Here is why most Spaced Repetition Apps don’t work and how to fix it

 

Regardless of whether you use Spaced Repetition Apps or not, you can’t deny that there is some controversy among language learners whether such programs are truly effective. Some people swear by it while others prefer more old-fashioned pen-centered strategies. It gets even better! Even among SRS enthusiasts, you can find different militant fractions. Some claim that Memrise is the best. Other that Quizlet is the way to go.

 

For many, it can be quite difficult to wrap their head around what’s true and what’s not. Let’s sort it out so you can finally know the answer.

 

What’s the scientific consensus about Spaced Repetition Apps

 

 

If you have ever seen one of the aforementioned squabbles online, the first thing you need to know is that opinions that SRS is ineffective are completely detached from reality. Spaced repetition is among the most thoroughly researched memory-related phenomena in the world. Its efficacy has been replicated in hundreds of comprehensive and extensive studies (read more about choosing the best language learning methods).

 

It is effective on a variety of academic fields and mediums. 

 

Spacing effects can be found in:

 

  • various domains (e.g., learning perceptual motor tasks or learning lists of words) such as spatial44
  • across species (e.g., rats, pigeons, and humans [or flies or bumblebees, and sea slugs, Carew et al 1972 & Sutton et al 2002])
  • across age groups [infancy, childhood, adulthood, the elderly] and individuals with different memory impairments
  • and across retention intervals of seconds [to days] to months (we have already seen studies using years)

 

Source (probably the best article online about the spaced repetition, well worth checking out)

 

The benefits of spaced study had been apparent in an array of motor learning tasks, including:

 

  • maze learning (Culler 1912)
  • typewriting (Pyle 1915)
  • archery (Lashley 1915)
  • javelin throwing (Murphy 1916; see Ruch 1928, for a larger review of the motor learning tasks which reap benefits from spacing; see also Moss 1996, for a more recent review of motor learning tasks).

 

Heck, there are almost no exceptions to this phenomenon. Sure, there is maybe 5% of studies which haven’t replicated these findings. But upon reading more about their design and methodologies used, one might conclude that they are often an example of bad science.

 

The only notable exception I have seen so far is that children can often fail to exhibit a spacing effect unless they process learning material in a certain way. This, however, is a topic for another article.

 

Where does all this controversy about the effectiveness of SRS programs come from then? I will get to it soon.

 

First, let’s concentrate on what makes learning truly fast and effective.

 

Encoding – the most important criterion for effective learning

 

 

A simple model of memory

 

 

Here is why most Spaced Repetition Apps don't work for you and how to fix it

 

The process of memorization can be depicted in the four following steps:

  1. Retention intention
  2. Encoding – involves initial processing of information which leads to the construction of its
    mental representation in memory
  3. Storage – is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory
  4. Recall – is the retrieval of stored information from memory

 

Let’s concentrate on the second step of this process. Clearly, you can see that it’s a gateway to the land of remembering. But what does encoding really mean?

 

Encoding is any kind of attempt of manipulating a piece of information in order to increase your chances of memorizing it.”

 

What’s more, there are two kinds of encoding.

 

Two types of encoding

 

 

Shallow encoding

 

 

Shallow encoding doesn’t help you to connect the piece of information with other meaningful information nor does it help you to further your understanding of it.  It usually concentrates on meaningless banalities.

 

Example: you are trying to memorize the word “skada” (Swedish for “to damage”). The prime example of shallow encoding would be to start counting the number of vowels or consonants in this word.

 

Deep encoding

 

 

The absolute opposite of shallow encoding. This time you are trying to make a meaningful connection between different items. The more the better.

 

Deep encoding is so powerful for your learning that it even shows up in brain scans as increased activity in key brain areas associated with memory. It is this activity that appears to give deep processing its memory advantage. (source: How Memory Works–and How to Make It Work for You).

 

So what’s the example of deep encoding in the world of language learning? Creating sentences or saying them out loud, to be more precise.

 

Interestingly, every time I say it, there is always someone who seems surprised. I guess the reason being that we don’t appreciate enough how complicated it is for our brains to create a sentence.

Why creating sentences is so complicated

 

 

Why most Spaced Repetition Apps don't work for you and how to fix it

In order to create even the simplest of sentences you have to:

 

  1. remember actively the words you are currently learning
  2. remember all the other words in the sentence actively
  3. connect them in a meaningful way
  4. apply all the known grammar rules
  5. choose the appropriate register of the sentences (i.e. a form of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting)
  6. remember the pronunciation of all the words in the sentences
  7. pronounce all the said words by using your muscles

 

As you can see, it’s not that trivial to produce a sentence. And that’s why this process is so meaningful and memorable for your brain.

 

Initially, a lot of my students grumble about having to create many sentences. They say it’s too exhausting. I agree. The thing is that producing sentences equals knowing and being able to use a language!

 

To make your inner geek happy, it’s worth mentioning that encoding is very often connected with two other principles of memory which make your learning even more effective:

 

The level of processing effect (Craik & Lockhart, 1972)  – the more you process a given piece of information, the better you remember it.

 

The generation effect (Slamecka & Graf, 1978) – active production of a given piece of information increases your chances of permanently storing it in your long-term memory.

Read more about optimizing your language learning here.

 

Interesting, right? Now it’s time to answer the most important question – what if somebody is too lazy to actually go through all the trouble of producing sentences?

