Life's lessons.

Using life as inspirtation for better learning techniques and learning techniques for a better life.

People are scared to learn. Or better, scared of an aspect of learning.

Most people are reasonably open to learn new stuff. More and more adults go back to school, or enrol in some corporate sponsored classes. Sites like Lynda.com are getting record new enrolments due to their quality video courses and channels like discovery and national geographic are performing admirably.

But what I mean is, people are scared to learn anything that challenges their current set of believes and knowledge. Because that would take them out of their comfort zone.

A grain of salt is always needed.

Apart from exact sciences like math, pretty much all subjects should be studied with a healthy dose of critique. I’ve worked with a lot of textbooks and even been involved in the creation of a few. And believe me when I say a lot of them are far from perfect.

The people writing them are just that: people. They have their own opinions, political views and religious or atheist/agnostic background. And those all have an influence on the content.

Not only that, but the content is also influenced by publishers, governments, schools and other power structures. And guess what, they also have an influence on the content.

We actually know this. We know sayings like “history is written by the victors” or “the truth is in the eye of the beholder”. We just mostly choose to ignore this. As long as those textbooks give us comfort and safety, as long as they provide knowledge we like.

Social media: the place where everyone knows best!

It shows at its worst on social media these days. When people have a different view they are automatically dubbed as “dumb”, “racist”, “right wing”, “left wing”, … Even though usually those views come from their knowledge base.

Now sometimes, a lot of times, people are actually just dumb, or stuck in their political view or dumb religious absolutes or whatever. I hate political correctness too much to say everyone is smart, that’s simply not the case.

Still, even smart people get caught up and use a curious reflex: they go looking for proof of their opinion. Only they do it while ignoring any material that might disprove or even challenge their point of view. And they will find some articles to support them, it’s the net after all.

A lot of time they won’t even find contradictory material due to their google strings. If your search string is “proof that Obama is a muslim”, your first few results will be sites that provide “proof”. Even though it’s clearly bullshit. I actually believe the man is a closet Atheist, but it’s 100 times easier to be elected as a black man in the states than as an atheist.

Notice I said “believe” in that last sentence. I’ve read a lot about him which gives me that opinion, but it’s only that: an opinion. I’ll certainly won’t tell anyone he’s an atheist for sure.

Getting all info takes guts!

People who really want to learn aren’t afraid to get all sides of the story. And are not afraid to challenge what they learn, even at school. If all religious zealots would challenge what their hate preachers told them instead of blindly following it, we would not have a lot of problems we have today. If economy professors would not have taught macro-economic theories as facts which have since been proven flawed, the economy would’ve probably had a little less bumps.

The few truly great teachers I had were the ones that actually encouraged their students to challenge them, and to look for other voices on the subject.

I certainly still to do. I’ve been known to be very critical about Islam, and in fact religion as a whole. But I’ll be the first to admit even organized religion did some good things as well. I believe they don’t outweigh the bad, but that’s a conclusion that took years to reach, and even now I will challenge it. I keep reading material from all kinds of sources. People I tend to agree with but also people who challenge my views.

It’s also why I have such a hard time voting, as most political party’s are very much guilty of the problem I’m writing about. I’m very left wing about some issues (pro gay marriage, pro gender equality, climate change), fairly right wing about others (Islam, crime, private gun ownership) and very ‘somewhere in between’ about a bunch of other issues. So every election I feel I have to choose the least of all evils.

I guess what I want to say is: show real courage and dare to challenge what you know and believe. If your ideas can withstand that, they will only strengthen in conviction. If not, at least you know more and became a better person because of it.

Sometimes you need to find a new balance in your life.

When I decided I needed a break from this blog, I imagined it would be 3 to 4 weeks. Perhaps 2 months. Turned out I needed more then double of the latter.

Truth be told, I’ve been thinking about starting again for the last month now, but once something is out of your regular routine it’s not always easy to get it back in. And even though I love writing, the only posts I was making were in Dutch (my other native language) and related to beer and whisky on my tastenotes blog.

