Learning how to learn

I had a hard time during my career to keep up with everything I had to learn. My habits were to blame. Here is a little collection of tricks that helped me to create new habits.


  1. Types of attention
  2. Types of memories
  3. Creating knowledge
  4. Keeping knowledge
  5. Importance of sleep
  6. Habits and becoming a better student
  7. The workflow
  8. Creativity
  9. Motivation
  10. Procrastination
  11. Overlearning
  12. Test tricks
  13. Subject checklist

1. Types of attention

Learning hard thing requires time and attention. Our brain is made by million of billion of synapsis and has a very complex structure. Understanding how it works, made me work more efficiently.

We have two types of attentions, and depending in the task we are working on we should use one or another.

Focused mode

  • Detailed attention. The attention we are used to talk about.
  • “Focused mode” is perfect to resolve repetitive tasks and it helps you creating new pieces of memories (a.k.a chunks).

Diffused mode

  • Big perspective, the thinking you do while you are focused in other activities that don’t need all your attention.
  • “Diffused mode”, helps you understanding complex concepts, and it’s perfect to develop new ideas or to understand hard concepts.
  • Needs a different state of mind. A more abstract thinking. It can be achieved in different ways. A great example is while doing any kind of physical activity like running. An example.

2. Types of memories

We have lot of different types of memories, like muscular, or olfactory. For studying there are two that are important and stand out.

1. Working memory:

  • In the prefrontal cortex
  • 4 slots of attention
  • Inefficient blurred blackboard
  • Creates neural patterns

2. Long-term memory:

  • Wide and distributed
  • Redundant and accesible
  • Using it regularly makes it easier to retrieve memory chunks
  • Repetition makes stored patterns more accessible and defined

Both of them are necessary to create new knowledge, but knowing how they work helps you to use them more efficiently.

A representation of memories working together

Memory is located in the hippocampus, and there are studies that showed that even in adulthood, exercise and learning creates new neurones and synapses there.

3. Creating knowledge Creating knowledge is an active task and by making

an active effort learning is easier than just doing a passive effort like listening. Using the knowledge you are acquiring makes it easier to learn.

Knowledge is stored in information units. Those units must be first created then stored and finally reinforced. To store them, the working memory must create them, creating a neural pattern in the long-term memory that is reinforced each time we use that unit of information. Those units are called chunks.

Chunks, are unique pieces of information throw a meaning.

To create new chunks:

  1. Using your focused mode create a chunk in your working memory.
    • This creates a new neural pattern.
    • Connects with existing ones.
  2. Try to understand the main basic idea. Trying to understand why something is that way can ease the work and make it easier to remember.

If you are nervous, all those slots in the working memory became blurry and makes the retrieval of chunks harder.

It’s important to have a big picture of a subject before starting to learn little chunks. It’s like a map, you need to understand in it’s totality before you start learning each neighbourhood or a streets name.

4. Keeping knowledge To keep a chunk fresh, you must maintain that pattern.

That needs an extra effort.

  1. Repeat and work on that chunk.
  2. Recall. Try to remember it. Without looking.
    • Recalling is better than mind-maps or rereading.
    • Helps to build internal neural hooks.
  3. Test yourself. See how much you remember.
  4. Do it. You will amplify the pattern you created. Try to do an activity that uses that chunk as part of the process.
  5. Gaining context, lets you master that chunk.
    • Learn when to use or not.
    • Use the Diffuse mode to find it’s place and connections in the big picture.
  6. Practice will make the pattern more easily accessible.

Library of chunks Having different and bigger libraries will help you to

solve problems more easily in new and different ways. When you have a big chunk library, previously studied concepts can help you to learn new ones, even if they are not related at all. Having a big library, diffused mode can create new a creative things.

Mastering something To master something means to use those chunks you

already know as a base to create more and deeper knowledge. If you have expertise in only one area, you will be able to have more robust knowledge on that specific area, but mastering more than one area will help you to find new and creative solutions more easily.

Tips & tricks

Association with mental images A nice and easy way to remember thing is to

enhance your chunks with images that represent the data in an image. Example a patients look when has X disease.

Memory palace technique

Based on the fact that we’re extremely good at remembering places we know. A ‘Memory Palace’ is a metaphor for any well-known place that you’re able to easily visualise. That familiar place will be your guide to store and recall any kind of information.

