I discovered a year ago that walking makes it pleasant to study boring stuff — as I put it then, boring + boring = pleasant. I am still a little amazed.
Like any scientific discovery, I suppose, I had to do serious engineering to make good use of it. In particular:
1. Make walking easier. I use a treadmill in my apartment, which eliminates travel time (to where I do it), eliminates distractions, provides climate control, and allows me to walk barefoot.
2. Steady stream of study materials. Now I am using an Anki deck of Chinese characters put together by someone else. This saves a lot of time. (Anki is an open-source version of SuperMemo, a flashcard program that tries to optimize repetition.)
3. Figure out how much new stuff to study each day. Without plenty of repetition, you are wasting your time — you will forget what you’ve learned. Most of a study session is repetition. This means it’s not obvious how much new material to introduce each day. I found that 10 new Chinese characters is about right.
4. Put laptop on treadmill. To use Anki while on my treadmill, I need to use my laptop on my treadmill. At the Beijing Wal-mart, I found a piece of Sunor metal shelving that works perfectly. I put the shelf (about 90 cm long) across the arms of the treadmill, put the laptop on the shelf.
5. Minimize complications. I first noticed the effect using Anki. But Anki had several features I disliked, so I switched to ordinary flashcards. But they were too complicated — hard to schedule appropriately (you need to slowly expand the time between tests), time-consuming to keep track of progress. I had to keep stopping to make marks on the cards. So I am back to using Anki. Anki lacks a graph of progress — a graph that shows amount of learning versus date. But it is better than flashcards.
Each improvement made things better. With all of them, I lose track of time. Study, study, study, walk, walk, walk. Then it’s over. Not just painless, pleasant — different than any pleasure I have felt before. It feels a little like a new energy source (I imagine it can be used to learn many things), a little like teleportation.
The science aspect of it also interests me. Learning is the core topic of experimental psychology. Thousands of experiments have been done about human learning, thousands more about animal learning. Experimental psychologists are good methodologists; the average experimental psychology experiment makes the average medical-school experiment look retarded. But the walking/learning effect (walking makes learning pleasant) is outside anything anyone has ever reported. Only Michel Cabanac (not an experimental psychologist) has studied how variation in pleasantness regulates action (e.g., eating). Experimental psychologists lack good ways to find new effects. By missing this effect, they are missing a bigger idea:Â learning is regulated, just as a thousand other things inside our bodies are regulated.