Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Connect Your Learning

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "everything is connected."  Sometimes its use is cliche, sometimes its use is mystical.  Sometimes people treat it extremely literally or scientifically or physically.  I'd like to consider that phrase from a perspective of learning.

There are certain principles of behavior and learning that will guide you no matter what you do.  You can find these principles in everything you do and everything you learn, if you're looking.  And once you know those principles, they will amplify what you learn later.  If you find ways to connect the concepts that you learn, you learn faster and remember more.  Everything you learn will help you learn everything else.

I turn twenty-six years old in about a week, and I'm amazed (and sometimes a little embarrassed) at how much of that time I spent playing video games.  But what's interesting is, during that time, how many ideas and thought patterns I developed that help me in other parts of my life.  I moved from a specific area (video gaming) to general rules.  That is the idea behind connecting the things that you learn and do.  Move from the specific to the general.  Find the common law.

It's what people do in math and physics; they use specific ideas and data to create laws.  Those laws are represented with letters to indicate a general idea which can be related to specific situations by filling in what you know.  If you do this with your life, you save a lot of time.  Connect the things you learn, and discover the common laws.

I mentioned video games.  One of my favorite things to do is watch speedruns; whether it's perverse joy in seeing somebody tear apart a game I had trouble with, or whether it's learning new tricks about a game I still play occasionally, it's really a lot of fun to see how other people handle these games.

And one of the first things you'll learn, when it comes to speedrunning, is this: your route matters more than your tricks.  By "route" I mean, usually, the path that you take to get through your game.  If you're playing an open world game, you map the simplest and shortest ways to get from point A to point B, in a way that will save you the most time and get the most done.  Sometimes your route means skipping over things that you thought were necessary.  Whether you avoid conflict with enemies, skip item collections, or find ways to completely avoid levels and objectives altogether.  I can think of a ton of lessons inherent in this.

1) For efficiency, you start by focusing on major time-savers that are based on good planning, rather than tiny, difficult optimizations that rely on perfect technique.  Tiny optimizers are for people gunning for perfection and a world record.  Sometimes a new glitch or discovery will change what you're capable of, at which point you incorporate it to improve your overall route. (Parallel this with new technology applying to your job, for instance).

2) Also for efficiency, the more objectives you handle in a single action or trip, the better.  Good planning involves efficient strokes.

3) For materialism, you can always do with less than you think you can.  Practice and planning let you get by with much less than most people.  Once you know what you're doing, you rarely need as much as you think you do.  So don't worry about accumulating all those extras!

3) Corollary to 2 and 3: doing less is how you become more efficient.

4) Most of our time is spent figuring out what the hell we're doing.  Once we know that, arduous tasks can become streamlined and the effort decreases.

Now it might not be practical or useful to speedrun a video game, really.  But what about other behaviors or jobs that require you to repeat a similar action over and over again?  Where even minor optimization can give you an edge and improve your output?  You can apply the concepts you learn from speedrunning a video game to real life, in countless ways, if you're willing to look for those connections.

Connect your learning.  You may have been forced to write "compare and contrast" essays in school, where you took stories and wrote about what they had in common, and where they differed.  It hardly matters to anybody if you know the differences, let's say, bird imagery between Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, but you are learning a valuable skill anyhow.  They just don't tell you that you are.  You're learning the skill of pattern matching and analysis.

The human mind loves patterns.  It searches for patterns constantly, because patterns create order and meaning.  Order and meaning decrease stress, worry, and confusion, which increases our efficiency and happiness.  Now, the brain also has a tendency to see patterns where they do not exist, so you have to treat this process with due analysis and doubt.  "X is just like Y!"  Maybe, maybe not.  You must be honest and test the ideas to see how much they match up.  Everything is connected, sure, but not everything is identical.

I find that cooking is a giant pain because of setup and cleanup, but then sometimes I remember to apply what I know about speedrunning video games; I plot out my route, figure out exactly what I need, and don't sweat if an individual segment isn't perfect since I'm not shooting for record-breaking omelettes.  I just try to be efficient with every action, and set things up so they will save time later.  You probably do the same thing when you have to drive around your city to run errands; you mentally plot a route that will let you hit each objective in a logical sequence to save time, gas, and sanity.  Everything you do, everything you learn will follow general principles of learning, efficiency, and improvement.  When you practice one thing, you are actually training every other skill you know.  And the effect increases as you pay attention to it.

How can you apply this?  The next time you're working on a skill or activity, ask yourself, "can I describe this thing more generally."  Try to condense it into a law, or pattern that seems like it would apply elsewhere.  Remember the statement you make, keep it in your head as you go through your day, and try to use it.  Most importantly, check to see if it's actually true.  The last thing you want is to carry false generalizations in your head.

If you want, here are some samples to get you started.

--"Almost every skill is based on a few simple fundamentals.  These fundamentals do about 80% of the work when learning and improving."
--"A large part of skill comes from doing the most with the least.  Learn to maximize a resource's use before assuming that what you need are more resources."

Give it a shot!  It's fun.


I'll see you guys next week for my post-Evo writeup.  It's possible I'll be taking a bit of extra time to bring a lot of thoughts together, but I'll have something on Wednesday regardless.  See you then!


  1. i love you wobbles <3

  2. Amazing performance at Evo Wobbles!

  3. Please don't retire... I always though M2Ks Marth on FD was the most hype part of sexiest thing in melee until the recent tournament you were in with wobbling legal and this EVO. Now it's your ICs. The play style and mental aspect behind your play fascinates me to no end.... And the hype you and your character bring......

  4. This is awesome, I have enjoyed speedrunning and even partaking in it for the past year or so and I found myself doing exactly the things you describe when cooking, in various daily activities. The most important part to me was realizing that going for the 'world record' in daily activities is not the goal, and to not beat yourself up when you realize a mistake, but to put this mistake in the back of your mind for next time.

    Great writeup.

  5. My generalized "law" from competitive games: Play to learn.