There are some people who struggle to remember a few pages of new information or take months to learn the very basics of a new skill, and then there are those who seem to magically conquer all intellectual challenges within a week. Apart from those who are incredibly intelligent or full-blown geniuses, there are a lot of quick learners with average or slightly above-average intellectual capacities.
So, how do they do it? Well, I can tell you that a lot of hard work goes into it, but they also know how not to waste time, have an incredibly efficient approach to learning, and are consistent. People see that you have picked up a lot of new information in just a week, but they don’t see the hours of work that you put in behind the scenes.
Let’s look as some of the things that quick learners never do, and the strategies that you should use instead.
1. Doing tons of research and never actually applying it in real life
This is something that I am guilty of myself, but when that hoarding instinct kicks in all you want to do is find every tiny bit of information on a topic before you really buckle down and start learning. What you often end up doing is collecting research that covers all the major categories and subcategories from several different angles, and even plenty of extensive information on some of the minutia that not a lot of people know about.
This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but you spend a lot of time accumulating material for your mini-library instead of actually learning anything. Sooner or later, merely glancing at the mountain of knowledge gives you the chills. You know that there is a lot of ground to cover, so you wait for the right opportunity to sit down and start learning.
Quick learners start with the basics and keep eating up any additional information as soon as they find it – they will download a couple of eBooks and forget about additional research until they are done with them. What this allows you to do is gradually expand your knowledge day by day, and allow those fragments of knowledge to quickly add up over the course of a few months.
2. Filling their heads with non-essential information
Another problem with stockpiling tons of research is that you risk wasting hours of your time on non-essential and even outright unnecessary information. You may want to cover a broad range of topics in the beginning to get acquainted with a particular area, but you’ll want to start focusing on a specific area of interest soon after covering the basics. Find the things that are relevant to your work, that you enjoy the most, and try to filter out the fluff.
3. Try to go at it alone without asking for help
I find the notion of having to do something on your own in the age of the internet quite ridiculous. You don’t have to go reinvent the wheel or start from the very basics and learn through trial and error every time you start a new project, pick up a new skill, or want to learn more about a particular topic. You can find tons of great resources online, and most of them are free.
In fact, I would strongly advise networking on social media, visiting specialized forums that cover the topics you are interested in, and even starting a blog, where you can share your experiences and thoughts with like-minded people. Blogging is a great example of building a community to help you learn a lot about a topic fairly quickly.
If you want to become a fast learner focus on building connections, so that you can bounce your ideas between different people and ask for help when you get stuck.
4. Rushing through the basics
We see this with students who are learning a new subject, people who start training at the gym, and even gamers that start playing a competitive game – even if you think the basic stuff is boring, you will have to keep going over certain points to really get a hang of them. Everyone wants to move on to the more interesting things or become an expert overnight, but rushing things will cause you to have big holes in your knowledge.
The quickest learners paradoxically spend a longer time on gaining a deeper understanding of the basics than most other people. Once they are confident that they have a strong foundation their learning pace picks up and they fly past everyone else soon enough.
5. Biting off more than they can chew
While a healthy drive to push yourself to achieve more is a good thing, allowing your ambition to cloud your ability for rational judgement is not. It may look perfectly reasonable to set a big goal for yourself at the beginning of the month, e.g. read 10.000 pages of material related to business and personal development but life has a tendency of throwing tons of fun little problems and other distractions your way.
You have to learn how to make smart decisions, and this takes time and careful deliberation. Set a bare minimum that you’ll be able to manage even if you have under slept, are tired after a long day at work, and have several chores to complete, and try to at least hit those numbers each day. If you can manage more that is fine but if not at least you’ll know that you’re learning at a manageable pace.
6. Being satisfied with where they are
It’s easy to let a bit of initial success go to your head, and to simply give up on improving any further once you have attained a basic level of competence. There is something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which states that as a person becomes more competent they start to see just how vast a subject really is and understand that there is a whole lot they yet have to learn.
You should never be satisfied with where you are and should strive to constantly improve – learning new things then becomes a normal part of your day, and you keep eating up information.
7. Waiting for the stars to align and a muse to bless them with focus
Blogger, journalists, and writers often talk about the infamous writers block, but although mental burnout can occur, it takes hours of daily writing over an extended period to get to that point. You can force motivation and creativity just like anything else, as long as you have a good schedule and are determined to improve.
If you do your best work in the morning get up early and strap yourself to a chair for a few hours, but if you can focus better later in the day, then make sure your schedule is open for 3 to 4 hours in the evening and either go out partying a bit later, or organize late dinners with your friend, just make sure that you learn a little bit every single day. Developing good habits like this is instrumental in becoming a quick learner.
8. Focusing on short-term retention
Reading a lot of information in several intense hours of learning can help with short term retention, and you might be able to reproducer a lot of the information the same day, the next day, or even next week if you add a day of revision into the mix, but all that knowledge will evaporate within a couple of months. This might be a decent strategy if your goal is to pass a tests and be done with a particular subject, but it’s an abysmal strategy for retaining important information in the long run.
The best solution is to go a bit slower and digest the information over several days instead of a single day. Revision is key, as the more you try to remember the information and use it, the more ingrained in your long term memory it becomes.
As you can see, a lot of the strategies used by quick learners seem counter-intuitive, but it is their attention to detail, ability to separate essential from non-essential information, realistic goals and frequent revisions that make someone a “quick learner”.