We have only one life. In it – a limited number of days, hours. How much we can achieve depends on the effectiveness of the actions we take. You can work all your life for $3000 a month, you can work 2 months a year for $60000. If you have the skills. I don’t want to start an unhealthy discussion about priorities, what should be important in life and what shouldn’t. This entry is about how to achieve some things faster and more effectively, so that more time is left for other things.
I think everyone would agree that life is about skills. No matter what we choose, what path we take, the more we are able to do, the more choices open up to us. For example, achieving mastery in playing a musical instrument, not only we have before us the possibility of employment in very well-paid normal jobs, but also we can get into a band playing at weddings, a man can thanks to this win a woman’s heart, even a homeless person thanks to the ability to play on the street can lead a fairly prosperous life and get out of poverty. Knowledge of languages opens up opportunities for employment in very good positions, but it also allows you to make extra money in your spare time by translating, go abroad not to work as a “dishwasher” but in a serious company, meet new people, have contact with other cultures.
Each of us has had thousands of situations in life where a skill could change his life. A banal example is “if I knew this language, maybe I would get that job where I would earn twice as much”, but the statement “if I could talk to women, I would not be lonely now” is also true. Of course, skills alone are not everything, if someone is lazy he won’t keep a better job, if someone has a nasty character – a woman with him (or a man with her) won’t last long. However, without them there will be no opening of all these new perspectives.
The problem is time. Each of us, as I wrote at the beginning, has only a certain number of hours in a day. The question is, how do we want to invest them? I see pathological situations all the time, when someone believe that nothing is worth changing and he won’t even try – all the time we hear about all those poor people, caught in the spiral of hopelessness, when their salary is just enough to pay for rent and very modest food. However, looking at how they spend their free time, you can see that they usually do nothing to improve their situation – they drink, play games, watch TV series and… wait for a miracle. Of course, there are situations when someone simply can’t, because, for example, their genes don’t give them the opportunity to develop, or they simply have too many activities and commitments to find at least an hour a day. However, the vast majority of those “squeezed by hopelessness” around me somehow easily find 6 hours a day to click on fb.
Well, stop, the post wasn’t supposed to be about judging someone’s life, probably the readers will be divided into mortally offended and delighted. Let everyone live the way they want. Let’s focus on the topic – how to acquire new skills more effectively. It doesn’t matter if someone wants to have a better job, or just learn faster for school and have more time for games or netflix.
There are basically two factors at play here, one of which few people are aware of. First, and obvious to everyone, will be the sheer ability to acquire new knowledge and skills, which can be improved in the right way. But there is also a second component. And it would require a separate topic, even a separate book.
Each of us has a certain “pool” of willpower. Very often you can meet with the attitude “if I was able to break through it, you should do it too”. This is a favorite saying of people who have achieved success in some narrow field, without looking at the fact that in many other fields those “weaker” have achieved much more than them. The thin guy will make fun of the fat one, because for him abstaining from food was not a problem. He no longer sees that the fat guy works and supports his family while he spends his days at the computer. In fact, they both did a similar thing – they invested their “resources”.
It’s a bit complicated, I’ll try to explain it using a study as an example. It tested how well people would be able to stick to a diet if they had to do another activity beforehand that required use of “willpower”, in this particular case they watched a movie and were supposed to hide the feelings it caused in them. It turned out that there was literally a “fatigue” of willpower, and as a result – the person could not manage to refrain from eating.
In the example two paragraphs above, the obese person used his/her “willpower” for strenuous work but did not have enough for a diet, while the thin person used his/her willpower for nutrition and probably exercise but did not have the mental strength to go to work.
This “reserve of willpower” is something independent of our “conscious” desire to change. We think we’re in control of our lives, and those who are successful – genes gave them beauty, intelligence, they were lucky enough to be born into a family that provided a good start – insist especially strongly on this. But in fact, we can only control our lives to a small degree. This is particularly well visible when such a “successfull” person gets depressed, a disease in which – among other things – the “reserve of willpower” falls to near zero. Suddenly, there is no more mr I am the best, and it turns out that all that brilliant advice he used to give everyone around him – “get a grip on yourself”, “just do what I do” – doesn’t work.