 

Consequences Of Lack Of Encoding (i.e. why most Spaced Repetition Apps don’t work)

 

 

I hope that the following paragraph will help you make a very important decision – never ever use or buy any learning app. I don’t care that you read that Gabriel Wyner is working on a revolutionary app or that Memrise has a better algorithm now.

 

The most important and effective thing you can do for your learning is to create multiple contexts (i.e. sentences) for a word you want to learn. Simply repeating ready-to-use flashcards, especially the ones without any context, won’t work well. This simple fact renders all the memory apps combined useless. ANKI is really all you need.

 

Think for a second about the solution those apps dish out to you. Most of the time they simply give you ready-to-use flashcards, often without any context! Or meaningless games which perpetuate shallow encoding. Or even when you see a flashcard with a word in the context, it was not encoded by you and thus it will be way harder to remember.

 

Time to stop looking for magical solutions. You won’t find them in apps.

 

To my chagrin, I don’t see any big company talking about this. Of course, the reason is obvious. If you pay for an app, you have to be convinced that it’s truly magical and life-changing. I don’t think they would sell well if the owners started screaming from the rooftops “They are sh*t! What’s truly magical is the effort you put into encoding your vocabulary”!

Read more about Common Language Learning Mistakes and How To Fix Them With Lean Language Learning.

SRS programs are just a white canvas

 

 

SRS programs

 

The right way of thinking about such programs is seeing them as a white canvas.

 

Algorithms underpinning them are close to perfect in themselves. Unfortunately, some people crap in their hand and insist on smearing it until they get a one-eyed unicorn. The next thing you know is they are running around the internet and screaming that SRS programs don’t work. You can’t be lazy when you learn.

 

I know that doing ready-to-use flashcards seems “quicker” to use because you don’t have to invest too much energy into producing them. However, in reality, they are more time-consuming in the long run because you need to spend more time repeating words unnecessarily.

 

It has to do with the mechanism of passive rehearsal which is simply a mindless act of rattling off a cluster of pre-prepared information. Many years ago it was actually proven that it has little effect on whether or not information is later recalled from the long-term memory (Craik & Watkins, 1973).

 

If you ever want to use such flashcards, simply treat them as a source of vocabulary to learn. Other than that, simply encode your vocabulary and you will be fine. All ready-to-use flashcards can do is create the illusion of time-efficiency while slowing your progress down at the same time.

 

Course-oriented thinking – Improve your knowledge coherence and create potential products at the same time

I love how paradoxical the modern world is. You are just a click away from accessing almost every imaginable piece of information ever created. If you could acquire just some of it, you would be able to dominate almost every possible area of life. However, it seems like there is a glass wall holding you back. You can lick it all you want but you can’t get through it.

Why is it so? Why is it so difficult to master even one field of knowledge?

My guess is that most people are notoriously bad at tying information together. What’s more, we are also easily overwhelmed by the sea of information. All the facts that we face usually take a form of an impenetrable tangle.

In this article, I would like to show you a way out of this maddening maze. It’s not a complete map but it should be enough to help you wrap your head around any discipline. With some time and dedication, of course.

The remedy is a method of mine which I dubbed course-oriented thinking. Not only will it help you to create or consolidate your expertise but it’ll also, hopefully, give you lots of ideas on writing a book or a course.

Knowledge coherence – the best predictor of one’s expertise

 

 

 

Do you know what the biggest predictor of one’s expertise is?

Knowledge coherence, or in other words the way we structure information we acquire. And we suck badly at it.

Why wouldn’t we?

Throughout our entire education, everything is served to you on a silver platter. It’s always the same dish – the prechewed and predigested informational spaghetti. God forbid that you put more effort into your learning than it’s necessary.

And then comes the day when you need to recall and apply all this knowledge. You reach for emptiness. There is nothing there.

Why is that?

After all, the knowledge presented to you was structured.

What went wrong that you couldn’t remember it? The answer is “Easy come, easy go”.

Learning takes effort.

There is no way around it. It doesn’t matter how many people you will meet on your path who scream otherwise. You need to put in a lot of effort.

And let’s be honest here. If you receive knowledge in a form of a fully digested pulp, you won’t know how to use it. You won’t understand it either.

The truth is that nobody can structure and organize your knowledge for you.

And this is where course-oriented thinking enters the scene.

Course-oriented thinking – a general overview

 

 

In the simplest of terms, course-oriented thinking is based on one principle. You should approach every domain you want to master with a single goal in your mind.

You will create a course to teach someone all there is to know about a given subject.

It will be the best damn course in the universe on a given subject which you can sell to others (read more about mastering many fields of science here).

Pay attention to the words I have used.

 

1.   The best course in the world

 

It’s not going to be any course. It will be the best in the world. No other course will come even close. However,

keep in mind that your course won’t be any good in the beginning. Being the best is the end goal. It’s a journey.

Initially, it will rather resemble a steaming pile of manure. With time, however, you will turn into your own version of David Statue. The one made of marble, not s**t. I better add it so there is no misunderstanding here.

 

2.   The most comprehensive course in the world

 

If you want to go in, go all in. Create a course which will teach you every aspect of your field of choice.

 

3.   It has to be structured and organized

 

Keep in mind that the course should be able to teach a complete beginner how to master a given field of science. If you want to teach somebody how to invest, even a retarded, three-headed shrimp which survived a nuclear apocalypse will succeed.

