Book notes: The Mindful Way to Study

The Mindful Way to Study
Dancing with Your Books
by Jake Gibbs

Chapter 3: Meditation and Mind Development

Most people in the world operate at a level that is a mix between low-level rationality and the stage below, characterized by concrete rather than abstract thinking.

Meditation influences rationality. In one study, it those who meditated made more rational decisions when faced with a decision-making situation.

Those who are mindful are better at letting go of thoughts and feeling that are irrelevant to the decision than are those who do not practice mindfulness.

As we move up in our level of mind our perspective broadens, our compassion and concern deepens, and our problem-solving ability expands.

The stage above the rational is called integrative logic, vision, logic, or creative logic. It’s the ability to truly comprehend and integrate multiple perspectives to develop better solutions.

Mindfulness meditation helps us to develop our capacity to pay attention, which assists in learning no matter what we are trying to learn at any level.


Chapter 6: Dancing With Your Books

Truly learning to dance with your books requires that you develop the ability to focus on the task of learning or the dance itself without constantly shifting your attention to the results of your effort. Thinking about yourself while dancing interferes with your performance. It takes your attention away from the activity of dancing. You must simply get of of your own way so that your attention is on learning.

Learning to dance with your books requires that you become less self-centered and results-focused and more task-centered or process-focused.

If you start thinking of yourself performing it interrupts your rhythm and takes them out of their flow.

Avoid time-place dissonance which occurs when the activity ou are supposed to perform is in the present, but your mind is on the future, where you will receive the potential return on your investment of effort.

Moving the reward from intrinsic to extrinsic (getting paid for something that you previously did for the joy of it) ruins the satisfaction of it when extrinsic rewards are reduced or have adapted to them.


Chapter 7: Qualifying External Rewards and Results

The best way to attain some extrinsic objective is to pay attention to what you have to do to get them. This way it’s possible to get the intrinsic or inherent satisfaction from what you’re doing in the present and the extrinsic satisfaction in the future for doing it.

Intrinsic rewards are more influential than extrinsic rewards in promoting performance, enthusiasm, creativity, and a sense of personal control. So a process orientation on means is more important than a results orientation on ends.

In Buddhism, Right Effort is a process-centered approach to doing any task and an approach to life. It’s best to stay anchored in the present where life’s difficulties and joys are experienced. "Right" means appropriate, effective, or wise. The practices of Right Effort and Right Meditation help us to be where we are or to stay in the present moment. They are about paying full attention to what we are supposed to be doing this moment, e.g., studying when we study or sitting when we sit.

Right Effort and focusing attention is not something that can be forced but must be practiced.

A better way than forcefully trying to attend to the present or pushing out past and future thoughts is to adopt an accepting frame of mind that allows you to relax or settle in to the moment. When you become aware of thoughts and feelings that are not directly relevant to the task at hand, note them without judging them, and gently let them be. Your mind will eventually let them go.


Chapter 8: Right Meditation

One of the most widely used definitions of mindfulness is "…paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally."

There is nothing wrong with discursive thought as long as we only give it the attention it deserves. When a chattering, drifting mind gets int he way of doing what needs to be done and keeps us off track, it is an impediment to effective performance and attaining our goals.


Chapter 10 – 20: Gumption

There is no separation between person and task while working. This absorption in the task produces Quality, and the attitude that promotes Quality as gumption.

Gumption is like Right Effort, it means that you are aware of reality and embrace it. You do what needs to be done without sniveling, self-pity, or self-indulgence. You don’t waste your time wishing things were different. When you have gumption, you meet the world on its terms in all its complexity and beauty in each moment.

Gumption Traps:

Gumption traps are obstacles to approaching tasks with Right Effort. The most general advice on handling these traps is that s soon as you realize one has grabbed you, consider it a sign that you are being unmindful.

One of the biggest impediments to practicing the techniques is remembering to do it. Use post-it notes, etc to overcome this.


