Admittedly, I’m somewhat of a newb to the world of podcasts. Though I have been a fan of audiobooks for years, I took my time getting into podcasts. Last year when everyone was listening to Serial while they ate their cereal, I was going strong on my serial habit of sleeping in and skipping my cereal.

Six months ago I finally caved and decided to give Serial a try. I finished season 1 in a week. It wasn’t hard for me to understand why it has shattered podcast records. And I only know that fact because of an interview I listened to last week with Ira Glass… on a podcast. I’m sincerely grateful for Sarah Koenig opening the door for me to a new avenue of learning. Once I was done with Serial, I couldn’t just stop. I began exploring other podcasts. Now I consume at least 4-6 hours of podcast content per week.

After I had worked my way through the most recent episodes of the podcasts I was familiar with, I got the the point where I had to start branching out and searching for new content. As I tried other podcasts out, I realized that liking one episode of a certain podcast didn’t always mean that I would enjoy all of the other episodes.

Originally, I just browsed for new stuff by scrolling through the top picks list on the iTunes Podcasts app. But that was time consuming. After trying out the search functionality on the app, I wished I could search a little better. I decided to look for other resources that I could use to further dial in my selections. Turns out there are some pretty good websites/apps out there to help you do just that. Here are a few of the best ones I’ve found.

 

Player.fm

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First up is Player.fm. In terms of topic-based searches, I probably like this one the best. For example, just look how it breaks out the general topics into much more specific areas. Searching through those areas not only yields a list of the top podcasts relevant to the topic, but also the most recent episodes from any podcast that talks about the topic. You can run this app right on your phone (Android only) for free. As an iPhone user, I just enjoy using the search features on the website. My favorite part is the “play later” functionality, which allows you to save individual episodes instead of having to subscribe to the whole podcast and then remember where the episode was.

 

NPR Podcast Directory

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The NPR directory only searches and references podcasts that are produced by NPR. This American Life, which is an NPR podcast, basically invented the system by which most podcasts produce content today. So it’s safe to say they know their stuff. NPR owns a pretty good share of the podcast market. You’d be hard pressed not to find something you enjoy from an NPR podcast. The site also has recommended picks and category search functions.

 

Learn Out Loud

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This site might not have the most elegant design, but it still has a ton of functionality. You can search through all kinds of categories and topics to find content that is interesting and new. A lot of content is free, but you can also access their premium content for a fee. And they don’t stop at podcasts, how do you feel about free audiobooks?

 

Stitcher

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If you’re a frequent podcast listener, you’ve probably heard of Stitcher. But for those who might not know, Stitcher is a solid way to find and curate podcast content. The name Stitcher refers to the app’s ability to “stitch” together multiple shows into a customized station playlist—kinda like Pandora for podcasts. You can also try pre-set stations that are curated by Stitcher’s editors. One of the things I like is how it tracks the movement of the top podcasts. Those insights into how a podcast is trending can help you find great content that you may have overlooked otherwise.

 

Audiosear.ch

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Audiosear.ch has some really awesome visual graphics that help you understand various metrics of current podcasts. For example, there is a frequency graph that shows you who the most mentioned people are in their podcast database. And if you are curious about how many podcasts Macauley Culkin is mentioned in, you can find that in their People Index. There is also a feature called PodLikeThat that suggests podcasts that are similar to your favorite podcasts and podcast episodes. For those who might want random podcast suggestions, there is also a Pod-A-Day email you can sign up for to get a new podcast in your inbox daily.

 

Hopefully at least one of these websites/apps will help you more easily find new podcast content that fits your taste! And don’t forget, you can track all your podcast listening on your Degreed profile!

 

 

knowledge

Do you know Harry Truman’s middle name? What about the number of the last manned Apollo mission? In the scheme of things, these facts may seem irrelevant, even useless to know. After all, how would knowing the name of the president’s dog make you better off? Well, that all depends on what your definition of ‘better off’ is.

I love this piece of the Degreed manifesto: “There is no single path to expertise. And our success in solving our unique problems depends not upon uniformity, but on our diversity, because our differences and uniqueness make us powerful. Everyone deserves recognition for their expertise, no matter how they got there.”

