Learning How to Learn: Week 1 Notes

“The first principal is you must not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

Your brain does not come with an instruction manual.” – Dr Sejnowski

Its hard to make an online course.There is no penalty for dropping the course,and most end up doing so. However, the Learning How to Learn class by Coursera is a must  take for everyone.  It’s insightful and is motivating.
I learned the most from the optional interviews with people. They interview amazing people people who have compressed 4 years of college into one year to leading experts in their respective fields.

I wanted to share the notes I took during week 1:

Focused and Diffuse Modes of Thinking

There are two types of thinking, diffuse and focused thoughts.

Focused mode is typically what people think of thoughts.Happens when you are doing simple algebra. This type of linear thinking. We are trying to connect the dots and advance one thought to another.


Diffused mode you look at things broadly from a very different, big-picture perspective. You can make new neural connections traveling along new pathways. You can’t understand the finest aspects but you can get into the initial place you need to be to find a solution. Diffuse mode is especially useful when you are trying to lean new, difficult thing.

I think everyone could practice trying to use the diffuse mode of thinking. I found it especially useful when trying to learn a song on guitar. When I am introducing myself to learn a song, I found I learn the song way faster if I just jam along trying to time up the right hand and then later incorporating the left.

I used to spend so much time getting stuck on pieces of a song, getting frustrated. Now I have fun and enjoy the time I’m spending.


How to use the Diffuse Mode

Two examples the course went over to explain how people would use diffuse thinking were Thomas Edison and Dali.

Dali would get into diffuse mode by relaxing in a chair with a key in hand tied to a string that was dangling from the floor. He would let his mind go free, still vaguely thinking about what he had been previously focusing on.

When he would fall asleep, the key would fall from his hand, hit the floor, and wake him up. He would gather up the diffuse mode connections and ideas in his mind. He’d immediately go off into focus mode bringing all the new connections he just made.


Interview with Dr. Sejnowski

  • Learn from active engagement. If you are bored, ask a question. You learn more from actively engaging than passively listening.
  • Exercise to get the mind into a new mode
    • Exercise helps new neurons which are born in the hippo-campus each day survive
  • Multitasking = context switching



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