Driving Lessons

My progress was slow after a couple of driving lessons. My driving instructor was simply unimpressed. I was still slow at shifting the gear correctly and often got confused on which way to move the gear stick. I was not happy about that. I still had more driving lessons to take though. For the sake of not embarrassing myself once again in front of the driving instructor, I decided to work on my gear shifting skills before the time for the following driving lesson came.


The interesting thing was that I had decided to practice gear shifting through visualization and not by actually getting into the car, holding the gear stick and moving it while holding down the clutch with my left foot. I had not heard before about visualization being used in practicing driving. Maybe it was, but I simply had never heard about it. I told myself to just give it a try and see the results. I did not expect much but thought to just give it a try.

Stunning Progress

Time for my following driving lesson came. I was stunned by my performance. I was able to make gear shifts rapidly and correctly without any hesitation or mistakes! I managed to surprise myself and my driving instructor who was impressed after having almost lost hope due to my poor performance and slow progress during the preceding driving lessons.

Visualization Technique

The way I had been practicing driving just before that lesson was by closing my eyes, imagining that my right hand was holding the gear stick and giving myself instructions on which gear to shift to by simply giving myself a number. So for instance I said to myself “first” and started to visualize myself moving my right hand while holding the gear stick to the place for the first gear. Then I said to myself “second” and visualized myself shifting the gear stick to the position of the second gear. Then I said “first” then “second” then “third” then “second” and so on each time visualizing myself making a gear shift. I did all that while closing my eyes in the comfort and safety of my own home. The results of such practice far exceeded my expectations as I have mentioned above.

Training of Trainers

Visualization can also be used by a trainer to prepare for a training session before actually delivering it. This technique can be used by experienced as well as novice trainers alike. It can be used more thoroughly by novice trainers though to help them overcome their fear of facing a live audience. The beauty of such technique is that it allows you to practice in a protected safe environment. Any mistakes you will make will not have negative consequences. This very concept of zero negative consequences gives you the courage and confidence to go in full force and perform superbly well during visualization. When the time comes for the real thing you feel as if you have done it before while in fact you had only been visualizing doing it.

Doing Vs. Visualizing

It makes almost no difference to the brain whether you are actually doing something or visualizing doing it. For the brain, the two have the same effect. Let’s say someone remembers a sad incident. This memory might cause him to cry. Or someone thinks about the negative possibilities of something bad happening, this can cause his whole physical body to be disturbed. A person who is afraid from heights might experience strong negative signs in his physical body just by visualizing himself getting close to the edge of a high building and falling. the physical body reacts to all such visualizations in a similar fashion to its reaction to them had they been actually happening in real life.

Your Turn

Visualization is a very powerful technique that can be used to practice just about almost anything within a comfortable, protected and safe environment. So next time you are working on improving a skill why not try having part of your practice in the form of visualization? You might just surprise yourself with the results in the same way I have during the time I was taking driving lessons.

Have you ever tried to practice something through visualization? If so, tell use about it.

How I learned Personal Shorthand

Shorthand Textbook

My sister needed to use shorthand for her work. She kept looking for shorthand training courses at so many places but couldn’t find a single place offering shorthand courses. After a long search, she finally stumbled upon one place that offered shorthand courses. After she took the training course and brought the textbook with her, I got curious about shorthand. I was still studying at university by that time. I started looking through the shorthand textbook and my interest grew.


I then set about to learn shorthand from the textbook on my own. I used lectures I attended at university as an avenue for practicing my shorthand skills. It was not that I was learning shorthand so that it could help me write down lectures I am attending but it was actually the other way around. I was curious to learn shorthand so I used university lectures I was attending back then as an excellent opportunity for practice.

Personal Shorthand

I remember I started on that journey during the second semester of my third year at Cairo University. The type of shorthand I was learning is called Personal Shorthand or PS for short. It is a renaming of what had been known before as briefhand. What distinguishes PS from other types of shorthand, such as Pitman shorthand, is that it relies solely on the 26 letters of the alphabet and therefore is very easy to learn compared to most other shorthand methods and can even be typed on a computer since it contains no special symbols and relies only on letters of the alphabet.

