How To Make Anything Interesting, And Other Articles From The Brilliant Report
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The Key To Making Anything Interesting
The key to making anything interesting is to make the task involved just hard enough.
The brain likes solvable problems. Too easy, and it gets bored. Too hard, and it gets frustrated. Either way, your engagement and attention flag and you lose your motivation to keep going.
It helps, of course, if you are genuinely interested in a topic, but it’s not necessary. Sometimes we have to pass a class we don’t like. Sometimes we have to work on a project that doesn’t grab us. We can still make it interesting by arranging the work involved to be just challenging enough, and by keeping the edge of the challenge sharp.
Think about video games. Do players really care whether the dragons get killed or the princess gets saved? (Well, maybe some of them do.) But in general video games succeed in making you work hard to solve problems that are imaginary and essentially meaningless—by maintaining the challenge at exactly the right level to keep you engaged and moving forward. We like the feeling of mastery, and we’re willing to work for it.
This insight has important implications for learning. When we’re learning, whether at school or at the office or on our own time, it should feel like “hard fun”—an enjoyable activity that requires effort. That means constantly adjusting the difficulty of the task so it is just at the edge of your ability. Young children do this naturally. Good teachers and managers have always done it. Increasingly, computers are able to do it. But it’s essential to learn how to calibrate challenges for yourself if you want to keep yourself motivated.
If you find yourself bored while learning, you can ratchet up the difficulty in several ways: 1) time yourself and try to be as fast, and as accurate, as possible; 2) compete against someone else; 3) mix up different types of problems.
If you find yourself frustrated while learning, it’s usually because the task is too difficult or confusing. The solution here is to break the task down into the shortest steps possible. Break it down, then break it down again, into micro-steps. Identify exactly where your confusion occurs, and ask someone to help you understand.
Start with the smallest, simplest piece that you can do and still get right 80 percent of the time. Keep practicing until you’re consistently getting close to 100 percent right and starting to feel a little bored. Then raise the bar. Add difficulty, complexity, speed. Use the emotions of boredom and frustration as signals—as guides to managing your motivation. Once you learn how to calibrate a challenge, there’s nothing in the world that’s not interesting.
This Month’s Most-Read Articles
1. Why Kids Should Learn Cursive (And Math Facts And Word Roots), Time.com
2. How To Use Technology To Make You Smarter, Time.com
3. Why Do We Prefer “The Natural” To “The Striver”?, MindShift.com
4. Why Parenting Is More Important Than Schools, Time.com
5. Why “Googling It” Is Not Enough, MindShift.com
6. What Distinguishes A Superschool From The Rest, Time.com
This Month’s Most-Read Blog Posts
1. It’s Not Just The Caffeine: Why Coffeeshops Spur Creativity
2. An Interview With Dan Roam, Visual Thinker Extraordinaire
3. Is “Learning Agility” A Necessary Trait In A Leader?
4. Seeing Struggle As An Opportunity
5. You Can’t Capture Learning With A Camera
6. The False Dichotomy Between Facts And Creativity
7. Will MOOCs Make Everyone Think The Same Way?
8. Using Fiction To Engage Students With Facts
9. Learning Who’s Got Power And Who Doesn’t
10. What’s Needed In “College 101″: How To Learn
11. The President Of France Wants To Ban Homework. Here’s A Better Idea.
12. Poor Children Learn To Pay Attention Differently
My All-Time Most Popular Writing On Learning
1. What Your Dog Is Thinking, Time.com
2. Your Brain on Fiction, The New York Times
3. Quality Homework—A Smart Idea, The New York Times
4. It’s Not Me, It’s You, The New York Times
5. The Myth of “Practice Makes Perfect”, Time.com
6. Why Daydreaming Isn’t A Waste Of Time, MindShift.com
7. Your Head Is In The Cloud, Time Magazine
8. Why Third Grade Is So Important: The “Matthew Effect”, Time.com
9. What Kids Should Know About Their Own Brains, MindShift.com
10. Why Morning Routines Are Creativity Killers, Time.com
11. The Upside of Dyslexia, The New York Times
12. How Computerized Tutors Are Learning To Teach Humans, The New York Times Magazine
This Month’s Brilliant Quote
“In the global age, a person’s and a nation’s economic success depend on high reading and/or math ability. We have learned from the phenomenon of outsourcing that those who have these abilities can find a place in the global economy no matter where they happen to live, while those who lack them can be marginalized even if they live in the middle of the United States. Americans have a growing sense that we, like other peoples these days, must live by our wits. The reason that reading ability is the heart of the matter is that reading ability correlates with learning and communication ability. Reading proficiency isn’t in and of itself the magic key to competence. It’s what reading enables us to learn and to do that is critical. In the information age, the key to economic and political achievement is the ability to gain new knowledge rapidly through reading and listening. Students’ scores in reading comprehension are consistently associated with their subsequent school grades and their later economic success.” —E.D. Hirsch, Jr., The Knowledge Deficit
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All my best, Annie