Ask yourself this while working on your project – “How can you make a layman understand what you want to convey?”.

 

4.   You’re going to sell it

 

 

Another important assumption is that you’re going to sell it. Of course, it doesn’t really matter whether you do it or not. What matters is that this approach will give you some mental incentive to devote as much attention to it as it’s needed.

You wouldn’t sell people crap, right? Exactly. This way of thinking should help you keep your focus on the right track.

Another self-evident advantage of this rationale is actually creating something of value. You might be doing it for yourself right now. However, as the time goes by, you might be struck by a curious thought, “Why won’t I create an actual course or a book?”. And come it will. Trust me.

I still remember my bewilderment in college every time I saw an author publish a book. I couldn’t grasp how it’s possible to amass such vastness of information, structure it, and package it as a complete product.

The secret seems to be disappointingly easy. You start with a product in your mind and you learn as you create it.

 

5.   It’s going to be YOUR course

 

If you set off on this journey with an intention of just copying a curriculum of already existing courses, you might as well stop reading right now. The course has to be your creation. Sure, you might borrow different concepts, methods or solutions from other authors in the field, but it has to be yours. Only this way will you be able to fully understand the scope of a given domain. Trust me, knowing how most of the puzzles fit together is amazingly empowering.

It also means that you can add whatever you want to the course. Dollop some funny pictures or a bucketful of ridiculousness on top of each module. Appreciate all those little peccadilloes that only you can bring to the table.

Example:

In my “investing course”, I find myself frequently quoting a lot of prominent figures from the investing world. Sometimes one quote is more than enough to help a give rule to sink in.

Here is the one by Warren Buffet which I use on a daily basis:

“The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.”

Sure, I also include some scientific data to back up this idea. However, I don’t find it even half as powerful as the aforementioned quote.

 

Course-oriented thinking – how to structure your course

 

 

1.   Tips for rookies

 

If you are new to some area of expertise, you may find it extremely difficult to create any curriculum. After all, what do you know?

Don’t worry. You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on your own. Simply pick up any book, or google an online course which is similar to the one you want to create and copy its rough outline.

I would like to remind you that it’s just a place to start. You shouldn’t copy everything. Without the effort of creating a schedule, you won’t be able to learn nearly as fast.

 

2.   Tips for old-timers

 

If you already possess a wealth of knowledge about some domain, you’re in a great place. You already did the bulk of work in the past. Now, muster all you know and start structuring it from A to Z.

 

3. The general advice

 

 

Typically, you should structure your course in an old-fashioned way. Break down a domain of your choosing into modules and units.

Remember that your the structure of your course is not permanent. It’s a living organism. The more you know, and the more information you add to it, the more it will change.

Don’t get too attached to its current form.

 

Course-oriented thinking – what are the best information sources?

 

 

By that point, you should already have a rough curriculum in place. The next important question you have to answer is, “how can I learn more about this“?

Actually, saying it’s important would be an understatement. It’s absolutely crucial. You don’t want to learn from source you don’t trust.

I might be old-fashioned but if I wanted to learn more about investing I wouldn’t take advice from a pimply teenager who lives in his mom’s basement. Especially if he has no previous track record.

Here are some places to start:

 

 

Keep in mind that just reading information is not enough. You actually need to memorize it to be able to connect the dots.

Read more about the importance of memorization here: The Magnet Theory – Why Deep Understanding And Problem-Solving Starts With Memorization.

 

Your mental framework for approaching new information

 

 

1. Be critical

 

Don’t take facts or information at face value. Pay attention whether the opinions are rooted in anything trustworthy. 

As a rule of thumb, my bullshitometer buzzes like crazy anytime I hear that “there is a study proving …”, or better yet, “everyone knows that …”.

Have you read this study yourself? No, not an abstract, an entire study. If not, remain skeptical. As yet another rule of thumb, anyone quoting documentaries as a source of knowledge, especially about health-related issues should be slapped six feet deep into the ground by the mighty gauntlet of knowledge.

Sometimes I waive this rule temporarily if I respect a given expert enough. However, that’s an exception.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s hard. And I fully agree. Nobody said that forming your own opinion and knowledge is easy.

 

2. Stay open-minded

 

 

It’s confusing, I know. Can you be critical and open-minded at the same time? You can, and you should be.

The principle is best encapsulated by Stanford University professor Paul Saffo.

Strong opinions loosely held

At no point in time will you have a complete picture of a given domain. Hence, you are bound to hear lots of different opinions and theories which might contradict your present knowledge.

Don’t discard them just because they don’t sound right. Analyze their conclusions. And don’t stop there. Analyze the rationale which led to those conclusions as well.

A great example is a way in which I approach rapid language learning as described in a case study of mine.

After learning and analyzing hundreds of linguistic studies and memory-related books and papers, it wasn’t hard to see why a typical approach can’t work well. What’s more, it wasn’t too difficult to see why extensive reading and other passive learning approaches are usually terrible ideas. Yet, a couple of years ago there weren’t many people who shared this belief. Luckily, language learning is one of those fields where usually results speak for themselves.

 

What to do with the contradictory information

 

If I encounter some evidence which is either flaky or contradictory to what I already know, I still try to place it somewhere in the course. However, I always place an extra note saying “to be verified”.

