Tag Archive | Principles

Two Fundamental Principles of Learning

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What are the two principles?

I call them Beautiful Mindset and Beautiful State.

Beautiful Mindset

Beautiful Mindset is about how you think. Learning is profoundly influenced by your mindset.

I’m thinking of two mindsets in particular:

Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck) 

Has to do with belief:
– the belief that you can learn 
– the belief that, with persistence and consistency, you can learn anything you set your mind to

Learning Mindset 

Has to do with how you approach learning.  The optimal way to approach learning is playfully, by connecting with your inner child. We might call it the Playful Mindset.

Beautiful State

Beautiful State is about how you feel. Learning is profoundly influenced by your mental/emotional state. 

A beautiful state is one in which you’re relaxed and experiencing one or more of the (what I call) transcendental feelings: Joy, Curiosity, Wonder, Love, Gratitude, Playfulness, having Fun.

When you’re in a beautiful state, you’re most open-minded and receptive to learning. 

To optimize learning, you need to optimize both your mindset and your state.

Reminds me of Piotr Wozniak’s Fundamental Law of Learning:

Good learning is fundamentally pleasurable. Without pleasure, there is no good learning.

You can think of pleasure as feedback. It’s the sign that you’re doing it right.

Creative Oscillation

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is creative oscillation?”

“The creative process is an oscillation. 

On/Off.

Creative insights happen during the Off, not the On.

This can be used strategically.”

“How?”

“By alternating Creative Thinking with Creative Pauses.

During the On, choose a Creative Focus, and follow it by Creative Exploration. Viewed as a mind-map, the Creative Focus is the center of the map, and Creative Exploration is the process of branching out in all directions, seeing where it takes you. You’re thus opening a mental process [<link; short read].

During the Off, let go. Focus your attention elsewhere, and let the unconscious mind do its magic.” 

“What’s the optimal oscillation pattern?”

“Play around with it. Experiment. 

What’s important is to remember that the Off is an integral part of the process.”

Learning to Teach

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I like to make a distinction between Learning by Teaching and Learning to Teach. I’ve identified these as two fundamental principles of learning.”

“What’s the difference between them?”

Learning by Teaching means learning by explaining to someone else, or to yourself as if to someone else. This is the principle that underlies the Feynman Technique [<link; medium read]. 

Learning to Teach means learning with the intention of actually teaching, either in person or in writing. This is the principle that underlies writing articles, creating a course, or writing a book. 

In the former, you’re creating value for yourself.
In the latter, you’re creating value for yourself and others – and you have something to show for it.

I’ve decided to expand the latter from articles to (free) practical handbooks on all the subjects/skills I’m interested in – Peak Performance, Thinking, Creativity, Meta-Learning (Learning to Learn), Design, Movement, Breathing, Stoicism, etc. –, and everything else I learn. I’ve been learning them rather chaotically, so now I want to experiment with focusing on one at a time.

I call it Project Enchiridion.

Enchiridion: A book containing essential information on a subject

The Non-Zero Progress Principle

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the non-zero progress principle?”

“It’s a brilliant little principle I know from Darius Foroux [<link] – one of my favorite people. 

Do one thing every day that helps you move toward your most important goal.

It’s basically two principles into one:

Consistent Action – Consistent daily action compounds [<link; short read].

Efficient Action – Focus on the highest-leverage things, one at a time.”

“Weren’t you already doing that?”

“I was taking consistent action, but not efficient action. Darius’s principle helped me see the error of my ways.”

Non Principles

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are non principles?”

“Principles expressed with a specific structure:

Non-x

Non-Resistance [<link; medium read]
Non-Action

Non-Desire
Non-Judgment
Non-Expectancy
Non-Attachment (Detachment)
Non-Assumption
Non-Anticipation

Non-Thinking
Non-Doing

They are essentially attention-directing tools [<link; medium read].”

“Can you give a few details on each?”

“Sure.

Non-Resistance is how I called the principle behind a powerful idea:

Suffering = Pain x Resistance (Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion)

The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering. (Ram Dass)

Our resistance to pain amplifies pain. 

You can think of it as Action/Reaction. Our attempt to get rid of the pain – the Action – produces a proportional Reaction – more pain. The more we struggle, the more stuck we get. Counterintuitively, the way out of this conundrum is Non-Action

Non-Desire is the principle behind another powerful idea:

Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want. (Naval Ravikant)

Desires, expectations, judgment, attachments, assumptions, anticipation… all these bring about imbalance. The practice is to be mindful (and selective) of them, and to gently let them go. This is what their ‘non’ counterparts encode.

Non-Thinking is the practice of disengaging the conscious mind. Another name for it is No Mind. This is what happens when you’re in Flow.

Non-Doing is a counter to our compulsive tendency to do, and a gentle reminder to simply be.”

Levels of Organization

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What do you mean by levels of organization? How are they different from levels of magnification [<link; medium read]?”

“Levels of magnification are based on scale.
Levels of organization are based on systems.

Every aspect of reality can be thought of as a series of nested systems. Systems within systems within systems.”

“Like those matryoshka dolls?”

“Precisely.

The smallest elements combine to form larger elements, which combine to form larger elements, which themselves combine to form larger and larger and larger elements.

I call this process Chunking

Every level of organization can be metaphorically thought of as a ‘chunk‘. A chunk is an emergent higher-order level that contains all lower-order levels.

I call the capacity of the elements to combine and form new configurations of elements with emergent properties, Modularity.

Some elements make better combinations than others. We might think of them as having a connectivity potential. I call this potential, Synergy.”

Learning by Doing

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I’ve been reading a lot about emotions to learn to deal with unpleasant ones.”

