How to Develop Practical Knowledge

Behind the scenes and deep in the sub-conscious, your mind is a swirl of inputs as it views the physical world around you. Going about your business, your brain is aware of thousands of things; from the horizon in the far distance to the airplane high above your head, and yes, even that little bird in the bush.

It’s like data pouring into a supercomputer, and like a supercomputer, there is an algorithm. A set of parameters the brain uses to sift through all this data to determine what’s important to save, and what it can discard. You won’t even register most of this stuff, unless your brain recognises something amiss or something piques your interest or something you like, or put simply, something brain notices.

Some things you see, you’ll stop and pick up, you’ll touch and feel them, use them even. You’ll hear the noises they make and you’ll notice some things smell good and some bad. All these sensory inputs bombard your brain with huge volumes of information, some identifiable and some not, some interesting and some not. Most of this goes on outside of your conscious knowledge, otherwise, your mind would drown in minutiae.

Most folks drift along like this, oblivious to large parts of the world, (the world outside of their interests). The inputs you choose to notice make up your known world (or the world as you choose to know it) because you only actively notice the things you’re looking for and are interested in. Conversely, it means you also ignore things you are not (at this moment in time) interested in or looking for.

This explains the rapid progress a person makes once they set their mind to learning something new; interest redirects the flow of previously ignored details from the constant river of data into the consciousness. From this, it’s possible to learn, (over time) what things are made from, how they function, and how to use new tools or develop new skills.

Thankfully, the world is largely reliable and predictable; which means anomalies stick out, i.e. they become noticeable (if you’re looking for them…). And when you notice something new and unusual, you get to decide. The untrained brain might choose to ignore it and do nothing, but a trained brain might start to think about what happened and what needs doing to correct the anomaly. In short, practically minded people learn to notice the little things, It’s a bit like this word cloud…

a word cloud showing lots of practical words for handy people

Inside the practical mind…

I know it might look chaotic, but buried in there, is the cognitive process that leads a person to handiness; because a practical and handy person needs to Observe, Listen, Feel, and Smell everything! They also know (when faced with a problem) to gather extra Information to add to their Experience to find a Solution.

Right then, we need a name for this process, don’t we? So, let’s see… the first letter of the above words is OLFSIES. Oh dear, that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? I was hoping for a brilliantly witty acronym not a clumsy initialism. Let’s rearrange the word order a little, and that gives; FLOSSIE. Nope; I don’t think that’s going to fly either.


Okay, let’s be a little more creative with which letter we use….. Hmm, how about RELEARN? Hmm, yup, that works because over time, you’ll ‘relearn’ how to interact with the physical world. And then; just as you did when you were a child, you’ll use all that new information to forge new practical skills. Let’s make a pretty picture…

RELEARN. Explaining the cognitive process of being handy...

The cognitive process of being handy…

I know, I know, it’s a stretch, but work with me here okay, and at least it’s easier to remember than OLFSIES, so give it a try huh?

And don’t worry, it’s not too difficult. In short, to begin with, I want you to start building your practical awareness by taking notice of the physical stuff you use every day. Allow a little extra time to wonder about how they work, and see if you can identify the materials used to make them. It doesn’t matter if you have no idea right now, just be curious, pick them up, (not the photocopier obviously!) explore them, and take in some of the details.

Why? Because these details are potentially useful nuggets of practical information which are currently bouncing off your subconsciousness; you’re ignoring them because you hadn’t appreciated their value. However, if you recognise them and file them away, they’ll morph into real knowledge and understanding of how things work. But first, you need to start noticing them…

Psychologists call this ‘immersion’, where constant exposure to stimulus builds awareness, understanding and ability. Add some practice to this new knowledge and then you’re building experience. Experience, plus finding new information from other resources will eventually make this process intuitive.

In the next post, we’ll go through each one in more detail to get you started on the path to handiness.

Till the next time

Stay well


NOTE: This post is based around an excerpt from the book How to be Handy [hairy bottom not required] by Ian Anderson, available at an Amazon store near you

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