You can choose to copy my methodology or think up some other way to mark uncertain information. Whatever works for you.

Upon doing so, you are left with two choices. You can either set off on a revelatory journey to discover what the truth in this particular case is, or leave it for time being. As you acquire more knowledge, the problem will most probably sort itself out.

The best program to structure your knowledge

 

In my book, there is only one clear winner – Evernote. It’s everything you will ever need to write a book, a course or anything else for that matter.

Of course, I might be biased as I don’t know many other programs of this kind.

Evernote makes it very easy to create module and units for every single folder (i.e. your course idea).

 

Improve your knowledge coherence

 

 

Course-oriented thinking – a long-term perspective

 

If you have ever dreamt of mastering many fields of expertise, course-oriented thinking should also be right up your alley.

Once you read this article, you can download Evernote right away and start creating course outlines for every single domain that interests you.

 

Will you be able to pursue them all at the same time with smoldering passion? Definitely not.

Will you be able to work on them for years to come until you achieve mastery? Absolutely.

 

You can think of every field of expertise you want to master as a journey. Maybe you won’t make too many steps in the forthcoming months. But you will keep on going and you will keep on getting better.

What’s more, the mere awareness of having a course which you can expand should keep your eyes wide open to all the wonderful facts and information you stumble upon.

They all will become a welcome addition to your creation. And as with learning intensely, the more courses you create, the easier it will be to master any other domain.

 

Examples of practical, long-term courses

 

 

 

I am pretty sure that you already have a rough idea of which areas of expertise you want to explore. Regardless, I’ve wanted to show you some examples of the courses I have created so far. Of course, they are work in progress. Knowing me, I will keep on expanding them till the day I die. You might use them as a source of inspiration.

A list of my projects (i.e. courses):

The list is certainly not complete but it should give you a general idea of what to gun for. Remember to think long-term. Your course (i.e. knowledge) doesn’t have to be perfect from the get-go. The mere action of having such a project in place will help you put any piece of information in the right context.

Approaching learning in this manner can lead to truly spectacular results. You might discover that after some time, some of your projects will come to life and will become an inseparable part of your existence.

For example, I have never thought of myself as an investor. However, just a couple of weeks upon creating a rough curriculum of my investing course, I dipped my toes in the financial waters. Surprisingly, it turned out that I am really good at it. These days trading is a part of my everyday ritual.

So what do I think? I think you should give it a shot.

 

A summary

 

 

One of the most important factors affecting your ability to remember things is the coherence of your knowledge. Course-oriented thinking can provide you with an excellent framework for structuring your knowledge. What’s more, your potential courses can turn into real-life products which might benefit you in the future.

Keep in mind that your projects don’t have to be perfect from the very beginning. They will probably suck. Only working on them systematically and methodically can guarantee that they will become world-class products.

Don’t treat them dead-serious and don’t be too formal. Sprinkle them with silly memes, anecdotes or quotes. Your courses should be a natural extension of your character. Let your personality shine through the quality information. With time, you might be truly surprised how much this approach can change your life.

 

What To Do Instead of Nootropics In Order To Maximize Your Brain Power Permanently

What To Do Instead of Nootropics

 

Nootropics are certainly one of those things that capture your imagination. You pop a pill and everything becomes clear. You are more vigilant, more observant.

Sure, three months down the road you start resembling a patient with a full-blown neurological disorder. You catch yourself scratching your arms nervously while your eyes twitch.

And if your pill is nowhere to be found you drop on the floor and start rhythmically convulsing.

But hey man! Those moments of clarity!

In all seriousness – nootropics have definitely become a thing in the last couple of years. The appeal is understandable.

At the price of a pack of pills, you can become a better version of yourself.

Is it really the case? Nope.

If you ask me, it’s definitely more of a fantasy for the naive. Let me explain step-by-step why it is so and what you can do instead to become this sexy learning-machine.

WHAT ARE NOOTROPICS?

 

Not everyone is familiar with this notion. Since I don’t want to risk keeping you in the dark, let’s delve into it.

Nootropics are natural and synthetic compounds that can improve your general cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, focus, and motivation.

As a rule of thumb, natural nootropics are much safer and can actually improve the brain’s health (see Suliman et al. 2016).

As you can see the definition is very far from being precise.

Let’s suppose you go into the panic mode before an important meeting and your colleague bitch-slaps you. You suddenly become more focused and sharper.

Can this backhander be treated as a nootropic?

Once again, the definition is unclear. What is clear is that, even though you might not realize it, you probably take some of them already.

SOME OF THE AVAILABLE NOOTROPICs

 

What To Do Instead of Nootropics

 

Our civilization can pride itself on having a long, rich history of drugging ourselves to feel better and smarter. Here are some of the weapons of the mass enlightening:

 

Caffeine

If your head bobs like a crazy pigeon if you don’t get your daily fix, you are probably not surprised to see it here.

These days, it can be found almost everywhere. Especially in soft drinks, dark chocolate and, of course, in coffee.

Effects: 
At normal doses, caffeine has variable effects on learning and memory, but it generally improves reaction time, wakefulness, concentration, and motor coordination. – Nehlig A (2010). “Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer?”. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

 

L-Theanine

L-Theanine, or simply theanine, can generally be found in tea.

The amount is dependent on the kind you drink but generally, you can get more in black tea than in green tea.

