tehgeekmeister’s blog

May 15, 2009

what i’m reading and being honest about your shortcomings

Filed under: Uncategorized — tehgeekmeister @ 12:59 pm

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin.  It’s a wonderful book if you’re interested in learning, I think.  I’m enjoying it very much.

In the first few chapters I was made aware of research I have read about in a few places, but never looked into much.  The short and sweet of it is that people fall along a continuum between two implicit theories of intelligence.  The first being that intelligence is a fixed attribute.  You’re smart or you aren’t.  The second being that with practice and exposure to challenges, an individual can grow.  Let’s ignore which idea is actually true for now, and think about the implications.  If you think your intelligence is fixed, you won’t try to get smarter, and challenges will seem uninteresting because they are merely an opportunity to fail.  On the other hand, if challenges are an opportunity to grow, they will be embraced.  Such a simple difference in implicit beliefs (you could consciously agree conscious is not fixed but actually live otherwise) will over time lead to huge differences in how much each person learns.

From personal experience I’d say I started out with on the fixed side of the continuum and have been for years slowly tending to embrace challenges.  As a kid I was told many times how smart I was, which emphasizes the fixed theory of intelligence.  For a long time this held me back because I would try to look right, instead of becoming right.  Now, instead, I’m (more than before, at least) embracing challenges.  I can not emphasize enough how much this has changed the feel and ease of learning for me.

I’m just a few pages in to chapter five, “The Soft Zone: ‘Lose Yourself'” right now, which so far seems to be referencing the concept of flow, which I became aware of because of this ted talk, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.   Finding the idea intriguing, I read his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  I can’t cite research, but I believe with no doubts that the state of flow is absolutely essential to effective learning.  If you aren’t enjoying your learning, you are definitely doing something wrong.

Related to this, I’ve just started reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a book on the same subject by the researcher responsible for this finding, Carol Dweck.  I’ll post more specifics about this book and the theory as I read it, but from the what I’ve read it promises to be a great and useful book.

Now for the second part of the title: be honest about your shortcomings.  Admit to yourself and others when you don’t know something, or when you’ve made a mistake.  If you don’t, you won’t see where you can improve.  People won’t challenge you.  You have to take responsibility and be honest in order to teach yourself.  That’s what I’m doing here: I delayed preparing for this post.  That’s why it’s not as well thought out as previous ones, and I apologize for that.  I’ll have better and more in depth posts about both of these books, and the ideas I’ve referenced later.

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