1. Ego – keeps your mind from learning what is before you , and they direct all your attention on you.

Use the "I" Drop practice to diminish the ego:

  • First, recognize that you are thinking of "I" instead of driving or riding. This reduces chance of full-blown "I" episode by connecting a bunch of "I" thoughts.
  • Second, let "I" be.
  • Third, return your full attention to what you are doing.

"I" knows that if he can convince you that the way to forget "I" is to actively not think of "I" then he has you. To not think of "I" is to think of "I."


2. Value and Conceptual Rigidity – occurs when your opinion and perspective preclude you from seeing things in a new light or appreciating something new. You reject anything that doesn’t fit in with your view.

With Beginner’s Mind, you enter a situation without rigidly held preconceptions. You’re ready for anything because you’re open to everything.

Value and conceptual rigidity can cause prejudging courses and not even giving it a chance.


3. Anxiety – nervousness or worry about performance and its consequences gets in the way of performing well. Worrying how you look in others eyes takes your attention away from what you’re doing. One way to deal with this is to keep your attention on the task itself. To do this simply practice.

Three areas where anxiety can be troublesome: asking professors questions, presentations, and taking tests.

Asking Questions:The practice of not asking questions destroys gumption.

Presentations:
Fear of public speaking is common. The source of anxiety when presenting is a focus on results, especially on how we will look or what the audience will think of our performance. Prepare! And then follow the prescriptions of Right Effort. Focus on what you are doing not on yourself. Note distractions, observe them, and move on.

Tips: pick a sympathetic face in the audience and focus on him. Or imagine everyone is a baby.


4. Boredom

Mindset is important, understand the meaning of the work. You’re not laying bricks—you’re building a cathedral.

Take breaks.

Multitasking is not an antidote: Once you learn to pay attention to the activity of the moment, you can do it better in less time, and what you are doing becomes more interesting and satisfying.

Go ahead and daydream when your time is not otherwise occupied. But when focusing, recognize these distractions and gently return to task.


5. Lack of Energy and Interest

What’s the sense of even starting? Why not wail until some other time when you know you have the energy and interest to carry you through?

Lack of energy is a symptom of a lack of mindfulness.

Low confidence: If you are unsure of your ability to sustain the level of vitality needed to do the job, then accept whatever shortcomings you perceive, surrender to the task, and get on with the job.

  • Don’t make the mistake of checking with your feelings to see if you should begin or continue a project. You shouldn’t ask permission to start or continue based on reserves of energy and motivation.

Don’t even try a yes-or-no answer. SIMPLY MOVE AHEAD.

Energy is LIMITLESS.

Limitless Source of Energy Visualization: visualize as you breath in that you inhale the energy of the universe into your body and mind. Let its force surge through you so that you feel restored, refreshed, and invigorated. Imagine that you share in the infinite energy of the universe.


6. Impatience

Occurs when you underestimate how log task takes to complete. You should plan a modest amount of work, and give yourself plenty of time to do it.

Break down the job into manageable parts, and give time without rushing.

Waiting to the last minute by convincing yourself that you only work well under pressure. You become frantic with all attention on meeting the deadline. You get edgy and irritable.

The Progress Trap: constantly worrying how long will take to complete a task. E.g., after each page you turn to the end of the chapter to see how many page you have left.

Cause of Progress Trap:

  1. Didn’t allocate enough time
  2. Thinking about results

Good general rule is to estimate realistically time to finish a task AND THEN DOUBLE IT.

Make a daily schedule so you don’t have to make a decision about what to do next each time you complete a task. For this to work you MUST follow it strictly. Don’t fall for any false rationalizations. E.g., watching some YouTube to get over some tension.

Build into the schedule ample time for meditation, breaks, leisure, and exercise.

Be aware of falling into the trap of worrying all the time about being on schedule. Stay with current task and don’t think about the next tasks.

How to solve paradox of following the schedule strictly and not worrying obsessively about being on schedule?

