How to Learn Anything FASTER

since i was very young and learning how to learn is one of those like meta skills that no one ever really teaches us but that can have like an enormous impact on our life in basically everything that we do for example when i was in med school i learned how to learn and therefore i could study for everything that i was doing more efficiently and that freed up my own time to do things like set up a business and set up this youtube channel and these days even though i don’t have many more exams to prepare for learning is still a huge part of my life trying to get better at making these youtube videos trying to get better at running a business all this stuff involves learning and so in this video i’m going to share nine tips that i found really helpful that are evidence-based about how we can learn anything we want faster let’s go tip number one is to sharpen the axe now this is from a quote that’s attributed to abraham lincoln where he famously said that if you gave me six hours to chop down a tree i would spend the first four sharpening the axe and he’s really talking here about the power of preparation and this definitely applies to learning anything as well let’s say we are studying for an exam and we want to learn it a little bit better reading a great book called make it stick would be a great way of learning how to learn or checking out my skillshare class on evidence-based study techniques equally let’s say we’re trying to learn something like the guitar or chess or anything like that something that’s not related to studying we should still spend a decent amount of time figuring out the meta learning behind what we’re actually going to learn like how we are going to learn the thing for example.

when i was learning how to play the piano by ear i spent a decent amount of time on the learn piano subreddit where people were explaining how to learn how to play piano by ear and just spending a little bit of time sharpening the axe before i actually sat down to learn the thing really helped accelerate my learning process tip number two is to use crutches to optimize our focus now whenever we’re learning anything it’s really tempting to kind of learn it in the background like practicing the guitar while watching tv or something like that but obviously when we’re fully focused on the thing that we’re learning our brain learns the thing a lot better and so i’ve found a few different crutches or hacks that have been particularly helpful in helping me focus on things one is the five-minute rule which is a general tip for productivity as well which is that if we want to do something we’re finding ourselves like having difficulty in starting out doing the thing like actually getting started overcoming the activation energy the five-minute rule says that we just have to convince ourselves that we’re just gonna do the thing for five minutes and then after we’ve done it for five minutes we’re allowed to just not do it but more often than not i find that if i’ve been practicing the guitar or playing the piano for five minutes i do then want to actually continue to practice another thing that’s really helpful is to just chuck my phone away i literally take my phone i toss it onto the sofa or on the floor like a good tosser and then i’m ready to focus and not be distracted with the thing that i’m trying to learn all right tip number three is to find opportunities for immersion so um there’s a great book called ultra learning by a chap called scott young where he talks about his journey through learning languages in like three months at a time and becoming fluent in a language in three months and the key to that as all language learners say is immersion just being as immersed in the language as possible and the general principle here is that we learn best when we’re in the environment where we’re actually going to be using the skill so for example when i was learning how to do magic to become a close-up magician yes i was doing some practice in front of my webcam and in front of my mirror just to get the sleight of hand down but really my webcam or mirror is not it’s not the arena.

in which i’m going to be performing it and so i made it a point to try and perform magic for real people as much as possible i would take a deck of cards into school and i’d have cards in my room at all times and so friends would come over i’d kind of hey be like hey do you want to see magic trick and eventually once i got okay at performing for friends and family i started then reaching out and doing paid gigs even though i was nowhere near good enough in my head to get paid to do magic eventually i did end up getting paid to do to do magic and those like walk around gigs and balls and parties helped improve my abilities in a way that just doing it in front of the mirror really wouldn’t have done tip number four is to figure out what are our weak links and then use lots of drills and stuff to improve them so if we use medical as an example i had a few subjects that i was pretty weak in neurology was one of them if you’d asked me what is guillain-barre syndrome i’d have been like oh god i have absolutely no idea i didn’t even have a mental model for where it would fit into the subject of neurology and so when it came to studying efficiently for my exams i knew that okay i have to drill the things that i’m weakest on and i spent just a whole day basically creating a one-page syllabus of just neurology just focusing on that one subject and just because i spent like eight to 12 hours that day doing it i basically plugged it as an area of weakness and now it was no longer an area of weakness and the question i would keep on asking myself every day when i was sitting down to study was if the exam were tomorrow what topic would i be the least happy or the most pissed off about and then i would just study that topic and this is really good because whenever we’re learning or whenever we’re studying or anything like that it’s very tempting to just do the stuff that seems familiar to us if we’re studying for an exam you know it’s very tempting to open up the book to page one and .

just even though we already know what’s on page one if we’re learning the guitar it’s very tempting to just play through songs that we’ve already played before but really the learning only happens when we’re trying to fix our weaknesses and we’re trying to operate at a decent level of difficulty if something is too easy we’re not gonna learn anything at all and so if we want to maximize our learning and learn anything faster we want to really hone down on what are these areas of weakness what are these weak links and how do we use drills to improve those as quickly as we can tip number five is to test ourselves now this is a thing that in the world of studying is called active recall but it also applies to the world of learning anything in general i have a whole video about that that’s linked in the card over there and if you want to find out more you can definitely check out my skillshare class about how to study for exams also linked in the video description by the way skillshare are sponsoring this video i’ll tell you more about them a little bit later anyway the idea behind active recall or retrieval practice is that we don’t learn by trying to put stuff into our brains we actually learn counterintuitively by trying to take stuff out of our brains and so if you’ve had that experience where you’ve read something in a textbook or on a website and someone asks you about it a few days later and you’ve completely forgotten about it that’s just because you haven’t tested yourself on that knowledge and the word testing has all these negative connotations because we think of testing as like a school thing and we get graded and we get judged but if we move towards thinking of testing ourselves as being a strategy.

