About effective learning (Part 3): Develop a growth mindset

In the previous posts (Part 1, Part 2), I shared with you my personal experience as well as the story of my struggles with effective learning. In this post, I am going to introduce one of my favorite tips that helped me learn better in less time. So, without further adue, let’s begin!

Develop a growth mindset

Your ability to learn something as anything else in this life is dependent on your thoughts about it. And here comes that old saying again, I know you heard it before but It’s so relevant to the point I’m trying to make that I can’t help but mention it.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Puzzle game

In his book “Make it stick” (I highly recommend this book by the way), Peter C. Brown reports a research experiment that was done on kids divided into two groups, and were given different sets of puzzles (some were easily solvable and others more complex). The kids who were able to solve the puzzle in the first group were encouraged by being called smart, while those who solved the puzzle in the second group were encouraged for their hard work. The experiment showed that most of the kids from the first group picked easier puzzles in the second round. After all, they didn’t want to risk that “smart” label, whereas kids from the second group picked harder puzzles because they were praised for their efforts and they were willing to put in more effort and work to solve a harder puzzle.

This might be a simple experiment showing us more how we should encourage our children to solve puzzles but it is way more than that. It actually shows us how our thoughts (either inner ones or ones transmitted to us from the outside world) can really have an impact on the way we learn. And so if you think that your ability to learn that thing or to master that skill depends only on something that you were born with, on your intelligence and your IQ level, then you’ll feel threatened because admitting that you don’t understand something and that you may need to repeat it or practice it a few times will mean that you’re not smart.

Natural talent Vs practice

Another example was also given by Peter C. Brown in his book and that’s of some athletes that have been told and have believed that they have the natural talent for that particular sport, and so getting into more practice and hard work means that they’re publicly admitting that their “talent” or “intelligence” or “smartness” are not good enough.

But the thing is, learning requires practice and hard work, that’s just a fact because that’s just an essential way for your brain to have those clearly defined patterns for you to be able to recall them with minimum effort. The question here is not about whether you’ll have to put on the work or not, it’s more about the amount of time and energy you’ll have to put on. And so, have a growth mindset. If you learned something today, learn something a little bit harder tomorrow and keep growing because only then your mind will be able to form different synapses, build different patterns. You’ll learn faster when those previous thoughts are well “encrypted” in your brain and then you’ll feel smarter, trust me!

Do you only study for exams ? You’re not alone!

An issue that comes into my mind when I think about this growth mindset, is that most of us think, or used to think that we only need to learn to pass an exam. That’s the effect that the school system has had on us and it’s almost impossible to convince a student that he/she should focus on learning more and more not just for the exam, but because those things they’re learning will help them in their life, either in their work or personal life.

And I’m guilty of that too! When I was a student, I only studied for the exam most of the time and then I forgot (almost) everything afterward. And that’s perfectly normal! You know why? Well, it’s because when you do that, you give an order to your brain to only retain that information until the date of the exam. And so, as obedient as he is, your brain does that for you, and you might have an A on that exam but since you immediately stopped bringing it up and thinking about it, your brain assumes that that information is no longer relevant or important, and just gets rid of it with time.

And so your growth mindset actually helps in sending signals to your brain that you want to learn that thing, not just for the exam, but to be able to recall that information whenever you like and want to use it. And that “order” or “signal” actually helps you retain that information in the long term memory, instead of the short term memory. You tell your brain that you care about that information being there in the long term and it will keep it for you, otherwise it will just be washed away by some “more important” short term memory information.

Long-term Vs short-term memory
The difference between long term and short term memory is quite known but I will still give you a very simple example to help you understand it better. What you ate today, the clothes you wore, and the people you met are all pieces of information that are most likely present in your memory right now, and you may even think that they’ll always be there. But the thing is, even if that memory is very strong right now that you don’t picture yourself ever forgetting any detail about that information, it will most likely be erased in a few days, weeks or months unless it is associated with some event or action that you consider as being important.

That type of information is usually stored in the short term memory, but there is a way to transfer it to the long term memory. If that day we’re talking about is an important day for you, it may be your graduation day, your wedding day or just a normal day where something very important in your life happens, those previously considered to be “useless” information can now make it to the long term memory storage. And that’s why you can find people recalling some very specific details about a special day in their lives several years ago especially if strong feelings were involved, but still be unable to recall what they ate for lunch two weeks ago.
So, the idea here is that if you want to learn effectively, you have to give signals to your brain that you want to be able to recall that information whenever you like, that you want to continue learning, grow and expand your cognitive abilities.
This reminds me of a very important message that Allah had sent us through his prophet Peace be Upon Him. That message is that the very first revelation in Islam was not about praying, or beliefs, or spirituality of any of these things. The first word that was revealed to the prophet Mohammed PBUH was “Read”, it was about learning and education. And to me, that’s a powerful message. A message showing all mankind that if you want to do anything whether it is related to this life (Dunya), or the hereafter (Al Akhira), you need to learn and keep learning, as it is the only way that you can grow in any aspect of your life.

To be continued

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