I love learning, plain and simple. I like to often refer to myself as a knowledge junkie always looking to get my hands on a good book, have a new experience, converse with someone about a topic I don’t particularly know much about, and then I like to share what I’ve learned with others.
Now maybe the worst kept secret on this site is that I’m not a big fan of formal education. I’ve written a few articles about my beef with it, and while I respect it and feel it is more beneficial than not I’m confident in saying that the opportunities available for self-education are so immense right now that for those whom can not afford the high price of a traditional education might benefit greatly from some of these resources.
Now that brings me here, saying it and doing it are two very different things. The great thing about formal education is that it places you in an environment that pressures you to learn and stay with it, the high financial investment is a great reminder and motivating factor as to why you should attend classes. When self educating the costs are often much cheaper and the owness is on YOU to find the motivation and discipline to consistently do the work that it takes to acquire the type of knowledge that you are looking for.
One way to do this is by simplifying the learning process. Learning can be tedious, boring, and frustrating as all hell. It’s often not very fun until you’re really good at what ever skill or subject you’re trying understand. In a society that is obsessed with instant gratification and immediate results the time it can take to fully comprehend a topic is one big reason for not learning it.
One of the coolest opportunities that I’ve been afforded since starting Limitless365 about a year ago is that I’ve been able to go back and forth with some of my favorite authors via email, phone call, text, or in person. I’m also extremely grateful for the influence their books have had on my own personal development. One book in particular that has helped me tremendously with my understanding the underpinnings of business, career, and work is The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman. Josh’s new book The First 20 Hours: Mastering the toughest part of learning anything inspired me to write this post.
I’m easily impressed and jealous of anyone that can master a skill in a relatively short period of time. I don’t know about you but I always have this debate with friends over whether it is better to be an “Expert” at one thing or a renaissance man if you will and the “Jack of all trades.” I tend to lean towards the Jack of all trades, to develop capacity over a wide range of subjects and skills than the master of only one. Malcolm Gladwells book (and a great one at that) Outliers talks about how it takes 10,000 hours of practice in any given field to develop success.
I don’t know about you but I don’t have that kind of time. If you were able to put in 8 hours of solid work in a day it would take you 1,250 days… I’m patient but not that patient. Even if you worked your ass of for 24 hours a day you’d still have to be busting your tail for 416 days.
So lets get to it, how can you deconstruct learning so that you are able to build capacity in any subject or skill as fast as possible and how can I use these techniques to learn Japanese?
“…At the end of those four years, our newly minted graduate (computer science) has spent thousands of hours learning algorithms and analyzing compilers well enough to pass dozens of examinations, but she is no closer to founding a software company than she was when she entered the university…” – Josh Kaufman, The First 20 Hours
I did my time in school, 4 years undergraduate and then a few more to earn my masters and the greatest thing I took away from that time was how to memorize things with regard to my degree (temporarily at least) but I never learned how to really grasp the subjects I was supposed to be learning about or how to create something that could both create an income for myself and benefit others.
Sure I take some of the blame for that but I also believe the process of learning is flawed. In school we’re taught how to memorize and with the pressure of acquiring good grades so you can get a good job, you’re only motivated to understand just enough and for just long enough in order to pass an exam. Thus, nothing is actually learned long-term or it is severely limited.
Before actually learning something you have to get past a few personal barriers. These are things I have severely struggled with in the past but am now starting to understand the necessity and importance of pushing past them.
1. You’re either smart or you’re not: Bologna! Bologna I say! It is far from being true that you’re either naturally smart or not. Often times it is simply a matter of applying better techniques to learning. You have to actually believe that you’re capable of acquiring new skills. If you think you suck at chemistry why bother efforting to improve if you are destined to suck, right?
Anyone of us can good at something, learn anything, or acquire any skill that we want if you’re willing to practice. Neuroscience shows that our brains are actually plastic, which means that it actually changes and adapts to the environment, the actions and decisions you make, and the outcome of those actions and decisions.
2. Your IQ tells the whole story: I’m not going to drop a bologna on you again, this time I’m going to hit you with a hogwash! Hogwash I say! You’re IQ changes with age and IQ tests, much like most tests can be studied for (1). IQ tests only measure your developed skills and don’t take into account your actual intelligence and don’t measure your intellectual limits or limitations. They also do not measure emotional intelligence, creativity, or practical intelligence (street smarts) which we have discussed my play a much more important role in measuring success.
Once you get past those tow hurdles you can now dive on into a process I like to call “Superman Learning.” I know, I know, very 8-year-old of me but I love me some Superman…. man.
How to learn faster than a speeding bullet
Rapid learning is not much different then trying to eat right and exercise, learn a foreign language, or study organic chemistry. We often think we know what do to do, soon find out that we don’t really, then begin to start understanding what we need to do but get so overwhelmed with all of the information out there that we never get started…
Am I dead on with this one or what?
In order to not only learn something but to learn it fast you have to take one important step first, I like to call this pre gaming without the alcohol 🙂
Admit why you’ll fail or quit: It’s very important that the first few times you practice, try to learn, or develop a habit that you address the most likely of reasons you could fail or would cause you to quit. If you’re trying to eat a healthier diet it might be a good idea to perform a kitchen makeover, or to take notice if most of your slip ups come at home, the office, or with certain people.
