People: Arie Haagen-Smit

“It took about 10 years for there to be concrete laboratory-proven evidence that the hydrocarbon emissions from tailpipes, when exposed to sunlight and nitrogen oxides, turned into photochemical smog.”

Arie Haagen-Smit, a biochemist who had been studying the flavor of pineapples at the California Institute of Technology, not only made that discovery, but fought hard to convince politicians, regulators and industry that cars were the biggest smog culprit in Los Angeles.

On Learning

Ulrich Boser, author of Learn Better, puts it this way:

“The basic thing is, we forget, and we forget at a very regular rate. People underestimate how much they forget, and people who are able to revisit their learning at a regular rate end up learning a lot more … This is stuff that dates back to the 19th century, but we really just don’t use it in schools or in colleges, even though we know that people forget a lot, and they forget at this very regular rate.”

The only way to remember is to summarize and explain things to yourself and others.

Don’t Think Too Many Steps Ahead Too Often

Typical situation:

You have this essay or project that you need to finish. You start thinking about the steps that you need to take to get it done; you run through a mental checklist of your work (“Chapter 1 is pretty good, just needs some fine-tuning, Chapter 2 is a mess, Chapter 3 is okay”); and you think about how much time to dedicate to each section to help you get it all done. All that is fine. All that makes sense.

The problem is when you think about the road map and the to-do list and the triage too many times in your mind. Don’t do that. All that does is freak you out. All that does is make you so damn anxious that you’re too paralyzed to even start! You just end up lying in bed, your heart really starts pounding, and you might even get lightheaded – don’t let that happen.

If you’ve reached that point, you’ve thought about the road map way too many times in your head. It’s time to turn off your “big picture, road map” thoughts and just work. Just open the laptop, open the file, and start typing the first few words. Take baby steps. Get some momentum going, and don’t think about what work is left.

And when you get tired of working, don’t spend your “rest time” thinking. Take an actual mental break. Spend it intentionally doing things that’ll take your mind off the work. Do the mindfulness exercises you learned back in New Haven. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are you smelling? What are you feeling? Lose yourself to what’s around you. Stay away from your thoughts until you are recharged.