A Little Learning III

220px-indigo_cakeHappy New Year!  Yesterday we introduced the theme that success is time.  A fortiori, time spent studying translates into successful learning.

If success is time, then life is a marathon.  There is a lot more time in a decade than in a week, so how you act over a decade has higher stakes than how you act over a week.  By the time you take your next math quiz on Friday, chances are you won’t be a math genius. You might feel like you’re “bad at math” because some other kid spent the last few months working harder at math.  But even if you can’t catch up to him by Friday, you can have a mediocre quiz and still win the marathon.  You’re at the very beginning of the marathon.

Time can be devoted to a goal directly or indirectly.  That is part of why we distinguish between “good” hobbies and “bad” hobbies.  Say you’re studying the Ottoman Empire: part of the time you spend learning is (a) your nose in the “Ottoman Empire” chapter of the textbook… but you also learn (b) from every history book you’ve read before, (c) from words you’ve learned in novels you read for fun, (d) from math skills you’ve studied that make it possible to analyze data, and on and on and on.  If you hadn’t spent any time on -b-, -c-, and -d-, you would end up needing to devote vastly more time to the same chapter.

I’m not telling you that reading Pride and Prejudice is a good way to learn about the Ottoman Empire, exactly!  But reading a nineteenth-century novel will teach you words that will come up in everything you read about every historical era.  Someone who reads books for fun will be banking up time, indirectly, for reading about complicated subjects, and someone who gets high and naps won’t.  Someone who plays chess will be banking up time, indirectly, for mathematical analysis, and someone who plays Halo won’t.  I’m not discouraging relaxing hobbies, but you should experiment with different leisure activities.

(How is this like a marathon?  Well, in the second hour of the race, how fast you go has a lot to do with how you were running in the first hour.  If you were sprinting for the first five minutes, you may not be running at all by the time 2:00:00 rolls around.)

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