Effects:
Increases BDNF and attenuates cortisol-to-DHEAS, also has low affinity for AMPA, kainate, and NMDA receptors.

 

Curcumin

Great news for any enthusiast of Indian cuisine.

Effect:
Produces neuroprotective effects via activating BDNF/TrkB-dependent MAPK and PI-3K cascades in rodent cortical neurons.
Lithium

Elevates BDNF by inhibition of GSK-3, which also increases skeletal muscle growth.

 

Asian Ginseng

One of the most famous herbs which can boast such effects.

Effects:
Improved memory, enhanced focus/attention (similar to caffeine), enhanced mood through reduced anxiety, enhanced performance: reaction time, endurance, memory retention.

What about real nootropics?

 

I know that you probably want to learn more about “real” nootropics. Here is a short list of some of them.

Effects:
Enhanced brain metabolism, better communication between the right and left brain hemispheres

Effects:
Offers neuroprotection via stimulation of PKC phosphorylation; upregulation of PKCepsilon mRNA; induction of Bcl-X(L), Bcl-w, and BDNF mRNAs; and downregulation of PKCgamma, Bad, and Bax mRNAs.

Effects:
An antioxidant that also stimulates NGF. Found to be a potent enhancer for the regeneration of peripheral nerves.

Effects:
Elevates NGF, BDNF, and GDNF.

Effects:
Stimulates NGF

Effects:
Elevates BDNF by inhibition of GSK-3, which also increases skeletal muscle growth.

Elevation of brain magnesium increased NMDA receptors (NMDARs) signaling, BDNF expression, density of presynaptic puncta, and synaptic plasticity in the prefrontal cortex.

The list goes on and on. As exciting as it all sounds, I would advise against taking most of them. Especially the ones which are intended for the patients with neurological disorders.

Why You Should Stay Away From Most Nootropics

 

Caffeine is still one of the best nootropics around

 

If you take caffeine in any form, it might be more than enough for you. Last year, a famous study compared the effectiveness of the CAF+ nootropic to caffeine.

The CAF+ contains a combination of ingredients that have separately shown to boost cognitive performance, including caffeine, l-theanine, vinpocetine, l-tyrosine, and vitamin B6/B12.

It was supposed to be the next big thing in the world of nootropics. Alas, it turned out to be a flop.

Here is the conclusion:
We found that after 90 min, the delayed recall performance on the VLT after caffeine was better than after CAF+ treatment.
Further, caffeine, but not CAF+, improved the performance in a working memory task. In a complex choice reaction task caffeine improved the speed of responding.

Subjective alertness was increased as a result of CAF+ at 30 min after administration. Only caffeine increased diastolic blood pressure.

We conclude that in healthy young students, caffeine improves memory performance and sensorimotor speed, whereas CAF+ does not affect the cognitive performance at the dose tested.

And that’s exactly my point. A lot of those compounds which are being plugged shamelessly by different fancy-sounding brain websites are close to useless.

Do yourself a favor and stick to the devil you know.

 

It’s expensive

It’s not uncommon to find comments on a Reddit about Nootropics saying that

“500$ for nootropics is not that much. This is just the price of admission for finding the one which is right for you.”

It doesn’t sound alarming at all. No sir. Don’t think of yourself as a cowardly version of a heroin addict. You’re a brave brain-explorer! On a more serious note – a lot of these nootropics are not only shady but expensive as well. Keep that in mind, if you decide to try them out.

 

Unkown long-term effects

Even though natural nootropics are potentially safe, or even very safe, it definitely can’t be said about synthetic nootropics. By taking them you automatically volunteer to become a guinea pig.

Many of the nootropics change your levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamineserotoninGABA and many others.

The thing is that so do many drugs like cocaine.

The long-term effect is usually a strong imbalance of transmitter levels in order to compensate those extremes.

It reminds a lot of enthusiasts of brain-zapping couple of years ago. Even though there were almost no double-blind studies confirming its effectiveness, people glibly jumped on this bandwagon.

Of course, you didn’t have to wait long for the first papers showing that brain-zapping might not be as great as we once thought.

As Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir explain in the journal Nature, we don’t know how extended use might change your brain chemistry in the long run.

 

It’s a short-term fix

Call me old-fashioned but if somebody needs a pill every time they want to feel smart or sharp, maybe they are not that smart or sharp? After every use, it’s time for a cold and lonely wake-up call.

 

It’s a lazy solution

The important question to ask here is:

what kind of people would like to take such pills in the first place?

There are two groups

a) lazy-ass slackers and loafers

These are people who have probably never put effort into any of the things they have been doing in their life. I know that you’re not one of them because you can read. That takes us to the second group.

b) high-achievers

You know much, you’ve achieved much but you want more. That’s great. That’s admirable.

But as a high-achiever, you know that there is no such thing as a lunch for free. Things which are worth your time come with a price.

There are a lot of better, and more permanent, solutions to becoming a person with an extraordinary mind.

What to do instead of nootropics?

 

What To Do Instead of Nootropics In Order To Maximize Your Brain Power Permanently

 

1) improve short-term memory

Your short-term memory is the bottleneck of your ability to acquire knowledge. By improving it, you can greatly accelerate your learning rate.

Mnemonics are definitely one of the best ways to do it. Read more about improving your short-term memory here.

2) improve your diet

If you eat like crap (e.g. a lot of processed foods) and you look at a cucumber as if it touched you in your childhood, you should definitely take care of this problem.

