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How To Use This Blog

My name is Umer Qureshi, I’m a medical student, artist, and overall qurious person. I started this blog to refine my ideas and thoughts. Sonke Ahrens states in his book How to Take Smart Notes, “Writing is, without dispute, the best facilitator for thinking, reading, learning, understanding and generating ideas we have.” and I love generating ideas.

The thought to make this blog mainly sprung from a weeklong binge of Ali AbdaalThomas FrankDr. Jabbal and many YouTubers of their similar genre. I read various books they were effusively recommending and I began synthesizing all those ideas on my own, and I ended up with one unifying thought. Writing = Thinking. As someone who has anxiety-infused fever dreams of creative thoughts from time to time, it’d be nice to get some of that thinking done in a more productive way rather than actually shaking and having trouble breathing whenever thoughts start generating in my head at inopportune times.

These thoughts are often unrefined. My friends often listen (read laugh at me while listening) to my lengthy incoherent rants about a thought I have, some weird rabbit hole I went down, proclaiming [insert name of tool or software] will completely change our effectiveness as an organization and we need to shift everything over to it immediately, and other similar proclamations. However, they quickly breakdown when questioned, mostly because I hadn’t thought that far and hadn’t spent the time developing the thought past the original idea. Up until now I haven’t had any method to refine the ideas systematically and I’ve found writing is a strengthening force. I’d like to say I subscribe to the common adage “Have strong opinions that are loosely held”, but in trying to find the attribution for this Silicon Valley cliché I came across an article that says this line of thinking isn’t as great as it appears to be at first glance. What is more accurate is that I have many untested hypothesis that I’m open and willing to change if someone shows me evidence. What often bothers me is that I seldom am able to back up many of these hypotheses because I haven’t probed my own ideas at all. 

“Writing is, without dispute, the best facilitator for thinking, reading, learning, understanding and generating ideas we have.”

– Sonke Ahrens How to Write Smart Notes

You know that feeling you get when you’re taking a test and you start learning during the test? Or when you’re debating something with someone and you start generating ideas during the debate that you didn’t have prior?  I can’t be the only one this happens to right? This blog for me, is to stimulate that phenomenon more frequently rather than sporadically. I want to think more deeply about all the random thoughts that propagate in my head. And there’s something about creating that artificial deadline to post something, every week (which is what I’m doing) or everyday (like these smart people) , that forces you to look outside your small section of the world and be qurious (ha, get it QQ, qurious, sighs) to find something to write about. It forces you to go out and learn regularly and then refine them to make them your own. Hopefully this blog will accelerate that.

Nice origin story but I don’t care. How is this blog different?

Glad you asked. Books, blogs, podcasts, lectures are all TERRIBLE methods of learning. Yeah you read that right. Reading a book doesn’t do much for you. Think about it. What was the last article or book you read? When I say read I mean JUST read. Not took notes on, just read. What was it about? What did you takeaway from it? Maybe some definitions and overall claims it made? Beyond that, bupkis. It’s because our brains don’t learn via simple diffusion, they learn through active transport (self five for that biochemistry pun). You have to engage with the material through some form of retrieval to truly learn.

If you have done any minor digging on how to study better, you probably have come across this ubiquitous image of the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. Tldr; our brains are stupid and are terrible at retaining anything and everything. One common way to combat this is to implement spaced recall or in reality, any recall. Spaced recall is when you revisit a topic after some time has passed. *all our teachers from grade school collectively roll their eyes and scream “TOLD YOU SO”* When you revisit a topic, you reset the forgetting curve. But simply skimming your notes frantically before your test won’t cut it. Again, reading by itself, does not do much. You have to actively do something to retrieve the information. Flashcards, question banks, quizzing yourself, the Feynman Technique, these all engaged you thus making you more likely to retain the info.

To illustrate this point further, check out Bloom’s Taxonomy. Anyone who has done Problem Based Learning in any capacity has seen this pyramid. The idea is that the higher up the pyramid you go, the more likely you are to actually remember the material. It’s why you still remember that the Box Jellyfish is one of the few jellyfish stings that can be fatal to humans from when you created (look at the top of the pyramid) a diorama of them for your 4th grade book report.

For example, let’s say I’m given a case about a patient with Cystic Fibrosis. Well jeez, I don’t know anything about it, I gotta go research it. Rather than just reading about it I can create questions for myself to engage with the material better. Instead of just writing down the what happens with Cystic Fibrosis, I can create a diagram of the mechanismInstead of just listing all the medications, I can compare and contrast the different mechanisms of the pills and justify why the first line of treatment is the first line of treatment. It’s not that much more work, but it forces you to engage with the material a bit deeper. The higher you go on the pyramid, the deeper your understanding is, and the more likely you’ll actually retain the information. 

Engaging with the material in any way is better than simply reading something. As someone who listens to too many podcasts, reads too many articles and too many books, and then lambasts himself for forgetting everything, I am constantly looking for ways to engage with material so I can actually USE the information later. Even if it is just to flex about how I know a dispute over duck hunting in 1919 led to a Supreme Court case about the treaty powers of the President. 

Stop rambling. How is this blog different?

My bad I’ll stop with the theory. Point being, I want you the reader to actually learn and retain the things you read on this blog. I’ll be doing that by using withorbit.com

This is a tool that I’ll be embedding into most blog posts I make to facilitate better retention of the ideas. They’re essentially flashcards, but with spaced recall. If you know what Anki is, it’s Anki but prettier.

How To Use This Blog

The way it works is that throughout any given blog there’ll be a few questions about the blog. For example, this blog would have a few questions about Bloom’s taxonomy, the forgetting curve, etc. When you answer the question, it gets stored in your Orbit account. Every now and then you’ll get an email showing that you can review the material in your account. It gives you spaced recall allowing you to engage and retrieve the material so that you actually gain some insight from the blog rather than passively sitting on the toilet reading this.

Why are you literally  testing me?

Man don’t think about it like that. I’m attempting to give you the choice to learn something. You don’t have to do the questions. If you just want to read, go ahead, read. But if you actually want to learn, I want to help you do that. Answering the questions IS the learning. Just reading isn’t. 

Okay, but what else?

Relax. I just started this thing. I’ll probably have some other harebrained ideas to implement in this blog and it will change dramatically month to month after I read about another esoteric learning method or some nonsense. These are things I wish more blogs and websites did more and I’m just gonna do them myself. Hopefully, y’all learn from it. 

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