No clickbait here, folks. Scroll down for a handy list of examples, helpful links, and all the essential information clearly laid out for your convenience. I even bolded the really juicy bits. However, the following 1800 words are chock-full of helpful context, explanations, and scientific evidence, so please do read the full post to better understand the method behind my madness. Enjoy!
I guarantee two things:
1. The websites you visit most frequently are unconsciously decided by your habits.
2. The websites you visit the most are not the websites you should visit the most.
Daily life is full of little things we never notice, and in this post I’m going to show you how one of those unnoticed little things can be improved to make life easier for lifelong learners. In mere minutes, you can take a huge step towards reaching the next level in your personal development.
How much do you use the Internet?
The average American spends 3 hours per day browsing the Web, and that’s a conservative estimate for us web-savvy, blog-reading intellectuals. If you’re reading this, I’d bet money that you also read content from myriad blogs, news outlets, and social media sites. It’s easy to get sucked in when the millions of online creators compete to see who can grab our attention the best. But aren’t we capable of making good decisions all on our own?
Look at it this way: the Internet is like a grocery store. It’s lined wall to wall with potato chips, candy, and 42 varieties of ranch dressing. We know we should be eating vegetables… But if our senses get blasted with cues to eat cheesy pretzels, the decision to buy cheesy pretzels becomes much easier than the decision to buy broccoli.
The problem is that the Internet, much like TV ads and grocery store aisles, is chock full of images trying to persuade you to consume. And our puny human brains are subconsciously influenced by all that persuasive garbage, even if we try to tune it out. Luckily there’s a simple solution to this problem: we can avoid seeing the cues that push us towards Internet junk food in the first place.
Whether your junk food of choice is Reddit, Facebook, or Tumblr, reading virtually anything else would add much, much more value to your life. Yes, those sites are incredibly valuable. They help us stay abreast of the news, keep in touch with our friends, and to learn about all the things we care about. But again, our puny human brains can’t cope with the amount of information we’re presented with. We get a hit of dopamine (the “do it again” chemical in the brain) when we skim over a news headline or check our messages on Facebook. There’s a phenomenon of young people becoming physically addicted to their smartphones, so clearly we should at least exercise some cautious restraint.
On that happy note, on to the fun part!
We all know what we should be doing online, but we don’t do it. We know we should focus on long-term value-adding activities, but in the moment we can’t bring ourselves to take the first step. This is a part of being human, and most people learn how to become reasonably functional adults despite our silly brains trying to sabotage us.
For years my Chrome browser opened up to the same homepage: a google search bar with links to my 8 most visited websites. Before I stumbled upon the “easiest educational hack nobody uses”, Youtube always managed to crawl up to the top of my most-visited sites. I visited Youtube with the best intentions, but inevitably I would spend too much time on the wrong types of content.You don’t say, “Hey, I think I’ll watch funny cartoons on Youtube for 4 hours”. You think, “Hmm, Youtube is a thing.”, and the rest just happens. Every site that hosts user-submitted content, no matter how much high-quality information it holds, will eventually lure you into wasting time. People compete to build the most clickable headlines and the most irresistible thumbnails. The high quality content, the content we really ought to consume, is inevitably drowned out by the junk.
You’ve probably heard about some great educational websites, but how often do you take the initiative to actually visit them? Everybody wants to learn, but if we choose to rely on our future selves actually making the choice to type in the url of educational websites, the simple barrier of choice will prevent us from eating our Internet vegetables.
In this world of infinite information, personal education has never been more important. Millions of people make grand plans to learn, but after a week or a month they stop for a few days. Then they never touch it again, less due to laziness and more due to never thinking about it. Sound familiar?
We all want to learn about something, and pretty much everybody can spare 25 minutes a day to learn. We feel like we don’t have the time, and days and weeks feel like they slip by us. Everybody has good intentions, and everybody wants to learn, and everybody has the time if they’re willing to make some small sacrifices… But people don’t do it. Somewhere between saying “I want to learn this” and saying “now I am going to spend time learning this”, we fall short. This educational hack will address that gap. We can run interference on our own failures online by interjecting the correct things into the space where we would ordinarily consume the incorrect material.
The solution is simple:
Change what happens when you launch your browser. My Chrome settings open up six different tabs when I open the Internet. The common theme? They’re all sites that I know I should use more often, but I don’t.
