Learning faster is one of the keys to success. For starters, you’ve seen the massive piles of books that make up the reading lists of Bill Gates, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett. They’re lifelong learners. But learning comes in many forms beyond reading text. How do you consume information rapidly without forgetting and putting it into practice? What’s the secret to my light speed learning?
There is a secret. Anyone can learn how to consume and retain information faster. I’ve studied intensely world class learners, people who have achieved international success in multiple domains in their life, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Josh Waitzkin, and Tim Ferriss, and have discovered what works with experimentation.
You don’t need to take a long, boring course to learn how to learn better. I’ll teach you how in 15 minutes or less. I’ve tested tactics and included my own ideaas to find out what works. Here are my tips:
“I’ve probably wasted 10 years reading slowly.” -Warren Buffett
First off, thank you for appreciating the importance learning how to learn. I appreciate your attention and value that you are willing to listen.
The first key to learn faster is to optimize based on the medium you learn best with and what’s available to you throughout the day. I break it down into three time periods, roughly representing three senses:
- when you have access to a computer (visual)
- when you only have access to a phone (auditory)
- when you only have access to a book (text)
There are more details we’ll get to, but for now, consume the corresponding content based on the following tactic and the sense you prefer:
- videos played at a faster-than-normal speed
- audio books, podcasts, or other audio played at a faster-than-normal speed
- speed reading
The reasoning is simple. People naturally learn better in different ways. Some understand better with imagery, while others prefer someone talking to you.
How To Increase Learning Speed With A Computer (Visual)
The visual sense typically also consists of the auditory sense. For a full experience, you’re typically also listening as much as you are watching. Obviously, your go-to here should be videos, infographics, whiteboards, chalkboards, teachers, or anything that uses your vision.
Watch useful YouTube videos, like TED talks or courses, at 2 times speed. YouTube has a built in function that lets you do so. After the video is playing, click the gear icon on the bottom right of any video, then select your video speed under the “Speed” option, and select how fast you want it to go.
I encourage you to do that with all of my videos on my YouTube channel. That’s the secret to how I get through so many videos so quickly.
For beginners, start at 1.25 times speed and move up when you’re comfortable. With practice, you’ll find that 2 times speed is easily digestible. This is one of the only things you should be doing on a computer because you’ll consume information faster. Time’s a wastin’ if you don’t.
I love TED Talk videos but there are also plenty of science-based YouTube channels I love that teach useful tips on improving your fitness, wealth, relationships, and happiness. This includes Jeff Nippard, Teaching Men’s Fashion, Real Men Real Style, AthleanX, and PictureFit. I also sometimes just search “[name of someone I want to learn from] interview” this can range from billionaires.
I deliberately avoid content on the computer that can’t be played at a faster than normal rate. Therefore, it’s a video embed of a Wistia or Vimeo video or a TED talk video from TED.com itself, I look to see if I can translate it to a faster pace.
This usually involves seeing if I can download it as an MP3, convert it to an audio book format, and listen to it at 1.5 times speed on my phone. Or I’ll see if there is a YouTube version of the video, which there usually is. If not, I skip it and choose something that is easy to speed up. There is so much content out there nowadays that when you’re given the choice, choose the more efficient option.
When you have access to a computer with Internet, you can convert text-based articles and eBooks into an audio form and consume them at a faster speed with any free Text to Speech Reader online.
I like using TTSreader.com. I will copy and paste text into the tool and put the speed to “Very Fast” or “Too Fast.” Choose a speed you can handle. There are so many great articles out there that I wouldn’t have time to get through if I went at a normal pace.
This is a great way to consume information faster if you don’t want to spend cash to buy audio books. I’m more of a listener than a reader so it’s a great way for me to consume information faster.
It works surprisingly well. It’s understandable, though robotic. And with practice, you can work up to a faster speed and still retain information.
This was more of an auditory tip, but I kept it in this section because it requires a computer, which you don’t always have with you. That said, you can incorporate your visual sense into any listening activity to improve your memory retention. Visuals are the most powerful sense for memorization; I’ve tested going on runs and chaining specific principles or stories I learn with monuments I see — it works shockingly well.
When You Only Have Your Phone (Auditory)
Your phone is the ultimate resource for when you’re on the go. You can even listen to YouTube videos for free with it. Download the YouTube app, play a video, on the top right, hit the three dot icon, select Speed, and select a faster playback speed.
Keep it playing in your pocket and make sure you don’t bump the screen while you’re moving. If you pay for YouTube Red, it offers an audio-based version that lets you lock the phone and continue listening to videos.
The problem with videos is that they often require your visual attention too. Choose the right content and it won’t be an issue. A long-form interview or speech usually can be listened to without visuals and you can still get the main points.
This is when you can leverage on the gap time when you’re mind is bored, your ears aren’t being used, and you’re going through your daily routine. This includes while waiting in line at the grocery store, washing dishes, or sitting on the metro. Most people waste this time listening to music or listening to nothing at all.
