Thursday, January 20, 2011

Getting (Studying) Done

A few thoughts on my current studying process.

Taking notes continues to be the bane of my studying endeavors. I never look at my notes again, I don't think I'm including good information, I'm not sure if it's benefiting my learning much, and more. Simply put, it continues to be a hassle being maintained with my studies, which the only positive thing I can say of it right now is that it helps me concentrate on my subject matter. This problem has been persisting for years now, with solutions slow in the making, if not entirely non-existent. There must be some irrational attribute in the way I'm taking to my notes. What is it?

Maybe a lot of it has to do with the different types of material I'm mixing together. To save space I only do single line breaks, so from a distance my pages look like a big wall of text. Looking at it inspires no motivation to dig through it to see if there's something I could refresh myself on or reformulate: It's all just "stuff," which at this point renders my note-taking as write-only read-never. I can think of two possible solutions: Start creating greater line breaks, put different types of notes in different books, or both. I am particularly interested in the second item, as it would make my books more purpose-driven and easier to find one type of material in. I could, for instance, designate one book entirely to working notes and text commentary while another could contain just questions to inspire further thinking and research, maybe homework too. It'd be a little more pricey to buy more notebooks, but perhaps a worthwhile investment.

Most importantly, maybe I'm just not trying hard enough. Maybe I'm acting too much like a schoolchild concerned more with satisfying requirements than with actual learning, by which I mean I might be more concerned with satisfying the minimum assignment processes before I consider myself finished. Read some paragraphs, write some notes, do some conceptual exercises, boom bam done. Likely this is a combination of a psychological issue in which I'm failing to concentrate on my actual learning and a study method issue where I'm setting up rules that can far too easily be cheated like this.

For the psychological factor I merely need to be more introspective and continuously make explicit that my aim in studying is to learn, not to get an assignment "done." Through such repeated identifications I should be able to make myself much more deeply aware of my practices and be subconsciously motivated to study more thoroughly through having established new thinking habits. If the schoolchild mindset is allowed to persist, then the consequent temptations to take shortcuts will continue to plague me as well.

For the methodological factor, I don't think there's much I can do except add another practice or so, as I'm mainly seeing this as a psychological difficulty now. To add onto my current practices, I could start including a "What did you learn?" section at the end of my notes, which is a method originally explicated by Lisa VanDamme. In this section, I would try to make explicit everything I believe I learned from doing a particular reading -- everything. By doing this, I would be preventing myself from walking away from my studies with only an implicit-sorta-feeling that I understood what I read, and would instead be challenged to bring up to surface all the knowledge possible. That should make things sink in more deeply and allow for more integrations. Might be something worth doing on a separate piece of paper as homework, in order to segregate different material.

Mostly, I think my problem is that I've been desiring too many mental shortcuts. Using multiple notebooks and listing out everything I know will certainly help in my efforts, but at root I think I just need to shape up and be more rigorous, and state some mantras if I should be tempted to laze. There's little reason to continue allowing temptation to persist since it is within my power to alter my being so that no such temptation can exist: All I need to do is introspect and set new habits. Sure, there will be resistance at first of course, but once the new habits are successfully established those practices will no longer be a burden to my daily routines, but rather be so a part of my natural state that I find it hard to imagine it being otherwise. It's all about the habits.

My study methods may be still far from optimal, but I will never refrain from improving them to perfection. It's a long journey.

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