So, what have you been thinking about? I've been thinking about thinking and learning. For the past two years, I've been taking different (wildly different) classes on Coursera. Some for practical purposes- Nutrition and Diabetes education classes - to help me control my blood glucose with exercise and diet. Some because they have always interested me - Astronomy, Astrobiology, Planetary Science. And some because as I've gotten older (yup, sorry to say I've gotten older over the years) I've become interested in things that either bored me stupid or I avoided entirely - the Bibles Political pre-History. All told I've taken 15 courses, and I'm on the last week of my current class "Learning How to Learn"
Learning How To Learn, is geared a lot towards students, who need to learn things for tests, who need to keep those things readily available in their brains for future classes and problem solving. It's still very useful for someone like me, who is learning for the sake of learning, learning so my brain doesn't turn to mush, and learning to satisfy my curiosities. How the brain works, is endlessly fascinating (although probably more so for my Psych studying daughter) But the tips on putting chunks into long term memory, efficiently putting things into memory - these are tips that ANYONE can benefit from (especially as we've gotten older and stuff seems to fall out of our brains)
The unit I've just finished is on Procrastination. I don't know anyone who isn't affected by procrastination at some point. (this blog sat dormant for a year and a half due partially to procrastination!) One of the tips we learned the first week - that I've already used, several times is the Pomodoro method. Set a timer for 25 minutes, turn off all distractions, work on whatever it is for 25 minutes - don't worry about finishing- after the timer goes off take a break and reward yourself.
Understanding the enemy is a key to defeating it, so here's my understanding of the procrastination cycle. You need to do something that makes you uncomfortable, your brain doesn't want to feel unhappy so it funnels your attention to something else giving you a temporary happy feeling. Of course, now you feel even worse the next time you think about doing the task, and the cycle continues and deepens. Eventually avoidance becomes a habit, and when you finally HAVE to do the activity, you are rushed and/or have to deal with the negative feelings of not getting it done.
Pomodoro helps battle procrastination, partly by eliminating the distractions (cell phone, computer, tv) and partly because 25 minutes isn't so undoable (I will admit I've used it for 10 minutes when 25 seems insurmountable) and generally 25 minutes will start to get you in the "flow". The second important part of the technique is the break/reward. Our brains and habits are kind of like puppies in this respect - if there is a reward/ happy feeling , the negative start of the whole cycle will change (hopefully) Rewards can be simple - a quick walk, glass of water, cup of coffee, basking in the happiness of accomplishment, a few minutes on Twitter- or more complex - dinner out after hitting the gym 5 times, getting a pedicure after your runs add up to say 50 miles, new yarn after finishing the second sock.
The other interesting thing I learned about procrastination is that it's a habit. Habits have 4 parts. 1. The Cue - what starts the (usually mindless) behavior. 2. The Routine - your habitual response. 3. The Reward- every habit has something the brain considers rewarding. 4. The Belief- habits have power because you believe in them. So the only actual part of breaking a habit that requires will power is after recognizing The Cue, you need to willfully create a new Routine. And then in the beginning at least you need to create a Reward for the new Routine. And you need to believe the new Routine will work.
The hardest part, as I see it, is recognizing the Cue. The Pomodoro Technique can help change the Routine.
After I finished writing this post - I found this really great post on dealing with Procrastination - and it draws from a lot of the tips I've learned in my class!!
I'm creating a page - Brain Food - for helpful links on Learning, Thinking, Creativity etc - because a post of all links would be boring, and I can just add links as I find them!