There is a time for music or listening to nothing — like if you’re an artist by profession or you want to be present and mindful of the moment. But other than that, you can salvage this time time that save hundreds of hours every year.
YouTube is also one of the most addictive platforms that can get you off-track because they know how to psychologically hook you in with related videos that distract you and prevent you from improving your health, wealth, love, and happiness.
Therefore, I avoid YouTube if you can for better auditory platforms, like podcasts and audio books. These other platforms have less unproductive, entertainment-based content to get you off track. There are many moments of “gap time” that are wasted every day by ordinary people. This is time when you are doing something but you have a good amount of brain power to listen to something.
This gap or “dead” time is all around you if you look for it. Here are some other ideas:
- on the toilet.
- waiting in line to order.
- doing repetitive, simple tasks.
Your preferred sense for learning may change throughout the day based on your mood, preferences, and resources. Sometimes, you just prefer listening to relax and don’t want to strain your eyes and you don’t want to get addicted to unproductive videos so you opt for podcasts. Other times, you want to learn about a more complex subject and visual videos are the best way for you to do so.
Here are some ideas and instructions for mastering the auditory content available to you.
- Listen to one of thousands of free podcasts on your phoneor any subcategories: communication skills, emotional intelligence, negotiation, investing, passive income, mindset, etc.). Shout out to my podcast.
- Listen to audio books. The USA has a fairly good public library system that stays up to date with technology. They often have their own audio book services that you can download for free. The libraries may have a more limited selection but it’s surprisingly not bad. My library uses Overdrive and Hoopla. There’s also Audible, which charges a monthly fee for a set number of audio books you can download per month from its massive library.
- Download or convert videos on the web into audio book format for your phone. The idea behind this is that if you convert an MP3 to audio book format on your iPhone, you can play it in the Books app at a faster speed, whereas if you kept it as a song, you can’t. There are free tools online to extract audio from content online. From there, you just have to right click the file in iTunes, select Info, hit the tab that labels Format, and select “Audiobook.”
- Convert disc audio books to digital formats on your iPhone. If your library offers audio books discs (an invention of an older era) as the only option for a self-help book you really want to read (a common thing for me), have no fear. Most computers have built-in software to convert these CD’s into a digital format (like MP3) for your iPhone.
- Listen to free full-length courses on iTunes U. Did you know that there are thousands of free courses, some from the world’s top Ivy League universities, completely for free about any topic under the sun in the Itunes U app? This is a great way to learn valuable information for free. I used to get through a few courses a year but I have stopped and focus more on audio books because books often come from real successful people rather than professors with just theory. Nonetheless, it’s a great option. Note: it is technically a video player so some of these courses are hard to just listen to without watching because of the slides.
If you do this properly, you can consume 50+ books in a year. Most people in the world are listeners rather than readers. This is likely because books and reading large amounts of text were only a blip on the timeline of human history (when mass printing machines were invented).
For most of human ancestry, we learned from talking and listening to stories with few visuals around a campfire. Thanks to new technology, we are entering an era where knowledge consumption is exploding exponentially.
Know Your Strengths.
Things that stress out others may come easy or at least easier for you. Many people think they know their strengths, but many are wrong. They are great at things but completely hate doing them. If you hate the process, it’s not a big a strength as you think.
I suggest asking your trusted long-time friends and taking tests. My favorite test is StrengthsFinders. It comes with a book that has the same title. There’s also a follow-up book called StrengthsFinders 2.0
After the test, it gives you a list of your top strengths in order. I’ve taken it a few times and one of the big ones that always comes up for me is Learner. For you, it could be something different. There are a lot of strengths that they sort by.
When You Have Nothing But Time and a Book (Text)
Moments when you have access to nothing but a book are rare in the modern era, but still happen. When you’re traveling or out for longer than normal, your phone’s battery can die. I keep one or two new books around with me for these occasions and they’ve served me well.
You don’t have to wait until you’re forced to read to read. If you prefer text as your medium from learning, you can jump to reading even if you could listen or watch. Reading is probably my worse and least enjoyable learning medium, though not by much. Yet I will still read if it’s a good book or I’m sick of an audio book lecturing at me and want something more relaxing.
For this medium, solid speed reading principles are your best bet to increase your reading speed without losing comprehension or retention. Other than speed reading, practicing reading and writing good notes help too. The more you read, the faster you’ll get. The more you work on distilling what you learned into a minimal outline, the better you’ll be able to recall what’s most important.
Embrace Failure and Your Flaws. Remove Ego
I was tumbling through a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class. I was ready to get back into yet another brawl after being defeated so easily. It wasn’t my normal reaction. I naturally wanted to give up. So why did I do it?
Josh Waitzkin. In Josh’s book, he explained how he met a boy who was the star of his town at chess. But he had built up his ego and image of perfection that he refused to play with anyone better than him.