Full Lecture Transcription

I started reading in the personal shorthand textbook and doing the exercises it had. I started practicing during all lectures I attended at university. It was a lot of fun. By the second semester on my fourth year at university I was able to write down every single word the lecturer was uttering during the lecture. I no longer needed to rewrite my shorthand notes into longhand as I came back home. I just kept the shorthand sheets I had written during the lectures as they are and studied from them directly.


When I went to university I did not need to take any notebook with me, all I needed was a few folded foolscap folios and a pen. A whole 2 hour long lecture could be transcribed in full in just 2 foolscap folios since I wrote on both the front and back sides of each folio.


As the time for the final exam came at the end of the semester, I used the transcripts of the 12 or so lectures that I had stapled together as a way to revise all lectures before taking the exam. I was surprised at the amount of information they contained most of which I would have totally forgotten had I been attending the lectures without caring to take notes during the lectures.

Lessons Learned

There are many lessons to be learnt from this story. One of them is that a new skill can help you do better in life. Another lesson is that lots of practice is required to master a new skill. Practicing in a real life context also proved more effective. A third lesson is that one can learn some skills from a book plus practice without the need for external help.

Have you ever thought about learning shorthand? If so, what might you be using it for?

Boosting Reading and Speaking Skills

Explaining Training Method

It is important to make trainees aware of the training style you are using. Explaining it to them makes them trust you the more since it makes them aware that you know what you are doing. By understanding why a particular style of training is used and why it works and is effective trainees give it their full attention, effort and focus thus benefiting from the training the most. In addition to establishing trust in the trainer and boosting the amount of benefit trainees get from the training, understanding the training style being used makes trainees better able to practice on their own and keep improving their skills even long after the training program has ended.

Second Language Learning

When delivering training to improve the second language of trainees it is of great importance to tell them about the training style you will be using during the training. Not only will they appreciate this and perform better and follow your instructions more closely but it will help them further develop their language skills on their own.

Contrasting Learning Methods

Two of the main skills required to master a language are reading and speaking skills. The method by which the learner practices each of those two skills contrast sharply with one another.

Reading Skills

In order to improve reading skills one should practice by reading correctly and accurately. The learner should attempt to read everything without making any mistakes in reading even if this means reading at an extremely slow rate. the focus here is on correctness and not on speed. Focusing instead on speed of reading will never get the learner anywhere. Attempting to strike a balance between reading speed and correctness while practicing is also wrong and would lead to poor results on the long run. Only by focusing totally on accuracy and correctness and completely ignoring speed would a learner be able to improve his reading skills in a second (or first) language. By repeating what one is reading for so many times speed will eventually come on its own without forcing it.

Speaking Skills

As for speaking skills, the exact opposite is required to successfully practice them. A learner should focus on attempting to communicate meaning while practicing to speak using a second language. Here speed while practicing is required and even essential. If the learner slows down in an attempt to get every grammatical rule correct and search for the perfect vocabulary to use this could break the flow of communication. If he focuses just on communicating meaning, the inaccuracy in grammar and/or vocabulary will tend to vanish in the future as he keeps on practicing his speaking skills.


The methods for improving reading and speaking skills contrast sharply with one another. By making trainees aware of such methods they tend to trust the trainer more, follow his directions more closely and willingly during the training and be able to practice and improve their skills on their own even long after the training program is over.

What about writing and listening skills? What could be good methods for practicing any of those?

Stories of Extreme Training

Extreme Handball Practice

Many years ago my cousin once told me about a friend of his who played professional handball. His friend told him that during their handball training, before entering into competitions, they practiced by playing handball while wearing weights tied to their shoulders, legs and around their waists. He said that practicing while having those extra weights tied to their bodies was very difficult and put enormous strain on their bodies. As they kept practicing one time after the other with such extra weights attached to several parts of their bodies, they started to get used to the extra weights and were eventually able to play handball normally with such extra weights on as if they did not have them attached at all.