  1. Be REALISTIC with tasks and time!
  2. When writing daily schedule, reaffirm your commitment to do each task with Right Effort. Get yourself in right frame of Right Effort before each task by saying, "For the next X amount of time, I am going to do Y with full attention."

You will alter your schedule some days and that’s okay. Just make sure that you have a good reason for doing it. Never postpone a task you don’t feel like doing because you think you’ll feel more like doing it some other time. Let those feeling dissipate into the ether through your meditation practice.


7. Procrastination

Many types of procrastination (75% simple and 25% complex):

Simple motives:

  • Skills and Knowledge Deficit

Most likely to delay or fail to complete tasks that are difficult, consume a lot of time, and/or require skills, talents, and knowledge that they have not developed.

  • Cool Procrastinator – disproportionate focus on social activities
  • Perceived irrelevance to career

Complex motives:

  • Perfectionist and Cavalier procrastinators lack self-confidence and are caught in the ego trap. Self-focus takes such prominence that there is little attention and energy to apply to the task when they do get to it. The best solution is to increase mindfulness while gradually and gently diminishing self-focus and increasing attention to the task.

8. Story Land or Story Mind aka Rumination

As soon as you realize you are involved in a story, label it story or topic of the story, let it be, and get back into the present.

Stories are complex and persistent. Many are recurring and it brings temporary comfort to play the story lines or run head-movies. You have to remind yourself that they are not real; they are not in the present. The more you practice staying in the moment, the better you’ll get at recognizing stories as they arise.


9. The Big Wombassa aka Arrival Fallacy

The Big Wombassa emerges when we cling to the notion that there is some future point in our lives where everything will be okay and all will fall into place.

This is an illusion. There is no event or point in time that ushers in our personal era of complete and permanent contentment.

Many of us spend our entire lives waiting for our "real lifes" to begin. Our real life, which is our only life in this body, is the life we have this very moment.

We are bad at "affective forecasting. We suffer from impact bias, the tendency to overestimate our emotional response to future events. The anticipated happiness from a new love, job, etc is usually less than the experienced happiness. Set expectations accordingly.

Through present awareness of what you are doing, you experience the intrinsic satisfaction of each moment. The satisfaction that comes from your life right now is more likely to result in a permanent increase in happiness than waiting for your life circumstances to change. You experience this satisfaction repeatedly as long as you pay attention.

Parkinson’s Law also doesn’t help things.


Chapter 21: General Gumption Conservation and Restoration Methods

The general method for handling most of these traps is some variation of mindfulness: (1) monitoring and paying attention; (2) recognizing when your mind wanders; (3) observing and letting be or witnessing and letting go of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that take you out of the moment; (4) gently returning to the present moment.

Techniques in response to gumption traps:

  1. Bagging – designate period of time to worry as much as you want. And then "BAG IT." You are done. If is not designated time and you want to worry wait until Bagging Time.
  2. Relaxation
  3. Exercise – the single thing that comes close to a magic bullet. Do it mindfully. Make the commitment and do it with Right Effort. Focus on process not goals. WHEN YOU EXERCISE, JUST EXERCISE.
  4. The Study Group or Book Dance – literally get up and dance in a group
  5. Bowing and Bells – A bow before before beginning a task symbolizes that you have deep respect for it and you intend to devote you full attention to it. You are surrendering to what needs to be done. At end of task a bow or bell is a way of clearing the mind of previous task and preparing for the next one. Approach each task with Right Effort and your bow will feel natural. In public, just a subtle deliberate nod will do.
  6. The Half Smile – subtle half smile for a few minutes can restore your gumption when frustrated.
  7. Creating A Bigger Container/Spaciousness – having small space in your mind means anything occupies your mind fully. Having a bigger space puts things in their proper perspective. Expand the container:
    1. a temporary expansion: imagine your mind-space expanding to a size large enough to contain questions about everything in your head
    2. permanent expansion: meditation practice; have enough space to handle potent thoughts
  8. The Snow Globe – imagine whatever that is limiting your gumption as whirling snowflakes. Watch the emotional flakes settle to the bottom of the globe.
  9. Daily Affirmations – recite a list of affirmations that reflect the behaviors and attitudes required to carry out your day with Right Effort. Here’s example of reminders:
    1. Be kind to yourself, no matter
    2. Accept event and circumstances.
    3. Live in the present.
    4. Don’t take things personally.
    5. Accept the past.
    6. Don’t dwell on yourself.
    7. Do not criticize others.
    8. Do everything with Right Effort.
  10. The 95MPH Cornball Pitch – "Love Yourself." Loving yourself requires that you accept whatever has happened in your past and what you think and feel in the present. If you are anxious, love, accept, or surrender to the anxious you, and get on with the task at hand. Don’t resist. Batter down the Impostor Syndrome. When feeling the "uns" (e.g., unworthy, unwholesome, unsuccessful, uninspired, unloved), relax and center yourself by counting a few breaths.

