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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 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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