Y.O.L. Week One: Building Momentum, 15 Minutes At A Time

One week down, just fifty-one to go!

The last 7 days marked the beginning of my project for 2017, The Year of Learning. This is what happened.

Retention: 7/7

I’m proud to say I’ve stuck with my daily practice of learning something related to my monthly theme. I’ve had a particularly strong focus on habitualising the daily practice this first week, which will continue for at least the first month. After all, when Aristotle says habits are important, I listen((Well, actually, Aristotle never said exactly that. Famous American writer Will Durant did, when writing about Aristotle’s work Ethics. “As the great quote-sleuth Ralph Keyes wrote in The Quote Verifier: “clever lines … routinely travel from obscure mouths to prominent ones….””)).

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. –Aristotle

Keep in mind that my 100% retention rate is a by-product of the way I intentionally designed my success criteria to be easy to achieve. As I wrote in Introducing The Year of Learning, I wanted to keep the daily target low, to make it easy for myself to win and gain momentum daily. This is inspired by Tim Ferriss’ question “What would this look like if it were easy?” , and the art and science of habit creation such as flossing just one tooth.

My experiences perfectly illustrate what happens when momentum starts to build. On a macro-level, it’s easier to get my daily dose of learning in on da 7 than on day 1. Also, on a micro level, I often get into a flow state of momentum after the first 15 minutes of my daily learning practice. Having already “won the day”, it’s effortless to go on for another 15, 30, or 60+ minutes. Having completed 15 minutes, I’m already in a flow state.
Now, to specify, this clearly doesn’t happen every day. Sometimes I don’t feel like continuing beyond the 15 minutes. Sometimes calendar events come in the way. But that’s totally OK with me, because it’s about keeping the momentum going, not necessarily cramming in loads of learning every day.

6 Lessons Learned This Week

I’ve been reading two books over the last week: Mind Mapping by Tony Buzan((also highly recommended: Speed Reading by Tony Buzan)), and Mastery by Robert Greene.
Both are incredibly good. Here’s what I’ve learned from them so far:

  • 1) Mapping is a form of note making rather than note taking. It forces you to actively engage with and the learning material at hand. In addition to absorbing the information, you also have to re-develop it in your own way to be able to create an effective mind map that works for you. Passively jotting down words as a transcript of a lecture won’t get make the material stick in your brain anyway.
  • 2) Mind Mapping is developed with the brain in mind. Our brains learn best through sensory stimulation, some of which include vivid colours and imagery. Traditional note-taking (such as this bullet-pointed list, touché) is the EXACT OPPOSITE of how the brain learns best!
  • 3) Mind Mapping forces ruthless prioritization. I love this, because it resonates the philosophy of minimalism [ins link] and essentialism [ins link], which I very stongly believe in. A mind map is limited in its very nature. The sheet of paper it’s drawn on will only allow so much content before inevitably reaching the edge of the page. The mind map itself will buckle if it’s overloaded with information, as its structure, readability, and hence its usefulness, crumbles.
  • 4) Find your life’s task from within ASAP. Robert Greene emphasises the importance of figuring out why on Earth you were put.. well, here on Earth. What you’re meant to do, in other words. This, he argues, is the most important first step to Mastery, because you’ll never be truly excellent, nor fulfilled, in a field that doesn’t resonate deeply with who you truly are. This process must start from within yourself only.
    You must blatantly disregard external forces that are pulling you in tempting directions of money, status, security, fame or otherwise, as these are always distracting you from what you’re looking for. Only when you’ve found your true calling can the following phases to Mastery start. Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly got something to think about from this one!
  • 5) Secure an apprenticeship position. Then get passive.
    The apprenticeship is perhaps the most critical phase of the journey to true Mastery. Expert craftsmen did 5-7 years of apprenticeships under masters in the Middle Ages. So should you. When having secured such a position, beware of the tendency to rush the process too fast. Don’t try to impress anyone at the beginning, don’t try to bend the rules of the game (yet). Instead, sit passively and observe in the beginning. Learn as much as you can about the environment before trying to make your mark on it.


That’s all, folks. I’m not even done reading these books. Expect more of these snippets of golden takeaways as I read on.
Also, try making some mind-maps. It’s crazy powerful stuff!!

Also published on Medium.

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