3) fix your dietary indeficiencies

If you have problems with brain fog, concentration, and mental sharpness, there is a very good chance that your diet caused a lot of deficiencies. No nootropics will fix that for you.

Get your blood checked to see what minerals and vitamins you’re lacking.

Not sure if you lack anything? Check your nails.

Healthy nails should be smooth and have consistent (pinkish) coloring.

Any spots, discoloration and so on should be alarming.

What’s more, most of the time, you can basically assume that you lack Vitamin D3. Especially if you have an office job or don’t live in a sunny climate. You probably also lack magnesium unless you’re a health buff.

4) improve your lifestyle

More sport and more physical interactions with people. Both these things will give you a nice dopamine and serotonin kick. If you suspect that nobody loves you, try hugging stray dogs. Even this will do.

5) learn how to learn faster

Call me biased but no pill will substitute this kind of knowledge. Let’s assume that you want to learn a language and you gobbled up a magical tablet. If you use bad learning strategies, you will still get nowhere. This time, however, a little bit faster than before.

Knowing how to learn is a permanent power.

6) learn how to be more productive and how to focus

If you don’t know how to prioritize, nootropics will only make you browse all the cat pictures faster. Here is a good place to start.

7) learn how to take meaningful breaks

Doing something all the time is definitely one of the worst learning strategies ever. Breaks and a good night sleep are a part of the job.

I should know. I consistently ignore and rediscover this piece of advice.

8) learn how to make better decisions and how to think

There are dozens of mental models and biases which invisibly shape the decisions you make. Get to know them in order to reason more efficiently.

9) be consistent and build your knowledge over time

This is probably the best piece of advice I can offer anyone. You need a lot of facts in order to think efficiently and recognize patterns.

Their accumulation won’t happen overnight. It can be most aptly explained by one of my all-time favorite anecdotes.

How geniuses are made

Knowledge builds on knowledge; one is not learning independent bits of trivia.

Richard Hamming recalls in You and Your Research:

You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive.

One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not.

Well, I went storming into Bode’s office and said, How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does? 

He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said,

You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years. I simply slunk out of the office!

What Bode was saying was this: Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.

Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works 10% more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former.

The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity – it is very much like compound interest.

I don’t want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate.

Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.

I took Bode’s remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done.

Final words

 

As enticing as nootropics might seem, I would strongly advise against using them. There are literally dozens of other, more permanent solutions, which you should try out first.

And I can tell you this – once you try most of them, you won’t even remember why you wanted to give them a try in the first place.

Would you ever consider trying nootropics? Let me know in the comments!

 

How to triple your productivity overnight with a simple strategy

How to triple your productivity overnight with a simple strategy

Willpower is dead.

Yeah, you heard me right. It is cold stone dead. At least for me.

Its demise came absolutely unexpected. There were no tell tales. No gloomy music heralding this event.

Because it wasn’t a process. It was an instant. It was enough to read one of the articles of Maneesh Sethi. It gave me a blueprint to refurbish my learning routine and tripled my productivity.

But before I get to that let’s take a look at two kinds of motivation.

Two Kinds Of Motivation

 

If you are driven by extrinsic motivation you do things mainly to receive a reward. For example, you might decide to get a new job because it pays better.

If you are driven by intrinsic (internal) motivation, your need to do different thing stems from the meaningfulness of the work you do. You don’t need any reward or compensation.

I have always believed that it is enough to feel this internal fire in order to achieve big things.
But I was wrong.

I am quite sure that we are not motivated by good things. At least not as much as we would like to believe it.

What makes me say it?

Well, most things in life are pretty simple.

  • If you want to lose weight, you work out and keep a diet.
  • If you want to learn a language, you learn every day.
  • If you want to get a better job, you acquire additional skills or improve the ones you already have.

The final result is always crystal clear – you become fitter, more intelligent or successful. And you really DO want these things, don’t you?

Then why is it so damn hard to start acting?

Because the potential benefits are deferred in time. The day-to-day results you experience when you do any of the activities above are barely noticeable. So if good things don’t motivate us effectively, what does?

The fear of loss.

How Betting Tripled My Productivity

 

The logic behind this strategy is really simple. You will do much more to avoid loss than to receive a reward. Given that the loss is almost immediate, it’s not that strange.

One look at the real-life castaways, or desperate mothers who lift cars, can tell us how the fear of loss (of life in this case) can motivate us.

But you don’t even have to look that far. Let’s say that you want to learn 60 new German words today. You can either try to do it on your own or bet with me.

In the second case, you know that if you lose, you have to give me your favorite watch. Do you think you would lose? No way! These are just 60 words!

The simplest form of this strategy looks as follows:

 

  1. Choose a GOAL you want to achieve
  2. BET with someone that you’ll achieve it in x hours or days
  3. Choose your PUNISHMENT in case you fail to deliver

Of course, there are some things you should take into account if you choose to use this strategy (and you should!). But first…

Here are just some random results I got thanks to betting within last 18 months.

  • I created this very website (with over 2k subscribers) you’re reading right now
  • I have been interviewed  a couple of times (which is a weird feeling)
  • I have created a Beta-version of a vocabulary learning course
  • I have written a book proposal
  • I have learned Czech to a B1 level within a month
  • I have managed to double my income
  • I have lost over 10 kilos of fat and gained and then bulked up
  • I have read about 30% more than I do normally
  • I have increased the number of words I learn by 20%

And probably many other things I have already forgotten about.

