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10 Things To Learn From History’s Best Learners

10 Things To Learn From History’s Best Learners

Throughout history, and even in the modern era, there are individuals who have “cracked the learning code” and made breakthroughs by understanding (and acting on) things that others could not.

Here are 10 things we can learn from them:

1. They are permanently curious: Neil deGrasse Tyson

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    “No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”
    ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

    In science, curiosity is what leads to breakthroughs. And in everyday life, curiosity is a key ingredient to inspire learning, when it might be easier to just get on with your day. deGrasse Tyson’s curiosity was activated early in life, initiating a life-long study of astronomy after visiting the Hayden Planetarium at age 9, and now spreads that curiosity to millions of followers on one of the most interesting Twitter feeds around.

    What can you get curious about?

    2. They invest in themselves: Ben Franklin

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      “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
      ~ Ben Franklin

      Though his actual schooling ended at age 10, Franklin went on to be known as one of the most prolific polymaths of his era, constantly feeding his appetite for new knowledge through voracious reading in a wide array of different areas. This led to innovation and breakthroughs in printing, politics, science, engineering, activism, and of course the whole founding of the United States thing.

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      While you might not have time to become an expert in artificial intelligence, regenerative medicine, and renewable energy, just remember to keep investing in yourself by adding something to your knowledge bank each day.

      3. They transcend traditional education: Albert Einstein

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        “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
        ~ Albert Einstein

        Einstein was famous for being a poor student. Even after his schooling, he took a menial job at the Swiss Patent Office because no one would consider him for a teaching position at a university. What he showed, more than anything else, is that brilliant discoveries transcend the bounds of what we typically consider “learning” and “education.”

        The key is this: if you want to learn about something, say physics, you don’t have to pick up a physics textbook. Instead go outside and observe nature, watch a documentary, read about the life of famous physicists – inspiration and true knowledge don’t come from the classroom.

        4. They teach themselves: Elon Musk

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          Everyone knows the famed billionaire founder of Zip2, Paypal, Tesla, and Space X. But how did he get there?

          One of the keys to Elon’s success has been the consistent ability to teach himself whatever he needed to know to build useful stuff. In fact, he started way back when he was 12 years old, and taught himself computer programming, building a computer game called Blastar, which sold for $500. That trend has continued, starting both Tesla and Space X with virtually no previous experience in automotive or aerospace engineering.

          So think about something you’d love to achieve. What skills and knowledge would you need to get there? Could you teach yourself?

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          5. They consider alternative viewpoints: Aristotle

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            “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
            ~ Aristotle

            How many people do you know who are staunch conservatives or bleeding-heart liberals? According to Aristotle, the father of modern science and political thought strongly-held beliefs like these are the enemy of productive discourse and progress. His philosophy: the answer to most problems lies in the synthesis of two opposing thoughts.

            So the next time you’re sure you know something, whether it be about diet, climate change, or politics, research the opposing viewpoint and consider it objectively. Then, and only then, make your decision on what’s correct.

            6. They get obsessed: Bill Gates

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              When Gates went to high school, he was already deep into programming computers, going so far as to study the source code for programs like Fortran, Lisp, and machine language. Soon after, he was hired by Information Sciences, Inc. to write a payroll program, and was commissioned by his school to write a computer program to schedule students in classes.

              “It was hard to tear myself away from a machine at which I could so unambiguously demonstrate success.”
              ~ Bill Gates

              Bottom line: Gates got obsessed, and kept taking that obsession deeper and deeper. And soon he found himself creating an industry. Get obsessed with something.

              7. They learn for the sake of learning: Stephen Hawking

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                “No one undertakes research in physics with the intention of winning a prize. It is the joy of discovering something no one knew before.”
                ~ Stephen Hawking

                Much of our learning life is consumed with building a skill set or earning this or that certification. But whatever happened to learning for the sake of learning. Famed physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking contends that truly meaningful discovery in science comes not out of a specific objective, but out of genuine enjoyment for discovering something novel.

                Think about this the next time you pursue learning something: are you doing it just for the credential, or do you truly enjoy the learning process?

                8. They attach enjoyment and wonder to new knowledge: Carl Sagan

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                  “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
                  ~ Carl Sagan

                  Sagan was one of the first to truly introduce the public to the wonders of science with his Cosmos series back in 1980. And in addition to his hundreds of publications, he was an unrelenting advocate of advancement in the exploration of space. It’s inspiring to just listen to him speak about the wonders of the universe. His drive to discover came from a sense of wonder about the beauty and magnificence of nature.

                  If you find enjoyment in something, you can uncover a boundless source of energy for learning more and more about it. What inspires you to learn?

                  9. They commit to learning for life: Mahatma Gandhi

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                    “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
                    ~ Mahatma Gandhi

                    Gandhi was the utmost example of living in consistency with his beliefs. Part of that was an unyielding commitment to considering all alternatives, and keeping an open mind – continuously testing different approaches to religion, politics, activism, and even diet.

                    What we can all learn from him, is that keeping an open mind and participating in continuous, life-long learning is a practice worth adhering to.

                    10. They work tirelessly at building new knowledge: Thomas Edison

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                      “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
                      ~ Thomas Edison

                      Edison is famous for his devotion to hard work. Everyone knows about his 10,000 failed lightbulb experiments, but it wasn’t simply an obsession with one invention – he applied the same principles to everything he did. And in the end built a laundry list of inventions, and an entire power distribution industry.

                      Edison reminds us that it’s not enough to be clever and it’s not enough to be correct. You have to put in the hard work, day after day. But in the end, the results always come.

                      Featured photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via flickr.com

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                      Last Updated on March 21, 2019

                      11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                      11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                      Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

                      You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

                      But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

                      To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

                      It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

                      “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

                      The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

                      In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

                      Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

                      1. Start Small

                      The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

                      Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

                      Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

                      Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

                      Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

                      Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

                      It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

                      Do less today to do more in a year.

                      2. Stay Small

                      There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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                      But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

                      If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

                      When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

                      I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

                      Why?

                      Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

                      The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

                      Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

                      3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

                      No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

                      There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

                      What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

                      Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

                      This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

                      This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

                      4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

                      When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

                      There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

                      Peter Drucker said,

                      “What you track is what you do.”

                      So track it to do it — it really helps.

                      But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

                      5. Measure Once, Do Twice

                      Peter Drucker also said,

                      “What you measure is what you improve.”

                      So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

                      For reading, it’s 20 pages.
                      For writing, it’s 500 words.
                      For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
                      For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

                      Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

                      6. All Days Make a Difference

                      Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

                      Will two? They won’t.

                      Will three? They won’t.

                      Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

                      What happened? Which one made you fit?

                      The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

                      No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

                      7. They Are Never Fully Automated

                      Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

                      But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

                      What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

                      It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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                      The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

                      It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

                      It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

                      8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

                      Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

                      Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

                      When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

                      The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

                      Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

                      9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

                      The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

                      Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

                      You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

                      But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

                      So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

                      If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

                      This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

                      The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

                      Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

                      10. Punish Yourself

                      Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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                      I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

                      It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

                      You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

                      No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

                      The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

                      But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

                      11. Reward Yourself

                      When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

                      Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

                      The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

                      After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

                      If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

                      Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

                      If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

                      In the End, It Matters

                      What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

                      When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

                      And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

                      “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

                      Keep going.

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                      More Resources to Help You Build Habits

                      Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

                      Reference

                      [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
                      [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
                      [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
                      [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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