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10 Ways Some People Learn Things Much Faster Than Others

10 Ways Some People Learn Things Much Faster Than Others

Humans’ ability to learn complex, abstract ideas and concepts is what separates us from all the other species on the planet. But that doesn’t mean it’s a simple process. And anyone who’s taken calculus can attest to that.

If you’re looking for “tricks” that will allow you to take in information or gain abilities effortlessly like Neo in “The Matrix”, you might be disappointed to discover that you simply won’t find them here. What you will find are tried and true methods which require discipline, but almost guarantee success.

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort required to learn something new, following these ways that those who learn faster already live by will certainly make the process as easy as possible.

1. They Set a Purpose

Everyone’s done it: you watch a video of Jimi Hendrix shredding on the guitar and think, “I wish I could do that.” You take a forkful of your favorite meal from your favorite five-star restaurant and think, “I wonder if I could make this at home.” You finish reading a book that has kept your attention for an entire Sunday afternoon and wonder how in the world someone could create something so magical.

Well, the truth is, none of these creators did so by accident. They all started out not knowing the first things about how to create any of what is now seemingly easy for them to do. But they set a purpose for learning their skill: what did they want to learn, and what did they hope to get out of learning it?

When setting out to learn something new, don’t just say, “I wish I could do that.” Instead, say, “I wish I could do that so I could…”, knowing your skill will be put into practice once you become a master at it.

2. They Set Measurable, Reasonable, and Reachable Goals

Maybe you won’t be the next Hendrix, or the next Stephen King. The goal of learning isn’t to surpass anyone else but yourself. When setting out to learn a new task, you should set daily and long-term goals that are doable and actionable, and which build upon your current skill set.

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If you’ve decided you want to learn a new language, it would be counterproductive to set your goal as, “By the end of this month, I will be conversational in Spanish.”

For one thing, it most likely will not happen, and you will assuredly feel let down. Secondly, there’s no way to measure what “conversational” Spanish is. Instead, set a goal such as, “Today I will study Spanish vocabulary related to the family, and by the end of the week I will be able to teach my son the Spanish translations for father, mother, sister, and brother.”

By setting tangible goals, you can measure the effectiveness of your studies, and modify them accordingly.

3. They Set a Schedule

Along with setting goals, you also must set a schedule for your learning. Learning a new skill doesn’t just require practice; it requires study, comprehension, and practical use as well. Learning to play the guitar, for example, involves reading about how to string and tune the instrument, listening to how chords should sound, understanding why certain chords sound good together, and how to place your fingers on the fret board.

In this case, it’s not enough for you to say, “I’ll practice guitar for an hour a day.” Instead, set a schedule to include all aspects of the instrument: Today I will watch a YouTube video on stringing and tuning the guitar, then I will do it myself; tomorrow I will read about the most common chords used, and practice playing each of them in succession.

By the end of the week, I will strum a G, D, and then a C chord to create a song of my own. By setting a schedule for your learning, you reinforce the goals you’ve set for yourself.

4. They Collect Multiple Resources

Remember in high school when you were assigned 15 pages to read in your history book for homework? If you were anything like your faithful Lifehacker, you probably read them, memorized the names and dates you saw, passed the quiz the next day, and promptly forgot everything you’d read the night before.

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Obviously, that’s not an effective way to learn anything. To truly learn everything about a specific topic, you need to collect various books, articles, videos, and other media pertaining to the subject in question. And you actually have to use them.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand a concept during an initial reading of a text; make a note of it, push forward, and come back to it later. Chances are, after watching a video or listening to a podcast, your mind will be able to wrap itself around ideas that were completely new to you hours or days before.

5. They Review and Record Progress

Learning is, of course, a long-term process. But it’s not one long, continuous process with a singular goal (as mentioned before); there are steps along the way. Each of these steps need to be reviewed and evaluated upon completion to assure accuracy, and to tweak technique if needed. Like we said before, it’s not enough to simply read pages from a book, especially if you didn’t comprehend what you read.

