How Playing Cricket Made Me a Better Learner

How Playing Cricket Made Me a Better Learner

Aug 1, 2021 05:25 PM
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Ryan Chadha
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About learning how to learn
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The Wannabe Cricketer
Apart from your day job, have you ever done something for 30+ hours a week?
Here’s my story about how I wanted to become a pro cricketer, but became a superlearner instead!
Like many Indian kids, I loved to play cricket. As is common in many Indian households, I played for the fun of it. But I also had greater ambitions. I wanted to be like my heroes and one day play for India.
Life had other plans when I moved to Dubai at the age of 11. Little did I know that this move would be instrumental in kick-starting my cricket career. By the time I was 14, I was playing matches twice a week and practising the other days of the week. This meant that I spent upwards of 30 hours every week playing cricket.
I was making rapid strides — I got selected for the country’s U-15, U-17 and U-19 teams and played in many international tournaments. But the downside was that I had very little time to study. The arrangement I had with my parents was simple — if I wanted to continue playing cricket, I had to keep my grades above a certain level. You have probably heard what Indian parents are like with respect to grades right? ;)
But when do I study?
I had a problem — how was I going to keep my grades up and play cricket? I figured that my study sessions would have to be very efficient. In other words, I had to get the most bang per unit of time invested. As it turns out, playing so much cricket forced me to engage in regular study sessions which were of high quality. If I had half an hour to study, I ensured that it was a period of solid focus. Little did I know it at the time, but playing sport helped me get in the zone very quickly. I could switch on and switch off at will.
Forcing Functions
Instead of spending long days studying, my study was split up into small sessions which were usually no longer than half an hour, but spaced out equally over the week. On occasions, if I had longer than half an hour, I would study 2 subjects in the one hour slot. In addition, whenever I noticed my concentration waver, I took a break. I was militant about this — if I had to get the most out of the little time that I had, I couldn’t afford to have down time cut into my sessions. So I took very frequent breaks — usually a break every half an hour.
Additionally, I spent a lot of time teaching my friends. These weren’t exactly tutoring sessions. We would jump on a call and in order to help each other out, we’d teach each other. So if I had recently studied something, I would call X up and teach her what I had studied. On the same call, she would teach me what she had studied. I found this was the best way to understand what I was learning and also helping cement it in long term memory. (More on this below)
The system I set up for myself was optimised for repetition. If I studied something on Wednesday, I’d prepare little chits and put them in my cricket trousers and see how much I remembered on the way to the game on Friday. I’d do this without looking at the chits. When I had finished, I would look at the chits and refresh my memory. This was so I could make use of the time spent commuting — it was an integral part of my study schedule! Interestingly, this time spent trying to retrieve stuff from my memory also got me into the right frame of mind for the game.
The Epiphany
It was only after I started a school in Bangalore that I started to research the science of learning. I realised that the system I had set up for myself as a teenager was very well aligned with the science of how the brain learns. Nobody had explicitly taught me those techniques, so I had chanced upon them owing to luck. And due to circumstance.
Spending short chunks of time and spacing these sessions out is a technique which is known as spaced repetition. Spending time trying to remember stuff you have learned has positive effects on memory and retrieval. Doing it in a spaced manner is a technique known as spaced retrieval. As it turns out, the strength of a memory is dependent on storage strength and retrieval strength. When memories have have high storage strength and high retrieval strength, they are often never forgotten. Using strategies like spaced repetition and spaced retrieval help increase storage strength and retrieval strength of memories.
Remember when I spoke about studying two subjects in the same time slot? That is a technique called interleaving, where you let your brain try and look for connections between subjects and ideas, and in that way, make learning more intentional and meaningful. I have benefitted extraordinarily from interleaving and practice it regularly — in fact, that is how I read books — I always read 2 or 3 books at a time and flit between them as I see fit.
Learning like a pro
When I started working in London, I started studying for the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exams. The CFA is a set of challenging exams that prepare you for a life in the world of investments. I used the techniques listed above to pass all 3 levels of the CFA exams at the first attempt. And I did this while holding down a full time job. Stats are difficult to come by, but by some estimates, less than 20% of people manage to pass all 3 levels at the first attempt. For those holding full time jobs, that figure is even lower. So does that make me gifted?
No! I just had the right techniques and habits!
Being an educator for 8+ years has taught me that habits are as important, if not more important, in order to become an efficient learner. Techniques are important, but if you can’t utilise the techniques in a way that becomes part of your life, then the rewards from using scientific techniques are diminished.
My goal with Superlearning for High Achievers is to help people employ the right mindset, techniques and habits so they can become superlearners. We are all endowed with the same circuitry and have everything we need in order to become superlearners. My goal is to make these methods accessible to as many people as possible — kids and adults!
Join me?

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