Galvanize day 1: Learning about learning

Today was my first day of class at Galvanize (well, actually, 4 days ago was my first day, but it took a while to finish this post so bear with me). It was exciting for a lot of reasons but one of them was that we spent a good amount of time going over how to learn. I picked up a lot of good information and it got me thinking about learning experiences I’ve had in the past and what they have taught me about how I learn. Here are a few of the lessons I think I’ve learned.

Lesson 1: Know how you learn

Be like Neo, listen to the Oracle and know yourself.

When it comes to absorbing information I like to read about things on my own first. That ways I pick them apart and explore them with it without getting distracted by other people. But eventually I want to talk to an expert to check my understanding (a teacher, coworker, etc). Then I like to use the new information on my own to do something new. This often uncovers questions I hadn’t thought of before. And finally, to really solidify the information I need to talk about what I’ve learned with other people. The real challenge with any piece of information is transferring it to someone else well enough that they can use it too.

Lesson 2: Kill your of ego

Or pop/deflate/let go of, whatever verbiage works for you.

When I was a math tutor I found that the people who thought they were bad at math would get so distracted by fear that they wouldn’t be able to learn how to do math. It was a pretty terrible cycle to watch. So often the real work wasn’t explaining to them how the math works, it was explaining how fear works. If they could let go of that fear then they could start learning and see that they really weren’t inherently bad at math.

Without getting into too much psychology, I find prayer and meditation helpful for letting go of ego. Meditation helps me let go of moral judgments like “I suck because I can’t use Github” or “I’m amazing because I can use for loops.” Prayer helps me engage with more meaningful motivation like “helping others is good and I’ll have more opportunities to help others if I learn how to use Github and for loops better” (I recognize learning Github probably won’t save the world, but whatever, it works for me). From this mindset, I can fully commit myself to learning without getting distracted by my ego.

Lesson 3: Understand the fundamentals

Seriously, I’m knot joking guys.

Years ago I did a two week backpacking trip with outward bound. Half of it was in canoes and half of it was hiking. Between the campsites and the boats, we had to learn how to tie a ton of different knots. Most people just kept repeating the motions until they got it. That can work but it wasn’t enough for me. I felt a strong need to understand why each knot worked the way it did. Why did a bowline create an unmovable loop? Why was a trailer hitch knot movable by hand but stay secure under tension? In the end I’m glad I took the extra time. Years later, even though I’ve lost the muscle memory, I can still tie each of these knots if I stop to think about what kind of friction and tension I need.

Lesson 4: Embrace challenges

New motto: live life, write code, eat snakes.

In my last semester of college I took the hardest math class I’ve even taken. I was the only undergrad in the class and despite spending most of my week studying for it I rarely got anything right on the homework. But it was also my favorite class because it pushed my analytical, spatial, and abstract thinking farther then it had ever been pushed before. And while I never use the theory I learned that semester I did take away a valuable lesson: it can be incredibly fun to push yourself beyond your limits if you embrace the challenge.

On a similar note, I used to have a lot of pain and was told it was because my back was weak. So I signed up for Crossfit. My first class was brutal and I actually threw up afterward. But along the way, I couldn’t stop smiling and every time the instructor asked what I was smiling about I’d laugh and say “because this is awful!” I guess it just seemed funny how times of pain and discomfort can lead to greater peace and relaxation. That was certainly the case for me. I kept going regularly and while the time at the gym would always hurt, my back pain went away entirely.

Anyway, I’m sure there is more then I’m putting here but I these are the key points for me. Thanks for taking the time to read and feel free to leave a comment about how you learn!