Alrighty then. Let’s take a look at what a good bet consists of.

5 Elements Of A Good Bet

triple your productivity overnight with a simple strategy

Picture by Abhishek Sundaram.

 

  • 1) Do you know what you want to achieve?

What problem keeps you up at night? What bothers you?

Maybe you don’t learn regularly. Maybe you procrastinate too much. Maybe you are too fat.

Identify the most important things you would like to change and set a goal.

 

  • 2) Is your goal achievable?

You can bet about anything you want but you have to be sure that the goal is within your reach.

It shouldn’t be too easy. Such goals will rob you of your satisfaction. But they shouldn’t be too hard either. Such goals may nip your enthusiasm in the bud. If you want to bet with your wife that you are going to run 5 km today, analyze how much free time you have on your hands today.

3 hours? Great, then it is certainly doable.

But wait!

When was the last you actually ran more than 1 km? During your studies?
Then I have bad news for you… I hope you see what I am getting at. Always make sure that you are able to deliver.

 

  • 3) Can you prove that you did it?

This is the key issue. You probably like to think about yourself as a guy who is squeaky clean when it comes to morality.

I know, I do too.

But trust me when I tell you that all morality goes to hell when the deadline of your bet is breathing down your neck with a musty stench of failure.

The questions you should consider are:

  • What are you measuring?
  • How will you measure it?
  • How will you deliver a proof?

Most of the time it’s perfectly possible to determine the answers.
If you decide to run 5 km, you can use an app to track your distance .

If you decide to learn 100 words today, you can send screen-shots of your Anki interface.
The list goes on and on.

Sometimes it’s worth altering your bet a little bit in order to make it measurable.

If you want to bet that you won’t eat sweets all day, it will be nearly impossible to prove it. However, if you bet that you will lose 1kg until the end of the week, there will be no doubt whether you failed or not.

 

  • 4) Is your punishment motivating enough?

Listen, if you bet with your buddy that you will give him 10$ if you lose a bet and you know that you earn 30$/h then who are you fooling? When the push comes to shove, you will probably shrug your shoulders and pay.

The thing is that you should be REALLY afraid of losing. The perspective of the potential loss should infuse you with fear. Not the paralyzing kind of course. But the motivating one.

Bet 70$. Or lend your car to a cousin you hate.

Come up with something which really makes you uncomfortable.

 

  • 5) Can you be a sure that the other person will execute?

As a rule, I don’t bet with people who are mushy softies. I don’t want to hear, “It’s ok, I don’t need your money because I know you tried’.

No way.

I want somebody who will take my money and laugh in my face while doing so! “Thanks for the easy cash sucker!”.

I have a small group of 3-4 people with who I bet and that’s more than enough.

You can actually convince your friend(s) to bet with you as well. This way you will be motivating each other!

And now time for the bitter truth. Probably 17 out of every 20 people who will read this article won’t do anything (and I am being an optimist here).

Why?
Because of excuses.

Wading Through The Excuses

 

 

Who doesn’t love some good ol’ excuses from time to time?

I find it fascinating when people approach me and complain that they have so many plans but they can’t get anything done. When I suggest this strategy most of them freeze and mumble one of the following reasons why they can’t do it:

 

  • Yeah, I know it works, I will definitely try it in the future (code word for “I will never try it”)
  • It won’t work because money is not that important to me (then choose a different kind of punishment!)
  • I don’t want to be forced, I prefer to rely on my willpower (how has it worked for you so far?)

What’s going on?! Don’t they want to change?

They do. OR at least they think they do.

But the thing is that most of them are simply afraid. Because once you place your bet, there is no turning back. You either deliver or pay up.

If you decide to use this method to boost your motivation, I’d love to hear from you and talk about your results!

Oh, one more thing. Do you know why I have written this article? Yep, bet (thank you John!).

Good luck with your projects!

How To Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

How To Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

What would you do if you had more energy? What could you learn? Who would you help?

How often do you feel that you should do something but somehow never manage to do it? Of course, you WOULD and COULD BUT you feel tired or are not in the mood or … (insert some random excuse).

If I got a penny for every time my clients tell me “Nope, I didn’t really learn because ya know how it is”, I could buy a solid aluminum bat to whoop all those lame excuses out of them.

Where does your energy go?

 

There might be a lot of reasons why it is so. But have you ever considered that you are wasting away all your energy?

Concentrated energy is powerful beyond measure. It can be like a powerful laser beam of creativity and knowledge. Wherever you direct it, it spreads well-being and shoots up people’s IQ. But the problem is that usually, it’s not like a laser beam. It’s get diluted into hundreds of tiny rays which can’t do sh*t.

So where does your energy go? Why are you squandering it when you could do so much good in this world?

I’ve prepared a list of energy devourers. Stuff which might be as well called parasitic creatures feeding on every good fiber in your body and processing it into the grey lazy goo holding you captive in your armchair.

I’ve been guilty of all of them and I’m still trying to purge some of them from my life. And so can you. You owe it not only to yourself but to everyone who you’ve come to contact with.

1) News

 

I still remember when I read a 4h Work Week of Tim Ferris for the first time. It was like a door to the new world. The world of endless possibilities. But there was once concept which stood out. The concept of “information diet”.

