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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
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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 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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