Chapter 23 Learning with Right Effort: A Review

Here are some reminders to help learn Right Effort. After practicing for a while develop your own list that is specifically suited just to you.

  1. Clear: Clear your mind by doing meditation for cleansing breaths for a few minutes. You are not trying to achieve a particular state of mind. You are not trying to push anything out of mind. You are just letting things settle.
  2. Relax: Feel you mind relax. Feel your mind open. Prepare your mind to accept whatever you are about to learn or whatever you are about to do.
  3. "Beginner’s Mind": Find your beginner’s mind. Let go of expectations. Prepare to go on a journey to a place you have never been where you will learn something new and valuable. Forget about the destination. It’s the trip itself that’s important. Don’t worry about goals and results. Focus on process.
  4. Commitment: Make an explicit commitment to yourself to do your work with Right Effort for a set amount of time or until you finish certain tasks. Promise yourself that you will focus exclusively on what is in front of you. Let go of other times, places, and tasks. Convince yourself that the only proper thing to do in the allotted time is what you are supposed to be doing. Don’t give yourself the choice of doing anything else.
  5. Acceptance: Accept that you have to be where you are, doing what you are doing. Right now there is no place you can be other than where you are.
  6. Stay in the "Now": Stay centered in the moment and the task at hand. When you notice that your thoughts are straying from your current task to other times and places, let go, and gently return your mind to your work.
  7. No Separation: There is no separate self and task or person-task distinction. You and your books are inseparably melded in the task of of the moment. Thoughts of a separate you working on the task only get in the way. The real you right now is the one intimately involved in whatever you are doing.
  8. Basics of Mindfulness: Remember to follow the general process of meditation, mindfulness, or Right Effort. This includes: (1) monitoring staying alert, or paying attention; (2) recognizing when your mind wanders; (3) observing and letting be or witnessing and letting go of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that take you out of the moment; and (4) gently returning to the present moment.
  9. Purpose: Work as if it’s the only reason you were put on this earth. Remember that right now, in this moment, is the only time there is.

After trying Right Effort for a while, conduct a self-assessment to determine which particular impediment interferes most with your application of Right Effort. Then include as part of your Daily Routine the techniques that address your particular set of problems.

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Book notes: The Mindful Way to Study

Book Notes: Peak

by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
by Anders Ericsson

Purposeful Practice

Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Also figure out a way to maintain your motivation.

Mental Representations

A mental representation is a mental structure that corresponds to an object, an idea, a collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about.

These models are preexisting patterns of information—facts, images, rules, relations, etc—that are held in long-term memory and that can be used to respond quickly and effectively in certain types of situations. They make it possible to process large amounts of information quickly, despite the limitations of short-term memory.

The better your mental representation of the skill at hand the more quickly you can learn it.

Experts have higher quality and quantity of mental models than others.

Ex. baseball players able to hit balls coming from 100 mph pitchers.

