tehgeekmeister’s blog

May 18, 2009

“the downward spiral”

Filed under: Uncategorized — tehgeekmeister @ 3:37 am

The Downward Spiral

Today’s post is inspired both by the current state of my own autodidactic adventures, and chapter six in The Art of Learning , “The Downward Spiral.”  This quote from it should give you an idea what it’s about:

“In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre. In competition, the dynamic is often painfully transparent. If one player is serenely present while the other is being ripped apart by internal issues, the outcome is already clear. The prey is no longer objective, makes compounding mistakes, and the predator moves in for the kill.”

Starting around the time of my so-so post last friday, I began a downward spiral myself.  The concept is that one error can throw you off emotionally, and causing more errors.  This is paramount to any autodidact.  If you lose your momentum, your rhythm, it can be paralyzingly demoralizing.  Often, in fact, I think it costs people the pursuit of entire subjects or the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake itself.  In a world where so much of the emphasis related to learning and education is on gaining credentials to get a job, it is easy to think lowly of your desire to feed your natural curiosity.  Combine this with the inevitable ups and downs of teaching yourself while working and maintaining the rest of your life, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

The answer?  Unfortunately, there is no profound life changing answer to this one.  It’s a true, but tired cliché: just keep going.  Don’t dwell on mishaps.  Look at the problems you encounter as learning opportunities (because they are), and learn how you can structure your routine and habits better to avoid the same problems in the future.

A Few Notes

I am currently focusing on the psychological, rather than technical and practical, aspects of teaching yourself.  There are a few reasons for this:

  1. After my first two posts, I had ran out of explicit knowledge about the learning process as a whole.  There are many, many short and sweet techniques I could, and will, share with you.  For now I am trying to convert my implicit knowledge about the process of learning as a whole into explicit knowledge I can share with everyone.  In the mean time expect posts like this, and pointers on some specific tools you can use.
  2. The psychological aspect of teaching yourself is very likely more important than anything else. If you don’t believe you can learn from challenging yourself, you won’t even try.  If you give up when you hit difficulties, you won’t make it far at all.  Teaching yourself is chock full of difficulties, ones that teach you so much.  There are many other examples, but I’m not going to get into them right now.
  3. I am working seventy hours a week right now.  I’m writing this blog because I want to share valuable, practical knowledge about how to teach yourself.  That implies, however, that teaching myself is very important to me.  It’s a higher priority than this blog.  I study first, and think about posts second.  I think any other approach would be hypocritical.

Secondly, if anyone has any suggestions for a post topic, comment and let me know.  I’ll do what I can with the suggestions, but make no promise that I’ll post on it if you suggest it.  It would be terribly useful, however, to know what difficulties other people encounter in the course of teaching themselves.  I’m sure much of what I’ve encountered everyone does, but I also suspect there are difficulties I’ve not run into.  I’d like to provide whatever help I can for whatever problems you’re having.

Last of all, like I said, I’m working seventy hours a week right now.  I’m out of town, and spending a lot of time on errands just to keep going.  My life comes first, and the blog second, so I’m not editing these posts to perfection.  This is a conscious choice, one I would hope for most of you to make.  Living and learning come before everything else.


  1. I’ve fallen into downward spirals very much like what you’ve described myself. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a good way of avoiding or mitigating them, beyond what you said, which can be hard to apply.

    Comment by contextfree — May 23, 2009 @ 10:53 am

  2. I’m glad you said that. It lets me know what I should be thinking about/looking into to help people out.

    Personally, I’m a zen buddhist, and that has been horribly helpful for me. I’m not preaching, just saying that what’s worked for me isn’t necessarily so universally applicable. I suspect some of the books I’m reading will have some useful techniques for solving this problem. I’ll share them as I find them.

    Comment by tehgeekmeister — May 23, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

  3. Interesting, I’ve actually considered adopting Buddhism in some form, and wondered if it might help with this among other things. I don’t think I’m too attracted to the Zen variant though.

    Comment by contextfree — May 23, 2009 @ 6:03 pm

  4. It has helped me personally, I have no doubt it would help anyone who pursued it. That being said, do it for the right reasons. Also, no reason to stick to zen, they’re all great. I recommend checking out tibetan buddhism and theravadan (either south indian or thai) buddhism. They’re both really cool.

    Comment by tehgeekmeister — May 24, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

  5. Sweet blog. I never know what I am going to come across next. I think you should do more posting as you have some pretty intelligent stuff to say.

    I’ll be watching you . 🙂

    Comment by AddiffPed — June 3, 2009 @ 7:06 pm

    • Thanks! I will be posting more in the future. I’m spending almost all my time working at the moment, so for now I’ve decided a few high quality posts is better than many lame ones.

      Comment by tehgeekmeister — June 4, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

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