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10 Ways to Be a Quick Learner Like Leonardo Da Vinci

10 Ways to Be a Quick Learner Like Leonardo Da Vinci

Never before has there been so much information readily available at our fingertips. Never before has there been so many free resources to learn new skills and expand our minds. But with this unprecedented access to knowledge, never before has there been so much confusion about what advice one ought to follow.

More often than not, what separates the people who seem to pick things up fast and excel at everything they try isn’t that they’ve stumbled on the best insights out there. Rather, it’s that they’ve learned how to learn well.

Here are 10 things quick learners do differently to pick up anything.

1. Use the 80/20 rule

In 1906 an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, observed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Taking the observation further he noticed that 80% of the peas in his garden were produced from 20% of the pods. Years later, economist Joseph M. Juran called this 80/20 rule the Pareto principle.

Productivity experts like NYT bestselling author Tim Ferriss have popularised this approach as a means to learning quickly. For instance, when it comes to learning a language a good question to begin with is: what are the 20% of the words that are used 80% of the time?

Find the 80/20 rule in the subject of your studies. What are the main ideas? What are the most important elements that yield the biggest return on investment? Start with these questions.

2. View failure as feedback

We often try to avoid failure at all costs. We typically engage in pastimes we feel competent in and try not to venture out of our comfort pits for fear of looking like a dork. We play it safe.

This isn’t the way we’ve always been. When learning how to talk, we would mumble and sing and talk gobbledegook for hours on end to anyone who would listen. When first learning to walk, we would crawl and stand and fall hundreds of times, sometimes hurting ourselves, and try again a few minutes later.

Think about all of the hobbies you had growing up–yo-yo, skateboarding, drawing, instruments, sports–every month there was a new fad every kid had to try. We were excited to learn, to improve, whether that meant failing along the way or not.

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The greatest minds in history keep this childlike curiosity their entire lives. Thomas Edison, arguably the greatest creative scientist of all time, was racing to invent the light bulb before anyone else. He failed over 10,000 times.

When asked in an interview how he felt about his failures, without a missing a beat he replied:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

There can be no learning without failure. Embrace it.

3. Simplify

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo da Vinci

The idea of the superhuman learner who reads 15 books on different subjects at once, while learning 10 different languages and writing 3 novels, is a myth. Multitasking leads to poor performance.

study conducted by the University of London found that people who had their email on while doing work that required concentration lost 10 IQ points. If you haven’t slept for 36 hours, you lose 10 IQ points. If you smoke marijuana, you lose four IQ points. Too many distractions make us dumb.⁠

Super learners, like Leonardo da Vinci, went through periods of intense immersion. Although he is famous for being a scientist and an artist, da Vinci didn’t take an interest in maths until he was 40. Then he spent five years learning everything he could about it.

With learning, we must simplify. We must give all of our attention to one topic at a time. Taking on too many tasks at once weakens our ability to learn.

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4. Ask “why” five times to dig deeper

When we see someone perform a magic trick, we’re usually presented with three acts: the pledge, the turn and the prestige. An ABC if you like. To the magician, however, there are rarely just three acts, but dozens. In between A and B there is a further A1, A2 and A3 which the audience never sees.

Good learners look deeper than what is merely presented on the surface. Quick learners ask why multiple times, even when they think they know the answer. They probe further. Knowing is not enough, we must understand.

The next time you are presented with a subject you want to learn, ask “why” five times to dig deeper.

5. Keep a positive attitude

Positive psychologist Martin Seligman has done lots of research on learned optimism. While everyone has a range, everyone can improve their level of optimism. If you want to be a quick learner, optimism should be one of the first things you learn.

Optimists don’t feel happy all the time. Optimists feel the same amount of negative emotions as pessimists. The difference is that optimists bounce back quicker. If you’re faced with a setback, a rejection, or a failure–all of which are inevitable in the learning process–the more likely you’ll be to interpret it as helpful feedback.

We can learn to become more optimistic by simply challenging our instinctive thought processes. The next time we get an F on an exam instead of instinctively thinking, “I’m terrible, and will never improve,” we should challenge this assertion: “Did I study as hard as I could have? I’ll never ever improve? Not even if I spend 1000 hours more practicing?”

