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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 July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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