Commonplace book

How to Learn ­čî┐


What is learning?

Focussed and diffuse learning

Different thinking modes to help problem solving.┬áFocussed┬áthinking is where you concentrate on something that you’re trying to learn or do.┬áDiffuse┬áthinking is related to a set of neural resting states. It’s like looking at things from a big picture perspective. Very broad thinking. This mode is the way we make new connection in learning something. It’s like reflection and opening your mind. Relaxing and letting your mind roam free. It’s the other thinking that you do when you’re doing something else (washing up, showering, gardening) where your thoughts are let loose on the topic that you’re thinking of, but you’re not actively thinking them. New connections and ideas start forming and then you can go back into focussed thinking. You can be in one mode. Or the other. Never both.┬áIt’s very much like the creative process with divergent and convergent thinking.

Both Edison & Dali held things in their hand when they relaxed and let their mind roam free, as they dropped off the hand would relax the thing would fall out making a clattering sound and they would come to and off they would go with their ideas generated from the diffuse mode of thinking into the focussed mode and build on them.

You have to go back and forth between these two learning modes in order to learn effectively. A little bit of each every day helps build the neural scaffolding that you can hang your thoughts on.

Practice makes permanent

Practicing with ideas and concepts help enforce them in the brain. Much like practicing with a yoyo or a football helps you practice physical skills. Thought patterns are neural links that start working together in a particular way through repeated use. The more you practice the more ingrained these thoughts become making them become more permanent. Practice and concentrate, then allow the diffuse thinking to take over while you take a break then go back to it with stronger understanding. So do a bit a day and then allow your brain to think and build the neural framework. Then go back to it the next day. This is better than cramming everything at once as your brain doesn’t have time to build its foundation.


If you are recalling some information then you are using your long-term memory. If you are working out concepts and how things go together you’re using your working memory. Working memory is your immediate and conscious processing. Your RAM. Can only hold about 4 ‘chunks’ of information. Sometimes you have to repeat stuff to keep it in your short term memory. Like a text code or a phone number.

Long term memory is more like a SSD drive. Or a warehouse. You need to repeat it a few times in order for it to stick and stay there in order to recall it later. There can be so many items that can be stored (billions!) that it can sometime be difficult to recall stuff unless you practice and repeat a few times.

Moving stuff from working memory to long-term memory takes time and practice. To help with this use a technique called spaced repetition. Repeat what you’re relying to retain but space this repetition over every day and then every couple of days and then every few days. Practicing something 20 times in one evening doesn’t make it stick nearly as much as doing it the same number of times over a week.

Importance of sleep in learning

Being awake creates toxins in your brain. They stop you thinking clearly. How do you get rid of them? Sleep. Literally washes them out.

It’s also really important for the memory learning process. During sleep your brain tidies up concepts and ideas you’re thinking about and learning. Helps strengthen neural patterns. Removes weaker ones.

Sleep also helps figure out difficult problems and understand what you’re trying to learn. To do this effectively though you need to do some focussed work so that your diffused part of the brain is ready to receive input. If you’re going over what you’re learning just before sleep / nap you have an increased chance if dreaming about it. If you get yourself into the mindset of wanting to dream about it, it increased your chances further. Dreaming about what you’re studying can substantially enhance your ability to understand.


  • what is chunking?
  • How to form a chunk
  • Illusions of competence
  • What motivates you?
  • The value of a library of chunks
  • overlearning

Procrastination & memory

  • tackling procrastination

When you look at something you don’t really want to do, you activate the areas in your brain associated with pain (Insular cortex!) Your brain tries to stop this by trying to switch you attention to something else.

But, when starting the thing you don’t want to do researchers and boffins discovered that the neural discomfort disappears. It goes away.

A handy mental tool to help you with this is the pomodoro technique.  It allows you time for focussed attention.

  • Set a timer for 25 minutes
  • remove interruptions
  • focus

That’s it. BUT, give yourself a little reward when it’s done: stretching, coffee, Mastodon surfing, etc.

  • process vs product
  • juggling work, life and learning
  • Diving deeper into memory
  • what is long term memory
  • creating meaningful groups
  • memory palace technique

Renaissance Learning and Unlocking Your Potential

  • how to become a better learner
  • intro to renaissance learning
  • Create a Lively Visual Metaphor or Analog

Metaphors provide powerful techniques for learning.

  • No Need for Genius Envy
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life
  • The Value of Teamwork

  • Memory Improvement basics
  • keep learning & practicing new things
  • learn in multiple ways
  • Teach what you’ve learned to somebody else
  • use previous learning to promote new learning
  • Gain practical experience
  • Look up answers rather than struggle to remember
  • Understand how you learn best
  • Use testing to boost learning


Learning Notes

  • Make notes
  • rewrite notes
  • practical exercises
  • testing
  • break things do stuff wrong
  • write about your new knowledge
  • teach your new knowledge
  • reflect on your new knowledge / reflective essay / reflective practice
  • full understanding