To some it may be trivial knowledge, but if you are an expert on something as unique as 18th century fashion, you deserve recognition. Who knows when that knowledge may solve a unique problem. In previous articles, I’ve focused mainly on learning that is isn’t super unique. For example, a lot of the focus of learning today is based on the most widely marketable skills like foreign languages, communication, or computer science. However, there is another kind of learning that doesn’t get the same love and attention. It’s a type of learning that admittedly isn’t as marketable as other skills, but can still be relevant.

This other kind of learning produces what can be described as “know-it-all knowledge.” Ken Jennings is the poster child for this kind of knowledge. If you are a fan of the TV game show, Jeopardy!, you know the name Ken Jennings. In 2004, Jennings won Jeopardy! a record 74 times in a row. That takes a ridiculous amount of dedication to know-it-all knowledge.

Don’t Forget

In a TED talk given by Jennings in 2013, he described his style of learning as being “curious about everything” or “universally interested in the world around [him].” It’s almost as if he sees random facts as unique LEGO pieces that he can use to build an imaginary LEGO kingdom of knowledge in his brain. Every new subject is an opportunity to add more pieces to his masterpiece.

To keep all that information accessible, Jennings uses his memory constantly. In fact, he’s the kind of guy who longs for the days when everyone knew phone numbers by memory instead of relying on phones to keep track of them. That’s because he understands that when we stop using our brains to remember things and instead outsource our memory to digital devices, parts of our brain can literally shrink. One of the parts that is most vulnerable to this is the hippocampus.

The main function of the hippocampus in the brain is memory and spatial awareness. Studies have been done that suggest the hippocampus actually shrinks in people who use GPS in their car instead of navigating by memory. One of those studies by the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging looked at brain scans of taxi drivers and bus drivers. The taxi drivers had more gray matter (that’s a good thing) in the hippocampus than the bus drivers. The difference was that bus drivers follow the same route, while taxi drivers are constantly challenged to know every corner of a city. Substituting brain power for digital crutches can be detrimental to your mental capacities. 

Super Computers

In 1997, a computer developed by IBM named Deep Blue beat a world champion chess player at chess. Not content to stop there, IBM searched for a new challenge that would push further the limits of computer vs. human. In 2004, Ken Jennings’ domination of Jeopardy! piqued the interest of IBM. For the next seven years IBM developed a question answering (QA) computer system aimed at beating Jennings at his own game. They named the computer Watson. In 2011, Watson faced off against Jennings and another elite Jeopardy! contender. Watson defeated them both.

After his defeat, Jennings had the following thought:

What happens when computers are better at knowing and remembering stuff than we are? 

In essence, what’s the point of putting the effort into learning if we have Google on our phones? In answer to that quandary, Jennings arrived at the conclusion that humans still have two advantages over “those who can just Google something.” The advantage of volume and the advantage of time. 

Advantage of Volume

The world is incredibly complex. As Jennings says in his talk, “…the scope of human information is now doubling every 18 months or so.” That is way too much information to have to continually look up. One example he gives to illustrate the importance of learning vs Googling is how we make informed decisions on who to vote for, which is a decision that requires correct judgement in relation to all kinds of different facts and information. As proof, a 2006 National Geographic Literacy Study said that roughly 63% of young adults who vote in presidential elections—a time when it’s obviously very important to understand foreign policy— couldn’t actually find Iraq on a map. In addition, 75% had no idea Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.

In Jennings’ own words “If you can’t do that first step, are you really going to look up the other thousand facts you need to know to make an informed decision on foreign policy? At some point you will give up and just make a less-informed decision.”

Advantage of Time

In 2004, a ten-year-old girl by the name of Tilly Smith was on vacation with her family in Thailand. While they were out enjoying the beach, Smith noticed troubling patterns in the ocean and told her parents that they needed to get off the beach. Only a month prior to their vacation, Smith learned about tsunamis in her geography class. She recognized the signs and informed her family and the lifeguard who was then able to quickly get everyone off the beach.