  1. Choose Your Palace
  2. List Distinctive Features (Analyse the room methodically)
  3. Imprint the Palace on Your Mind
  4. Associate! (Make it crazy, ridiculous, offensive, unusual, extraordinary)
  5. Visit Your Palace

5. Importance of sleep

Sleeping easies the process of creating new memories. Sleep is part of the memory system. Patterns created during the day are reinforced, helps to understand chunks that could not be clear.

When we are awake, our brain creates metabolites. Those metabolites are cleaned during the sleep. That makes sleeping before an exam, extremely important.

6. Habits and becoming a better student

Changing an habit is hard when people keep the same behaviour. Our environment unconsciously drive our behaviours due to the automatisation around them. If we keep an environment the same, we perform those habits unconsciously and makes them hard to fight.

Disrupting the environment in some way, easies changing those habits.

Important habits:

  • Highlight only important things.
  • Make side annotations on key concepts.
  • Time spaced repetition based learning:
    • Is better 30 mins everyday than lot of hours one day.
    • Create chunk revise it after → 24h, 5days, 20days
  • Recall in different places, so you get used to use that knowledge in diverse places. The day of the exam you’ll be used to work with that knowledge in different places.
  • Try to avoid the illusion of competence by testing yourself or by recalling without any help at all.
  • If you made a mistake:

    • Do not blame yourself
    • Revise and check why that is the correct answer.

7. Workflow The firsts steps must be a first approach the subject you

are just about to learn. Understanding the subject itself and its importance in a global context. Next step is to understand the parts that make the subject.

Learning process

Once you have that global view, you can start working on new chunks. This order lets you know when those chunks are useful and how they relate each other.

Once this process is done, the pattern just created must be worked in order to achieve an easier access and a deeper and broader understanding of that chunks.

Global view of subject → Chunk creation → Gain context → Maintainance of chunks

Memory consolidation

8. Creativity Criticism makes you being creative by looking to the same

problem in different ways. Openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism help you to avoid seeing a problem in the same way again and again. While openness helps you to see a problem in many ways it will be through conscientiousness that you achieve a solution and by not being agreeable that you can start over with a different perspective.

9. Motivation

  • People can enhance neurones by using patterns that use those neurones. Try to do enjoyable active task that require you to think on those things.
  • 99% perseverance 1% genious.
  • Only when you take your path, learning flies.
  • There is always people that will mean your efforts.
  • Remember, you study for yourself, not for others.
  • Take pride of who you are.
  • Your difference will make you unique in your path. Be proud and make sure to take advance of your skills.
  • Right hemisphere → Big picture
  • Left hemisphere → Make interpretations, analysis but is rigid and egocentric
  • You must not fool yourself and you are the person that most easily can fool yourself.
  • Try working together with others

Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.
Santiago Ramón y Cajal

10. Procrastination

Procrastination is a natural impulse every person has. You feel unhappy when starting a task that may require an effort and your brain tries to set your attention in another task to make you feel better temporally.

There are tools and techniques to help avoiding procrastination and to work more efficiently.

  • Do the hardest thing earliest in the day, when you are fresh.
  • Take breaks. They are as important as study.
  • Work a little bit everyday in a task you don’t like.
  • Focus on the process, not the product
  • Keep track of achievements
  • Jump to easier tasks when stuck → More efficient study

1. Pomodoro technique

(link) → Work in highly focused time intervals and then take a break.

  • Decide on the task to be done
  • Set the timer to n minutes (traditionally 25)
  • Work on the task until the timer rings
  • Take a short break (3–5 minutes)
  • After four intervals, take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

2. Create positive routines

  • Plan your work for tomorrow
  • Plan your quit time
  • Weekly task list
  • Leave time for enjoy everyday
  • Reward yourself after completing a positive routine (Bigger reward for bigger tasks)

11. Overlearning Once you understand a concept, repeating the concept in the

same session doesn’t help to memorise it better. It’s important to try to focus on those things that are harder to you. Keep on studying until you find something harder and focus on it → Deliberate practice.

  • Einstellung → An existing pattern prevents yourself from finding a new one. Use diffused mode for abstracting from previously stablished patterns. They can be a roadblock because you keep trying to see a problem in a unique way. Do not be agreeable.