Invest In Your Brain
Simba knows the algos

January 21, 2023

Invest In Your Brain

Can you solve the Rubik's Cube? If so, did you figure it out by yourself or did you learn from someone else? I spent the past few weeks learning to solve the Rubik's Cube, learning from a coach, while also conducting a bit of introspection on how my brain (and body) were going about learning the task. In this episode, we talk more about 'deep learning,' and how to get into its flow, with the Rubik's Cube puzzle as background context.

I prefer to call it STEAM, because I think art is an important part of education.‘Life’s Work: An Interview with Ernő Rubik’, by Alison Beard, HBR,


I always admired smart kids and wanted to be one. To that end, I studied the smart kids in school. I wanted to learn as fast as they could learn and wanted to have their grades and access to more interesting learning material. In 6th grade, most of my close friends were in a ‘gifted and talented’ program where they got to go to special classes to learn and do interesting and cool things that I really wanted to learn and do. But alas, I (literally) failed the entry exam.

Far Side Cartoon School For The Gifted

These same smart kids are also the ones who figured out how to solve the Rubik’s Cube on their own. I never did. The best I could do is to solve three sides. That is, until now (sort of).

For some reason, I recently resolved to finally figure out how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. I’m not entirely sure why this ‘problem’ finally percolated into my consciousness again, like a splinter in my brain, but I just got motivated to figure it out once and for all.

I guess a big part of picking up a Rubik’s Cube again also centers around my drive to still be one of the smart kids with smart abilities.

It’s a never ending quest, one that I hope I never give up on.

As I planned-out a process for learning how to solve the Rubik’s Cube, I thought about what it means to actually learn something. I’m not talking about ‘learning’ typically associated with earning a Degree or Certificate in something. I’m talking about learning something in the sense that what you learn becomes a part of you. What you learn gets baked into your myelin and becomes a part of who you are, part of your toolkit.

What you learn, deeply, becomes one of your superpowers.

Let’s call that kind of learning, ‘deep learning’, just to differentiate it from what mainstream society might refer to as learning.

Here are my top five thoughts on investing in your brain and in exercising ‘deep learning’:

First - Motivation

In order to deeply learn something, I/we need to be sufficiently motivated to do so. If you have little desire or interest in learning something, ‘deep learning’ is impossible.

For some unknown reason, I was recently highly motivated to plan and execute a strategy for learning to solve the Rubik’s Cube puzzle. I was ultimately successful, but it took more work than I thought it would.


Related to being motivated to learn something is the discpline required to build your learning regimen into a daily habit. If your learning habit is not a daily habit, it can be much harder to deeply learn a thing.

Discipline must be established before your motivation wanes.

Second - Plan Your Learning Strategy

I approached learning to solve the Rubik’s Cube with a plan. After reading my 20 pages, a habit I’ve recently set about doing every morning, I would spend a few minutes trying to crack the Rubik’s puzzle. I decided to use YouTube as my learning management system (LMS) - just to use a corporate term here, I have never actually thought of YouTube as an LMS before - after finding a channel dedicated to helping newbies, like myself, easily crack the code.

The YouTube channel I chose can be found at the website, Easiest Solve. They break-down a solution algorithm into 8 easily digestable steps.

While drinking my coffee each morning, I would/will either practice all the steps I had learned so far, or would watch a video on how to solve the next step. I would repeat this cycle until I had learned to solve the puzzle and my motor memory in doing so was (mostly) solidified.

In truth, at this point, I still have to refer to my notes on steps 7 and 8 as I have not completely committed to motor memory these more complicated steps yet. However, I feel confident that repetition will build this motor memory into my neurons in time.

Micro Learning

I really like learning new skills in small, fun, bite-sized chunks. In time, these small bites can add up to big, new human capabilities.

Third - Find Your Coach

An instructor or coach, well found, can lead to great leaps in your learning. In my case in learning to solve the Rubik’s Cube, my coach was and the YouTube platform.

I approached finding a coach with criteria: I needed simple, bite-sized instruction to follow, and I wanted the instruction to be visual in nature. I wanted to be shown how to solve it as well as how to think about solving it.

Using this criteria, I was able to find a suitable virtual coach.