When the time came for the actual game during the competition, they were asked by the coach to put off their extra weights. During the matches, having put down the extra weights they had long been practicing with, it felt to them as if they were flying! They were so agile in the field, moved extremely fast, had strong stamina, never felt tired and achieved outstanding results.

Stretching Arrays

One of the main lessons from this story is that extremes can be used during practice in order to boost abilities even though such extremes would not be part of the actual performance when the time for the real ‘game’ comes. For instance, I remember when I started to learn a concept in computer programming called arrays. I started to use it extensively in my programs. I jam packed computer programs I created with arrays. I used arrays to the extreme even where they were not needed or where they were not the best solution of choice.

After such period of being extreme in using arrays in computer programs I created, I then moved on to normal usage and used arrays only when appropriate and suitable. The period of time when I used arrays in an extreme way helped me in fully grasping them and mastering their use. It is as if you are stretching your body to revitalize it then getting your body back again in normal position.


Going to the edge of something and getting close to its extreme states as a form of practice helps one master such thing and makes the learning and skill development great.

Have you ever experienced going to the extreme in something then coming back and found yourself mastering it well after such experience? Tell us about it and what happened.

Discovering the Learning Spiral

Childhood Programming Memories

As a child my mom once sent me to join a course in computer programming that was designed for children. I remember learning a few things and that it was fun there. Later I did computer programming, still as a child, by reading and learning from a book containing simple computer programs. As my programming skill developed I came to the conclusion that trial and error was the king among learning methods and that every other learning method faded against it. I held that belief for many many years together with the belief that training courses are utterly useless.

Learning Spiral

As time went on, my perception about this matter started to change. I started to realize that every method of learning had its own merits. I realized that the strongest and most advanced learner is the one who makes use of a diverse set of learning methods not simultaneously but one after the other. One could switch from using one learning method to the other then go back again to using a learning method he had used before and go through the learning methods in sequence once again in a continuous upward spiral.

Asking friends was an additional source of learning besides the learning methods I had already recognized while improving my computer programming skills which were: trial and error, readings books and attending courses. As I said, each learning method had its own merits.

Trial and Error

Learning through trial and error for instance allows one to discover new things that might have not been discovered by others, provides a very deep and solid understanding and mastery of things and builds experience. Relying too heavily on trial and error alone while excluding other sources of learning may lead to imbalanced learning and a fragile foundation that may lack many basic fundamentals. Trial and error can also be an extremely slow method for learning.


Books can be a solid source of learning that provide the fundamentals and give a strong solid and balanced foundation. They can be a reliable source of information and a good reference guide. Similar to trial and error, books are independent sources of learning that do not need you to be in contact with anyone. Some of the drawbacks of books however is that they might be boring, might not answer all your questions and might not be up to date.

Training Courses

Training courses can be the fastest way to learn. They give you a strong push to start on learning something, they give a balanced foundation and provide you with the opportunity to ask questions, practice and have your mistakes corrected. Training courses, however, cannot on their own push you up towards high levels but just give you an initial strong propulsion in the right direction.


Friends can be a powerful source of learning that provides motivation as well as updated information and answers to your questions. However, they might not always provide correct information or the correct answer.


Relying on one source of learning only results in imbalanced weak learning. Going from one learning source to the other is what builds a strong and advanced learning experience.

What other sources of learning can you think of other than trial and error, books, training courses and friends?

Story of my Learning Systems Analysis

Child doing Computer Programming

I started to do computer programming since the time I was a child at primary school. By the time I attended university I had been programming for years and wanted to advance to the next level. I had heard about systems analysis and reckoned that it would be the next step to take. At that time I had a totally wrong idea about what systems analysis really was. Maybe I thought it was the way by which one can know how to write complex programming code.