6. Practice what has been learned

Daniel Coyle, in his book The Talent Code, explains the three essential components of skill acquisition as: passion, deep practice and master coaching.

Theory without application is a huge waste of time. Benny Lewis, author of a popular language learning blog, said that he lived in Spain for six months and attended Spanish courses, yet still had terrible Spanish. He made the simple decision to start speaking it every day even if he looked like an idiot. In less than three months he was fluent.

We are physical beings. In order to internalize lessons we have to physically go through the motions. Imagine trying to learn how to play piano by reading about musical notation, or entering a boxing match after reading up on how to throw a punch. It will never work.

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There’s a reason there’s the saying, “practice makes perfect.” Nobody ever says, “Reading theory makes perfect.”

7. Ask experts for advice

Most of the greatest learners in their field had mentors. In Robert Greene’s book, Mastery, which is all about quick learners, he dedicates a third of the book to what he calls “The Ideal Apprenticeship.” Greene believes that having experts and mentors is invaluable when it comes to learning:

“In the stories of the greatest Masters, past and present, we can inevitably detect a phase in their lives in which all of their future powers were in development, like the chrysalis of a butterfly. This part of their lives–a largely self-directed apprenticeship that lasts some five to ten years–receives little attention because it does not contain stories of great achievement or discovery. Often in their Apprenticeship Phase, these types are not yet much different from anyone else. Under the surface, however, their minds are transforming in ways we cannot see but contain all of the seeds of their future success.”

The great thing about living in the information age is that there are plenty of experts to learn from. While having one-to-one tuition from a master is useful, it’s not essential. We can find mentors on YouTube, or in books that we can learn from by imitation. As an aspiring artist I often copy the works of Leonardo da Vinci. Green sums up the apprenticeship phase as follows:

The principle is simple and must be engraved deeply in your mind: the goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character — the first transformation on the way to mastery.

8. Do not pretend to understand when you don’t

I made this mistake when I went scuba diving in Cyprus. I daydreamed throughout the seminar expecting to learn while I was in the water. That was a big mistake. When you have heavy equipment on your back, being just a few feet underwater feels like you’re on the bottom of the ocean. It was terrifying.

On a ship, when an order is given it’s always repeated back to the captain. The captain needs to know that you understood his instruction. This rule came about because people were nodding along compliantly without really understanding what the captain wanted them to do. How many accidents happened because of this?

We learn so well as children because we have no self-image. We’re not trying to be seen as clever. If a young child doesn’t understand something, he will usually ask a million questions until he does. By pretending to understand something, you’re falling prey to an egotistic need to appear smart. Quick learners appreciate how little they know, then go about learning it.

9. Balance scepticism with open mindedness

Leonardo da Vinci said:

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“Study the science of art and the art of science.”

Einstein said:

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

Both of these masters were scientific and creative in equal doses. They knew how to be scientific, but they also knew the limits of logic when compared to imagination. To be a quick learner you have to treat every past idea, no matter how it first appears, with a pinch of salt, while at the same time respecting it enough to test it out.

If you dismiss an idea too quickly, you are being too skeptical. If you get sucked into an idea too quickly and let it start dominating your life, you’re being too suggestible and open-minded. A quick learner takes what works, discards what doesn’t, and moves on.

10. Small rewards

From the outside video games seem illogical. We choose to spend hundreds of hours carrying out tasks that don’t need to be done, don’t improve our lives outside of the game, and we pay to do it. The secret video games have is the balance between reward and challenge. When you’re playing a video game you don’t need to wait until the end of the month to get your reward. You get it immediately. There’s an ongoing feedback loop throughout the task, sort of like having a mentor offering their feedback as you go.

We need to balance our learning with rewards if we’re going to stay motivated long enough to learn what we need to learn. Everyone’s reward may be slightly different. For some it will be having a cup of coffee after an hour of practice. For others it will be showing off what they’ve learnt in a performance of some kind.

Find out what your reward might be and implement it into your learning schedule. All work and no play…

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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