I recently finished a great (and free) online course from coursera.org called “Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects.” I learned valuable strategies for studying and avoiding procrastination, and I appreciated the professors’ clear explanations of the brain science behind the techniques.
You can check the course out here. Here’s Coursera’s description:
“This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We’ll learn about the how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. We’ll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.
Using these approaches, no matter what your skill levels in topics you would like to master, you can change your thinking and change your life. If you’re already an expert, this peep under the mental hood will give you ideas for turbocharging successful learning, including counter-intuitive test-taking tips and insights that will help you make the best use of your time on homework and problem sets. If you’re struggling, you’ll see a structured treasure trove of practical techniques that walk you through what you need to do to get on track. If you’ve ever wanted to become better at anything, this course will help serve as your guide.”
I highly recommend this course to university students or anyone hoping to enter university. It took me just a few hours each week, and I learned a lot that I’m still using myself and sharing with students.
In his new book, The Marshmallow Test, psychologist Walter Mischel explains how our self-control is determined by the “hot” and “cold” systems of our minds.
The hot system threatens self-control. It’s impulsive, instinctive, desirous and emotional. It gives us cravings for foods we shouldn’t eat and activities that throw us off our study schedule. It’s the mental system that can make it almost impossible to study when your Xbox is sitting there practically begging you to pick up the controls.
The cool system is slower, rational and thoughtful. It allows you to set aside your urgent emotions and desires and think things through carefully.
Imagine you desperately need to study for your mid-term, but your hot system is giving you powerful cravings to play video games instead, and you’re finding it impossible to sit still and do your work. You might think the cool system is the only way to free yourself from your cravings. You could use the rational cool system to ponder your study goals and calculate the mark you need on the mid-term to get your A. This is a good strategy.
But, when you need to boost your self-control quickly so you can start work before it’s too late, you might even be better off putting your hot system to work for you.
Try imagining logging onto the site for your course and looking up the score for your mid-term and finding it’s 58%. Picture how this torpedos your average and how you’re going to have to re-think your applications to those great grad schools or forget about the big scholarship. Imagine as vividly as possible realizing that your awful mark was caused by playing video games, and picture how stupid you’ll feel for letting yourself waste your valuable study time.
Now your hot system is working for you. You’ll be feeling powerful emotions and instincts that will help convince you to toss the Xbox in the closet and get down to work! The hot system can derail our success, but when used skillfully, it can also boost your self-control and get you right back on the track to excellence.