I’ll make it even easier… Here are step-by step directions for Chrome and Firefox:
For Chrome users:
Settings –> Second down on the settings page, under “On Startup”, select the radio button “open a specific page or set of pages”. Then click “set pages” next to that, and the menu will open up to enter however many sites you want to open.
For Firefox users:
Options –> The first field should be “startup”, and under that will be a url field. Under the URL box will be a button reading “Use Current Pages”. Click that with the education sites of your choice open, and you’re good to go.
Here’s my current lineup of start pages. I change it up every so often to keep it fresh (highly recommended).
First tab: Udemy. This is my personal favorite learning website. There are many free courses, and they have frequent sales to get the premium courses at affordable prices. Here are my 3 favorite courses, for mental mastery, speed reading, and increasing confidence.
Second tab: KhanAcademy. KhanAcademy is 142% more fun than public school.This site is completely free, and it covers most high school subjects. This is particularly great for math. His interview with Elon Musk is a good start. The site also has achievements, level ups and neato dinosaur avatars.
Third tab: Memrise. This site is awesome for memorizing foreign symbols and vocabulary. I’m learning all three forms of Japanese written characters, as well as three sets of vocabulary words. It’s great because it has an integrated system of mnemonics where people can upvote the most helpful memory tricks, and there is a wide selection of languages and courses to choose from.
Fourth tab: Coursera. This is another site similar to Udemy, with another nice selection of free courses. I prefer Udemy, but this is an excellent supplemental or alternative site. I set my browser to open straight to the course I’m working on, Learning How to Learn. I highly reccomend this course if you’re serious about long term learning. For an in-depth scientific look at learning, read Make It Stick.
Fifth tab: JapanesePod101. This is an educational language podcast site. They have some free content, but you have to subscribe to get full access to the higher level material. You can see their full list of languages here (not an affiliate link).
The beauty of this little trick is that if you don’t want to spend time on whatever websites you’ve chosen, you don’t have to. Just close the tabs and open whatever you want. You will put in more time on the valuable websites you’ve chosen for yourself, but it won’t feel like a burden. Your chosen educational resources will pop open, and you’ll think, “Sure, I have a little time for that.” Taking one little decision out of the equation makes all the difference in the world.
There’s this mental barrier that pops up when we try to force ourselves to do things. We say, “man, I really ought to work on that book I’ve been writing for 2 years… I’ll do it in a couple hours, right after I read a couple more blog posts.” Our brains love to sift through piles of interesting tidbits, greedily absorbing one headline after another, but sitting down to work through difficult material feels icky to our stupid lizard-hindbrain. A sense of dread shadows our brain, this weird, sticky, hardwired mental displeasure that comes from the idea of having to do something new, or hard, something you might fail at. It’s easier to brush that feeling off , to keep doing the same old crap, than to confront your situation head-on.
It’s hard to force ourselves to do things, and eventually we begin to resent whatever we’re forced to do, no matter how good it might be for us. I do believe in the power of our minds to make the right choices, but we must recognize that our success and failure can depend on tiny aspects of our lives that we rarely even think about. I’ve discussed one little change that has given me massive returns on my time… I’d like to encourage you to look for other little changes, things you never ordinarily think about, that could gently nudge you in the right direction. It’s imperative for each of us to look for, and to apply, these little tweaks that subtly nudge us towards doing the right thing.
It’s amazing how much impact tiny changes can make.
Everybody loves lists!
Here are the best free education sites! Leave me a comment if you know a good one I missed.
Automatically open your browser to these wonderful websites, or choose something specifically tailored to your needs.
a. Learn languages with Duolingo and Innovative Language
b. Watch Ted Talks, KhanAcademy, Udemy, Coursera, and EdX for entertaining video lectures on virtually any subject.
c. Play SuperBetter to make improving your mental state as fun as possible.
d. Anki and Memrise for immersive memorization practice.
e. The world’s most prestigious schools offer online lectures for free, including Oxford, Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.
For my skimmers, sinners, and extra-studious pupils, here’s the big fat point one last time:
Identify what you should be doing on the Internet, and set your browser to open those sites automatically.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it on all the social media sites that I hypocritically advised you to abstain from. I love hearing your feedback, so please leave me a comment below. Let me know if I missed any other online resources for personal development, and I’ll add them to the list.
-Wolf N. Shepherd