Years of practice have changed the neural circuitry in their brains to produce highly specialized mental representations, which in turn make possible the incredible memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, and other sorts of advanced abilities needed to excel in their particular specialties.

The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations, and, thees models in turn play a key role in deliberate practice.

Mental models aren’t just the result of learning a skill; they can also help us learn.

When practicing a new piece, beginning musicians lack a good, clear idea of how the music should sound, while advanced musicians have a very detailed mental model of the music they use to guide their practice and performance of a piece.

Higher skilled music students were better able to determine when they’d made mistakes and better able to identify difficult sections they needed to focus their efforts on. They had more effective mental models.

Virtuous cycle: the more skilled you become, the better your mental representations are, and the better your mental representations are, the more effectively you can practice to hone your skill.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.

Characterized by:

  1. develops skill that other people have already figured out
  2. takes place outside of comfort zone and requires constantly try things that are just beyond current abilities
  3. involves well-defined, specific goals and target performance
  4. requires full attention and conscious actions
  5. involves feedback and modification of efforts in response to feedback
  6. depends on effective mental representations. Improving performance goes hand in hand with improving mental representations; as one’s performance improves, the representations become more detailed and effective, in turn making it possible to improve even more
  7. involves building or modifying previously acquired skills by focusing on particular aspects of those skills and working to improve them specifically

Most effective learning: role-play, discussion groups, case solving, hands-on training. Least effective: lectures.

Steps in Everyday Life

  1. Hire a teacher that can give you feedback. Must be accomplished and have history of improving other students. You will outgrow a teacher at some point. Keep moving forward.
  2. Focus! Maintain close attention to every detail of performance.
  3. Better to train at 100% effort for less time than 70% effort for longer period. Once can no longer focus effectively, end the session.

How to break through Plateaus

p. 165

  1. Figure out exactly what is holding you back. What mistakes are you making, and when? Push yourself well outside of your comfort zone and see what breaks down first.
  2. Design a practice technique aimed at improving that particular weakness. Once you’ve figured out what the problem is, you may be able to fix it yourself, or you may need to go to an experienced coach or teacher for suggestions.
  3. Either way, pay attention to what happens when you practice; if you are not improving, you will need to try something else.

Three Steps to Starting Out – teaching children to want to learn a skill

p. 184
(using chess as example)

STAGE ONE – starting out

Children are introduced in a playful way to what will eventually become their field of interest. (Finding chess pieces and liking their shapes). Nothing more than toys to play with.

In the beginning, the parents play with their child at the child’s level, but gradually they turn the play toward the real purpose of the "toy." They explain the special moves of the chess pieces. Parents give the child a great deal of time, attention, and encouragement. They teach the child such values as self-discipline, hard work, responsibility, and spending one’s time constructively.

Many children will find some initial motivation to explore or to try something because of their natural curiosity or playfulness, and parents have an opportunity to use this initial interest as a springboard to an activity, but that initial curiosity-drive motivation needs to be supplemented. One excellent supplement, particularly with smaller children, is praise. Another motivvation is the satisfaction of having developed a certain skill, particularly if that achievement is acknowledged by a parent.

Often the children picks up particular interests of their parents. Parents who were involved with music often found their children developing an interest in music, as it was a way they could spend time with the parents and share the interest.

The children don’t practice per se, but many children do manage to come up with activities that are part play, part training. Competition with sibling may be motivation as well.

There’s a slightly different pattern in the early days of the children who would grow up to be mathematicians and neurologists than in the athletes, musicians, and artists. In this case the parents didn’t introduce the children to the particular subject matter but rather to the appeal of intellectual pursuits in general. They encouraged their children’s curiosity, and reading was a major pastime, with the parents reading to the children early on, and the children reading books themselves later.

At some point they become very interested in a particular area and show more promise than other children of similar age. The child is then ready to move on to the second stage.

STAGE TWO – becoming serious

Next step is to take lessons from a coach or a teacher. This is first exposure to deliberate practice. Teachers don’t need to be experts at the skill but need to be good at working with children and motivate to move forward through deliberate practice.

