How to Rewire and Innovate Our Minds
The ability to learn is what makes us human, yet learning is so random and flat most of the time, we may lose our natural curiosity and motivation along the way. How can we rewire ourselves and make learning fun with an endless curiosity?
Even though I studied in 3 totally different countries, namely, Turkey, the USA, and Spain, and have two masters, I very much dislike the education system after 20 years of education.
To my experience, schools anywhere run with an abundance of theory-building cases on a hypothesis basis and with a lack of interaction with real life.
Also, everyone learns the same things as if every human being is born the same. I remember playing block flute for 12 years and hating myself. Instead, I could have learned how to play trumpet from an early age and it’d be great to understand what Miles Davis feels when he plays Round Midnight.
I became a mechanical engineer, but I never touched any engine or a machine part studying 6 years, it was all theory and equations. I had to memorize how to derive the volumetric efficiency equation which took 3 pages of all Greek letters. I learned it perfectly in 3 days, took the test, and derived the equation impeccably. The next day, I forgot it and that’s exactly what I wanted, and most probably, I am still microscopically traumatized by each one of those meaningless experiences of so-called learning.
The most important issue with the education system anywhere in the world (as far as I experienced) is a lack of questioning the meaning and then, stimulating the curiosity of why you are learning. I basically mostly learned to be able to forget and I was happy forgetting it because when I questioned it, what I learned throughout had no meaning. It was a zero-sum game.
Did all these long and sometimes nerve-wracking experiences make my curiosity blunt? Probably yes. So, what did 20 years of education teach me? I believe the word I am looking for is patience.
And patience is very important for learning. Most of the time, we give up because we are impatient and get frustrated especially at the beginning of the learning process.
Following my education life, as everyone else had, I had a life working in different countries and I worked on rewiring my brain to relearn to learn.
We are born curious, playful, and fearless, but then, the education system and the environmental pressure try hard to fit us in the same small box.
As I shared my somewhat pessimistic sounding feelings about the education system, I want to share my experiences and questioning of how we can rewire to learn becoming the masters of our minds.
I think there are two paths to education. One is the formal education that the school is supposed to guide us into with its wisdom and the other is how we educate ourselves, which is I think what really matters.
I want to mostly focus on how we can educate ourselves, but I would also like to share how the school education system could have been improved.
Ad Astra. The School for the Stars
We all know Elon Musk and if you are really curious about the details of his life, you may also know that he doesn’t fancy the education system. He openly says that universities are unnecessary and he doesn’t look for university degrees while accepting a candidate for a job, instead, he looks at what they have achieved in their lives and what they have overcome.
As Elon Musk is one of the exceptional makers, he opened a studio school for his own children and a few of his friends’ children. Its name is Ad Astra and it means “To The Stars” in Latin. It’s based in the SpaceX HQ.
Ad Astra is like real life. You make things. There is no grading system. You learn to collaborate. You get real-life results. Your projects aren’t equations and you actually achieve meaningful results that have substance and that stimulates your curiosity.
All geniuses are curious. Leonardo da Vinci said: “Curiosity is genius" and Einstein said: “I am not a genius. I just spend much more time working on a particular subject than other people.”
The current education system, anywhere in the world, is not designed to make us curious and solve meaningful problems or bringing new insights, but to expose us to whatever it is to be accepted, and that eventually makes our brain cells numb.
As a country, Finland has arguably the most innovative education system. There is no grading system. They don’t make it about competition, but about collaboration. They don’t give homework, instead, they practice at school.
Michael Moore’s documentary, Where to Invade Next, has a great part where he goes to Finland to question what Finland has done.
Since the education system is almost a taboo that’s so heavy to move even an inch, we all have our own education system, which is the internet.
Among millions of topics and thousands of fields, how can we find the few things that we are passionate about so that we can master them by choosing the right path to learning?
Triggers are the Keys to Action
It’s never easy to start something new and make it a part of our routine. It just doesn’t feel natural and the way to make it work is through creating triggers that create action.
For example, meditation is great for everyone and if all the people around the world could start meditating when they were children, the world could have been a much better place, but that’s not the case.
I just started meditating a few months ago and the way I discipline myself into doing it is by adding a trigger point. I exercise almost every day and every time I exercise, I meditate at the end, which also helps me cool down and relax my mind and body.
So, adding the action after an action I already take regularly, creates the trigger that I need to make meditation a new habit.
Getting Through the First Month
Nothing is easy at the beginning for anyone. Even the most talented people have a learning curve. What makes them repeat over and over again and improve themselves and make a new skill become a feeling is their willingness to learn.
It’s always natural to feel frustrated when you can’t even do the basic things or when you don’t understand the fundamentals of a new concept for you, it’s because you are just in the beginning, but the more time we spend, the higher the resolution gets and then, we are able to see the beautiful view that we never thought existed in the first place.
Learning anything is like going to a gym, it’s only that we are building the specific muscle in our brain to learn a new skill.
We don’t have to become at everything we do spending 10,000 hours. Spending 100 hours on anything would change our understanding dramatically discovering a totally new world of joy.
We just need patience and focus on the future.
Fundamental Concepts are the Foundations of a Skill
I am a big believer in doing things great because we just do it to do it, then, the outcomes are lousy and they don’t really make a difference for ourselves or for the world.
And this is exactly how the education system around the world is designed.
