Feeling Safe?

Its been awhile since I’ve posted. Recap: I passed Step 1 and I’m very happy. I’ve just begun my studying for Step 2 and came back to this blog wanting to share more tools and tricks up for improving the studying process.


David Sousa talks about several barriers we have when learning. Two major barriers mentioned can be summed up in the following two questions: 1) Do you understand the material? and 2) Is it meaningful?  Asking ourselves these two questions can revolutionize how we study and help us retain information better. Once you become more aware of these two points you’ll be amazed at how often you just continue reading without having fully understood what was just read. The same goes for whether the passage is meaningful.

Our brain is an incredible triage nurse constantly asking whats more pressing? whats more important? what needs to be done NOW? Therefore if you dont even get what you are reading, the brain throws it out. If its not meaningful in any way, if it doesn’t hold your attention, then your brain right clicks and ’empties trash contents’. Done.

My suggestion: At the end of every section or subsection you read stop and ask yourself: Did I understand that material? Really? Was it meaningful? How so?


Those two barriers of comprehension and meaning are dwarfed however by another more massive barrier. That of safety. Basically –

Do you feel safe?

This single insight has rocked my cognitive world. Essentially Sousa is saying that due to evolutionary reasons we homo sapiens place safety far far above anything else in regards to the brain’s time and energy investments. Naturally this makes sense. We would rather be alive first, an expert at tracing our hands on cave walls second.

Heres the rub though, the brain makes no distinction between externally perceived threats and internal ones. So your worrying about getting into a residency program could be as threatening as a pack of wolves might have been to our fore fore fore fathers (for some of us more so). In both instances the brain senses a threat (real or imaginary) and responds with a massive and often continuous flood of hormones, neurotransmitters, and electromagnetic changes that all but shut down our ability to learn, process, and retain any information not directly related to the threat.

For me, this meant I study better and infinitely more effectively when I’m safe and at peace, obviously externally but more importantly internally as well.

Why do you think children who go to schools with metal detectors or who live in generally more dangerous neighborhoods don’t do as well as their safer counterparts? Factoring out socioeconomic status and other similar reasons, its been shown that students who feel safer perform better. Period.

My question to you: DO YOU FEEL SAFE?


1 Comment

Filed under How to Learn, Uncategorized

One response to “Feeling Safe?

  1. Hartmut Uschmann

    Wow, very deep you are here. Looking forward to meeting you. Very nice blog. Really, I mean that. Got the URL form your application.

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