The advantage of time won’t always be that dramatic. Most of the time it will be something simple like a social situation. Something where you meet someone new or you’re in a job interview and a topic comes up that where you can connect with the other person. Those are the situations where asking someone to wait while you Google facts about their hometown doesn’t really work.

In your pursuit of learning, don’t shy away from learning what you may feel are seemingly useless facts about the world around you. Gather up some know-it-all knowledge. Be curious about everything. And while you’re at it, try turning your GPS off every once in awhile. Your brain will thank you.

Establishing a habit of learning

Let’s talk about habits.

I was recently inspired by an article on the Babbel blog that had some quality suggestions on habit formation. It got me thinking about my own learning habits.

After reading the article, I sat myself down and while gently touching the tips of my fingers together, I asked myself, “Am I really doing everything I can to learn something new every day?”

I had to answer honestly. I would know if I was lying.

Medium story short, the answer was no. I can do more.

Now I know that habits are the center of many debates. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions on how to break and create habits. With that in mind, I know that the process in this post will not work for everyone. As with everything on the Internet, take it with a grain of salt. However, it is my hope that this at least gets you to think more seriously about your daily learning habits and how to become better at adding to your knowledge base daily.

 

Identify an Action

Habits underlie almost everything we do on a daily basis. Yet we go throughout our daily routines all but unaware of how deep some of our habits are ingrained. The good news is that all of these habits, no matter how good or bad, can be used as tools to jump start new habits.

For the purposes of this post, let’s say you want to learn to be a better artist. First, you’ll need to identify an action that will help you accomplish that goal. Don’t make it too difficult. In fact, the simpler the better.

To be a better artist, you will need to have something to draw on, right? So let’s set our action as opening a sketchpad. That simple. You haven’t committed to drawing anything, just to open your pad.

 

Find an Anchor

Now this is where you are going to have to become a little more self aware. You’re going to have to identify all the ingrained habits that fill up your day. Once you start thinking, you’ll realize how many there are to choose from. It could be brushing your teeth, hanging your coat up when you get home, turning on the coffee pot, sitting on the couch after work, checking your pockets to make sure you have your keys and phone, kissing your kids goodbye, etc. This is just a quick list. You should be able to come up with many more than this.

Once you have identified these habits, you’ll need to do a little refining. Find a habit that occurs at a similar frequency to the new habit you want to form. For the art example let’s say you want to work on your art every day. So you would identify a habit that you do daily. That will be what we call your anchor.

 

Create a Process

Once you have found your anchor—a habit that you can piggyback off of—you will need to create a process to turn that habit into a cue for your new habit. For example, if you plop down on the couch every day after work, place your sketchpad on the coffee table. This is where your simple action you identified earlier will come into play. Once you plop down (anchor), open your sketch pad (action).

At this point, you don’t even have to draw anything. Just open the sketch pad. That might seem way too easy and pointless. However, it’s this simple action that will help you determine if you have identified a solid anchor. If you find that you just don’t have any motivation when you open your sketch pad after you sit down on the couch, because you’re tired and you want to just sit and relax, that’s probably not a great anchor to tie your new habit to. If completing the action with the anchor doesn’t make sense or doesn’t feel comfortable, try experimenting with other anchors. Maybe instead of the couch anchor, you open your sketch pad after you plug your phone in at night. There are myriad options to choose from.

Once you have perfected the simple process of anchor and action, you’re ready for the last step.

 

Ramp up the Tension

This is where your habit begins to take shape. It is extremely difficult to establish a habit if you go all in from day one. You might make it a week, but you really haven’t established the habit. You’ve just proven that you can do something new for a few days. This process is about establishing a real habit, and that happens slowly over time. There isn’t much instant gratification in habit formation.

Maybe ramping up the tension means starting with a simple doodle a day and perfecting some fundamentals of art. From there, maybe you start adding a YouTube tutorial or a few pages from an instructional book to the routine. Eventually, you will no longer need the anchor to cue your learning. That’s when you will know you have established a new habit of learning!

Here’s a quick recap of what we learned.

