Tools and Foci

Lots of people have put thought into how to make things easier to do.

If you want to drive a nail, you use a hammer. If you want to remember something over and over again, you can use a checklist. There are plenty of tools and methodologies that help you do something. Writing lets you store information outside of your head.

That’s pretty neat.

When I was in high school, I would take a lot of notes that I would never review. If I stopped taking notes, I wouldn’t do as well in the subject. Some people I knew would take notes, review them like crazy, do everything you’re supposed to do, and it wouldn’t make a difference either way with regards to their grades.

There are tricks that don’t work for everyone. Dieting fads, communication tips, productivity hacks. Taking notes or planning methodologies. What gives?

I think a lot of the answer is that those methodologies aren’t tools in the same sense that a screwdriver is.

A screwdriver works so long as you apply pressure and turn it correctly. It’s a straightforward motor action that pretty much everyone can do.

Things like note-taking are different. Everyone can write, but there seems to be something that happens in addition to writing that makes the note-taking actually important. I think for me, I think note taking was valuable mostly because it led to me prioritizing, rephrasing, and somewhat organizing information. The process of compressing what the teacher said and deciding how it fit in with my indentation scheme made my brain go through mental steps that helped me internalize things. Reading the notes could remind me of things, but the actual learning process was just taking the notes to begin with.

Note that this doesn’t automatically happen when people take notes. Just writing down what’s said doesn’t necessarily entail going through the mental operations that make you learn something.

For me, writing notes was a way of focusing my attention in a way that made me learn. It’s importance was as a focus, rather than a tool. Tools can be passed around and used by different people, but foci can’t necessarily.

As another example…

A friend of mine hired a life coach to help her with her life. As the session went on, she decided that the coach wasn’t very helpful, and was annoyed at her for not giving good advice.

Then she noticed that she had an implicit idea of what sorts of advice and changes she wanted to have happen, even though the coach didn’t suggest or mention any of it.

By paying the coach, she created the expectation that her life would get better. Then her brain paid attention to how her life could be improved, even as the coach didn’t tell her anything new.

Paying a life coach worked as a focus for figuring out what she wanted.

 

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About atucker

Provisional pronouncements and (hopefully) honest mistakes. I'd like to be differently wrong about things, and helpful to the world.
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