Classic magazine, and how I missed it.

I used to write a lot more. In fact, I even had my own local magazine (again, in Dutch) for a couple of years. It was fairly successful and fun to make. I ended up selling it but even after that I kept writing stuff for it for almost a year.

This blog I started in part because I missed writing. But after a while life crept in and I didn’t have that much time. But what was worse: it started to feel a bit like work. And it was not that I’m getting paid for this. (Most people won’t click on the banner, shame on you!)

When I wrote the magazine, a lot of the material was serious, most of the time even dull. Since it was a commercial product I had to write a lot of commercial copy. But the magazine also had plenty of whacky stuff: there was room for parody, silliness and also a column where I donned the ‘grumpy old git’ persona and was able to vent quite a bit. The silly and grumpy stuff balanced out the serious stuff.

Time to get silly and grumpy.

And that is what I’ve been missing. This blog, while providing a lot of challenges, is always going to be serious. And I need to be wacky and grumpy from time to time as well. To balance things out. Being able to write one way helps me to write the other ways. So I’ve decided the silly and grumpy sides of me need a comeback.

Of course, I can’t find any room for that within this blog. There might be a bit of room in my whisky project, but probably not that much either.

That leaves (yet) a new blog project. I’m still thinking a bit about the exact how and when, but it will be coming for sure. And I’ll keep you posted. And I won’t wait too long with it either, else I still won’t get that balance I’m craving at the moment.

In the mean time, I’m trying to get things on the road again for ultimate learning. And I can always use some ideas and topics for this site. So feel free to react to this post, or pm me with ideas or questions.

And we’re done with the holidays. Or as I like to call it, the ‘silly season’.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed having a bit of time of, relaxing a bit. Which you should have noted by the lack of blogposts the last 2 weeks. I’m doing this as a hobby, but if you never take a break even a hobby can start to feel like work. And that’s the last thing you want.

The reason I call it the silly season is obvious. People do a lot of silly stuff. Stuff they would normally not do. Like hanging up a gazillion lights, drink ridiculous cocktails and kiss way too much.

But the real silly part is that a lot of people do a lot of stuff they really don’t want to do. Because of social and peer pressure.

Going because you have to.

This of course is something that will happen all year. But even more so during the Christmas season. A lot of time people go to family gatherings or office party’s simply because they feel they have to, even though they don’t enjoy them. Or sometimes downright hate them.

I’m not one of them. I haven’t been for a long time. My family and friends know I won’t come over to something I don’t like. They gotten used to it. In fact, they appreciate it when I do show up, because they know it means I thought it would be fun to come over.

My girlfriend used to be very different. And up to a point she still is. Even though part of her family is very bad in social pressure. And I mean really bad. They are really mad if you don’t show up, or if you decide you don’t like their group gift idea and get something of your own. (I should mention there are good people present there as well, pew :p)

They are also still the kind of people who think a women’s worth is mostly defined by her children and husband, or at least boyfriend. So a lot of peer pressure there as well.

My girlfriend is still partly influenced by it, although it definitely is getting better. She is learning to say no to put herself above this. But you don’t just erase years of ‘indoctrination’ so a lot of times she still feels bad because of it.

Peer pressure and it’s dangers.

Peer pressure is almost always a bad thing. There are a few exceptions, when it’s used to keep people away from real problematic behaviour. Things like addiction, violent behaviour etc. But when peer pressure involves things like social decisions, the way you dress or what you choose for an education, it is always a bad thing. Always.

When parents pressure their children into an ‘economical sound’ degree? Bad!

When parents force their kids to pick up an instrument or a sport they don’t like? Bad!

When parents indoctrinate their kids into a religion. Any religion? Really bad!

Again, there are some exceptions. You should probably keep your kids away from those drug addicts down the street or those religious hate preachers. But those are exceptions, and there are a lot less of them than people tend to think.

Peer pressure is a psychological weapon. It can also be emotional blackmail. Notice the terminology here. It’s no coincidence I use terms that can also be associated with crime. (Actually, I don’t automatically associate a weapon with crime but that’s another story). If you use peer pressure you are in fact harming another person, and you create a potential victim.