And this is actually the key to learning. It seems so simple and obvious – do something and stick with it. And if it doesn’t work, it’s probably because “you were weak” or “you’re lazy”. In 9 cases out of 10, people drop out of school if they have decided to educate themselves, or they cut down to a minimum if it is imposed on them at school. And it’s not because they “don’t want to”, they simply run out of this inner strength. And this is probably the most important part of this entry – in 90% of cases you fail to learn something not because your brain didn’t want to absorb information, but because of exhaustion. And tips on what to do to persevere will be much more effective than those that would allow you to even triple your learning efficiency. So what if you learn 3 times as many English vocabulary words in an hour, if after 50 hours you throw it into a corner?
So how to persevere? First of all, you have to realize that there is a limit. That if we go beyond our sphere of possibility, we will simply stop doing something. This applies to everything – diet, work, sport or just learning. If we start learning too many things at once, exhaustion will set in and we will drop them all. A good approach is to set aside a small amount of time each day, trying to do it with iron regularity. If an activity becomes habitual, it stops putting so much strain on our “supply”.
It is also important to know that the pool is common to all of our activities. Everyone has met the term “emotional vampire”. Such a “vampire” sucks the strength out of us, literally – it forces us to hold back from something (from hitting him in the face probably), or to do some things we don’t feel like doing. If we go to a boring movie with a girlfriend or boyfriend, force ourselves to watch it and pretend we’re interested, not only do we lose 2 hours, but we also lose a reserve of willpower that can be used to learn. And it’s a physical impossibility to exceed that – if we force ourselves to cram nonetheless, it will reflect on something else, something important will not get done.
Every activity we use, everything we do in life that requires “sacrifice”, that we force ourselves to do in some way, draws from this pool. There is no golden advice here, everyone has to look at their own life and make “room” for learning, otherwise it is almost certain that they will not succeed, that at some point they will drop out.
Of course, there are also ways to increase the amount of these “resources”, or rather, to prevent them from becoming morbidly smaller. Despite appearances, most of us are mildly depressed – mild enough not to be picked up by a cursory examination (which is always subjective, after all), but also marked enough to affect the amount of self-induced “compulsions” we can make in a day. Here we need to apply some simple tricks – saturate the brain with omega 3 fatty acids, check the ferritin level and raise it if necessary, supplement vitamin D3 in winter, examine the thyroid, take care of the appropriate level of methylation. There’s no point in me elaborating on everything, I invite you to the site where the topic of depression is discussed in depth:
As a curiosity, I must confess that this post is “sponsored” by tryptophan. I rummaged a long forgotten bottle of pills out of the cupboard to aid in the language learning process. The serotonin boost made me suddenly find time to blog after 3 months.
Once you are sure that you have taken the right approach to learning and probably won’t give up on it, you can think about what to do to make it more effective. Everyone has probably heard about the tricks used by students who cram for an exam using weird, usually illegal chemistry, know everything, but after 3 days they can’t remember anything. I have good news – there are legal ways to achieve maybe not so good results, but permanent and not destructive to health. They are hidden under the mysterious name of “nootropics”.
Probably the most important of these, or at least the most popular, is piracetam. This time I will not swamp you with studies, as in the case of this drug they are quite modest, but the experience of people who use it – powerful. It is one of the most popular supplements used by students, the experience of thousands of people is worth more than a single clinical trial.
The effects sometimes surpass the wildest expectations – it happened that C’s started getting A’s. No one really knows how substances in this group work (there are many varieties of ~racetam). It is also not known whether they cause late side effects, although from studies on rats it is predicted that they even prolong the youth of the brain. The current state of medical knowledge leads us to believe that piracetam is less harmful than table salt. Personally, I would stay away from the new varieties of ~racetam as they are not as thoroughly studied.
