The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

The Filofax I used to run my life for a decade. iPhone 6 for scale.

[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 03 October 2015]

How to learn things you’re not interested in

A simple tip to help you learn things your brain wants nothing to do with.

Back in college I took a one-credit geology lab class as part of my science requirements. The final exam was going to be simple: Identify 30 rocks. That was it. Identify the 30 rocks.

So I dutifully made calendar entries in my Filofax to go to the lab once a week and learn to identify the damn rocks. Sat there at the bench and stared at the rocks. And got nowhere. The damn rocks just sat there and stared back at me.

Failure was not an option, so I started going twice a week to that miserable geology lab to stare at the rocks.


I was going to fail that final so bad.

Then I realized I couldn’t make myself learn about the rocks because I didn’t care about them. What if I made myself care? So I lied to myself. It took some effort, but I managed to talk myself into caring about rocks. Majesty of our planet, the huge forces at work to form everything around us, etc.

And it worked. Once I convinced myself I cared about rocks, learning to recognize them was easy. Learning about something you care about is a joy.

Yes, I aced the final.

The trick is to really convince yourself you care. And yes, that can be close to impossible.

A few years ago I decided to become conversant about American football. It’s a topic that comes up in casual conversation way more often than I’d like, and all I can do is to go to the happy place in my head when people are talking about it. Which is fine, really. I like the happy place in my head. But let’s give it the old college try, shall we?

So I sat down to watch a game with my iPad at the ready, and started looking up the terms the announcers were using on WikiPedia. And yes, I had plenty of time to look up terms since the game stops for commercials every 20 seconds or so. Mmmmm crappy beer.

After a while I felt I had a pretty good grasp of how the game works and what the terms meant.

So a few weeks later I decided to check myself and watched another game. Nope. Remembered nothing. No idea what they were jammering on about.

The fault here was of course that I had done this as an intellectual exercise without convincing myself I actually cared.

You have to care.

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