Strong words? You bet. That’s because I feel strongly about the subject.

Take action.

That means I think everyone should do 2 things. You know I like self-reflection right?

Firstly, evaluate if you use peer pressure yourself. If you are honest with yourself and find you do, please stop doing it. Instead, start being honest. Just explain to people why you would like them to come over, consider a certain study field or instrument. Be honest, share your feelings but don’t pressure them into ‘the right thing to do’. And whatever you do, don’t use arguments like ‘you would really show you’re a friend if you … ‘or ‘As your parent I deserve …’ etc.

Secondly, do some soul-searching and make sure you don’t do too much stuff to please others, and as little as possible because ‘it’s expected of you’. Or because ‘it’s not done to not do it’.

Morale: peer pressure is almost always bad.

If you need help resisting peer pressure, there's a book I can recommend. Get it on amazon or amazon.uk.

People keep saying that, and most of us know it’s true. But a lot less of us truly realise it is true. Because usually, experience is something we ‘ease’ into. We build it up slowly, getting better and knowing more one bit at a time.

It’s only when you experience something intense you really know the true impact of it. For me, recently it was getting a dog from a shelter.

Before that I loved dogs. Or better, I thought I did. Some of my friends had one, and I really enjoyed their company. One of my best friends has an amazing Sussex spaniel named ‘Jolene’ who’s an absolute blast to have around.

Enter Denzo.

Then my girlfriend started nagging me about getting one of our own. Since we don’t have a garden (but we do have a large house) it needed to be one of the smaller variety. We decided to go for a shelter/rescue dog and wound up with Denzo.

Denzo is a small mixed breed, mostly pincher and podenco. The result is 5 kilograms of sweet but active hound who’s calm inside (unless you play with him) and very active outside. A bit on the dominant side, and a vicious and effective killer if you happen to be a rodent.

We’ve had him for 9 months now, and we love him to bits. And he loves us back, unconditionally, as most dogs do. In fact, I honestly could not imagine how much I could really love a dog. And that’s what I mean by experience. Until you get a dog of your own, you have no idea what it’s really like. I don’t have kids, but I can imagine it’s the same if you are a parent, most likely even more so.

It also means I just can’t grasp people who abuse their pets. But that’s another story.

The power of experience.

Point is: this is one of those cases where it is clear how much more you can grasp things if you experience them yourself.

I’m a pretty smart person, well I have a very high IQ anyway. With the stunts I still pull sometimes I keep wondering if those 2 are really the same. Put it does mean I grasp the meaning of stuff pretty fast, certainly on a theoretical level.

Problem with that is, I sometimes skip experimenting when it’s possible because of that fact. And I very much should do it more when I have the time. Because when you experiment, you also will experience emotions. And when you link emotions to stuff you learn, they are easier to grasp and remember.

Emotions enhance learning.

This is also why I don’t agree with the people who say you learn best from failure. It’s true you do learn a lot from failure. Especially since it’s linked to some powerful emotions which you want to avoid in the future.

But you also learn a lot from success. When you succeed at something you also get very powerful positive emotions. Whether it’s a design that’s cool or just the click of realizing something, it’s a nice emotion which will stick to you.

Of course you don’t always have the time, or the practical means to experience the stuff you would like. But that’s exactly why you should if opportunity does presents itself. Because there’s really no substitute for experience.

Morale: Try to experience as much as you can … and if you want a dog check your local shelter.

PS: if you think about getting a dog and want to know why you should get a shelter dog, check out the amazing book "Finding home, shelter dogs and their stories" by Traer Scott. You can get it in your local store, on amazon or amazon.uk.

We’ve been philosophical and theoretical so far. But sometimes when studying (or working for that matter) you also need to be practical. Sometimes our environment needs to be changed because it is too disturbing. If you live next to a construction yard, you might need to move or use earplugs to reduce the noise.

