I have always been intrigued by the versatility of the human brain. I have spent countless hours trying to understand how thoughts are synthesised into my mind. I recall moments when I was not listening to others, instead I was observing the structure of their sentences and the sequence of their descriptions trying to understand how the way that their mind forms ideas differs from mine. And I have understood that cognitive abilities, as almost everything, do not depend only on genetics but they can be trained and developed. Thus, I believe that the key factor of exceptional performance is the perpetual learning through self-education.
Being clever is the ability to acquire new knowledge at a fairly quick pace, while being smart is the ability to use gained knowledge in a highly effective manner. Thus, being clever and/or smart doesn’t mean anything necessarily. They both indicate a potential for facilitated exceptional performance, but by no means a fact.
To be absolutely frank, I have always considered myself both clever and smart. But there came a moment that I hit a plateau. A plateau in which I was feeling that my life was not progressing at any level. I was working the same amount of hours or more, comparing to people whose minds couldn’t process information as quickly, efficiently or effectively as mine. Even more, I was making the same amount of money or less. And those are facts for my industry. If I compared my working hours and my salary against people with less processing power in their head across industries, then I was working way more hours and I was earning way less. And just for full disclosure, I am still in that plateau but I use past sentence because I am confident that I am now articulating the way to break it.
Same thing for my personal relationships. The case with those was not that I wasn’t able to form personal relationships, it was that there were not really fulfilling. Even though I will leave that aspect outside of the scope of this particular article, it is still important to highlight that the absence of enough fulfilling personal relationships was not the outcome of lack of emotional intelligence. A possible lack of emotional intelligence could overshadow any cleverness and smartness and justify my failure to be more effective than less skillful people. But this is not the case.
So, why was that happening? Of course I started to occasionally question my abilities. How can I think that I am clever or smart if I cannot position myself in a situation that I would work less and/or earn more than people that I consider possessing less cognitive capacity? Maybe I am just stupid after all. But this is a quite simplistic approach and very linear thinking and things never work in such ways in real life. In fact, if you realise precisely that fact – that the human brain tends to think linearly while life tends to be chaotic, you have a competitive advantage already. Anyway, the truth is that I never really believed that I am stupid. But I was often calling myself that way in order to poke and activate my ego.
I have a mind that can gain, process and use information quickly, efficiently and effectively. The problem was the quality, and sometimes the quantity as well, of the inbound information – something that I have explored a bit more in a previous post where I talk about information detox among other things. I wasn’t stupid. I was ignorant. About way too many things. And on top of that I was hardly spending any time thinking how to use whatever I knew in a productive way.
Let’s see the example of money. If you want to have more money, first you need to know about money. If you are clever and smart then you can earn more faster only if you have adequate knowledge in the first place. You need to have the knowledge. This is the prerequisite. Cleverness, smartness and other cognitive abilities are nice to have but not absolutely necessary. Of course this doesn’t apply only in matters of money but in pretty much everything.
Thus I believe that perpetual self-education should be a priority for every human being. I actually believe that the frequent repetition of a read-think-write loop is the single most valuable ingredient and quickest route to exceptional performance in any field in life.
I get very frustrated when I see people that I consider exceptionally talented, gifted if you will, achieve so much less than their potential. And I think the main reason for that is that we often develop an unhealthy relationship with knowledge without even realising it. Outdated educational procedures and a stiff socioeconomic system get us in a funnel where we focus on what we are doing without having the chance to think why we are doing it.
Below I will touch on the read-think-write loop in an attempt to illustrate why I value it so much. Some notions are hard to be put into words, but precisely for that reason they have to be put into words, otherwise they are never talked.
There is quite a chance that my writing will not be very pretty from this point down but I hope I will manage to address the point at least.
Reading: Information Harvesting
Reading is critical in gaining knowledge. For two main reasons: 1. it is the only process where gaining knowledge exists in isolation, and 2. it allows full control over the pace of the incoming information.
We can gain knowledge by having a dialogue with someone that has sufficient knowledge on the topic we are interested in, only that during a dialogue we are not only receiving information but we also process and transmit. More than that, during a dialogue we often focus more on what we want to say rather than what we are listening to. We can also gain knowledge by listening to someone talking without having a dialogue or ant other active interaction with him, only that in such a case we cannot control the pace at which we receive the knowledge – it can be too fast to comprehend or too slow to keep us concentrated.
Apparently, I am not arguing to forget the above. I am arguing that you should definitely read. It is also important to learn using different senses since they trigger different cognitive procedures in the human brain.
What & how I read
I think that the core of information sources should be non-fiction books. Articles in newspapers, magazines or blogs are also important. And I think that fiction books are also very important but they shouldn’t be the only kind of books you read.
When it comes to how I read, I like to mix topics because I feel that way I don’t lose sight of the forest in favour of a tree. It is also more enjoyable and stimulating, at least for me. I might read a book on business, then a book on investing followed by a novel and continuing to a nutrition guide.
Sometimes I do a split between daytime and bedtime. In this case I read non-fiction books, articles and blogs during the day and fiction before I go to bed. Non-fiction reads stimulate the brain and would have a negative impact on my sleep if read before bed.