“To learn to deal with an emotion, you must actually feel the emotion.

This is a fundamental principle of Learning. I call it Learning by Doing.

To learn to do something you must actually do the thing. 

No amount of reading can replace direct experience.”

“How does this apply to emotions?”

“Every time you experience an unpleasant emotion is an opportunity to practice.

The natural tendency when an unpleasant emotion arises is to distract yourself from it. 

Don’t. 

Prioritize it over anything else. 

With Love, Compassion and Curiosity, give it your full attention. Immerse yourself in it. Allow yourself to fully experience it.

Turn every unpleasant emotion into a meditation.

This way, every unpleasant emotion becomes a deliberate rep(etition). The more reps you put in, the better you’ll get at it.

The natural tendency when you anticipate an unpleasant emotion is avoidance of the thing that triggers it. 

Don’t. 

Deliberately move toward triggers to create opportunities to practice.”

Ending Strong

The Peak-End Rule: Memories of an experience are deeply influenced by the most emotionally intense moments (the “peaks”) and by the ending.


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

Always end strong.

“What do you mean?”

“In the context of speaking under pressure, I mean making your final words more powerful by imbuing them with energy and certainty.”

“What if I did abysmally?”

“The key is to finish strong regardless of how well you think you did.

I say ‘you think you did’ because we often have a distorted perception of how well we’re doing. We imagine the audience can see our internal turmoil.

They don’t.

It’s all in our heads.

In ending strong you’re projecting confidence, thus influencing the audience’s perception, and you’re internalizing confidence.

This is an idea I know from the brilliant speaking online course Ultraspeaking.

In the context of learning, I mean always ending with a quality rep.

In ending strong, you’re internalizing quality.

This is an idea adapted from Josh Waitzkin.

End your training session with a good rep, to internalize quality overnight.

I’ve expanded the idea to include not just the last training session of the day, but every training session.

I call the underlying principle uniting these two instances, Ending Strong.”

Creative Preparation 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can you create optimal conditions for the creative process to unfold?”

“Edward de Bono makes a distinction between artistic creativity and idea creativity. I’m mainly interested in the latter, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on.

The goal of idea creativity is creating ideas through combining ideas.
The output of idea creativity is creative ideas, which are a synergistic combination of two or more ideas – a combo, in Magic the Gathering terminology.

What’s important to understand is that it’s the subconscious mind that makes the connections. The role of the conscious mind is merely to facilitate this process.

There’s several aspects to creative preparation:

Creative Library
Creative Stimulation
Creative State
Creative Limitations
Creative Oscillation

Creative Library

Ideas are the building-blocks, so a large part of creative preparation involves collecting ideas. I like to think of this process as building a ‘creative library’. An inner library of internalized ideas, and an outer library of externally stored ideas – which can be thought of as an extension of your brain.

To create ideas you need to have ideas stored in your creative library. The more you have, the wider the possibility-space.

The quality of the creative output is dependent on the quality of the stored ideas. The less noise, the more signal.

Creative Stimulation

This is essentially creative priming, bringing ideas ‘on top of your mind’, thus increasing the likelihood of generating useful creative output. 

Another aspect of it is creative provocation, which is meant to break through thought-patterns that inhibit creativity (pattern-breaking), that prevent your subconscious mind from making certain connections.

Creative State

Your creative capacity is profoundly influenced by your state of mind (state management), which is profoundly influenced by your energy level (energy management).

Brian Johnson’s fundamentals of optimal living are a beautiful guideline here:

Sleeping
Eating
Moving

Breathing
Meditating

All are important.

Tony Robbins’ Triad of Human Emotions – which we’ve talked about before [<link; medium read] – is another beautiful guideline.

Another aspect of it is what I call the creative mindset. This involves embracing your playful essence, making creativity a central value of your life, and a deep trust in your innate capacity to create.

Creative Limitations

Restrictions breed creativity. (Mark Rosewater)

On a general level, this means embracing and befriending the very notion of constraint. For me, Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way captures this idea beautifully.

On a specific level, this may mean choosing a creative focus, to serve as a starting point, and – similarly to meditation – as an anchor to return to when your mind wanders off course.

Creative Oscillation

We’ve talked a while back about the distinction between Focused and Diffuse Thinking [<link; medium read]. The creative process requires both. Both engagement and disengagement.

The focused mode is for creative stimulation. You’re sketching a map for your subconscious to explore. Then you let go.

A beautiful diffuse-mode activity is what I call the creative walk. Going for a walk, equipped with a notepad or your phone to collect the fleeting flowers of your thought. What makes the creative walk beautiful is the life-stacking [<link; medium read] aspect of it. You’re moving at the same time.”

Creativity Games: Making the familiar strange

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What’s the game about?”

“It’s a little imagination game I created for myself to practice creativity.

The game is simple.

Pick any object in the environment and say:

This is x

where x must be something imaginatively connected to the object. For every x, visualize it, and make up a little visual story.

There’s a principle of creativity which I call Alternatives – not settling for the first answer that comes to mind, and generating as many alternatives as possible. Viewed as a skill, it’s the capacity to generate large quantities of creative output. That’s the goal of the game.”

“Can you give an example?”

“Sure.

Let’s take this [physical] page I’m writing on. I might say:

This is snow.
This is a magic carpet.
This is a wall.
This is an undead tree.
This is a towel.
This is a slide.
This is a garden.
This is a toy.
This is a raft.

Another flavor of the game is generating random alternatives.

It starts the same:

This is x

but now x is this first thing that comes to mind.

This is a chimney.
This is a squirrel.
This is a needle.

The goal here is to discover connections between the object and the generated words.”