Systems Analysis Book

Anyway, my eagerness to learn systems analysis, despite my wrong idea about what it really was, made me buy a big fat book of around 800 pages about systems analysis. The book was titled Systems Analysis and Design. I set on a long journey of reading in that meaty book bit by bit. To my astonishment, I was introduced to a whole new world that I had earlier not known anything about. I was surprised to know that systems analysis was all about information systems and how to build them in a structured way. I enjoyed reading the book and learned a great deal from it.

Teaching Systems Analysis

Years later I was teaching Systems Analysis and Design at IBM Authorized Training Centers in Cairo yet it was object oriented analysis and design by then. Sure my earlier background with systems analysis and design helped me a lot with that.

Lessons Learnt

There are many lessons to be learnt from this story. One lesson is that one might set about going towards one direction based upon a certain perspective only to find that what he is going after is totally different from what he had thought it was yet still find it useful and interesting. New doors that the person had not been aware existed in the first place start to open up taking him to a whole new world he had known nothing about.

Another lesson is that reading and using books can be a very powerful means of learning. Still a further lesson learnt from this story is that skills you learn or knowledge you gain can turn out to be useful years later as you make use of them.

Follow your Passion

It is thus advisable to follow your passion and go to wherever it leads you for new unexpected worlds can open up for you and the skills you will gain, no matter what they are, may turn out to be handy one day.

What other lessons can you come up with from this story?

Switching Attitude 180 Degrees

Avid Explorer

I remember my aunt telling my mom about her son, that is my cousin, that one of his amazing characteristics is that he tries everything and never says no to trying something new. My aunt was saying this about my cousin in a very cheerful and energetic manner. My cousin at that time was perhaps around 14 years old. Upon hearing her words describing what she perceived as an innate characteristic of her son my mind instantly flashed back to a scene from the past when that very cousin of mine was perhaps only 3 or 4 years old.

Never Tries Twice

I remember him standing there in the balcony with his older brother with a deeply sad face due to finding himself unable to ride the skateboard successfully like his older brother. His older brother was trying repeatedly to convince him to give the skateboard another try and that through repeated trials he will eventually be able to use the skateboard successfully.

My younger cousin however was so stubborn and broke up crying while refusing completely to give the skateboard another try. That was the very cousin whom my aunt was praising years later and mentioning that he does not hesitate to try new things and she spoke as though it was some intrinsic characteristic he had!

Attitude Switching

As my mind flashed back to such a childhood scene while listening in great surprise to what my aunt was saying I had an aha moment. I realized that indeed people can and do change drastically in life and even switch completely from one extreme to its complete opposite.

This story really gives hope to those who think they can never change and that whatever characteristics they have are permanent.

Do you remember holding on to some belief in the past or having a certain attitude that you have now completely switched to its opposite?

Overcoming Calculator Dependence

Calculator Love

I used to love using the calculator during the time I was at preparatory school. I kept exploring the scientific calculator I had bought for school playing with all its interesting statistical and trigonometric functions. I used to rely on the calculator to do any form of simple math as well all the time. I had not been good at memorizing the times table.

Buying Milk

One day, I went to buy milk from the milk shop near home. As I got the milk and received the change I was totally clueless if such change the guy at the milk shop was giving me was the right change or not. I did not have a calculator with me to check it out and it was long before cell phones (that had calculators) were popular or even present at all. Even if I had had a calculator or a calculating cell phone it would have been totally embarrassing for me to get it out to make such a simple calculation in front of the guy at the milk shop giving me the change.

Breaking Dependence

The situation was a stressful one for me. As I went back home I relented relying on the calculator so much that I had not been practicing my ability to use my own brain for doing the math on the fly when I needed to. I felt it was too late for me to start now and that I should have started practicing my math skills long before. Nevertheless, my deep embarrassment back there at the milk shop made me determined to improve my personal math skills. I was determined to be able to calculate the change remaining when buying stuff from any shop.

Sustained Practice

I therefore set about practicing such skill by slowly attempting to calculate the change whenever I bought anything. I gave myself ample time every time I attempted such a calculation and never tried to rush it. Rushing it meant breaking my ability to improve such skill forever. Gradually, I became better at calculating simple math on the fly and never faced the embarrassment of not knowing what the right amount of change was any more.