As Sal Khan, the Khan Academy founder, says: “We take a test and score 75% and we pass. Then, we take a more advanced class without closing the gap of knowledge that we missed from the previous class. And this is our education system.”
Sal Khan continues saying: “We don’t just construct a building and say the concrete is wet on the first floor, but it’s ok, I give you C+ and then, put up another floor on top of the first floor. If we build the buildings that way, then, they would collapse after a few floors. So, why do we have the education system with this design?”
Becoming Makers and not Theorists
Theoretical thinking is great because it develops our abstract thinking. However, to make a real difference in life, you need to be a maker because life is hardly ever abstract.
The education system all over the world is designed so that books push us theoretical content for us to memorize and not designed for us to question and interpret the reality creating our own products.
Let’s compare two people; a person watching tennis and another playing tennis. Who would you think would really understand the game? Naturally, the person who plays the game. This is just like the education system. It teaches us to be passive viewers rather than active players who create.
Even if you are an artist, it’s the same way. We get better by actually doing it and that’s even more so for artists. Real artists don’t do anything because they get paid or they have to. They do it because there is a burning urge in them to create and bring their vision into life.
Most well-known writers write because they love the journey of creation. They write because they want to express and share their feelings with the world.
We all need a way to express and communicate ourselves by doing things.
Skipping the Distractions is the Goal of the Century
As striking as it is, an adult in the US spends an average of 3 hours per day on social media. That corresponds to 6 years and 8 months of social media use per person in their lives and that is almost depressing.
As we are all connected to the internet and there are social media apps that have business models around our attention span, they use all the data they have individually to attract more of our attention and add more attractive content that we tend to like and put ads in between them so that we click once in every 100 scrolls so that their investors make billions and we spend years of our lives growing their dark empire.
There is a great documentary about the game of social media and how they use our attention span as their product and it’s really eye-opening.
At first, about 10 years ago, when I was new to Facebook, I used to check it every minute, and now, I only use Facebook to message my friends and Instagram to add and archive the photos I like so that I can go back and remember.
I think having the ability to remove from our lives the trap that the social media companies built for us to receive small doses of dopamine and serotonin every few minutes, is the biggest long term favor we can make for ourselves so that we live our lives for ourselves.
A Mentor is a Teacher for Real Life
I wish the society was built so that every adult and the educated people needed to mentor young people in their lives and careers.
A mentor is a person that has been there and done that. That experience creates deep insight and mostly, that deep insight is not shared with many.
Finding a mentor isn’t easy because you need to have a person who would be willing to spend time with you and share her experience without expecting anything.
When you think of the people that you already know, can you think of anyone who would be a great mentor? If so, develop or create a relationship with that person and let them know that you can help them with tasks or anything that improve their life quality.
You may even contact a person you like on Linkedin and say that you can work for him for free and in return, you can have an hour of his time every week so that he shares his insight with you with a virtual coffee meeting.
Making Mistakes is What Makes Us Learn
When we start to learn something, there are so many unknowns and it may feel like trying to walk in the dark, but that’s exactly how should feel, and when you accept it and expand your comfort zone and become friends with the darkness, then, things start to make sense little by little.
For example, I am learning Italian now. I have always loved the culture, how the language sounds, and the expressiveness of it. After a month of learning, I still feel pretty much disconnected, and after learning many things in life, I am very familiar with this feeling.
I just need to be patient, listen, and interact with it so that the resolution of my brain towards Italian increases exponentially in the coming months.
That’s exactly how the brain functions. First, we are as dumb as it gets to any new subject, then, as we start to understand and communicate, everything starts to make sense exponentially. Finally, there is an explosion of awareness that we express ourselves in the new language without even trying because our brains have practiced it enough.
Community is Both Support and Competition
There is one particular reason why I like schools and it’s the community of people, both the students, and professors who are focused on learning.
School is the place where people come together to learn and it doesn’t matter which topic as long as you see people working and pushing their limits.
What’s mostly missing in the education system is interaction and collaboration with other students. It’s designed so that learning becomes an individual experience and that’s exactly what real life isn’t.
However, at a workplace or an online community, people are there to support each other and there is also a dose of sweet competition that makes people better.
If you are among experts on a topic for an extended amount of time, you’d most probably become as good as they are in time because of the community interaction.
So, finding a physical community from Meetup or an online community through Reddit or other platforms, the way we interact with the subjects become natural.
Writing Things Down Makes It Real
The progress of civilization pretty much started with written communication. We don’t only write for other people, but also for ourselves.
When we write, things gain substance, and using our visual sense to read what we write makes it more real and if we don’t write our ideas or schedule, because of many distractions and hundreds of ideas throughout the day, we can forget it in 5 minutes and they can never materialize.
As you write your weekly goals and maintain them with discipline, then, you have clear goals, and each time you achieve a goal, then, you will have dopamine, not because of a social media post, but because you achieved something concrete to make progress happen in your life.
Writing is as effective of a practice as it is easy.
We are mostly aware that the education system is outdated and almost untouchable, however, what’s great is that we have the internet and the entire world to interact and learn so that we become makers and collaborate with each other while having fun learning and creating.
Learning is challenging and I tried to share my insight and experience on learning. I hope the abovementioned topics can help you develop your own questioning of how you can improve your learning process so that you rewire your brain and become a master of your mind.