Track Successes Too

Photo of a written checklist in a notebook

Some habits go the extreme and become rituals. Not that all rituals are bad, but some become a rigid obsession for better or for worse. One of my favorite things to read about are the lives of people and their habitual rituals, which made the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey a fascinating read.

Benjamin Franklin had a strong obsession to habitualize “moral perfection” and practiced perfecting one virtue per week. It seemed quite philosophical of a habit. He went to the extreme of tracking his offenses with a black dot on his calendar daily. This of course is quite unrealistic, but I admire him trying to be so moral. You can read more about the thirteen virtues Franklin studied and his paper tracking system across the internet.

What I would reverse if I practiced this ritual in hopes of forming a habit is to track my successes rather than my offenses. Our society is so big on tracking failures, but we rarely track the good things we do, the wins. It’s important to recognize your failures in order to learn from them, but the successes are important too, even the small ones. When you do good, you want to continue. When you track an offense, you are more willing to quit.

As it turns out, Franklin’s habit tracking here didn’t last long.

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Accelerate Your Learning in 20 Hours

Photo of people studying in a library

I have an obsession with learning. I really have a hard time going one day without opening a book, reading an article, or listening to a podcast. I deeply love learning new things and building up skills to achieve my goals. However, one of the things you discover about yourself while you learn is that there is SO much that you don’t know! I mean, it’s great that I’m ambitious about studying something a bit each day, but it’s also overwhelming to know how much I still want to learn. I start reading something, and then I think ooo I want to learn that! I start coding something, and then I think ooo I need to learn that! Pretty soon I have a list a mile long about everything I want to learn, and this can sometimes lead to paralysis.

The truth of the matter is though we cannot be masters of everything—and this is okay! In the podcast called Good Life Project, Jonathan Fields talks with Josh Kaufman, learning hacker and author, about accelerated learning: how to get good at anything in 20 hours. Twenty hours beats the 100 I’ve been spending, so I was intrigued to listen. In the discussion, Kaufman provided some great tips, and I left with a few aha’s:

1. You don’t need to be a master.

Can we all breathe a sigh of relief on this one? I am a bit of a perfectionist at times, and when this gets in the way of my learning I can be studying subjects forever trying to master every detail of foundation skills before continuing. This is a great reason why I struggled in some of my school classes—because I’m learning the “terms” and “foundation” of computer programming or statistics or whatever, but I’m not putting the pieces together to create a larger picture. There is a lot of foundation and terms involved when learning subjects, but you don’t need to know all 925,994 of them at one time before continuing on to apply the knowledge and create something…which leads me to the next point.

2. Learn by achieving a goal.

The desire-to-learn itch first starts with interest, some sort of passion to learn the thing you are trying to learn. Often times, this passion is attached to a goal—Stay on track with your goal! If your goal is to learn how to build a to-do-list android app, don’t be learning how to build a shopping app in xcode because you think this will teach you the “foundation of all app development”. I’ve made the mistake here too often trying to learn “all of programming” to complete my project only to find myself getting frustrated, bored, and going nowhere. If you have a specific goal, you are better able to narrow down your focus to learn only the subject areas required to achieve your goal. This will save you time in the process, and you’ll be more passionate about it because this learning will directly impact your goal. When you see results, you are more likely to continue.

We are often not trying to learn something in order to be a master at it. We’re trying to learn just enough to accomplish a goal, complete a project, finish a task, or do some sort of action.

3. Sleep on it.

Kaufman shares a tip supported by research about how you can better learn material when you interrupt it with sleep. He suggests learning in the 4-hour window before you go to sleep, then wake up in the morning and revisit your learning first thing. That sleep interruption does something to help you absorb what you just studied. It can be overwhelming to learn something new, and this sleep break is good. When you wake up, you are refreshed, and the repetition of revisiting what you learned helps promote clarity and understanding of the material. It’s like a reflection exercise to review what you learned.

In summary, in order to learn something quickly, we need to set a goal we are passionate about (and be specific here!), learn only the skills needed to reach this specific goal, and get a good nights sleep surrounded by some study-time bookends. Sounds pretty doable.

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Podcast: Accelerated Learning: Get Good at Anything in 20 Hours, Good Life Project