Tim argued that you don’t need to read newspapers every day. Nor do you have to visit the news websites in order to be up-to-date. It was beyond me. “Does he not understand that I’m an educated person and I need to know STUFF?!”.

At that point in time, I was devouring every newspaper and weekly news magazine I could lay my hands on. Not only did I have to read them every day but I also had to read them cover to cover. No news was small enough.

If you find even a tiny bit of yourself in this description I beg you – stop! Stop doing it. You’ll never be up-to-date. You will never be able to keep up. But that’s not even the point. The point is that you don’t need it.

Will you become a better person by reading that the bomb exploded in Somalia killing 20 innocent children? Or that some psycho ran over a child and left him for dead? Or maybe you enjoy reading about the latest corruption scandals in your government? I hope not. I really do.

Because that’s the nature of news – they are supposed to be scary and negative. They are supposed to prey on our lowest emotions and instincts. We keep on coming back because we want to know about all the dangers which lurk in the dark. As if it was supposed to help you.

2) Social Media

 

Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

Have you heard about the FOMO syndrome? It’s one of my favorites ailments of our modern times – the Fear Of Missing Out.

This terrifying voice in the back of your head which keeps on telling you that if you don’t check your Twitter or Facebook account RIGHT, FU**ING NOW you might miss some important piece of info. Or some funny quote. Or a picture of your friend doing something crazy things.

There are just two solutions which might help you

A) Delete your account.

You still have your mobile and e-mail box. Do it and save months or years of your life. I’m sure you wouldn’t like to see the following sum-up of your life in your final days

“Jim, what a loser he was, spent 6053 hours of his life on Facebook, 5300 hours on Twitter and 2000 browsing pictures of cats”

B) Start blocking it with software

It’s no shame to admit that you have no control over the use of social media. But if it’s true, and you don’t want to delete your accounts, try blocking them with this software:

Leechblock – for Mozilla
StayFocusd – for Chrome

There is also a third group, rare as legless unicorns – people who can actually use social media with moderation. But I don’t trust anyone who says so by default. Almost NOBODY has such a strong will.

3) TV

 

I can’t entertain you with any personal story here. I don’t own TV and haven’t watched it since 2003.

I’m pretty sure that there is no purpose of having one. Why would you have to go through the trouble of watching hours of some worthless junk in order to see something interesting? You can find everything on the internet anyway,

4) Gossiping

 

Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

“Kim Kardashian has a huge cyst on her right buttock who does a great impersonation of Gary Oldman” (disclaimer – I made it up). That’s worth reading. Maybe a little less than “allegedly lured by tacos, a man shot in buttocks by pellet gun”.

But seriously – how can anyone care enough to read this garbage?

It’s even worse when you realize that most of your conversations are made of bad-mouthing your boss or friends. If the gossip is the last thing standing between you and the awkward conversational silence, what does it say about the quality of these conversations?

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

5) Having an opinion (when it doesn’t matter)

 

You know the type. People who always have to have the last word. You begin a polite conversation and just a moment later their faces wear this demonic expression of madness. They start splattering saliva all around the table as their eyeballs turn white.

How can you not agree with them?!
How dare you?
Don’t you know that X is better than Y?!
And how could you vote for W instead of Z?

My take? I take my part in the discussion or give advice when asked but at the first sign of any emotional uproar I back off. I don’t care enough to lose 30 minutes of my life and a big part of my emotional reserves trying to convince somebody. I have better things to do with my time.

6) Caring too much about what other people say and do

 

Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

I don’t believe that you can force somebody into any kind of change. You can only let them know that you’re there if they need you. I’m trying to help anyone I can, both online and offline, but I’m not going to waste my time to shove my advice down their throat and convince them that it works.

7) Stop being jealous and comparing yourself

 

It’s still a bit of the problem for me. But in the past, it was much worse. “Why can’t I be taller or have more money?”. “Why everybody seems to know what they’re doing with their lives?”

It all started fading away when I began to work my ass off. You won’t have time to compare yourself to others when you concentrate on being better each day.

8) Learn how not to worry about the things you don’t have any influence on

 

Because why bother if you can’t change? I know quite a handful of people who live their lives through problems of other people. They worry that a friend of some distant friend is sick. Or that somebody they don’t even know had a car accident.

It’s sad. It really is. But that doesn’t mean that any part of your day should revolve around such events. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care. Or that you’re a cold-hearted bastard. You simply save your energy for the things you can change.

9) Curb your internet time

Have More Time And Energy To Do The Things You Care About

 

It’s fascinating. You have the biggest source of information in the universe at your disposal. Yet, most of the time you use it for some mindless entertainment.

I don’t know many people, myself included, who show any restraint when it comes to the use of the internet. I’ve tried a lot of strategies to somehow regain control over the way I use the internet. To no avail.

And that’s ok. I was too weak to do it and I accept it. I learned not to trust myself when it comes to this matter. These days I simply turn off the computer when I want to get more productive or simply block every single page that I consider a waste of time.

Leechblock – for Mozilla
StayFocusd – for Chrome

Surprisingly, most of us don’t use more than just a couple of time-wasting websites so it’s quite an easy task to block them all.

What about you?

Are you guilty of any of these?

Also, if you have a friend who you think might benefit from this article, go ahead and send him this article! You might save him hundreds of hours of time in the process!