Be honest with yourself at the end of a learning session. If something was difficult, make a note of it, and come back to it. Pressing forward to the next step without solidifying your foundation of understanding will certainly lead to disaster.

On the other hand, recording and reviewing your accomplishments over the past week, month, or year is a great confidence booster. Even if you’re not the best (yet), you’ll see how far you’ve come from knowing absolutely nothing.

6. They Follow a Model

No matter how good you get at whatever skill you’ve set out to learn, there will be ways to get better. And, unless you’re a World Record holder, there will always be someone better than you. This isn’t a bad thing; having someone to look up to is beneficial in many ways.

For one, it gives you something to strive for. Secondly, you can further your learning by analyzing an expert’s performance. Sure, Hendrix taught himself how to play guitar, but he was influenced by greats like BB King and Muddy Waters.

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The man commonly thought to be the greatest guitarist of all time may never have even picked up a 6-string if it wasn’t for the greats that preceded him. When learning something new, don’t be pressured to reinvent the wheel – just look to improve upon it in your own way.

7. They Search Out Feedback

We live in such an amazing time, in which professionals in all fields are more than happy to give feedback to beginners in order to help them improve. Don’t be shy; many experts are honored that people come to them for advice. Of course, they may not have time to get to everyone though, so broaden your scope.

If you’re trying to break into the blogging business, search out other authors who have successful blogs within your chosen niche, and read about them. Once you have a good idea about how they got where they are, and you have a decent amount of articles posted, seek them out and see what they say.

Don’t be discouraged if they have some criticism; it’s exactly why you contacted them in the first place. Instead, use their advice to focus your practice on improving those specific areas. Constructive criticism from experts is perhaps the most valuable tool you can have when learning something new.

8. They Teach Others

As we just mentioned, there are a ton of experts out there who are more than happy to teach beginners how to get moving. You can be this person to anyone below you in skill level! While watching pros do their thing can be intimidating, teaching people who are just getting started has the opposite effect.

Although it might be a tad selfish, it definitely will make you feel better watching a beginner fumble through playing their first song; but this is mostly because you’ve been there, and you know they’ll soon improve. Doing so also gives you perspective; you might not be a professional, but you definitely have gotten better from when you just started.

Lastly, to be able to teach something requires you to have a deeper understanding of the skill, so you can explain to your student why what their learning is important, and where they will go from where they are.

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9. They Reward Themselves

Successful people find various ways to reward themselves. Mind you, these rewards are not counterintuitive (such as rewarding yourself for hitting your fastest mile mark by taking a week off from training, or rewarding yourself for your weight loss by eating a bowl of ice cream), but actually build upon accomplishments. Notice the implication of the previous example: the person might be training to get into shape, but he’d much rather be sitting on the couch watching TV.

If he actually wanted to beat his fastest mile, he wouldn’t take a day off at all. Instead, he might reward himself by running through the park instead of on the treadmill, or taking his kids for a relaxing jog instead of going all out. The reward and motivation to get better is intrinsic: the outcome is the reward.

With this way of thinking, every small accomplishment made is another reward on the path to success.

10. They Learn on Their Own Terms

The best learners are able to translate abstract concepts and ideas into layman’s terms, not for others, but for themselves. I used to find my wife, an incredibly hard-working student of optometry, muttering to herself about a subconjunctival hemorrhage caused by a ruptured blood vessel in the eye, which sounded absolutely frightening until she clarified: “Oh, it’s just a bloodshot eye.” (Note: That’s an oversimplification that I had to Google to even come close to pulling off, but hopefully you get my point).

Using Tier III language (field-specific jargon), and translating it into every day vocabulary is imperative to truly understanding the concepts behind the skill you wish to learn. By using the language of the field in your every day life, the learned skill becomes not just something you know, but it becomes a part of who you are.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.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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