Monday, March 16, 2020

Repetition Sucks

We live in a world so rich with possibilities that you could eat a different dish every meal and you’d never eat them all; you could watch a different movie every day and you’d never see them all; you could read a different book every day and you’d never read them all; and you could think a different thought every second and you’d never think them all.

In a world like this, it seems awfully foolish to repeat anything — to read the same book twice, or think the same thought over and over again. It seems foolish, but it is very much not foolish. Repetition generates power in many different ways and in many different contexts. Let me go over a few to give you an idea.

Obviously the first place to start is with slotras. Repetition is what makes slotras work. Repetition goes over and over the same pathway in your brain, making that pathway stronger and easier to go down again, and that strength and easiness is exactly what makes the slotra worth anything. It allows that thought to be very easy to think, and if it’s the right thought for the right context, it can do a lot of good. The good was created with repetition.

The most lasting way to memorize something is a seemingly clumsy, time-consuming, and old-fashioned way: Go over it again and again. If it’s a poem, for example, that would mean reading it aloud again and again.

Go over it enough times, and you will have it memorized. And it will be memorized so well that forty years from now you’ll be able to recite it by heart. This is the power of rote learning. Repetition generated the power to put something in the mind and have it stick. Repetition gave you the power to take something as wispy and ephemeral as a thought and make it solid in the mind.

If you were one of the many children who recited The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag every morning at school, you have with you right now a good example of how solid repetition can make something in an organic organ as soft and alive as the human brain. You can stand up right now, put your hand over your heart and say the whole thing start to finish without batting an eye, and chances are good you haven’t said it or even heard it for a long time — ten, twenty, maybe even fifty years. But there it is, complete.

It would seem really old fashioned to walk by a fifth grade classroom and hear them all chanting aloud the rules of grammar, because that was done in the olden days before mimeographed copies could be handed out. But those rules and facts that were repeated over and over out loud were indelibly printed on the mind of those students.

Unless you’re a writer, you probably know very few rules of grammar by heart. I am a writer and I hardly remember any of them.

We’ve gotten away from that sort of learning in our schools, and for some good reasons. But it has its uses for some things, and perhaps we’ve gotten too far away from it.

One of the arguments against rote learning is that it stifles creativity. But that isn’t true. Perhaps nothing but rote learning would stifle creativity, but memorizing some things by repeating them over and over doesn’t keep the mind from being creative.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Creativity and Flow, and a researcher in the field for over forty years, wrote,

It is a mistake to assume that creativity and rote learning are incompatible. Some of the most original scientists, for instance, have been known to have memorized music, poetry, or historical information extensively.

There’s something very calming about well-memorized words. It is a place to come home to, a stable place in a sometimes unstable world of experience. “A person who can remember stories,” wrote Mihaly,

poems, lyrics of songs, baseball statistics, chemical formulas, mathematical operations, historical dates, biblical passages, and wise quotations has many advantages over one who has not cultivated such a skill. The consciousness of such a person is independent of the order that may or may not be provided by the environment. She can always amuse herself, and find meaning in the contents of her mind. While others need external stimulation — television, reading, conversation, or drugs — to keep their minds from drifting into chaos, the person whose memory is stocked with patterns of information is autonomous and self-contained.

Benjamin Franklin wrote in his essay The Way to Wealth, “To encourage the Practice of remembering and repeating those wise Sentences, I have sometimes quoted myself with great Gravity.”

Of course, he said that tongue-in-cheek, but he did create a lot of aphorisms and they have been repeated often, and became like proverbs and rules people lived by, and some still do to this day. Many of his aphorisms are well-known. He made many of them rhyme or made them especially pithy and memorable.

Here are a few of Franklin’s gems: Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; God helps them that help themselves; Diligence is the mother of good luck; Constant dropping wears away stones; Little strokes fell great oaks, and so on and on. He was fond of making sayings and repeating them often in his writings. He repeated himself so much that others got the ideas stuck in their brains, and they have become a part of our culture.

His rhymes made the aphorisms a little less boring to repeat, but let's face it, repeating anything is boring. But if you will create motivating slotras, or slotras that create a feeling of strength and determination in you, and then practice thinking those thoughts — repeat them to yourself many times every day — you will find a new source of power in accomplishing the goals you want.

Repetition may suck, but it can also suck your goals right into your hands.

Another good reason to read the same book again: Sturgeon’s Law. Quoting from Wikipedia:

“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” Derived from a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That’s because 90% of everything is crud.”

When Sturgeon’s Law is cited, the final word is almost invariably changed to “crap.” Ninety percent of everything is crap. It's got a nice ring to it. And it rings true.

So when you find a good book, read it again, or get it as an audiobook and listen to it many times. Why? Because you could read another nine books and you have a good chance of finding that none of them is as good or as useful as the one you’ve already read.

Read the next chapter: Repetition, Focus, and the Power to Achieve

This article was excerpted from the book, Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.

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