ExtremeLearners


On meditation

At a very abstract level, two factors determine your success in life: 1) how well you perform when you perform at your peak, and 2) how often do you perform at your peak. Meditation helps with #2. Or to be more specific, it helps you perform at your peak even in situations that are stressful. Thus it is a relevant topic for any blog (such as ours) devoted to understanding the patterns that lead to extraordinary success.

Unfortunately, understanding and practicing meditation is hard because of all the junk information available out there. But we have filtered out two resources that are much better than others. They are:

Waking Up, by Sam Harris

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and a big proponent of rational thinking. His organization, Project Reason, is devoted to promoting scientific knowledge in society. Thus it was refreshing to read a book on meditation written by him. I think the quickest way of summarizing his main message is this:

Imagine the transition from being asleep in the night to waking up in the morning. When you are asleep, you are not aware that you are asleep. You have all these dreams and you think of them as representing reality. Once you wake up, you become aware of the fact that you were an entity that was dreaming those dreams.

Now when we are awake, we are thinking these thoughts and we think of them as representing reality. We are hardly ever aware that we are an entity that is thinking these thoughts. According to the book, meditation helps us reach a mental state where we are constantly aware of being an entity thinking these thoughts. Thus it helps us achieve a second level of waking up (hence the title of the book, I think).

How does this help one perform at peak in stressful situations? A situation is stressful only because of the thoughts it induces. If you could somehow prevent yourself from having stressful thoughts, no situation would be stressful. Meditation helps you realize that you are not your thoughts, that you are a separate entity that is merely thinking these thoughts.

Anyway, here is a link to the book in case you want to buy it.

Headspace

This was all theory. What do you once you are convinced that meditation is cool and want to give it a try? The best way to do it is to find a proper teacher you can interact with one-on-one, but short of that, the next best thing is this app called Headspace. It has some very nice instructional videos and 10 guided meditation sessions for free.

Friday, May 22nd, 2015. Written by admin. No comments.


The 3 most important tips for JEE preparation

Tip #1: Remember that it’s a low scoring exam.

It’s hard to believe it after going through more than 12 years of schooling. But it’s true. To get in the top 500 in the entire country you only need to score more than about 70% in the exam. To be in the top 5000 you only need more than about 40-50%. Contrast this with a school exam where to be in the top 5 in your class you need to score more than 90%.

What does this mean? This means you do not even need to understand the entire syllabus to qualify. In fact, you can completely ignore a significant portion of it and still perform very well. This means you can just find the topics you like and are good at and become really good at them. If you can solve 90% of the questions from 60% of the topics you will already score 54%, which is enough to qualify.

Tip #2: Remember that JEE tests you on your understanding as opposed to memorization skills.

JEE questions are not like the questions asked in school exams. But unfortunately, it’s hard to explain what exactly the difference is without going through lots of examples. Of course, one difference is that the questions are much more difficult. But there are various ways of making a question difficult. JEE uses one specific kind of difficult questions—questions that test your understanding of the subject matter.

This is crucial to understand during your JEE preparation so that you will know what kinds of things to focus on. I think one of the most succinct ways of explaining the difference is just quoting Richard Feynman:

The next Monday, when the fathers were all back at work, we kids were playing in a field. One kid says to me, “See that bird? What kind of bird is that?” I said, “I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is.” He says, “It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn’t teach you anything!” But it was the opposite. He had already taught me: “See that bird?” he says. “It’s a Spencer’s warbler.” (I knew he didn’t know the real name.) “Well, in Italian, it’s a Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it’s a Bom da Peida. In Chinese, it’s a Chung-long-tah, and in Japanese, it’s a Katano Tekeda. You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts.” (I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.)

So in short, school exams mostly test you on how well you know the names of things and JEE tests you on how well you know things. You should remember this during your preparation and focus exclusively on activities that enhance your understanding.

Now I realize that it’s hard to just read the paragraph above once and completely understand what I am talking about, specially after going through ten years of schooling. So how does one understand the meaning of understanding? By reading good books, solving challenging problems yourself, and interacting with good-quality mentors and tutors. And I will leave it at that for now. Hopefully future posts will be able to explain this more thoroughly.

Tip #3: Do not get nervous during the exam.

Many students who have done everything right still fail in the exam because they get too nervous. Some nervousness is unavoidable. But try to keep it to a minimum.

I know that asking someone to not get nervous is exactly the kind of thing that’s likely to make them even more nervous. So I’m sorry to bring it up right now. But let me compensate by offering two tips that will genuinely help with nervousness.

First, any skill is learned with practice. Same is true for the skill of not getting nervous. Put yourself in lots of stressful situations where normally one would get nervous and try to maintain calm instead. This will make you better at not getting nervous in several ways. For example, during the exam, it’s nice to be able to tell yourself something like this: “Come on, I gave an impromptu speech in front of 1,000 people once and won. I can handle IIT JEE.”

Sports offer an excellent environment for small stressful situations. Moreover, nervousness is a biological response which is guided by the hormonal composition of your body to a large extent and physical activities help regulate your hormones. So we highly recommend playing sports.

Second, meditation helps. Several highly successful people meditate on a regular basis and vouch for its effectiveness. Unfortunately, most meditation-related resources are full of junk information. But stay tuned, because we will soon write a post on meditation with recommendations for useful resources.

Friday, May 15th, 2015. Written by admin. 1 comment.



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