People need to learn all the time. They learn about martial arts, dance, writing, engineering, communicating, and more. But most never take the time to learn how to learn. If you could learn better, you could absorb and retain more information. I’ll teach you how.
Now, why trust me? I’ve studied some of the world’s top learners intensely, like Josh Waitzkin an international chess champion, martial arts champion, and now Jiu Jitsu expert. I’ve absorbed a lot of strategies and perspectives, so I can distill it down into digestible info for you. And I’m an average skilled person like you who has used these principles to see a noticeable improvement and feedback from others. I’ve been told I absorb information very quickly, and I’m a learnaholic. So let’s begin!
Nowadays, it’s no secret that you can consume any video and audio content available at a faster than normal speed. If you don’t know about this feature, well, now you do. It’s available on YouTube, podcast players, audiobook players, and more.
Obviously, this feature gives you an opportunity to consume content faster than you may ever have. People can listen faster than they can read so you will absorb more info than ever before. Definitely use it. I suggest starting slow (1.25x speed and working up). With slow, gradual jumps over many months or years, you can work up to 2x speed or higher without noticing it.
But how do you truly comprehend and retain what you learn at a high speed?
Focus on Fundamentals Above All
Josh Waitzkin details in his book Art of Learning how most of his classmates progressed slower than him because they focused on the minutiae rather than the principles that used frequently. For example, arm bars make up the essence of Brazilian jiu jitsu. But many beginners get caught up in focusing on some unique, fancy move that rarely occurs over mastering the arm bar.
By devoting more attention and practice to these fundamental principles you’ll skyrocket your growth. Every skill has these principles. Languages have 200 words that get used more often than 10,000 others. Classic pianists often have to do trills and chords often. Great writing often focuses on conciseness and clarity.
The Truth about Speed Reading
I know people who brag about being able to speed read a 1,000 page book in one minute, based on my research, I don’t believe that rate is possible. They’re usually trying to sell you a course. Especially for certain genres, like mathematics textbooks or philosophy, you can’t. You need time to think and ponder. You’re destroying the point and use of the book by breezing through.
That said, here are my tips for getting to 2.5x speed, which is possible for fiction, biographies, and other fun books and content.
1. Write the most important things you learned down
I write the highlights in Evernote so I can review them later. For the most important points that I want to remember, I get out a pen and paper and write it down. A study published by Psychological Science found that students who write notes by hand rather than type them out score better on tests. The practice of writing things down burns these concepts into your memory more than typing them out.
2. Work up gradually
Start at 1.25x speed and when you’re comfortable, move up the speed slightly. Continue this process slowly. After a while, you’ll be listening to stuff at 2x speed or higher comfortably while your friends are wondering how you do it.
3. Go through your content more than once
After I finish a book, I often go through it again. That lets you pick up on anything you may have missed the first time. Most people are too focused on quantity. They care about the amount of books or courses they’ve taken over time. I caare more about results, which often leads putting my ego aside by re-reading a book to glean lessons I missed the first time rather than rushing onto the next book.
4. Leave ego at the door
Sometimes, I’ll jack down the speed to 1.25x speed or 1x speed because I want to make sure I understand a topic or there’s something important I really want to emphasize. Some people lose retention and comprehension to impress their friends or strangers about how “fast” they can learn. In reality, they’re not even learning well. In the long run, that’ll cost them more in terms of knowledge, skill, and income.
A study of 44 med students found that comprehension drops with an increase of playback speed to 1.5x from 1x. That said, this sample size is too small to prove anything.
Deciding How to Absorb the Content
Related to learning and comprehending, here are some tips on how to decide what advice to follow while you’re consuming it. These lessons are not just based on my findings but based on me interviewing successful Ivy league graduates, learning from the world’s most successful people, and through Napoleon Hill, who studied 500+ of the world’s wealthiest people for 25+ years in person.
1. Make Quick Decisions and Don’t Be So Quick to Change Them
Napoleon Hill found that most average people fail at life because they take a reaaaally long time to decide. And when they do, they constantly change their mind.
Successful people like Henry Ford stuck to the decision they made even after all his friends told him to quit. He stuck with the Model T, which people called the world’s ugliest car, for years until he finally made a lot of money from it. Everyone, including his advisors, told him to give up on the Model T but he did not.
