Practical Philosophy

Things I Learned This Week #1

1. Ask questions before you begin to learn a topic

The world is complex. We can’t understand absolutely everything without going mad.

So our brain has to filter what to learn and what to ignore. It does this using a “survive and thrive” filter.

Will this information help me survive and thrive? If yes, it must be important, so our brain prepares itself to learn it. If not, we don’t learn it, even if we try.

This is the premise behind inquiry-based learning, and a practical way of doing this is with the traffic light system from ICanStudy (a course about learning how to learn efficiently).

First, red light: Before I begin to read a chapter of a book or watch a lecture, I write down a list of topic questions I am curious about.

For example, with my Discovering Personality course, I was about to watch a lecture on Conscientiousness. I jotted down some questions I was curious about:

  • What is the overall meaning of conscientiousness?
  • How does my low industriousness score impact my career progress?
  • How can people with low industriousness / high orderliness get things done?

This primed my brain to be curious about answering these questions during the lecture.

Second, green light: During the lecture, try to answer those questions.

After this, you go back to red light; ask more questions, then green light, and so on.

In inquiry-based learning, your curiosity drives the learning process. This helps you pass your brain’s Survive and Thrive filter, so you learn what you hear.

2. Learn things in the order of your interest

Since we take in information based on our survive and thrive filter, it’s best to order your intake of information based on what interests you the most.

So instead of reading chapters 1, 2, 3 then 4, we may benefit from reading chapters 3, 2, 1 and 4. Whichever topics interest us at the time – since that is what we will actually take in. We want to aim for active rather than passive reading.

This combines well with inquiry-based learning, as described above. Write down your questions of what interests you, then look through the chapters to find the answers. Rinse and repeat.

3. If motivations are our goals, then emotions keep us on track

For the past few months, I’ve been studying in my spare time. To begin, I wrote down a list of strengths I wanted to build upon:

  • Communication
  • Understanding Psychology
  • Management
  • Customer Success

Why? Because successful people build their reputations around their strengths – so I need to build my strengths.

Building these strengths are my goals, and therefore, my motivations. This is according to Dr. Jordan Peterson in his Discovering Personality course.

Emotions, he says, are designed to help us steer ourselves towards reaching our goals. When we progress towards our goals/motivations, we feel happy. When we diverge from them, we feel unhappy.

4. We are driven by our personality traits

Why do we do the things we do? Why do I feel this way? Why do others see things differently to me? Well, according to Dr. Jordan Peterson, a lot of it is down to our personalities.

So what is a personality? When we are born and our early years of childhood, we develop personality traits. Personality traits dictate our “low resolution solutions to the world”. I like to think of them as our default set of responses. They are designed to help us respond to the world’s complexity.

When things go wrong, do we blow it out of proportion? Or do we take it and quickly move on?

When we disagree with somebody, do we speak up? Or do we prioritise their opinion over ours?

When we miss a deadline, do we feel deep shame or do not care too much?

In Discovering Personality, we are presented with 5 personality factors:

  • Conscientiousness – Our attitude to work and organisation
  • Agreeability – Prioritising others over ourselves
  • Openness to experience – Our attitude to intellectual pursuits and creativity
  • Extraversion – How much do we feel positive emotions?
  • Neuroticism – How much do we feel negative emotions?

Our personality traits are great predictors of how we feel and behave.

  • Conscientiousness is the second biggest predictor of success, behind IQ.
  • People who are too agreeable tend to secretly resent having to follow the wrong opinion of others.
  • People who are incredibly low in agreeability (the bottom percentile) are disposed to be predators or criminals.
  • Anxious and depressed people tend to have higher levels of neuroticism.

Realising that everyone has a different perception of the world is rather mind-blowing. We are all, literally, different beings. We see and feel the world differently.

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