It’s not about memorizing information, it’s about processing it.
Just like in the world of computers, you should practice the habit of learning day-by-day so that you will become a better processor, not a bigger hard drive.
Ok! Let’s start.
1. Learn with a higher purpose
I am talking here more than just learning to pass an exam or learning to acquire a certain certificate.
Create a mission around the art of learning.
Always have the end goal in mind that is bigger than the struggle or monotony that you will go through the daily practice.
Start with the end in mind.
For example, a big mistake I always did in the past was doing tutorials on coding. I always wanted to create stuff, but I lacked the knowledge and confidence to actually tackle a significant project. So the first step I would do is start doing tutorials. I finished so many tutorials I lost count. Understood everything in the process, and then… that would be it. I already lost interest, it got boring, it was easy, it was safe. I wasn’t tempted to go for bigger projects because inside my head the previous experience thought me that the process was already tedious and boring.
Then I got hired by a company to develop games. I didn’t know jack squat about how games were made. But that became my ultimate goal. Everything that I learned got me closer to creating that story, that product. Some days were tedious, boring and repetitive and others were extremely exciting. But I was engaged in the process of learning because my mission was bigger than learning how to calculate the collision force between two objects.
I started practicing this with writing. If my ultimate goal was learning how to create the perfect structure and title I would have gotten bored a long time ago. But my ultimate goal is to deliver a great experience to my readers. That is what keeps me in the game, that is what makes each day a new possibility to improve myself and my learning.
Instead of saying you want to learn how to code Ruby on Rails set a goal to create an online e-commerce shop that can offer an innovative customer flow. Even if you don’t have a clue. This will ultimately measure your learning process and you will see how your brain will approach the act of learning from multiple angles instead of the linear one you get from tutorials.
“Learning is a process, it never stops. Attach it to something bigger than yourself and you will be in awe with what you can achieve.”
2. Leave gaps in between information
*Linear learning = How people think they should learn.
**How you should actually learn
Some of the greatest achievements in this world were accomplished by rearranging or trying different approaches to old methods. We think that in order to learn we need to learn from one end to another. That might work if you just want to become really good at copying people or at best, be at the same level as they are. In his book, “Evolve your Brain”, Joe Dispenza talks about the pathways that are created in between your neurons from habit. The more you practice a habit the stronger that pathway becomes. It becomes like autopilot but eventually if you stop enforcing that pathway you forget it. That’s how we get over bad habits.
Remember how you rocked 11th-grade chemistry and now you don’t even know whatis used for?
Just like how bodybuilders grow their muscles by leaving appropriate resting gaps between workouts you should leave gaps between the information you learn. Try skipping a chapter in a book or tutorial. When you might get blocked in your progress you will either find a new perspective from which you can solve the problem or understand better the missing concept and it’s purpose when you actually need it.
You have to find the sweet spot between knowing the basics in order to get started and what is the bigger task you want to tackle.
These habits will cement the pathway between your neurons much better than just repeating information in your head, because that pathway was created in a moment where you were stuck, in a moment when you were frustrated, in a moment when you tried to fill the gap from different angles.
In that moment you will own the information, not repeat it.
This way you have more anchors that hold on to that information. Some people call it experience.
If Repetition is the mother of Learning, then Experience is the grandmother.
3. Discipline yourself with time pressure
Do you remember that one time you studied for that exam the whole weekend? And by studying I mean: reading 2 hours, cleaning your room 1 hour, cooking food for 2 hours, surfing the web for “more information” for another 3–4 hours, watching those 3 cat videos, reading another chapter from your study and then putting a Facebook status of how much you spent studying today?
Or maybe you just went linearly through all your study without actually leaving any gaps to properly process the information.
I remember I used to do this a lot.
I would have this exam where my brain would go blank as if I didn’t even study. The funny part is that during the exam time I had that blocked gap combined with time pressure and I knew exactly what information I needed in order to complete my task. But it was lost in the back of my head somewhere. If one of my colleagues would whisper me a 5-word sentence, it would help me solve a third of the tasks in my paper. It was amazing how focused I could be in those 40 minutes of stress time. Sometimes I would pass, sometimes not. What would be even more interesting is that after the exam, in the next 10 minutes debating the tasks with my colleagues suddenly I realized I knew how to do everything perfectly.
Now I always study like I’m in an exam. I learned this from some of my friends who are designers or artists. They set a 1 one hour timer, where they sketch something and try to fit in as many details as possible until the timer is over. Then they would throw away the paper or delete the file. Tomorrow they would start all over again within the same 1-hour framework.
This made them really good.
They would not have time to research everything and they would also be under the clock to create an output. At the end, they would analyze their results, where they needed to work on more and tomorrow they would focus on covering that gap again.
Great business people like Elon Musk or Richard Branson focus on minutes instead of hours in order to fulfill all their daily tasks. It made them more efficient because 60 minutes creates a different urgency in your head than one hour. You have only 24 hours in a day, but you also have 96 quarters of an hour available. This method can help you be more mindful with how you organize yourself.
* Stop bookmarking yourself to failure
I’m giving this one away as a BONUS because it’s very important to grasp.
I used to bookmark everything. I would spend 3 hours a day researching stuff and then bookmarking it for future “in-depth” research. And that’s how in one year I ended up with 3400 bookmarks about topics that interested me. I would not be fully immersed in what I was saving because I was tricking my head into thinking I would come back to it later. I was using my Bookmarks folder as an external hard drive for my brain but I wasn’t really improving my cerebral processor because I wanted to find out the best practices first. My neurons would have a mental orgy from how much information I would find and save “for later”. I felt like I knew so much.
I will tell you what is the best way to learn anything.
Get good at something and then expand around that.
Don’t trap yourself with “I’ll bookmark this for when I need it.”
DO IT NOW.