Of course, he’d make up excuses rather than honestly tell people that he was scared of losing. Josh saw how this kid plateaued and never amounted to much in the chess world because he refused to fail and learn. By failure, that’s how you get better. It embodied one of the key distinctions I make when I learn in CrossFit, chemistry class, or anything else.
While others are holding back because they’re scared of looking stupid, making a mistake, or just don’t understand the importance of practiced failure, I’m launching head-first into making the mistakes necessary to improve.
Most successful people fail much more often than unsuccessful people. In fact, some of them, like CEO of a multi-million dollar business Ramit Sethi, set up failure quotes on a weekly basis.
Celebrate and fail more so you can learn more. Your failures usually don’t have as bad a consequence as you think. If you get rejected from a sales pitch, that’s okay as long as you weren’t a bad person. You’re not dead and still healthy.
If you didn’t succeed in your first business, that’s okay. You’re still alive. Keep going. The billionaire Sara Blakely said her father would ask her for dinner every night how she failed differently and celebrate that.
Many people give up too soon. They are paralyzed through the whole process of their first business and give up after their first failure. Compare that the Com Mirza, who is worth a reported $500 million, or multimillionaire author T. Harv Eker of Secrets of the Millionaire Mind. Both of them failed at a dozen businesses before they finally succeeded.
Com was berated and verbally abused by people who told him to give up. They made fun of him and called him a failure after all his business failures. However, one man believed in him and said that he would one day succeed because he still didn’t give up after so many bankrupt businesses. He eventually succeeded.
Most things you can fail at and the downside isn’t truly that bad. When’s the last time someone died from starvation in the USA? However, some failures can be catastrophic and these you must avoid:
Important note: Some failures you should avoid. These include large scandals, illegal activity, or failures that can put you in jail for your life or kill you. Examples include the tons of illegal activity that the executives of Enron did or cutting corners and betting your whole business reputation on that, like with the company Long Term Capital Management.
Also, make sure to learn from others failures through books, interviews, videos, and podcasts, not just 100% your own.
There’s been some bad advice out there. Some people will tell you to learn 100% from just your own failures. I think you should take responsibility and learn from your own failures from time to time because it can’t be taught in other ways.
However, sometimes learning from other’s failures can save you YEARS of time, energy, heartache, and money.
If I read books by billionaires and learn about how they wasted years pursuing a real estate deal before it was the right era and lost a ton of money on it, I’ve just saved myself time from doing that (Ray Kroc of McDonald’s and Sam Walton of Walmart both went through something like this).
If I read some of the articles online that list the lessons learned from 500 bankrupt businesses, I can identify the common mistakes they make and avoid them! I’ve saved myself all that time having to learn it the hard way. It’s one of the reasons books and history exist! Use it!
Richard Branson recently said in an interview I watched that the most important thing you should do when starting a business is focusing on eliminating any downside or chance of bankruptcy in the business. That’s a huge lesson! He said that most businesses fail because of this reason. I knew this already from learning from a much more conservative billionaire, Warren Buffett. However, I was surprised to see the maverick Richard, who people assume to be a reckless maverick serial entrepreneur, say the same thing.
Have a growth mindset.
Believe that you can get better if you fail or make a mistake. In fact, it’s where you learn best so EMBRACE mistakes (as long as you start learning from them).
If you have a fixed mindset, you think you can’t change no matter what and you get discouraged upon failure.
Focus on the process rather than the result.
Take breaks from the skill completely to let your subconscious pick up new things and/or to pick up new ideas from other hobbies or events.
ENJOY what you’re doing. Remember that it is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Josh Waitzskin said that people learn differently. Avoid teachers that try to fit you into a cookie cutter mold. That type of teacher really stunted his learning in chess.
Bring your own personality and style into your skill. Josh says the best in the world are best at expressing themselves honestly.
“To me, ultimately, martial arts means honestly expressing yourself. Now, it is very difficult to do. It has always been very easy for me to put on a show and be cocky, and be flooded with a cocky feeling and feel pretty cool and all that. I can make all kinds of phoney things. Blinded by it. Or I can show some really fancy movement. But to experience oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly, now that is very hard to do.” – Bruce Lee
Everything Josh has learned he has unlearned. To move forward, you have to realize that what you assumed to be truth may not be true on a more advanced level.
For further information on speed learning, memorization, speed reading, or related resources, check these out:
- Jim Kwik, from A-list actors like Will Smith to top entrepreneurs like Tony Robbins, he’s helped them all
- Kwik Brain, Jim’s podcast
- My article on speed reading
Optimizing your devices so you can always be listening to something at 1.5x or higher speeds is the one of the foundations to learning how to learn faster.
There are more secrets to speed learning and I will reveal them on my blog and my VIP email newsletter.
What’s your favorite way to learn?
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