Lessons Learnt

One lesson from this story is that facing a difficult situation can lead to a strong determination to improve one’s skill in order to be able to face similar situations in the future. Another lesson is that practice makes perfect and that it should be approached gradually.

What other lessons can you come up with from this story?

Learning from Fresh Learners

New Learners Vs. Experienced People

Sometimes it is better to learn something from someone who is himself a new learner of that thing rather than to learn it from someone who is highly experienced in it. The reasoning behind this is that the highly experienced person might have reached the level of carrying out the skill without consciously thinking about how he actually carries it out. A new learner of the skill however would still be performing it while being totally conscious of how he is doing it.

Driving Question

I remember during the time when I was first learning how to drive I was once sitting with my uncle and my cousin. My uncle had been driving for years and was a highly experienced driver. My cousin, on the other hand, was a novice driver who had just learnt driving recently. I had some question about a common maneuver in driving which I can’t recall right now. Instead of asking my experienced uncle about it I asked my cousin how it was done. My uncle was surprised that I was not directing my question about driving to him and was instead asking my cousin who was still a novice driver and had just learnt driving recently.

I believe my uncle even got a bit offended by that. He was unaware that the reason behind my skipping him and asking my less experienced cousin was due to the fact that my cousin is a fresh learner of driving and would thus be able to remember and be fully aware of how such a common maneuver is done step by step. A new learner of a skill might also be carrying it out in an easier way than an experienced person. Learning the easy way from a new learner could also be better than starting by attempting to carry out such skill by following a more complex or difficult method that would require a higher skill level.

Language Learning

Another example I remember was an Indonesian guy who came to Egypt and was trying to learn Arabic words. Instead of learning from adults he set about learning from children. Children were better able to explain to him the meaning of words in a simple and straightforward manner.

Learning from Peers

When learning a new skill it is totally OK to attempt to learn some of its basics from someone who has just been learning it so that he could be fully aware of how things are done in an easy way and could be able to explain them in a clear manner. This gives us a clue into why learning from peers can give great results.

Has there been anything you have attempted to learn from fresh learners of that thing? What was it? How did you go about learning it?

Observation as a Powerful Learning Tool

Teaching 3D Modeling to Street Children

Observation can be a very powerful method for learning. I remember that I was once teaching a young girl how to use SketchUp, a 3D modeling software program. This was part of a support program for street children. I had been teaching her how to use the program for several days by then. During that day, another new street girl was with us in the same room. She did not appear as deeply focused on what we were doing on the computer but I discovered later on that she was observing us keenly.

After a short while, this new street girl told me that she as well wanted to use that 3D modeling program. I told her OK but after I am finished with the first girl. I then asked the first girl to leave her seat from in front of the computer and invited the other new girl, who had been observing us, to take her place.

Power of Observation

I was just about to explain to the new girl the very basics of using the 3D modeling program when I was surprised by her reaction: she asked me not to tell her anything and said that she will be able to use the program on her own! I tried to convince her that she will need some help at the beginning so that she can learn how to use the program. She insisted that she is just fine and can use it on her own without any help from me. Failing to convince her, I left her alone to use the program and I was sure she would soon be asking for my help.

I was wrong, for I was in for another surprise. This new girl was able to use the software to create 3D models which were way better than the ones the first girl had been creating. She was able to do so without any help on my side. She had only been observing the first girl for a short while while the first girl had been receiving one on one instruction from me for several sessions!

I admit that this new girl was talented, for she was also good at drawing, yet the progress she made in learning how to use that 3D modeling program was outstanding.

Learning Styles

Observation on its own can be a very powerful source of learning. It should be noted here though that people have different learning styles. A girl that has been spending most of her time roaming the streets, rather than getting any formal education, would be developing the skill of learning by observation out of necessity. In contrast, a girl being taught at school using direct instruction might find it difficult to learn something new without direct help from a teacher.

Is there something you first learned solely through observation? What was it? Tell us the story.