There’s a lot of folks that want to understand how to eat better and the task seems simple enough right? Just starting eating the right foods and stop eating the bad ones… eazy-peezy! That is until you realize that eating right extends past just choosing the right foods, it’s very much a lifestyle overhaul that is happening. You may now have to adopt the following habits or skills:
- New way of grocery shopping
- How to cook
- Cleaning up the kitchen now that you are cooking more
- Getting the family on board
- Dining out
- Having meals prepared ahead of time
And that’s not all of them, eating right is more than just eating right, there are a subset of habits and skills you will have to develop in order to have success and not addressing these issues is why many of us fail. Most people will quit within the first few weeks, if you can get past this your odds of success skyrocket.
Breaking down what you want to learn
One of the things that led me to read Josh’s book was that he was able to teach himself Yoga, computer programming, touch typing, the game GO, how to play the Ukele, and how to windsurf in roughly 20 hours, averaging about 60-90 minutes of practice per day. In order to achieve these lofty goals Josh created a checklist for himself before diving into any skill he wanted to learn.
- Choose a loveable project: If you don’t actually care about what you’re doing your effort will be lacking
- Focus all you energy on one thing at a time: I know for me I have a cluster f*ck for a brain. I want to learn everything and do everything right now! My brain is like puddy and it is tough to control sometimes. If you want to develop a new habit or skill focus on one thing at a time. Try learning a new language, how to surf, and eat right all at the same time… a royal and difficult pain in the ass.
- Define your target performance level: Get specific about what it is you are trying to accomplish and keep reminding yourself. For example, most of us that want to learn a new language just want to be able to converse with a native speaker or to be able to visit the country and not sound like an idiot. This doesn’t require you to become fluent in the language, it just requires that you know just enough. One thing you can do to help with this is to…
- Break it down into smaller pieces or 80/20 the hell out of it: We’ve discusses Prato’s 80/20 principle on here before but as a refresher it can often be found that 20% of our tools, resources, actions, etc… cause 80% of our desired results. Benny over at Fluent In 3 Months breaks down the 80/20 rule for language learning pretty awesomely over at his site. For a language acquisition you may want to start learning the most common words used in that language or a few key phrases that help to expose how the language works.
- Obtain critical tools/resources: What is going to help you succeed? The right groceries, paddles for your paddle board, pencils for your art project? Do you need to be in a specific type of environment?
- Eliminate barriers to practice: We talked about this a bit in the “Pre Game” part but it bares a little repeating. What things, people, or other distractions are going to get in your way or could get in your way to achieving your target performance level.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: Yeah, you actually have to do the work. Set time aside to practice your craft and turn it into an appointment with yourself. If there is something I am trying to accomplish or learn I try to do it first thing in the morning. As the day wears on my willpower goes and I am less likely to put in the time.
- Make sure to get some love: In order to keep striving you have to know how you’re doing. If you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels you’re less likely to stick with it. One of the best examples I can think of is someone who is trying to lose body fat. Take measurements, hop on the scale, get a body fat test done, have blood work done, take notes on how you’re feeling… feedback!
- Don’t wear yourself out: It takes hard work but that doesn’t mean you need to be on a treadmill for 4 hours straight, reading until sundown, or practicing tango for half the day. Your body and brain work best in about 60-90 bursts, set a timer if you have to for 50-80 minutes and take at least 10 minute breaks to move around or do something enjoyable before diving back in. 60-90 minutes of practice is ideal but can be a bit overwhelming at first, if you can’t do it just try for 5, 10, 15 minutes, or whatever you can handle until you are able to build up. It’s more important to be consistent with your efforts at first.
- More, more, more, and fast, fast, fast: Perfectionism=Procrastination(ism). Concentrating on trying to be perfect when you first dive into something can be extremely frustrating and soul breaking. You will screw up, and often at that when you are first trying something; diet, exercise, language learning, dancing, kite boarding, etc… Mess it up, pick it up, and get back on and roll. Try, try, and try again, frequently and immediately.
Derek Sivers referenced the importance of quantity and speed in order to see quality. Josh uses the same example in his book.
“…A ceramics teacher announced he was dividing his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right graded solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A.
Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged:the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity!
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay…” read more here
Josh’s book goes into a bit more detail about skill acquisition but the nuts and bolts are provided above. I know for myself personally I love learning new things and taking or exciting challenges but I also like to do it relatively fast. Learning is so much more than regurgitating information, taking tests, and receiving a grade as feedback to how well or not so well you’re doing.
I promised you a challenge so here goes: What are you doing these next 30 days? How about spending 60-90 minutes every day pursuing a goal, learning a new skill, or building a habit. Don’t have that much time? Cool, do what you can for 5, 10, 15 minutes a day – just be consistent in your endeavors. Personally, I will be spending the next 30 days trying to learn as much as I can about playing the guitar, it’s always been a goal of mine to play one single song at a coffee shop in front of a crowd (video will be included) Lofty? Perhaps but I like a good challenge. I’ll be using this post as well as Josh’s book The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! and some other resources from Tim Ferris as building blocks to help me out.
More to come on the challenge but I’d love to hear from you. What is something you have always wanted to learn or a skill you have wanted to master?
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