Note: This doesn’t mean you don’t make strategic, smart decisions. Quick does not mean impulse decisions.
2. Don’t Be Influenced By The Wrong People’s Opinions
Other people’s opinions end up leading to greater confusion. You may end up delaying or changing your decisions even more. The average person is filled with opinions and advice that they love to give. Most of it is not grounded in fact, science, or any success of their own.
Only listen to the advice of the most successful people you want to be like or those you fully trust.
3. Find Your Own Unique Peak Performance and Flow Environment
People are different.
Some perform better in noisy environments, while others (like me) prefer complete silence to concentrate better. I find this very interesting how different people function, but it’s a component of many factors including how you think and your upbringing.
Some people perform the best in the mornings while others perform best late at night.
Observe your past and see where you work the best and create environments and time periods for you to do your best work.
What mistake do most people make in terms of learning about the world?
They immediately believe the 1st or 3rd article the read about a topic.
They think that they can meditate or think enough and figure out an answer.
They think that Venn Diagrams and charts will answer this question.
Well then, you might be asking “How can I trust this article then?”
You must still have an open mind and consider that the information may be true but then go out in the real world to test, which will be the whole point of this article.
Most people don’t the 2nd thing.
They believe viral articles immediately even though they’re clearly not true.
Most of the Top 10 Keys to Success articles are written by people who aren’t successful and yet they get millions of views and get shared.
If you even take 10 seconds to cross-reference that with what REAL successful people say in books, the information and advice is completely different.
That’s one of the big issues with these things.
Many of these people just make up this advice.
I have even seen social media influencers that I thought were pretty smart share made up stories about Steve Jobs that were clearly false, like how he “regretted his whole life on his deathbed.”
This post is about finding out how the world really works.
Applying What You Learn To Your Calling
Many people recommend using Venn Diagrams or draw out charts to find out how you can get paid to do your passion.
There have even been really famous Youtubers like Rhett and Link who have millions of subscribers who recommended this.
But it’s not always true.
This is a great illustration of how thinking alone is not enough.
Reading books is not enough.
Even if you’ve already found your passion, this is a great example.
Others people told me not to do this, while some did.
I did it for months. Arguably, years.
I would take out a notepad and do charts and Venn Diagrams.
Where do my passions of video games fit with something that makes money?
How do I intersect my love of travel with what I’m skilled at?
It doesn’t work.
I must have spent hundreds of hours on this.
To few results.
I was not alone, the entrepreneur Marie Forleo, had a similar issue.
Yet after tons of wasted time doing that, she eventually chose to just try things out and immediately realized it was right. In her case, it was her love of dance. It took her an instant of actually being a dance instructor to figure it out over hours of thinking it through.
You become clear when you act.
Get out there and try stuff. That will help you feel more fulfilled, test out what you’ve learned, and burn it deeper into your brain.
How To Understand An Industry Better Than Anyone Else
Talk To People With Experience and Skill
I have watched almost every interview I could find on Bill Gates.
In one of them, he said that you need to do two things to be successful:
- surround yourself with people smarter than you and learn from them
- read and learn through books
The first point is so important.
There are plenty of things you would NEVER know if you sat there trying to figure it out yourself.
Because it would never theoretically come up.
It only comes up when you’re out in the field and REALITY hits and it happens.
That’s why it’s so critical to learn from people in the field.
You could sit there for years, as I have done, over-analyzing what it’s like to be a graphic designer or artist or painter or director of operations or pro soccer player or music star.
You could read books on it.
But that theoretical knowledge will only get you so far.
Do you think reading 1,000 books alone will allow you to play tennis like a pro? No.
By talking to real people constantly through coffee meetings or through your work, you can learn incredible things like what it’s actually like to work there, hidden things they don’t like about it, or special things they love doing.
Maybe they get to do something special at work you never would have known about.
Maybe their job actually sucks behind the glamour.
Maybe you learn a hidden insider secret to an industry.
Trying and doing can bring clarity on what you actually want to do and help you retain what you’ve learned.
While books and articles are great, especially when they come from accomplished and credible people, going out there and talking to people with experience can unearth tons of things you couldn’t have ever known. Coaches and experts can point out flaws or concepts you would’ve missed otherwise. Choose who you listen to wisely so you avoid bad advice.
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