How We Learn - Benedict Carey

How We Learn - Benedict Carey

 Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes

How We Learn

“The treasure at the end of this rainbow is not necessarily ‘brilliance.’ Brilliance is a fine aspiration, and Godspeed to those who have the genes, drive, luck, and connections to win that lottery.  But shooting for a goal so vague puts a person at risk of worshipping an ideal—and missing the target. "

"No, this book is about something that is, at once, more humble and more grand: How to integrate the exotica of new subjects into daily life, in a way that makes them seep under our skin. How to make learning more a part of living and less an isolated chore. We will mine the latest science to unearth the tools necessary to pull this off, and to do so without feeling buried or oppressed. And we will show that some of what we’ve been taught to think of as our worst enemies—laziness, ignorance, distraction— can also work in our favor.”

This book is Benedicts exploration of the latest research on 'how we learn'.  Packed with research studies some of which challenge ideas we current hold about learning.  This summary has broken down some of the best techniques from the book.

I have also added quite a bit of my own process for learning because I have used this book to modify my approach with these mind maps

That being said.. I am not a genius and this is obviously a work in progress!  Find your own way of doing things.  If you're more interested in the 'why or the how' I recommend picking up the book!  I'll show you how I use these techniques in making these videos

Distributed Learning

“The technique is called distributed learning, or, more commonly, the spacing effect. People learn at least as much, and retain it much longer, when they distribute—or ‘space’—their study time than when they concentrate it. Mom’s right, it is better to do a little today and a little tomorrow rather than everything at once. Not just better a lot better. Distributed learning, in certain situations, can double the amount we remember later on."

I like to think of the spacing effect in terms of lawn care in Los Angeles. L.A. is a city with a coastal desert climate and cultural commitment to the pristine lawn. I learned while living there for seven years that, to maintain one of those, it’s far more effective to water for thirty minutes three times a week than for an hour and a half once a week. Flooding the lawn makes it look slightly more lush the next day, but that emerald gloss fades, sure enough. A healthy dose every couple days and you can look your neighbors in the eye, while using the same amount of water— or even less. 

"Same goes for distributed learning. You’re not spending any more time. You’re not working any harder. But you remember for longer.”

The Spacing Effect

Basic Idea

  • Let's say you plan on studying something for three hours
  • Much better to break that 3 hours into 3 one hour chunks


  • This gives your brain a chance to do a little forgetting
  • When you show up for the study session it will be a little bit harder to bring to mind what you studied
  • Because it's a little bit more difficult your brain will wire new pathways to remember how to do it again and again making it easier to recall at the time you need too

How I Use This in Mindmaps

Days that I create these mind maps I will set an egg timer for 30 minutes..  When that goes off I stop get up and try to relax or do something different.. 

This keeps going until the book is finished!

Then I take a short break and try to forget everything I can about the book by focusing on something different

After that I do the Mind Map from the notes I've created

Then I will take a one hour walk before doing the video

This creates a bunch of small breaks on a micro level for my brain to have opportunities to forget what I learned..  Making sure that I will remember it longer term

Fluency Illusion

“Let’s recall the Bjorks’ ‘desirable difficulty’ principle: The harder your brain has to work to dig out a memory, the greater the increase in learning (retrieval and storage strength)."

"Fluency, then, is the flipside of the equation. The easier it is to call a fact to mind, the smaller the increase in learning. Repeating facts right after you studied them gives you nothing, no added memory benefit."

"The fluency illusion is the primary culprit in below-average test performances. Not anxiety. Not stupidity. Not unfairness or bad luck.  Fluency."

"The best way to overcome this illusion and improve our testing skills is, conveniently, an effective study technique in its own right."

"The technique is testing itself. Yes, I am aware of how circular this logic appears: better testing through testing. Don’t be fooled. There’s more to self-examination than you know. A test is not only a measurement tool, it alters what we remember and changes how we subsequently organize that knowledge in our minds. And it does so in ways that greatly improve later performance.”

"Getting It"

Do you know that feeling when you're reading or studying of 'getting it'?

That feeling is Perceived Fluency

And it feels great!  But it's very dangerous..

Because repeating something directly after learning it is easy..  But remembering it long enough to put it on paper when your tested..  Or integrate it into your daily life is much different!

Create 'Desirable Difficulty'

The best way to do that is to test yourself..  

1. Close the book/video/course and ask yourself..  What was that chapter, video or lesson about?

2. See if you can actively retrieve the information you're learning..

  • This will pop the fluency bubble if you don't really know it!
  • This actually can be quite uncomfortable

*I create this desirable difficulty by trying to recite my entire mind map video in my head on my one hour walk before I ever do the video!  This makes sure I really know the material and won't forget something half way through the video!

But this was incredibly difficult the first few times and still sometimes is if I didn't spend enough time with the material..  or if it's a new concept for me

Mix it Up

“It’s not that repetitive practice is bad. We all need a certain amount of it to become familiar with any new skill or material." 