Parents help establish routines and prioritize their practice.

Motivation must ultimately be something that comes from within the child, or else it won’t endure.

STAGE THREE – commitment

By early or mid-teens they make major commitment

Often seek out best teachers or schools for training.

STAGE FOUR – pathbreakers

Some move beyond the existing knowledge in their field and make unique creative contributions.

The most successful creative people in various fields find that creativity goes hand in hand with the ability to work hard and maintain focus over long stretches of time—exactly the ingredients of deliberate practice that produced their expert abilities in the first place.


Innate Talent

IQ only gives slight edge at the beginning of learning a new skill. But once skill is established there is no correlation between IQ and skill performance. Amount of practice was the deciding factor in skill.

Early noticed "innate talent" has no correlation with how good they’ll be at higher levels.

Speculation:

Some people might be naturally able to focus more intently and for longer periods of time than others; since deliberate practice depends on being able to focus in this way, these people might be naturally able to practice more effectively than others and thus benefit more from their practice.

It makes sense that if genes do play a role, their role would play out through shaping how likely a person is to engage in deliberate practice or how effective that practice is likely to be.


Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Children who are almost one year older do better because they are a little bit more formed intellectually. They are seen as "smarter" and so they are the one’s that encouraged and supported as the "talented" ones. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is human nature to want to put effort—time, money, teaching, encouragement, support—where it will do the most good and also to try to protect kids from disappointment. The best way to avoid this is to recognize the potential in all of us—and work to find ways to develop it.

Another example of this is with children with slightly higher IQs. They learn just a little quicker and so they are the ones who are labeled "gifted" and extra attention and training is put on them. This advantage propagates through the school years.

This is the dark side of believing in innate talent. It can beget a tendency to assume that some people have a talent for something and others don’t and that you can tell the difference early on. If you believe that, you encourage and support the "talented" ones and discourage the rest, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy.


Piecing It Together

Importance of MENTAL MODELS / REPRESENTATIONS:

If you teach a student facts, concepts, and rules, those things go into long-term memory as individual pieces. But if a student then wishes to do something with them (i.e., solve a problem, reason with them to answer a question) the limitations of attention and short-term memory kick in. The student must keep all of those different, unconnected pieces in mind while working with them toward a solution. However, if this information is assimilated as part of building mental representations aimed at doing something, the individual pieces become part of an interconnected pattern that provides context and meaning to the information, making it easier to work with.

You don’t build mental representations by thinking about something; you build them by trying to do something, failing, revising, and trying again, over and over. When you’re done, not only have you developed an effective mental representation for the skill you were developing, but you have also absorbed a great deal of information connected with that skill.

When preparing a lesson plan, determining what a student should be able to do is far more effective than determining what the student should know. It then turns out that the knowing part comes along for the ride.

From the Physics class teaching experiment: put together a list of what the students should be able to do, then transform it into a collection of specific learning objectives. This is a classic deliberate-practice approach: when teaching a skill, break the lesson into a series of steps that the student can master one at a time, building from one to the next to reach the ultimate objective. While this sounds like like scaffolding approach used in traditional education, it differs crucially in its focus on understanding the necessary mental representations at each step of the way and making sure that the student has developed the appropriate representations before moving to the next step.

Physics students and experts do equally well on solving equations and quantitative problems, but students are far behind the experts in their ability to solve qualitative problems, i.e., why is it hot in summer and cold in the winter? Those questions require understanding of concepts that underlie particular events—that is, good mental representations. Understand the fundamentals deeply.

A major benefit for someone who develops a mental representation is the freedom to begin exploring that skill on his own. In music, having clear representations of what musical pieces sound like, how pieces fit together allows ability to improvise and explore on their instruments. They no longer need a teacher to lead them down every path; they can head down some paths on their own.

Creating a mental representation in one area helps to understand exactly what it takes to be successful not only in that area but in others as well.

Book Notes: Peak