Did you know that you have complete control over how fast you can learn? Some of the most complicated things in our world can be learned and perfected in a relatively short period of time. Don’t believe me? Just give a 12-year old boy an XBox One, a new game and sit back and watch how fast he learns the series of subtle controller nuances and strategies.
However, that same boy with an XBox could possibly struggle to learn his most recent math lesson. Why?
Our brains are wired for extremely fast learning. The kicker is that we have to want to learn. We need to be motivated. If we were told to learn something that we have absolutely zero interest in, it would be an extremely slow process.
On the other hand, if somebody told you they would give you $250 million to learn how to program any computer language, I bet you could learn most of it in about a week. Obviously, nobody is going to give away that much money for you to learn how to code. But what we can do is simulate that same area in our brain where it wouldn’t know the difference. And that area is our reward center.
Learning is about rewards. When our brains are engaged and keyed up to receive a reward, we learn very quickly. When we see no reward, relatively little learning takes place. Before you jump up and down and cry foul, let me explain. There are plenty of methods involved in learning. There is reinforcement, which is a psychological theory that Skinner was famous for, there is drive reduction, and there is incentive-based learning, just to name a few. The list could go on. My point is that each method of learning always circles back around to the needs, wants and desires of the learner. When properly met, these needs, wants and desires are the “rewards” part of learning.
These “rewards” can literally be anything. It can be a piece of candy for a small child or it can be a treat for a dog. It can be a deep-rooted psychological need that is met or it can simply be the satisfaction of knowing something new. Whatever it is, the reward is the outcome of said learning.
So how do we instill a reward system in our own learning?
Finding Your Reward
I am a data addict that consumes every bit of data I can get my hands on. I read books, blogs, listen to audiobooks, read magazines and listen to podcasts. My reward is the endorphins that my brain releases to satisfy this “addiction.”
I wasn’t always like this. I was a “C” (and sometimes “D”) student in high school and hated sitting through boring classes. However, once I was in college and could take classes I was interested in, I was very interested in learning. I would digest as much information as I could, as fast as I could. My reward was learning something I was interested in and learning it on my own terms. Self-satisfaction was my own reward. I’m willing to bet it is yours, as well.
A Story About Learnin’
Three years ago when Jen and I were crawling out of debt, we couldn’t find an app that assisted us in budgeting with the envelope system. We tried using paper and pencil, actual cash, spreadsheets, and just about every free and paid-for app on the market. None of them worked for us.
After watching Jen text back and forth with her friend one day, I had the idea of keeping track of our family spending with a simple text message. There would be no insipid process of unlocking the phone, opening an app, and syncing with a database over a spotty internet connection required. We could essentially send a text message after we spent money then the “program” applies what we spent to our virtual envelopes and immediately responds with our new envelope balance in a text message back to us. This way, our envelope balance is always readily accessible as the last message in the conversation.
For a guy with almost zero programming experience, the entire thought of it seemed extremely daunting. How would I write such a program? How would it tie into its own phone number? If I ran the program from home and our internet goes out, what would happen? How would it efficiently track a thousand user’s envelopes? A million users? 10 million users? Okay- I am dreaming a bit, but you get the point…
I Have Always Wanted To Learn How To Write Computer Programs
One week, Jen took the kids to see her family. I figured with a week of no distractions, I could get a good start on learning how to program in hopes of getting one step closer to building my program. A very long story short, not only did I learn Python in a week (well, not all of it) but I had a very basic version of Budget Monster up and running. All in one week.
The first version of Budget Monster was through a Gmail account (did you know that text messages are actually emails? Your phone number is its own unique email address. Try it out- send a text message to your own email address. Then in the email, look at the “sender’s” email address. It will be something like email@example.com). After a week away, Jen came back to a semi-functioning envelope budgeting program that we are still using three years later.
Of course, Budget Monster has been getting regular updates over the last three years and now has its own phone number, SQL databases, its own cloud computer, a basic artificial intelligence engine and a whole lot of other features to make it much snappier. But the point is, in one week I did it. My reward was simultaneously knocking an item off the “things I have always wanted to learn” list and solving a family budgeting problem.
Now, I have all sorts of computer programs that automate a lot of my daily tasks which saves me countless hours. My programming knowledge has grown substantially since then, thus making life extraordinarily easier– all because I devoted a week to merely start.
“The secret to getting ahead is getting started”
I want you to think of something that you have always wanted to learn. It could be learning a new language, a musical instrument, or simply learning how to write a computer program like I did.
Spoiler alert: if it is something you have always wanted to learn, you are already keyed into the most powerful reward system: self-satisfaction.
If you put forth the effort, you can learn a lot in one week. So, whatever it is that you have always wanted to learn, I want you to completely immerse yourself in it for the next seven days.
If it is a musical instrument, go to your local music store and rent it for a week and watch YouTube videos and practice. What if you have always wanted to learn the constellations? Go get a star gazing book and head outside tonight and every night for a week. If you have always wanted to learn photography, get a camera and start snapping pictures. Whatever it is, you have one week to see how much you can learn. You are living in the best era ever for self-learning. You have YouTube, Google and have access to thousands of free online courses that can teach you just about anything imaginable.
Drop your daily habits and hobbies. Turn the TV off. It’s only for one week. Devote as much spare time as you can into learning this new thing. See how much your brain can take in over the next seven days and let it surprise you. Let me know when you start and end, and let me know how much you have learned.
Our brains have this awesome feature in which we call neuroplasticity. Simply defined, it means our brains grow when we challenge them. The beautiful part of neuroplasticity is that studies have proven that your brain will grow at any age- right up to the day you die. On the other hand, if we are in the habit of not using our brain, it will begin to shrink. (Obviously, I am not referring to actual brain size, but meaning an overall level of functioning.)
The brain is the most important part of the body (which is ironic that it is actually the brain in which tells us this little factoid). It has control over every other organ. Deprive the brain of oxygen and it starts shutting down the “non-life sustaining” organs in order to preserve its own dwindling oxygen supply.
If the brain is the most important organ of our body, let’s not feed it a bunch of rubbish. Get into the habit of feeding it a steady diet of fat-free, organic, non-GMO, farm-raised relevant data. And you can kick it all off by doing this seven-day challenge.
So, what can you learn in a week? Let’s get it going right now. This week. Seven days to go from zero to hero. You won’t ever know the limits of your brain until you test those limits. Fangs out, my pugnacious reader. Fangs out. You’ve got this.
Get out there and learn something new.
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This post was created with the help of:
Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and a can or two of La Croix with some frozen berries (yep, still eating paleo)