Thinking: Information Processing
Imagine a container with any kind of stuff arriving at a warehouse. If we leave the boxes as they are, we will effectively be unable to locate anything when the time comes to need it. Therefore we will end up not using them and at some point we might as well throw them away. In order to be able to make use of the material, we need to put numbers and tags on the boxes and organise how we will store them in the warehouse.
Knowledge works in a similar way. The new information we gain is the equivalent to the boxes left randomly from a container. We need to organise that knowledge and store it properly in order to be able to access it in the future. This is what happens when we think. Similar to the way we arrange items in a warehouse considering what should be next to what, we start putting ideas next to each other, combining them or replacing them.
What & how I think
While becoming explicit about the thinking process might seem as too big a stretch since it is a very intuitive and personal process, I think it is still good attempting to analyse it even slightly in order to raise consciousness of what and how we think. So here is what I think of.
I think of situations that are deeply emotional or others that are purely practical. I think of causes and effects. I question if the profound cause is true or if there is any subtle underlying cause that determine the result that account for the profound cause to be misleading. I think of how my actions affect others but also how they affect myself as well. I think of how other people’s actions affect me as well as themselves. I try to be in the others person’s position. I try to get in his mind. I try to see through her flesh and into her heart. I think short-term and I think long-term. And I think that is good to layout what I think of, because we tend to allocate so little time in thinking that we don’t really think about the things that we should think of.
Sometimes we spend too match time thinking of events, of facts. What happened, how it happened, the sequence of connected situations. But what makes us better is not analysing the facts but our feelings because of those facts. Not what happened but what we felt because of what happened and dig deeper to find out why exactly we felt that way. Just think of that – if you think of something bad that happened you feel sad. But if you think why exactly that bad outcome made you feel sad then you start developing a consciousness of your emotional situation that over time helps you develop an emotional resistance during tough situations. You are then more able to stay calm and think clear under situations of high pressure of any kind.
Another point I want to make regarding what we should think of, is what makes our experiences richer. And I think that the more senses that are activated during an experience the richer the experience becomes. So think of a typical day in your life, map out when each sense is activated and in what degree and once you have that consciousness it might be wise to start replacing poor experiences with richer ones.
Writing: Information Articulation
Gaining and processing valuable information are important procedures but not enough by themselves. We need to use this information and compose new ideas. Writing is the best way to achieve that. Often we don’t realise how chaotic is everything in our head. By writing our thoughts down, we are forced to put them in order, or to be more precise, to combine them in meaningful and effective ways.
Writing is also a form of visualising our ideas and by doing that we often become more actionable. When we write down our goals we commit to them. For some people writing is actually what turns a wish into a goal. When we write down our feelings we become more aware about them. After all, writing is often the process through which gained knowledge is shaped in new forms and creates novelty.
What & how I write
I write about the things that I am interested in. But I also try to write about what I feel, even though that happens way less often than I would like to.
Most of the things that I write are for supersizeme. Posts but also emails for the susilist. The latter are often a bit more personal, helping me touch a bit on my feelings rather than solely on my interests.
I always carry a small notebook and a pen with me and write down ideas when they come in mind. It is mind-blowing how many things I forget if I don’t write them down. Even wonderful ideas, which is a shame to let it happen. I write posts about ideas that I want to explore which I don’t publish just because I feel they don’t fit in this blog and I don’t have any other medium. But not publishing doesn’t mean that they are not worth writing.
I write on Quora which, if you are not familiar with, is a Q&A social network that I find very interesting because writing there tends to be a hybrid between creating a post and having a discussion.
I write on my desktop while at home, I write on my phone while commuting, I write on my laptop on a sunny day in the park, I scribble notes on my small notebook, I keep notes on my phone and in any other medium that might come handy.
Self-education: Hey, teachers, leave those kids alone!
Have you ever thought of how stiff and outdated educational systems around the world are? One-fits-all systems for individuals that are so different from each other. Designed for everyone, working for no one. Have you realised that schools teach subjects like geography? Only that to know the capital of Cambodia takes a split second on Google to be found. Have you realised that schools teach nothing about topics like nutrition? Only that people die every day from causes related to bad nutritional habits. Have you realised that the most creative courses are devalued and considered just fun and relax time while?
You finish school and you have no idea about most of the most important things. No clue for health, fitness and nutrition, no clue for money and finance, no clue for social behaviour. So you go to another school, called University, to learn about one of the things that you don’t know about. And when you finish that new fancy school you still don’t know nothing. If you go in an engineering school you will learn about engineering but you will learn nothing about becoming an engineer. So you need to go to school. You can then do an MBA or you can spend a few decades in front a screen doing repetitive tasks. You will probably do that regardless if you do an MBA or not.
It is a system that we have come to consider valid by default. A system that gets us hypnotised even if we don’t accept its imposed validity. But after all it’s every you and every me that the system consists of. If you change and if I change and if they change then the system changes. Acceptance of responsibility is the first step. Self-education, meaning acquiring missing but necessary knowledge, is the second. Action is the last step – which looks easy once you have taken the first two.
Thank you for reading! If you have any thoughts on what you just read, either good or bad ones, I would appreciate it if you leave a comment below and let me know. Feedback is invaluable in one’s strive for progress. And if you choose to share this post it would mean the world to me! Until soon!
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