The Habit of Applying What We Learn
You're going to learn about a powerful mental habit you might
want to develop, but first I have a story...
Thirty years ago I read that most damage to tooth enamel takes
place in the first thirty minutes that food is on our teeth.
I thought about that and realized that since it wasn't very practical
to brush my teeth every time I ate something, it might help to
rinse the food off with my drinking water. I got in the habit
of always saving a little bit of water to drink after I finish
a meal, in order to rinse my teeth. Actually, if I have carrot
sticks or another food that tends to clean other stickier foods
off teeth, I'll save some of that to eat last, and then use the
water. Many years later I finally found a dentist who recommended
this practice. Why do I tell this story? I'll get to that in
a moment, but first we have a question...
Why do we so often learn something and then do nothing with
Sometimes knowledge isn't immediately useful other than for
the pleasure of learning something new about our world. An accountant
might love to read about theoretical physics yet have little
use for what is learned. Timing is an issue too. Applying lessons
about investing might have to wait until there is money to invest.
Then there is the matter of motivation. Learning which foods
are best for brain health is one thing, but changing one's eating
habits can be difficult. Motivation is a bit of a mystery. Some
people make the same bad financial decisions repeatedly, even
though they can explain exactly what they should be doing for
a better outcome. I will not be addressing motivation here.
Finally, one reason you might not use what you learn often
enough is that you aren't in the habit of looking for applications.
That gets us back to my tooth-rinsing routine and that powerful
mental habit you might want to develop. I had developed a pretty
strong habit of looking for ways to apply new knowledge when
I learned that foods cause damage to teeth in the first thirty
minutes. So I automatically looked for ways to apply my new knowledge
in some useful way. It has been said that knowledge is power,
but it's perhaps more accurate to say that it can be power. What
we learn, if it isn't used, is about as powerful as an encyclopedia
locked away in a basement where nobody ever finds it.
Your New Mental Habit
To develop the powerful habit of always looking for ways to
use what you learn, you just do it consciously until it becomes
automatic. Some people will tell you that it takes three weeks
to form a strong habit, but do it as long as is necessary. Specifically,
look at anything you learn with this question in mind, "What
could be done based on this knowledge?" Write that question
on a piece of paper that you carry around, or set aside time
to do this as a mental exercise each evening. Continue practicing
until the whole process is natural, meaning you find yourself
imagining applications for what you see and read and hear before
you are even consciously aware you're doing this. This is how
you train your mind.
Of course, you generally can't use everything you learn for
your own personal purposes, but you can still imagine how others
might use some bit of knowledge. For example, when I read about
research showing that men were more attracted to photos of women
when the women in the photos had their pupils dilated, my first
thought was that women could use that knowledge. They could,
when they wanted to attract a particular man, cause their pupils
to enlarge. How pupils can be consciously controlled is explained
on this page: http://www.increasebrainpower.com/eye-tricks.html.
It probably would work for men who want to attract women too,
but the study happened to have only male subjects looking at
photos of females.
Of course puts so much useful information and knowledge at
our fingertips. When I learned that most counties in this country
are now putting all of their real estate records online, I thought
of several ways this knowledge might be used. People could be
located by way of the real estate they owned, since even if they
do not live in a given home the address the tax bills are sent
to is listed. I considered several other possible applications,
and discovered that I could put together a rough estimate of
a person's assets and liabilities based on properties owned and
mortgage loans recorded. Scarier applications suggested themselves
as well, like criminals looking at the actual layout of a home's
rooms online before robbing someone.
Here's a bit of practice to get you thinking in terms of how
to apply what you learn. Imagine at least three ways someone
might use each of the following facts.
Inexpensive brainwave entrainment recordings can alter
the dominant frequency of a person's brain's electrical activity,
causing him or her to go into a meditative state or fall asleep.
(I wrote about that here.)
Studies show that, when estimating the height of something
or the number of objects, people tend to estimate lower when
they are tricked into leaning to their left. (Reported on here.)
Evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald studied cholera outbreaks
and discovered that in countries with poorly protected water
systems the bacterium killed a higher percentage of infected
people, while in countries that had better water systems the
disease became less deadly. (Read more on this here.)
In the United States housing with the lowest rental rates
is being torn down (for various reasons) twice as fast as housing
in general, creating a shortage of affordable places for people
with low income to live.
Roulette wheels sometimes have defects in the pockets where
the ball lands, so instead of the winning numbers being entirely
random, some consistently come up more often than the usual 1-in-38
Of course the last item suggests a winning strategy for betting
on roulette and, twenty ago, while working in a casino, I did
see a man win more than $80,000 over many months, by betting
on a number that was coming up too frequently. (I wrote about
that here.) But in looking at the fact above, did
you consider broader applications? Did you consider that there
might be a business of checking wheels for casinos, for example?
Or did it occur to you that criminals could sabotage roulette
wheels at the factory and then go to the casinos where they are
shipped in order to take advantage of this? I'm not suggesting
looking for criminal ways to apply what you learn, but imagination
does need to be exercised. As for myself, being a writer, I thought
about using that last idea as the basis of a story.
Look for more than one way that new information and knowledge
might be used, and think in many different directions. Ask how
different people might use a newly learned fact, for example,
or how that fact might be useful in different areas of life,
from business to relationships to writing or solving seemingly
unrelated problems. Expand your mind a bit and look for all sorts
of ways someone might use what you learn. Do this enough and
you'll develop a powerful mental habit that can be fun and will
even, sometimes, help you toward your own goals.