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Computer programming versus learning

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Computer programming versus learning

Scott Miker

I’ve heard a lot of people compare human learning with computer programming. The idea is that we can easily program whatever we want in our life. It isn’t magic, it is simply doing the work of inputting the formula.

When it comes to inputting the formula that is the same as creating the process. When we talk about using systems and habits to improve, we rely on creating these new processes to control our behavior. This allows us to build new routines, habits, structures etc.

I love the idea of thinking about improvement differently. I think that too often we think we have to be a certain type of person to learn quickly. Or we attribute it to some outside force such as luck. Or we assume some unseen force is at work, such as magic.

When we change our perspective to computer programming it allows us to manipulate our own thoughts and behaviors to get more out of life. We can change the food we eat so we feel more alert. We can better deal with stress from work. We can learn techniques to better socialize at events and gatherings.

But it also misleads us a bit. I immediately think of the character Neo in the Matrix movies. In the movie Neo could simply sit down and plug his head into a device that could program him for anything. If he wanted to learn karate he could do so in seconds. A second language? No problem just plug in and it is done.

The reason this is misleading is because the computer programming analogy has some holes in it. Instead of it being an instant download, we have to actually do the work to acquire these skills and abilities. This takes time, sometimes a great deal of time.

But if we can simply change this concept of computer programming from an instant upload to our brain, we can start to gain value from this change of perspective.

Almost anything can be learned. If we do the work to learn the material we can reprogram our brain. We can adjust our behavior to start new routines and then reinforce them every single day.

This will start to burn that structure into your mind. You will start to automatically complete each step without consciously thinking about it.

Just look at any habit in your life to see the powerful force that is created. These have to develop over time. Many habits simply form because we don’t pay attention as they are forming.

I recall when I was younger. I smoked cigarettes. When I was fully addicted to smoking it seemed like it became an ingrained part of my life. But when I was first starting to smoke, I didn’t deliberately set out to smoke. It happened slowly over time by making individual bad choices over and over.

In other words I went through the process of creating the habit, it wasn’t magic. I did the things necessary to form the routine involved in smoking. But I didn’t sit there and think about it that way. I simply lived my life according to what I felt like at in the moment.

We can form positive habits in our lives just as we form negative habits. I developed great study habits in high school that translated to college. I didn’t deliberately think that is what I was doing. I was simply doing the required homework and finding an easy way for me to do it consistently without missing important assignments.

Again, nothing magic there. I simply started a behavioral path and then reinforced that path until I didn’t need to think about it much.

So changing our perspective to that of programming a computer can be very beneficial because it empowers us. It gives us control. But if we think it means an instant way to change we are mistaken. That is where the analogy ends because instead of an instant upload to our brain, we have to do the work to apply the information over and over until it starts to become automatic recall.