Fourth - Practice, Practice, Practice…Practice, Practice, Practice

For me, deep learning is experiential, if not kinesthetic. It doesn’t just take place in the mind. The whole body should be involved in some way.

In my use case for solving the Rubik’s Cube, my hands are involved in twisting and turning the cube sides in order to satisfy the laws of the learned algorithms.

In rowing, a symphony of well orchestrated body movements are necessary in order to maintain the correct balance and run of the boat.

In software engineering, my hands are constantly typing out code (or copying code from StackOverflow) that my eyes and mind have discerned to be the correct language syntax for satisfying the compiler (and sometimes even the correct logic to satisfy the end-user).

In playing the bagpipes, my fingers are busily ensuring the correct holes are covered on the chanter, while my arm applies continuous pressure to the bag to ensure a constant air velocity through the drones and chanter, while my lungs supply a constant supply of air to the bag, while my foot taps a steady cadence to the tune being played.

Practice helps to meld the body and mind into learning a new skill.

Fifth - Leverage Technology

Using technology to help in personal learning is almost a necessity now, if you want your learning and development to have a hope of keeping pace with the world as a whole. In my Rubik’s Cube case, I watched videos over the internet on my iPad to help instruct me on ways to solve my problem. I could have asked someone with this knowledge to share with me their thought processes over some media (written or in-person), but this would take too long and probably not be as fun or relaxing for me.

Search engines have been a boon to learning.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), like Coursera, Udacity, etc offer tons of interesting, structured learning content, and much of it is free.

I recently learned that Georgia Tech offers their Masters Degree classes in CS entirely online at Udacity…for free!

Dude, have you heard of ChatGPT? How many times have you heard this in the last few weeks?

Distributed Cognition

Distributed Cognition speaks to the idea of our thinking not being constrained to just our own mind and body. We often leverage other resources outside our selves to assist in how and what we think. Obvious examples include a calculator. This trend is continuing with abandon as technology advances.

My thoughts on this concept are to seek out ways to become more adept and skillful in using external tools to help improve and enhance my own distributed cognitive abilities and skills.

Rest assured, the rate of learning is exploding one way or another. It’s our choice to be left behind or not.

Don’t Shun Your Inner Luddite

One time at work, some co-workers and I were discussing movies and none of us could remember a particular actor’s name. Our first instinct was to just do an online search to retrieve the name and continue on with the discussion. But something in me wanted my brain to retrieve it for me instead.

With that, a bet was formed to see who could organically retrieve the actor’s name from their own brain first.

The next day, the actor’s name just popped into my brain, like an air bubble rising to the surface. While not nearly as fast nor efficient as performing an online search for the actor’s name (‘Nick Nolte’, in this case), my own biology came through…eventually.

I reasoned that I needed to keep exercising my gray matter regardless of how convenient and powerful technology becomes.

I call this act of forced ‘total recall’ the ‘Nick Nolte Effect’.

The ‘Nick Nolt Effect’ happened to me again today.

My wife and I were talking about the Netflix show, 1889, and trying to remember the haunting melody the Captain’s daughter sang in the show. Neither of us could remember the tune fully. Before Cindy could pull out her phone to search for the song, I howled - Noooooooooo! Nick Nolte in effect!!!

This was a week or so ago.

I crashed on the couch this hazy, gray Saturday afternoon, and would you believe, I woke up humming the tune: ‘Die Gedanken sind frei,’ in it’s totality (sans German - just the music. I’m not that good (yet)).

‘Nick Nolte Effect’ in effect!

The point being, ceding too much reliance on technology for distributed cognition can lead to your own mental atrophy (IMO).


Unfortunately, now that I’ve figured out a way to solve the Rubik’s Cube, I don’t feel any smarter. In fact, to the contrary. I realize now that there are people who are able to solve this puzzle without assistance or coaching.

Furthermore, it takes me several minutes to solve the Rubik’s, even now, and I still have to refer to notes on steps 7 and 8 I have written on a sticky note. There are people who can solve it under 5 seconds…without sticky notes even!

It’s all good though. Now I have a solved Rubik’s Cube sitting on my desk (finally!). Besides, the more you learn, the more you should realize how much you really don’t know. There’s always someone smarter than you to learn from. Never quit learning.

And Keep Dreaming!


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