And then there are physical hurdles. And one of the worst while learning are headaches. Thing is, chances are we get them because we’re studying or working in the first place. These are called tension headaches. And most of us know them all too well.

What causes tension headaches?

There are a couple of things that can cause them. Stress is one of them, depression another. Your lifestyle might have something to do with it; hunger or a bad diet certainly will cause them. Neck or back pains will travel to your head as well, after all they are close to the spine which in turn is directly connected to the brain.

If they are tension headaches, there are a few things we can try. I’ve used a few techniques that work for me, and have heard they work for others as well. If it’s something else and simple over the counter medicine or home tricks won’t work, it’s time to visit a doctor though. And don’t wait too long before you do!

Of course, before you remedy them, you can start to try and avoid them. Make sure you eat properly and as balanced as possible. Also make sure you get decent exercise: take a walk a few times a day. (Get a dog, that worked for me). If you mainly work at a computer take a ten minute break every hour and make sure you have a decent chair and posture. Oh, and a lot of alcohol the night before is probably not a good idea!

Battling tension headaches at home.

However, one drink if you do have a tension headache might help quite a bit. Alcohol in moderation does more good than bad. It relaxes the muscles and opens up the bloodstream. Red wine is also good for the heart, but it will make you sleepy fast so it might not be the best if you still need to concentrate. I might be biased but one 2 cc single malt will still last you an hour of enjoyment while you can keep studying.

Your choice of music might help as well. Relaxing music, played at a low level, does a lot to relax us and will help ease those tension headaches. And as much as I love it: hard rock does not relax you. Easy classical music might though, and Celtic stuff like Loreena McKennitt surely will! (Get her on Amazon or Amazon UK)

What also helps a lot is what I call ‘cosy comedy’. The kind of comedy that is not only funny but also gives you a friendly ‘at home’ feeling. Think Cheers or Friends, not Frasier or The big bang theory (as good as I think those 2 are). These shows typically last 25 minutes and are ideal while taking a lunch or dinner break, or just as a reward for finishing a chapter. Remember the power of rewarding yourself!

Of course, those work while studying or working at home, but your boss might frown upon watching friends at work or downing a glass of Glenlivet 18. Unless he’s a malt maniac as well and joins you perhaps. But there’s some stuff that helps at work.

Battling headaches at work.

If available: hot chocolate or hot soup will do a lot. They are called comfort food for a reason. The warm hearty feeling we get from them has a psychological effect on us with physical consequences and will relieve our headache. For some people coffee does the trick as well.

Especially hot chocolate has a lot of benefits. It is full of something called flavonoids that have a positive effect on our mood, but also increase the blood flow and oxygen levels in your brain. Even when you don’t have a headache, this will still actually help you think better. But more oxygen will relieve the headache for sure.

Which brings us to the next tip: fresh air. Open up a window or go for a walk for a few minutes. Most bosses won’t mind the latter as long as it’s a short one and you are productive for the most part.

If it’s the neck that hurts you, you can try some shiatsu style self massage. Or if you have a great manager, ask for the company masseuse to come along. But seriously, you can help yourself quite a bit if the neck is the problem. A heated cherry pit pillow will also do wonders for that neck, and will work for back problems as well. In turn relieving the related headaches.

There’s always drugs.

And of course, last but not least, there is always the over the counter drug. Stick to the basics there, a grown person can handle about 3 grams of Paracetamol per day. Aspirin is a classic for a reason, but remember that’s also a blood thinner. It works wonders for a tension headache but might cause other issues if you have some medical conditions.

A limited combination of the two and 1-2 cups of coffee works remarkably well together, even if it’s a proper migraine. But moderation is the key in that case.

And of course, don’t keep using them, after day 3 it really is time to see that doctor … and you should see him when you have any doubts about all this anyway.

What do you think?

These are the tricks I use myself and work for me, but I’m sure there’s a lot more tips to be heard. There’s plenty of books on the subject, and I’m sure a lot of you know a trick or two yourselves. So I would love to hear from you. Share any wisdom or thoughts on the subject in the comment section!

 

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