Hi Pondering Nerds!

I recently completed a really enlightening and engaging Coursera course, Learning How to Learn. It taught me so much about how I can become a more effective lifelong learner. The main and supporting instructors, Professors Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowski respectively, are experts in the field of the biology of the brain.

Three concepts that stuck out for me that I'd love to share with you are Procrastination, Impostor Syndrome, and entering into a "Zombie Mode" of working. 

Here's a description for each of these concepts in my own words (no Googling for definitions here!) along with some helpful approaches when facing them:


When you delay completing a task purposefully because you want to avoid the pain you feel when thinking about it. You tend to make up excuses about why you are avoiding starting the task, but it usually has to do with the avoidance of the pain. 

A great statement we can all say to ourselves when we are faced with a task we deep inside do not want to do is to say "I CAN do anything if I just put my mind to it. And if I don't accomplish the outcome I desire at least I put my best effort into it". This will remind us that we are not perfect but we are pretty close to it, and our best efforts are not too far off. Our perseverance can bring us farther than we could ever imagine!


Believing that any successes you achieve was attributed to luck and not from your own abilities. This is very common and can be self-defeating, impacting self-esteem. Many people suffer from this because they compare themselves to others' seemingly effortless outcomes to doing the same difficult tasks. You think that you are a fraud, hence thinking you are an "impostor". It was pretty funny to learn this after the revelation hit me how universal this is.

One great approach to not having the Syndrome sink in and rear its ugly head is to have positive self-talk: messages like "OK, I'm feeling overwhelmed right now but I can do this, I just need to be kind to myself in this moment" and "So many people have this very feeling and thought I am feeling and thinking right now. How alike we all really are!" are truly beneficial in snapping us out of negative patterns of thinking.

Entering into Zombie Mode

When you are doing an action that you have lots of experience doing such as operating a machine everyday, riding a bike, or repeating a script you read as a customer service rep (believe me, I've talked to more than one Zombie in customer service!), your brain enters a semi-conscious process (think being on "autopilot"), instead of actively focusing on the task at hand to the extent where all of the information you concentrate on becomes overwhelming. We all have this ability because our brains need to save energy for other more important tasks that can't be prepared for beforehand. The Zombie Mode is made up of four steps in this order: A cue, a routine that is started by the cue, a reward, and a reason/belief for the mode itself. The belief gives the Mode its power! Habits are created by entering the Zombie Mode over time. 

Habits can be good (our brains NEED to go into Zombie Mode from time to time!) and bad. Bad habits (like procrastination) can be approached in an effective manner in order to change them by focusing on the process of a hard task and not on the outcome or product of that effort. This will relieve you of the stress of worrying about accomplishing the product. Think entering into a Zen Mode instead of a Zombie Mode when doing something you are avoiding.

One word on online courses: The benefits of MOOCs are endless. If you've ever wanted to take an online class please check out Coursera. I promise you they will have more than enough courses to affirm your interests!