for learning everything becomes so much easier that’s why when learning to play the guitar there’s only so many tutorials you can watch before you actually start having to put it into practice when you’re studying for exams there’s no point reading the textbook and just summarizing what’s in the textbook the point is you have to test yourself so that your brain has a chance to work to retrieve the information and that is what really drives learning and in the field of learning there is this concept called the desirable difficulty concept which basically just means something shouldn’t be too hard where just like for example if i were to try playing tennis against roger federer it would just be too hard i wouldn’t really learn anything but equally if i were to try playing tennis against a ten-year-old who doesn’t know how to play it wouldn’t be fun i wouldn’t learn anything because the difficulty is at two different extremes i want to be playing tennis against someone who is like at my level or a little bit better than me because that is the real arena in which i’m gonna be learning and that’s why having a coach for example is really good because a coach can moderate their play style to be at my level and therefore i’m more likely to learn that is desirable difficulty and so whatever we want to learn efficiently we want to apply this concept to try and make it a little bit more difficult learning is not supposed to be easy it is supposed to be hard and if it’s hard then it means we’re doing something right tip number six is to get intense feedback as often and as quickly as possible so feedback obviously is how we learn we do something we see that we’re doing it wrong and then we improve the thing and again feedback is one of those words that can seem a little bit like dirty at times especially if we’re starting something out where we’re not sure of our own abilities if we get constructive or critical feedback that can really be a blow to our ego if you’re the sort of person that needs the ego massage then at the start of learning something what you need is praise and encouragement for example if i was just starting to learn how to sing and people would just give me critical feedback immediately i’d probably feel a little bit like okay i don’t really want to sing i’m one of those people who just can’t sing equally if i were to start drawing and people would be like oh haha that’s really crap you should do this instead i’d probably feel pretty bad about it and therefore it wouldn’t help me continue on the journey so i think at the start of a journey .

for most of us we need that like injection of positivity and enthusiasm rather than necessarily critical feedback but if we do decide to switch gears and to start taking learning something super seriously we want to kind of avoid the praise and recognition aspect of it which is kind of unhelpful and instead focus on the critical constructive feedback what can we do differently again this is why having a coach for stuff is actually really really helpful ever since getting a personal trainer my everything in the gym has improved my biceps have gotten bigger i’m a one step closer to becoming a gym shark athlete because now i have someone who is like there and then giving me feedback on the things that i should do differently whereas before maybe once in a blue moon i’d film a video of myself send it to a friend they’d reply a few days later it’s not really a tight feedback loop and really it’s the tight feedback loops that encourage learning whether it’s for exams or whether it’s for anything else in life tip number seven is the concept of over learning which is that when we’re learning something we actually want to try and understand or learn it in more depth than we necessarily need to and the idea here is to continuously be asking why a thing works the way that it does so for example when i’m working as a doctor and i see senior doctors who you know most of being a doctor admittedly is about following guidelines and following a prescribed set of rules and basically a flowchart for everything that we do but and and so there are some doctors who have that have that view of you know all i have to do is memorize the guidelines or look them up but then there are other doctors who have a more first principles understanding approach to medicine .

which is that okay i know what the guidelines are that i should prescribe this drug but i’m actually going to take a step to figure out why that’s the guideline why do they do that what’s the paper what’s the evidence around this and you know in in my experience it’s hard to say that you know camp 2 is objectively a better doctor than camp one but certainly the sort of doctor that i want to be is the doctor who understands stuff from first principles and understands the rationale for doing stuff rather than just memorizing the guidelines this applies to music theory in the guitar as well i had a guitar lesson this morning and we were talking about how it’s very easy to learn how to play anything by just following a tutorial but when you follow a tutorial the thing that you’re learning is you know my fingers are going in this particular position whereas what we want to try and get to and john mayer talks about this a lot on his instagram what we want to be getting to is just an understanding of music theory so that instead of i put my fingers in a b and c positions we think okay i’m playing a c7 chord and the reason i’m playing a c7 chord is because of this and therefore my fingers are going to go in a b and c position and so the end result is is the same we’re still playing that chord and we can still probably just play the song but when you have that deeper appreciation of the the reasons behind why things are the way that.

they are it just makes learning anything else in that particular sphere much easier and much more efficient tip number eight is all about spacing this is something in the world of studying we call spaced repetition basically there’s a concept called the forgetting curve that was discovered by a chap called ebbinghaus in like the 1800s and the forgetting curve is that whenever we learn anything whether it’s like a fact or a skill or whatever we’re just going to forget it and our memory for the thing is going to decay over time and so we have to keep on practicing or testing ourselves on the thing to actually continue to have our brain kind of use up space for that kind of thing because it’s like with our muscles when we don’t use our muscles our muscles are going to atrophy and they’re going to get smaller and we’re going to get less hench equally with our brain if we learn let’s say a language when we were five years old and then we don’t use it for the next 10 years we’re actually going to forget most of the language because our brain doesn’t need to have that information in it anymore but thankfully we can combat the forgetting curve by using this concept of spaced repetition this applies not just to exams but to any other skill as well it’s just that if we kind of repeat the thing at spaced intervals so let’s say i might learn a song on the guitar on day one and then i might repeat it again tomorrow and then i might test myself on it again next week and then next month and then six months from now and if i’ve spaced my repetition of this thing enough eventually playing that song is gonna go into my muscle memory it’s gonna go into my long-term memory and i won’t need to practice it very much .


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