Humans’ ability to learn complex, abstract ideas and concepts is what separates us from all the other species on the planet. But that doesn’t mean it’s a simple process. And anyone who’s taken calculus can attest to that.
If you’re looking for “tricks” that will allow you to take in information or gain abilities effortlessly like Neo in “The Matrix”, you might be disappointed to discover that you simply won’t find them here. What you will find are tried and true methods which require discipline, but almost guarantee success.
If you’re willing to put in the time and effort required to learn something new, following these ways that those who learn faster already live by will certainly make the process as easy as possible.
1. They Set a Purpose
Everyone’s done it: you watch a video of Jimi Hendrix shredding on the guitar and think, “I wish I could do that.” You take a forkful of your favorite meal from your favorite five-star restaurant and think, “I wonder if I could make this at home.” You finish reading a book that has kept your attention for an entire Sunday afternoon and wonder how in the world someone could create something so magical.
Well, the truth is, none of these creators did so by accident. They all started out not knowing the first things about how to create any of what is now seemingly easy for them to do. But they set a purpose for learning their skill: what did they want to learn, and what did they hope to get out of learning it?
When setting out to learn something new, don’t just say, “I wish I could do that.” Instead, say, “I wish I could do that so I could…”, knowing your skill will be put into practice once you become a master at it.
2. They Set Measurable, Reasonable, and Reachable Goals
Maybe you won’t be the next Hendrix, or the next Stephen King. The goal of learning isn’t to surpass anyone else but yourself. When setting out to learn a new task, you should set daily and long-term goals that are doable and actionable, and which build upon your current skill set.
If you’ve decided you want to learn a new language, it would be counterproductive to set your goal as, “By the end of this month, I will be conversational in Spanish.”
For one thing, it most likely will not happen, and you will assuredly feel let down. Secondly, there’s no way to measure what “conversational” Spanish is. Instead, set a goal such as, “Today I will study Spanish vocabulary related to the family, and by the end of the week I will be able to teach my son the Spanish translations for father, mother, sister, and brother.”
By setting tangible goals, you can measure the effectiveness of your studies, and modify them accordingly.
3. They Set a Schedule
Along with setting goals, you also must set a schedule for your learning. Learning a new skill doesn’t just require practice; it requires study, comprehension, and practical use as well. Learning to play the guitar, for example, involves reading about how to string and tune the instrument, listening to how chords should sound, understanding why certain chords sound good together, and how to place your fingers on the fret board.
In this case, it’s not enough for you to say, “I’ll practice guitar for an hour a day.” Instead, set a schedule to include all aspects of the instrument: Today I will watch a YouTube video on stringing and tuning the guitar, then I will do it myself; tomorrow I will read about the most common chords used, and practice playing each of them in succession.
By the end of the week, I will strum a G, D, and then a C chord to create a song of my own. By setting a schedule for your learning, you reinforce the goals you’ve set for yourself.
4. They Collect Multiple Resources
Remember in high school when you were assigned 15 pages to read in your history book for homework? If you were anything like your faithful Lifehacker, you probably read them, memorized the names and dates you saw, passed the quiz the next day, and promptly forgot everything you’d read the night before.
Obviously, that’s not an effective way to learn anything. To truly learn everything about a specific topic, you need to collect various books, articles, videos, and other media pertaining to the subject in question. And you actually have to use them.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand a concept during an initial reading of a text; make a note of it, push forward, and come back to it later. Chances are, after watching a video or listening to a podcast, your mind will be able to wrap itself around ideas that were completely new to you hours or days before.
5. They Review and Record Progress
Learning is, of course, a long-term process. But it’s not one long, continuous process with a singular goal (as mentioned before); there are steps along the way. Each of these steps need to be reviewed and evaluated upon completion to assure accuracy, and to tweak technique if needed. Like we said before, it’s not enough to simply read pages from a book, especially if you didn’t comprehend what you read.
Be honest with yourself at the end of a learning session. If something was difficult, make a note of it, and come back to it. Pressing forward to the next step without solidifying your foundation of understanding will certainly lead to disaster.
On the other hand, recording and reviewing your accomplishments over the past week, month, or year is a great confidence booster. Even if you’re not the best (yet), you’ll see how far you’ve come from knowing absolutely nothing.
6. They Follow a Model
No matter how good you get at whatever skill you’ve set out to learn, there will be ways to get better. And, unless you’re a World Record holder, there will always be someone better than you. This isn’t a bad thing; having someone to look up to is beneficial in many ways.
For one, it gives you something to strive for. Secondly, you can further your learning by analyzing an expert’s performance. Sure, Hendrix taught himself how to play guitar, but he was influenced by greats like BB King and Muddy Waters.
The man commonly thought to be the greatest guitarist of all time may never have even picked up a 6-string if it wasn’t for the greats that preceded him. When learning something new, don’t be pressured to reinvent the wheel – just look to improve upon it in your own way.
7. They Search Out Feedback
We live in such an amazing time, in which professionals in all fields are more than happy to give feedback to beginners in order to help them improve. Don’t be shy; many experts are honored that people come to them for advice. Of course, they may not have time to get to everyone though, so broaden your scope.
If you’re trying to break into the blogging business, search out other authors who have successful blogs within your chosen niche, and read about them. Once you have a good idea about how they got where they are, and you have a decent amount of articles posted, seek them out and see what they say.
Don’t be discouraged if they have some criticism; it’s exactly why you contacted them in the first place. Instead, use their advice to focus your practice on improving those specific areas. Constructive criticism from experts is perhaps the most valuable tool you can have when learning something new.
8. They Teach Others
As we just mentioned, there are a ton of experts out there who are more than happy to teach beginners how to get moving. You can be this person to anyone below you in skill level! While watching pros do their thing can be intimidating, teaching people who are just getting started has the opposite effect.
Although it might be a tad selfish, it definitely will make you feel better watching a beginner fumble through playing their first song; but this is mostly because you’ve been there, and you know they’ll soon improve. Doing so also gives you perspective; you might not be a professional, but you definitely have gotten better from when you just started.
Lastly, to be able to teach something requires you to have a deeper understanding of the skill, so you can explain to your student why what their learning is important, and where they will go from where they are.
9. They Reward Themselves
Successful people find various ways to reward themselves. Mind you, these rewards are not counterintuitive (such as rewarding yourself for hitting your fastest mile mark by taking a week off from training, or rewarding yourself for your weight loss by eating a bowl of ice cream), but actually build upon accomplishments. Notice the implication of the previous example: the person might be training to get into shape, but he’d much rather be sitting on the couch watching TV.
If he actually wanted to beat his fastest mile, he wouldn’t take a day off at all. Instead, he might reward himself by running through the park instead of on the treadmill, or taking his kids for a relaxing jog instead of going all out. The reward and motivation to get better is intrinsic: the outcome is the reward.
With this way of thinking, every small accomplishment made is another reward on the path to success.
10. They Learn on Their Own Terms
The best learners are able to translate abstract concepts and ideas into layman’s terms, not for others, but for themselves. I used to find my wife, an incredibly hard-working student of optometry, muttering to herself about a subconjunctival hemorrhage caused by a ruptured blood vessel in the eye, which sounded absolutely frightening until she clarified: “Oh, it’s just a bloodshot eye.” (Note: That’s an oversimplification that I had to Google to even come close to pulling off, but hopefully you get my point).
Using Tier III language (field-specific jargon), and translating it into every day vocabulary is imperative to truly understanding the concepts behind the skill you wish to learn. By using the language of the field in your every day life, the learned skill becomes not just something you know, but it becomes a part of who you are.
BY MATT DUCZEMINSKI