Deep Study Habits: Walk Before You Run!
To reach your full potential as a student and, later, a worker, you need to expand your study habits beyond the ability to read a chapter and answer a few questions. What you need to develop more than anything are your deep study habits. Over the course of the next year, we’ll be looking at various ways that you can do this, but the first way that we’d like to focus on involves walking before you run.
As infants, the first big milestones that human beings achieve include the ability to roll over, hold up one’s head, crawl, sit up, stand up, and, eventually, take those first steps. After those steps are taken, it isn’t long before we can walk five, then 10, then 15 steps. In a few weeks, we’re able to run.
There is a lesson in this when it comes to studying. The lesson is this: it may take quite a while before you can learn the fundamentals, but once you do, you’ll be able to accomplish far more than you ever could without them, and you can do so at a much quicker pace. Here are some benefits and practical uses of walking before running when it comes to your studies.
1. Foundational learning
When you first start to learn about a subject, mastery can feel hard to achieve. Have you ever started a unit on an advanced math property of some kind and looked ahead at a few of the questions you will (eventually) be expected to perform?
It can be intimidating. But if you take your time learning how to work the easy problems — or focus on foundational learning — you’ll be able to significantly expand your knowledge base.
2. Learning to think
Making the jump from beginner to advanced requires that you grow beyond the easy problems. At some point, you will need to venture out into uncharted territory and use the concepts you have learned to tackle new, more advanced, and unpredictable problems.
When you find yourself stumped on a problem, think logically and ask yourself the question: How is this like what I already know? What are the factors that are unfamiliar to me? What past clues will help me find the answer?
3. Growing confidence
As with learning to walk, those first five or 10 steps are important because they give you the confidence to take the next step and the next and the next. When dealing with a unit you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll master some concepts, stumble in others, and use both successes and failures to arrive at new discoveries.
With each new discovery, you will grow confidence in your ability to think independently and come up with creative solutions to the issues you face. That’s why it is important not to grow discouraged if you run into those first few wrong answers. Instead of getting frustrated, learn where you went wrong, and try to apply what you’ve learned to a similar problem.
4. Filling cracks
Inevitably there will be cracks in your understanding that come into view as you push yourself to more challenging problems that require more inventive solutions. The best way to fill those cracks are to bring them out into the light. Concede when you fail to grasp a concept and ask why things work the way that they do. Once you know the why, you’ll be able to come up with the how.
Experimenting with new concepts is a great way to learn anything quickly. To do so, all the previous terms apply. You will need to take your time, learn to think about the problem, grow your confidence, and fill in any gaps. From there, you can take chances and even step into the role of problem-maker.
Let me explain. As soon as I learn how an answer is arrived at, I try to take what I’ve learned and create new problems with different variables. The repetition involved as well as the art of constructing a problem from the ground up helps me to deepen my understanding through various experiments. Experimentation usually begins with repetition of the obvious until you have enough confidence to try new problems with additional tweaks and curve balls.
6. Learning from others
The more you learn about a topic, the more you learn about the people who are experts in that topic. Of course, the definition of “expert” can vary, but generally it means anyone who knows more than you do about a topic.
That can be a teacher, an author or niche celebrity or even another classmate. Each can provide deeper understanding of the subject. When you hit a wall with a topic, make sure that you are reaching out to others with the specific problems you are facing. Remember, a study group is still one of the best ways to cover a lot of ground on a topic quickly.
7. Connecting the dots
As you grow in your personal understanding and open your life up to what others can teach you, you’ll be able to see the specific points in your journey to mastery of a subject. Taking your time with the topic in the beginning will allow you to accelerate your understanding and eventually connect all of the dots — not only what you know and where you’ve been, but where you still have to go.
Pediatricians always make a point of telling parents not to worry if their child hasn’t hit a specific developmental milestone before other children. That’s because babies each follow different timetables for how they develop. The doctor understands what a new and inexperienced parent doesn’t. It isn’t the length of time that it takes the baby to “get it” that’s important. It’s simply important that the little one does get it eventually. Once he or she arrives, they will be able to accelerate their learning and development.
The same is true of students — elementary, middle school, junior high, high school, college, and all the way up to PhD candidates. All need to walk in their understanding before they learn to run.
[Image via Chris The Bhss]