While supplementing with piracetam, it is advisable to take a source of choline at the same time, as it is likely to increase its utilization by the brain, which if there is little supply in the body can lead to headaches. Such a source is lecithin, or for example egg yolks or – in the case of vegans – cauliflower.
A low amount of magnesium in the brain means that learning efficiency can drop dramatically. In one study, a special variety of magnesium caused a significant increase in memory capacity in rats. Human studies on the effectiveness of a drug that can not be patented and sold is not something that happen everyday, but dullness and inability to concentrate is one of the symptoms of deficiency. It is worth trying supplementation to see if there is a sudden, big improvement in mood. If it turns out that we have a deficiency, eliminating it will increase the available “pool” of willpower somewhat.
A very common mistake people make is confusing calcium and magnesium deficiencies with each other. A person sees that his eyelid “twitch”, reaches for magnesium … the twitching becomes stronger, problems with sleep appear, he takes more, he feels even worse … from the beginning he did not have any problems with this element, but his calcium level fell, which often causes similar symptoms. These two elements compete with each other, so such therapy may worsen the deficiency and exacerbate the symptoms. In case of such a reaction to magnesium, calcium should be used.
Very interesting are the results of preliminary studies on a mixture of DHA (one of the components of omega 3), choline and uridine monophosphate. Feeding these to animals literally caused brain rejuvenation. What’s more, animal models indicate that this type of supplement combination could literally be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. One company has released a ready-made blend of these ingredients; clinical trials have shown it to be somewhat effective. Unfortunately, the price is a killer – the monthly cost of supplementation is over $200. You can buy the ingredients separately, on your own, then the cost of the mixture drops to about $40. You need about 500 mg of uridine monophosphate, 1000 mg of DHA (present in every omega 3 fish supplement and those derived from algae, there is none in flaxseed oil) and about 500 mg of choline – this amount has for example 3 large eggs or probably 15 grams of soy or sunflower lecithin. I warn against buying lecithin in capsules, the ratio of price to volume is very unfavorable. If we eat the amount recommended by the manufacturer, we will provide as much as half of one egg per day (who comes up with these recommendations anyway?!), while if we eat an amount that has some effect on the body – we will finish an expensive package in 3 days.
Zinc deserves special attention. Although its deficiency can cause quite serious problems with learning, as well as a significant reduction of “willpower resources”, but the supplementation with high doses in mice caused the opposite effect – the level of zinc ions in the brain areas responsible for learning rapidly decreased. Interestingly, the dose that caused this effect was equivalent to – as far as I could see – 15 mg per day in humans.
Supplementation with low doses (3mg) of boron produced marked improvements in the ability to learn new things, as well as in overall brain function.
One supplement quite often used by people who want to improve their learning ability is theanine. I haven’t had any experience with it, so it’s hard for me to comment on it, but a study has shown that it should improve learning ability to at least some degree. With that said, another clinical trial has shown that low doses of theanine, on the order of 50 mg, have no effect. The suggested dosage is 200 to 300 mg. It is reported to have very good effects when combined with caffeine. As with piracetam, there are far more stories passed around by college students than reasonably conducted research.
Vitamin B1 is a powerful agent for enhancing mental ability, especially its active forms – benfotiamine and a particularly potent one, sulbutiamine. Ordinary B1 will work mainly if someone is deficient (surprisingly many people have suboptimal levels), sulbu version supposedly works for everyone. As with all new substances, there is the question of long-term side effects – so far unresolved, so it remains to take at your own risk. The “ordinary” form and benfotiamine should be completely safe.
This is probably it. There are many more mental performance enhancers, but they either have limited effects or their costs are so high that the profitability is questionable. Many of them are also not tested for the effects of long-term use. I have tried to choose ones that are either neutral or even beneficial to health.
In closing, I would like to remind you – when using any new drug that we do not know how it works and that may affect the way the brain works – do not get behind the wheel!