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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 July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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