Introduction: As a fitness aficionado as well as a bonafide computer nerd I have come to appreciate the parallels between what it takes to see progress in the gym and what it takes to make progress when learning a new technical skill or discipline. While the best workout plan is the one that you can stick to, this document will try to make recommendations and guidelines on how to structure a mental workout plan in order to make progress in whatever intellectual pursuit you find yourself in.
Workout Volume & Frequency: For the serious athlete, it is clear that repetition is the undisputed key to success. When we practice physical skills we create and strengthen pathways in our brain to perform. For bodybuilders there is a general consensus that there is a certain volume of exercise and frequency of repetition that should be targeted for significant training progress. The same principle applies to mental disciplines. We should target a certain amount of mental exercise and frequency to maximize our learning results.
- Volume Recommendation: Set 1-2 hours a day to spend focused effort learning
- Frequency Recommendation: Repeat your mental workout 5 days a week
- For these sessions to be effective make sure you can spend real focused time studying or you will only be cheating yourself and your mental gains.
- Do active studying not passive. That is, don’t just watch lectures and read resources alone, take notes, practice examples, and keep a list of questions on topics that confuse you so that you can figure them out later.
Rest Time / Review: Yes even the mental athlete needs rest periods to allow the brain to strengthen the new connections it is making and all around reduce stress. Taking time to do spend time with loved ones and do fun activities is all around recommended for healthy living. I recommend taking 1-2 days out of the week to relax and review. During these periods don’t study new concepts but just take some time to review what you’ve learned from the previous sessions.
- A pro-tip is to create short lesson plans to attempt to teach a topic that you have been learning to a friend in 15 mins or less. This will solidify your understanding and expose areas that you are not yet comfortable in so that you can work towards a more complete understanding.
Nutrition: Every serious athlete knows that strong bodies are challenged in the gym but built in the kitchen. Now healthy eating will definitely also help the mental athlete perform at their best, but I have a different kind of nutrition in mind. Outside of direct active study I think that feeding your mind media related to what you are learning can do wonders for molding that sexy depth of understanding. During the downtime of your day when you would either be listening to music stuck in traffic, or walking around in the store shopping, have a playlist of media that you can pop on that is related to your studying. Create a healthy diet of brain food to whip your mind into shape.
“For one who does not know where they are going, any road will take him. But to get to the promised land, you must first cross the desert” – Me
Perhaps the most important part of any endeavor, is to have clearly defined goals. If you do not clearly define what you are trying to accomplish in the long term and especially in the short term you will flounder and not make progress. Set goals and define what success will look like. Take those goals and create subgoals that you can finish in the short term to help you make consistent progress. For example if your goal is to become a backend developer perhaps a subgoal might be to learn about Data Structures and a sub goal of that might be to “Find out what are the main data structures and list them”.
The inner world of the mind is boundless and formless, you must define the starting point and the destination and what the steps look like to get to the destination and how you will get there. Hopefully that analogy was not to far out to be grasped but the point is make clear goals!