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Last Updated on November 20, 2020

Learning Effectively With the Feynman Technique (The Complete Guide)

Learning Effectively With the Feynman Technique (The Complete Guide)
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Effective learning is a subject that we cover extensively on Lifehack, and for that, we discuss a number of complicated theories that often take thousands of words to explain. However, the Feynman Technique is one that’s so simple, even a child can understand how to use it.

In this article, you will learn what exactly the Feynman Technique is and how you can use it to learn effectively.

What Is the Feynman Technique?

The Feynman Technique is used to learn theories. Essentially, it’s used to memorize written material. This technique was developed by  theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize in 1965 and is widely recognized as one of the most influential and iconic figures of his time.

[1]

Although he was a brilliant scientist (hence the Nobel prize), he’s also known for his learning process that makes the process extremely simple and effective.

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering about how to learn with the Feynman Technique.

Well, it’s simple:

Explain what you’re trying to learn in simple terms, and notice the gaps in your explanation.

Once those gaps in your knowledge are exposed, it’s easier for you to fill them up[2].

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    The power and effectiveness of this learning method resides in the ability to simply explain things. Although Feynman studied complex processes, he had the ability to explain them simply enough that even 12-year-olds could understand him.

    That’s why he was known as “The Great Explainer.”

    The Trap of Sounding Smart

    There’s no better feeling for educated people than to sound like they know their stuff. However, that leads to further complications at the time of learning.

    When we’re so accustomed to using technical vocabulary, that’s how we explain a theory to ourselves while we learn it. This technical vocabulary gives us the false impression of understanding what we’re talking about.

    Most of the time, our explanations have huge gaps that are covered with our carefully-chosen words. The worst part is that even we don’t realize the parts we’re missing. However, if we were to sit down and dissect every line of our explanation, we’d notice that we’re missing a few pieces of the puzzle.

    The basis of the Feynman Technique lies in simple explanation. We’re getting rid of all the useless jargon and trying to explain our concepts in a way that a 12-year-old child would be able to comprehend[3].

    When you try that, you notice that some of what you say probably doesn’t make sense, or that you’re jumping from one major point to another without having a clear idea of how the transition takes place.

    Explaining simply and effectively is an art that takes time to master.

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    While you’re at it, try to simplify your already-simplified explanation so you’re only exposing the concept underneath.

    How to Learn With the Feynman Technique

    There are 4 parts to learning with the Feynman Technique:

    1. Initial reading/studying
    2. Writing and explaining
    3. Noticing gaps and improper explanations
    4. Revisiting educational material

    Let’s take a deeper look at it now.

    1. Initial Reading/Studying

    To start, you need to tap into your attention span and read the source material extensively to create a knowledge base. I’m not talking about skimming through the words; you need to really get into it and read with the understanding that you’re trying to eventually memorize.

    A lot of people think that explaining what you’re trying to learn comes after you’re done reading, but that often leads to poor understanding of the concept, which forces you to reread the information.

    Research suggests that rereading is an ineffective method of learning.[4] A good tip for learning with the Feynman Technique is to explain each line as you read. This explanation allows you to clarify your concept along the way and afterward focus on retention alone.

    When you read the whole thing in one go and then try to clear concepts later, most of the information is lost in trying to explain and retain at the same time.

    2. Writing and Explaining

    Once you’ve read the text and explained it to yourself sentence-by-sentence, close the book (or tab) and take out a pen and paper.

    Now, write down everything you know about the topic.

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    No matter what it is or how much sense it makes, just vomit all your information out and try to explain it in basic terminology. Remember: it’s extremely important to be clear in your explanation and use simple language that a 6th grader could understand.

    By convention, if a 6th grader won’t understand your explanation, you should work on further simplifying it.

    You could also try teaching it to someone else or explaining it to a real 6th grader…if they’ll let you.

    The major benefit of doing that is that you’ll see real-time reactions of what makes sense to an average person and what doesn’t.

    3. Noticing Gaps and Improper Explanations

    Now that you’ve written your explanation, take a second look at it and notice if everything makes sense.

    Do the ideas flow right from one aspect to another? Are all aspects of the topic sounding crisp and thorough?

    4. Revisiting Educational Material

    If you’re like the rest of the human race, you probably messed up a few parts while you wrote. Now, you should shine a light on those problematic parts.

    Go back to your learning material and study again. This time, lay special emphasis on parts that you missed or messed up previously. This will allow you to use focused learning methods that can improve the retention of information.

    The Biggest Benefit of the Feynman Technique

    We’ve discussed the benefits of exposing your weak portions using the Feynman Technique. One thing we haven’t focused on is what happens after those weak portions are exposed.

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    The biggest benefit of the Feynman Technique is that after the exposure of your weak points, you know what needs your immediate attention and what parts you can ignore while you re-study.

    This selective focus is what helps you retain the tricky parts that you always seem to forget.

    Extended Applications in Decision-Making

    Although the Feynman Technique is used for learning theory, I find its principles to be quite universal, and I have personally been using these principles in decision making.

    I’ve stopped trying to over-complicate decisions or avoiding their explanations.

    Whenever I face a problem, I take out a pen and paper and write down the explanation of my decision. I try keeping it as simple and blunt as I can, such that a 12-year-old would understand the reason behind my choice.

    Often, I see that my explanations don’t make much sense or that they’re incomplete.

    Most of us aren’t willing to think too much about hard decisions since we’re afraid to face them. When they come, we think we understand them and their complexity and that we understand our actions and their consequences.

    However, if we focus on those decisions, dissect them, and explain to ourselves why we’re making them, we might end up making better ones.

    The Bottom Line

    The Feynman Technique is an excellent method of understanding your decisions and fine-tuning information that doesn’t quite add up.

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    If you want to start learning effectively, particularly complicated or difficult theories, the Feynman Technique is a very useful tool for you.

    More Tips on Effective Learning

    Featured photo credit: Fabiola Peñalba via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    Can’t Focus? The Mistake You’re Making and How to Focus Better A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success 17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It How to Think Critically: 5 Powerful Techniques

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

    How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done
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    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    How Serious Is Information Overload?

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

    This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

    We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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    The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

    Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

    But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

    Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

    Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

    When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

    How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

    1. Set Your Goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

    If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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    • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
    • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
    • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

    If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

    (You’ll forget about it anyway.) And that’s basically it.

    Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

    Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

    3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

    Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

    Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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    4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Summing It Up

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

    I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

    I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

    More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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