 

infographic a habit of learning

Again, thanks to the language-learning people at Babbel for informing me on this process. Like I said, it may not work for everyone. But why not give it a try? The worst thing that could happen is you cross off one more thing that doesn’t work for you. If it does work, I want to hear about it. I too will be working on my daily learning habits. Shoot me a question and hold me accountable or tell me what habits you are working on! You can comment here or tweet me at @bradensthompson.

In the 1980’s Michael Santos started trafficking cocaine, which eventually resulted in a 45 year prison sentence. Michael experienced an intense change in mentality and earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, wrote 2 books longhand, married his wife, and earned six figures on the stock market- all behind bars.  Click here to read Part I of this 2 Part Series “No Excuses:  How Michael Santos Created Success in Prison”.

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Michael Santos was released from prison in 2012 after serving 26 years. He has an extraordinary outlook on life and an insatiable desire to make himself and others better. I had the opportunity to do an interview with him, one of the first things he said was “Be the change you want to see in the world!” Michael’s enthusiasm for life is infectious. There is much to value in his advice.

Can you describe your transition from the criminal mentality to using your prison sentence to learn and grow? Was it an instant change of thought or more of a slow transition?

When I was 21 years old I saw Scarface and it really influenced me. I wanted to get into that. I eventually got arrested [for dealing cocaine] when I was 23. I knew I was facing a very long sentence—possibly life without parole. My case didn’t involve any violence, but because of the war on drugs people were getting long sentences. After I was convicted, but before I was sentenced, I read the story of Socrates. Socrates was in jail, and he had an opportunity to escape. But he didn’t take it. He chose death. That story had a profound effect on me. It made me think about what I could do to make the most of my time in prison. It was an instantaneous change after I read that story. I began to think about what steps I could take to reconcile with society.

What was it that led you to pick up that book?

In jail I started to pray and ask for guidance. I didn’t pray to get out of jail, but to get me through the journey. Those prayers led me to the book, A Treasury of Philosophy—specifically the story of Socrates.

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I was a terrible student in school and never read books growing up. But my prayers led me to read that book. I began to think, “What would law-abiding citizens expect from me?”

That’s when I came up with a three-part plan. I was going to educate myself, contribute to society, and build a support network. If I could execute that plan, I could emerge from prison with dignity.

While you were in prison you were met with setback after setback, yet you came out victorious. What advice would you give to someone who is discouraged because of setbacks in his/her life?

I would encourage them to visualize success. Figure out the best possible outcome to their life. I started to think in the cell, not about getting through the day or the week, but about success. I would think, “What is the best possible outcome for this?” The visualization was to become a law-abiding citizen. I wanted people to see me as a good person—not just someone who made bad decisions as a youth. The more clarity I got on that, the more empowered I became.

Don’t look at today’s struggle because then you are just focused on those struggles. Make a three-year, five-year, or ten-year plan. Visualize what the best possible outcome is in three, five, or ten years. Then reverse engineer where you need to be and create a plan. Create a plan for what you can accomplish in a year, a month, a week, and a day and work on that. You become empowered as an individual as you move toward what you define as a victory.

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How have you adjusted your personal growth patterns now that you have more freedom?

I’m still very disciplined. I’ve been free from the Bureau of Prisons for almost two years now. I’ve found there are so many more tools to use. I got a nice Mac Pro: no more spinning ball! I’m trying to learn social media better. When I was in prison I never even sent an email. I read about it, but I never experienced it. I have a lot to learn, and I still need to master the tools that are available.

What’s next for you?

My big project right now is a new podcast that I have developed. It’s called Earning Freedom. I produce a new episode every day. On the episodes I interview formerly incarcerated people or business leaders. I’m trying to connect with more employers and formerly incarcerated people to learn from them and tell their stories.

I have also written a few simple eBooks to help individuals who have been indicted—so they can really understand the process they will be going through. I want to help them begin a deliberate path and position themselves so they can emerge successfully without letting the prison experience be a failure.

Will you be writing another book?

Yes. I will be writing a follow up to my book Earning Freedom that will have the details of my time after I was released from prison

If you haven’t read Michael’s book, Earning Freedom, I highly recommend it. You can also read more about Michael’s story or listen to his podcast here

Click here to read Part I: No Excuses: How Michael Santos Created Success In Prison

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