"But repetition creates a powerful illusion. Skills improve quickly and then plateau."

"By contrast, varied practice produces a slower apparent rate of improvement in each single practice session but a greater accumulation of skill and learning over time. In the long term, repeated practice on one skill slows us down.”

Don't Practice One At a Time

This is another way to create a level of desirable difficulty in your studying techniques..

Are you trying to learn more than one thing at a time?  Don't focus on one subject until completion..  Switch between the subjects.

Bonus points if you try to look for the What If level of learning.  Trying to learn one specific thing?  Try to learn it using different mediums in different places!

How I Use This

I'm a very non-linear thinker..  I sucked in school!  They always want you to study one thing until you know it inside and out..  That never seemed interesting to me!

So now what I do is say ok I want to learn about several different topics..

  • Health
  • Mind and Emotions
  • Business
  • Relationships
  • Finances
  • Social life
  • Spirituality

Then I split that into the books I think might be interesting on that topic..  

After that I switch back and forth between topics..  Sometimes you'll notice me quoting a health book on a Mind Map about a business book..  This is me attempting to create a framework to think from that is diverse

Sleep + Naps

“Napping is sleep, too. In a series of experiments over the past decade, Sara Mednick of the University of California, San Diego, has found that naps of an hour to an hour and half often contain slow-wave deep sleep and REM."

"People who study in the morning—whether it’s words or pattern recognition games, straight retention or comprehension of deeper structure—do about 30 percent better on an evening test if they’ve had an hour-long nap than if they didn’t."

" ‘It’s changed the way I work, doing these studies,’ Mednick told me. ‘It’s changed the way I live. With naps of an hour to an hour and half, we’ve found in some experiments that you get close to the same benefits in learning consolidation that you would from a full eight-hour night’s sleep.’”

They Say It's Ok To Sleep and Nap..  Need I Say More?


If you're currently not sleeping well or afraid to take down time when you need it you really are shooting yourself in the foot..  

Humans aren't built to be workhorses..  Rest and relaxation is a big part of the process we use to learn and accomplish anything

Can You Teach?

“Many teachers have said that you don’t really know a topic until you have to teach it, until you have to make it clear to someone else."

"Exactly right. One very effective way to think of self- examination is to say, “Okay, I’ve studied this stuff; now it’s time to tell my brothers, or spouse, or teenage daughter what it all means.’ If necessary, I write it down from memory. As coherently, succinctly, and clearly as I can."

"Remember: These apparently simple attempts to communicate what you’ve learned, to yourself or others, are not merely a form of self-testing, in the conventional sense, but studying—the high-octane kind, 20 to 30 percent more powerful than if you continued sitting on your butt, staring at that outline."

"Better yet, those exercises will dispel the fluency illusion. They’ll expose what you don’t know, where you’re confused, and what you’ve forgotten—and fast.”


There is an interesting phenomenon where we feel like we really need to know something in order to be able to teach it..  

While I believe that's true at a high level such as in schools, business and paid coaching..  It's simply not true in life!  

We learn so much from teaching..  From trying to formulate things in our own mind in order to articulate it to people

We learn what we don't know enough about as well when we can't explain a topic to someone

How to Be a Teacher

1. Use the learning techniques we've talked about first

2. Create some sort of work (Mind Map, Thought Structure or Presentation)

3. Teach it to someone!  (Anyone who will listen even if that's only you).

*I have remembered so much more from the books I've taught you than I ever would have if I hadn't created the videos

Creative Projects

“Q: Is there any effective strategy for improving performance on longer-term creative projects?

"A: Yes. Simply put: Start them as early as possible, and give yourself permission to walk away. Deliberate interruption is not the same as quitting. On the contrary, stopping work on a big, complicated presentation, term paper, or composition activates the project in your mind, and you’ll begin to see and hear all sorts of things in your daily life that are relevant."

"This is all fodder for your project—it’s interruption working in your favor—though you do need to return to the desk or drafting table before too long.”

Creating Courses

Creating courses and a coaching framework has been much more difficult that I first thought..  

That's because it's a much different muscle than these mind maps!  

  • I find the mind maps are better when I try to get them all out in one day..  Almost like the ideas are still fresh enough that I'm still excited about them and that comes across in the videos!

But when creating my course I have to be much more creative..  There are no 'points' or 'big ideas' it's all coming out of my head and onto the screen..  

  • The most powerful thing I've done to drive course growth is to limit myself to only working for one hour on the course a day..  
  • The rest of the time I'm coaching and making these videos or just relaxing and resting!
  • What ends up happening is I'll get a revelation about the course in the middle of my day..  Then I'll take a note of it and that revelation will drive an entire hours worth of work for the next day..  Until the next revelation!
  • This make it so I'm not ever just working to work..  That's not effective (for me) when we're talking about creating projects..  Those need to be inspired!
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