. So in an hour, you’d have 50 minutes of study time, and 10 minutes of break. It’s far more effective than the 3-hour long sessions that many people attempt. You can adjust that of course, I find that 20 minutes works best for me and I sometimes require 10 minute breaks for particularly heavy tasks.

The reasoning behind this is twofold:

1. I’m easily distracted when I study.

First I’m hungry, then I have to check Facebook because someone sent me a message, and… well you get the picture. The thing is, it’s hard to shut out distractions. Instead, you can work around it by giving yourself 5 minutes to do anything you want after a 25 minute session.

25 minutes isn’t that bad at all! In fact, you’ll find you’re flying through it faster than you think. This makes your hyper-focused on the task at hand. Knowing that you have a 5-minute break coming up every so often allows you to maintain an incredibly high level of focus for that 25 minutes.

2. Average concentration tends to take a heavy dip as the duration of study increases.

With this technique, you get to break up your study session so that you have a higher average level of concentration (I’ll explain this below).

The human brain has an attention span of roughly 20 minutes for most things, after which it sort of goes into a gentle slumber (flashback of history lessons in high school anyone?).

What do you remember the most of a study session? The beginning, the middle, or the end?

For most people, they remember the beginning, and the last thing they studied. The middle becomes a sort of fuzzy, mushy stew of information which is frustratingly hard to remember.

This is what happens when you study for long periods of time without regular breaks. You tend to remember the beginning and the end but not much of the middle. Concentration always takes a dip in the middle.

If you take a look at the graphs below (please excuse the poor illustrations, Microsoft Paint was all I had available), you’ll see what I mean. The first graph shows you how the average study session goes, with concentration taking a nose-dive soon after the first few minutes, usually ending up in pleasant daydreams and Facebook messages.

attention-curveCompare the graph above with the one below. You get a much higher level of average attention, because you have more frequent breaks, you’re have more beginnings and ends (thus you have improved recall) and you get to allow yourself some distraction every 25 minutes!average-attention

This is essentially the biggest secret that I have to improving your study sessions. You actually end up having to study a lot less because you understand things and remember them a lot better because each time you have a break, you come back refreshed and ready to tackle all that annoying material.

The Pomodoro Recipe

Here’s a quick outline of how you can structure your study session:

  • Start with the toughest material first, as you will get more tired with each session.
  • 4 sets of 25-minute sessions with 5-minute breaks, and then you get to have a 15-minute break before starting the next set of 4.
  • I sometimes do quick workouts during the breaks to get the blood flowing. This increases your energy levels as long as you don’t exert yourself too much.
  • I also break up study sessions into morning and evening sessions, at the times when I’m most alert. This way, it feels like I’ve had a massive break in between to recharge, but this depends on your preference.

Of course, the exact amount of time for the study period and break is up to you. I sometimes take 10 minute breaks if I’m working on something particularly tiring. However, sticking to the 25 and 5 rule is what I’ve found to be the most effective.

The Pomodoro timer

There are a few ways you can do this. You could just use a clock, but I prefer using a free app called Productivity Challenge Timer . You can of course use any Pomodoro app which are freely available, but I find this one highly engaging because of it’s funny descriptions and motivational goals that you have to unlock.

As usual, don’t take my word for any of this. Test it out yourself and let me know how it works for you! Better yet, if you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear about it! Like I said, if there’s a way to do something quicker with less work, I’m in!

TL;DR

  • The Pomodoro technique is where you study in short bursts of 25 minutes and rest for 5 minutes.
  • This improves recall and increases the number of beginnings and ends in a study session, which is when people tend to remember the most things.
  • It makes it a lot easier to focus because you allow yourself 5 minutes to distract yourself and knowing that you have a break coming up every so often is very motivating.
  • Download a Pomodoro app and try it out for yourself! The Productivity Challenge Timer  is my personal favourite.
  • If you have any other suggestions or tools to improve your study sessions, let me know!
how-to-hack-any-skill

The 80/20 Rule: Meta-Learning and Productivity Life Hacks

I sucked at poker.

In fact, I was one of the worst beginners there ever was. My friends thought I was easy money and I can’t say they were wrong. However, within a week, I was consistently finding myself in the top 3 (out of 10 players) whenever we played a game. I did this simply by employing one of the most amazing tools I’ve ever been introduced to; the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule.

The point isn’t to brag. Rather, it’s to emphasise that you can pretty much do this for anything. Poker is incredibly complex as it involves statistics, body language and a variety of advanced tactics and skill. However, I’m quite lazy by nature and I couldn’t be bothered to learn every single thing about poker. Instead, what I did was to figure out the absolute essential things I needed to know which would help me get better very quickly.

So how can you do this? And by the way, even if you don’t like poker, this is pretty much applicable to anything you can think of.

The 80/20 Rule 

The Pareto principle, which states that 80% of results come from 20% of the input. This is something that I’ve found to be extremely true. So here’s what I did:

  • I needed to find out which 20% of poker knowledge I needed to know that would provide me with 80% of the result I was looking for (which was to get better and beat my friends)
  • I asked a good friend of mine, Joel Watt (who’s an excellent poker player), what mistakes beginners usually made
  • He also told me about a few specific but extremely simple things that would improve my playing ten-fold.
    • Starting hand rankings
    • Agression and the mistake of playing passively
    • The power of position at a poker table
    • Bet sizing
    • Beginners tend to play almost every hand (which they absolutely should not do)
    • Patience
  • All of this took about a day to learn and a couple more days to fully sink in.

Just this few tips made me a far more formidable player at the table. The next game that we had, I made it all the way to the final two. I lost, but it was an incredible improvement considering I was always the first one out.

How You Can Apply This to Any Skill

You can apply the same 80/20 principle to pretty much anything. I did this with every single exam and came out with better grades than I used to when I tried to learn everything. I wasn’t aiming for 100% of course, but I could easily achieve a distinction with minimal effort. I focused on the topics that I knew would be essential and ensured that I understood them in and out, rather than knowing all the topics at a surface level.

If you look at any skill, look for the 20% of knowledge you need or material that you need to work on/practice in order to achieve 80% of the results. I did this with language learning, playing the guitar, improving my fitness level, improving my cooking skills, personal finances and a ton of other things. I’m far from great at any of those things, but I’m definitely way better than I was before and with only 20% of effort. You can do it too.

Sometimes you don’t need to be an expert, or know everything to get good at something. Just 20% can put you head and shoulders above the rest.

Perfection is the enemy of progress.

-Winston Churchill

TL;DR

  • The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of the input.
  • Focus on learning the 20% that will give you 80% of the results.
  • This can be applied to any skill, such as language learning (for example, 20% of the most common words will allow you understand 80% of basic conversation)