Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.

· January 6, 2021

A “best of” compilation of thinking and learning models - good if you haven’t read a lot of books on thinking and learning techniques.


Pragmatic processes for powerful percipience

Don’t be fooled by the book, and its programming textbook lingo - this is a proper self development book which introduces lots of mental models to improve the learning, absorption and assimilation of information. It aims to serve as a handbook for going from journeyman to mastery, quite like the other popular (almost legendary) book in the series, The Pragmatic Programmer. First off, this book shows its age. Its written in 2008, over a decade ago. A lot of the techniques in this book aren’t really new or groundbreaking - they are known techniques, but this book does a good job of compiling them into a very entertaining and well written package. It does a good job of motivating you to stick to these techniques by providing exercises to actually follow these techniques. The actionable are fun and effective.

If there was one part of this book that I truly disliked, was the chapter where he brings up the Myers Briggs Test, and tries to codify and classify people based on types and generations. I thought it was garbage, and added no value either.

This books is a pretty quick read, so its hard not to recommend especially for those just beginning with mental models for improving oneself. Below, I am going to attempt to summarise some of the key points and takeaways that I had.


Here are the thing that stood out particularly by me, which I may actually try to apply in my day to day life:

  • I like the idea of SMART goals, which is a framework for setting and achieving your goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound
  • Something that I can absolutely attest to working is maintaining your own personal wiki. I use logseq as my personal knowledge base, and also my personal journal.
  • Another intriguing concept was the idea of morning pages - forcing yourself to write 3 pages early in the morning right after you wake up. He makes some interesting arguments for it.
  • A lot of the stuff on time boxing, deliberate learning, GTD style workflows were good.

For the most part, this book reinforced concepts that I had vaguely brushed with. This is a nice way of refreshing, and reinforcing them The book has a list of “Recipes” which sum up the core essence of the main points in the book. I have reproduced them pretty much verbatim below:

  • Always consider the context. Everything is a part of a system, and you can get into trouble by only considering things in isolation.
  • Use rules for novices, intuition for experts. This is one of the core principles of the Dreyfus skill model.
  • Know what you don’t know, be humble about your understanding and assume you don’t have a complete understanding or the full picture.
  • Learn by watching and imitating, not by being lectured at.
  • Keep practicing in order to remain an expert.
  • Avoid formal methods if you need creativity, intuition, or inventiveness.
  • Learn the skill of learning.
  • Capture all of your ideas, such as in a notebook, to get more of them.
  • Strive for good design, it really works better.
  • The more senses you engage in a task, the more involved and focused your brain will be. Fiddling, music, walking, etc.
  • Step away from the keyboard from time to time to solve hard problems, you need the space to let your background processes figure out the problems you’re encountering.
  • Change your viewpoint to solve the problem: look at it in reverse, exaggerate it to the extreme, change your point of reference.
  • Watch for outliers: rarely doesn’t mean never.
  • Be comfortable with uncertainty.
  • Trust ink over memory, every mental read is a write.
  • Hedge your bets with diversity.
  • Allow for different bugs in different people.
  • Act like you’ve evolved, breathe, don’t hiss.
  • Trust intuition, but verify.
  • Create SMART objectives to reach your goals.
  • Plan your investment in learning deliberately and developing your mind.
  • Discover how you learn best, it might not be like other people.
  • Form study groups to learn and teach.
  • Read deliberately.
  • To learn better: see it, do it, and teach it.
  • Play more in order to learn more.
  • Learn from similarities, unlearn from differences.
  • Explore, invent, and apply in your environment—safely.
  • See without judging and then act.
  • Give yourself permission to fail; it’s the path to success.
  • Groove your mind for success through envisioning it.
  • Learn to pay attention.
  • Make thinking time.
  • Use a personal wiki to organize your knowledge and learning.
  • Establish rules of engagement to manage interruptions.
  • Send less email and you’ll receive less.
  • Choose your own tempo for an email conversation, you can slow it down.
  • Hide interruptions to maintain focus.
  • Use multiple monitors to avoid context switching.
  • Optimize your personal workflow to maximize context.
  • Grab the wheel, you can’t steer on autopilot.


This book was pretty good. The information here isn’t new, the value more lies in the way that the information is presented, with the exercises and some general pop psychology. I give this a light 7/10

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