A summary in five bullets
Trying to understand how you learn things is harder than I thought.
It’s hard to distill the fundamentals of a process that’s ingrained in who you are, so I had to do some due diligence to observe and fully realize how I’ve been doing it.
Here is a quick summary of what I found out:
- I maximize the things I choose not to learn
- I avoid scheduling learning sessions
- I seek to get myself into uncomfortable situations
- I always try to teach what I learn
- I constantly circle back looking for reinforcement
Let’s go over each one of these points and unpack them as much as possible.
Maximizing the things I choose not to learn
The time I spend on things that don’t bring value, I can’t spend on things that positively impact my life.
Learning—no matter what—leads to positive outcomes, but I found out that it’s even better to prioritize what’s immediately relevant and put aside everything else.
By default, I treat everything around me as noise until it’s impossible to ignore.
What’s truly important always find its way back to me. People talk, the same problems keep popping up, news, books, videos, papers. I let the world be the reminder of what I need, and it never disappoints.
Ignoring the noise makes space for what truly matters.
Avoiding scheduling learning sessions
I make sure to learn something new as frequently as possible.
Most people I know are diligent about setting time aside every week to learn new things. A reminder on their calendars or a habit they get into and follow religiously.
I prefer not to constrain when and how learning happens. If I did, learning would be a chore; learning would be forced, foreign, and ineffective.
Learning something new should be a byproduct of doing the work. We learn to improve, so what better way than letting our doing lead the way?
Seeking uncomfortable situations
Situations that make me uncomfortable and stretch me beyond my boundaries are those that spark learning. Whenever I make my brain sore, knowledge follows.
Think about this: “I’ll learn a new thing, then find a way to apply that knowledge” is completely backward. Instead, I start making new things, and learning becomes the means to that end.
Here are 3 situations that constantly help me out:
- I volunteer to build things I don’t know how to do.
- I play devil’s advocate with the work of a smarter person.
- I start writing an article on a topic I don’t know much about.
In other words: I prioritize creating and solving complex problems. Everything else follows.
Trying to teach what I learn
I tend to cherry-pick the information I need to get something up and running, then move on to the next challenge.
Most of the time, this is enough, but occasionally, I need a little bit deeper understanding.
Teaching people what I learn is my way to solve this problem, and I use my writing as the main vehicle to accomplish this.
I take an obscene amount of notes and let each one becomes a potential rabbit hole I’ll explore. I go as deep as I need to organize my ideas and then talk about them relentlessly.
Bringing other people along your journey and lifting them as you make progress is the single best opportunity you have to acquire new knowledge.
Circling back looking for reinforcement
I have to constantly go back and revisit everything I want to keep fresh. Two things usually happen as time goes on:
- I start to forget things, and soon enough, the knowledge I have becomes useless.
- My understanding of it evolves, so my perspective varies significantly.
In both cases, a second dive into the details solidifies my ideas and ensures the knowledge sticks for longer. I call this “reinforcement time.”
Whenever you hear me beating the same drum for quite a while, I’m probably trying to reinforce my understanding of it. I talk and write the heck out of things until the blurriness stops.
Keep in mind that reading and talking about what you know is great, but an even better approach is trying and doing something with it. This is the real reinforcement technique.
This process works.
Intentionality is the core component of my strategy and something that actively keeps me moving forward.
There’s so much time and attention I can spare. Finding the right opportunities and surrounding them with the right structure has been key in my success.
Take a look at your process and invest time making it better. It will pay off in spades ♠️.