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5 Hacks To Speed Up The Learning Process

5 Hacks To Speed Up The Learning Process

The ability to learn things quickly is a tremendous asset. People who can rapidly grasp new concepts, learn and apply new and effective skills, and process new information in a short amount of time have a distinct advantage over those who struggle to learn.

Is speed learning reserved for a select minority, endowed with the gift of intellect that few possess? Is it only available to the “geniuses” among us? The answer is, “No.” Every one of us can learn to learn faster, and there are a few simple tools that can help us. If these tools are committed to mastery through habit they will produce massive results in our ability to learn concepts faster, process new information in a shorter amount of time, and rapidly expand our abilities and knowledge.

So, without delay, here are 5 hacks to speed up the learning process:

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1. Focus on number of repetitions, not on the amount of time we practice.

When we say that we “studied for five hours straight,” we are often deceiving ourselves. How much of that five hours was spent in focused attention? How much time did we spend on distractions, like checking our email, or Facebook or Twitter? The key is not the length of time we spend when learning something. The key is the amount of learning repetitions that we engage in. Repetition is one of the most powerful levers we have because it wires our brain. The power of repetition is well known by top performers, athletes, musicians, and the military. Time spent is not nearly as important as the number of reps.

So here is the first step: get rid of the watch. Instead, focus your attention on completing repetitions. Instead of saying, “I’ll study my notes for two hours,” say, “I’ll read my notes through, line by line, three times from start to finish.” This causes you to focus your attention on results. It also eliminates the “illusion of effectiveness” because you can’t fool yourself. Either you completed the task, or you didn’t.

2. Break everything down into small chunks.

Author and talent expert Daniel Coyle, in his best-selling book, The Talent Code, says that “chunks are to skill what the letters of the alphabet are to language. Alone, each is nearly useless, but when combined into bigger chunks (words), and when those chunks are combined into still bigger things (sentences, paragraphs), they can build something complex and beautiful.” Chunking is important because it is the way that our brain learns. Every skill or piece of knowledge that we attain is comprised of many smaller pieces, or chunks, of information.

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One of the first things that we should do when attempting to learn something new is to break the material or task down into many small chunks. Do it for the entire task or material. What we are left with then is a whole bunch of small chunks. Once this is done we proceed to step three.

3. Perfect each chunk and then create a “chunk chain.”

Now that we have a whole bunch of chunks we can then proceed to master each individual chunk on its own. This is what we focus our repetitions on (see step 1). The task or skill that we are trying to learn is comprised of a whole bunch of smaller parts. We have determined what those smaller parts consist of, now we just perfect each part on its own, and as we perfect the parts we form a chunk chain. This is where we start to build on each chunk with another chunk, and over time we will completely master the entire process.

Most importantly, by doing it this way, we will find that we master the process much quicker than if we tried to memorize the entire task on its own. Thus, since we have built a chunk chain, we can see how each individual piece is related to the other pieces. This gives us a complex understanding of the task or material and allows us quick recall ability in the future.

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4. Turn the learning process into a game, with rules and rewards.

We like games and our brain likes games. When learning becomes an enjoyable game, time stands still, and we immerse ourselves in repetitions of the material. So if we are trying to learn something new, an effective strategy is to “game it.” Create a game that we can play. Set the rules to the game, and create a rewards systems (this is another very important thing as the brain loves rewards).

Rewards are at the foundation of habit formation, as noted by Charles Duhigg in his best-selling book, The Power of Habit. Once a behavior becomes a habit we perform it much easier and faster. If we can create a reward system based on a game from the learning process, then we can crystallize learning as a habit and we will learn faster. Daniel Coyle, concerning the importance of games in learning also notes:

The term “drill” evokes a sense of drudgery and meaninglessness. It’s mechanical, repetitive, and boring—as the saying goes, drill and kill. Games, on the other hand, are precisely the opposite. They mean fun, connectedness, and passion. And because of that, skills improve faster when they’re looked at this way.

5. Repeat “focus bursts,” where we give our very best effort for a short period of time, then take fulfilling and refreshing breaks.

There are multiple studies that confirm that proper rest increases brain functioning. The typical, caffeine-induced, late night cramming session that most students engage in at least once in their life is not the most effective way to learn. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it is the least effective way. If we want to learn something quickly, we need to do it when our minds are fresh. We need to engage in “focus bursts” where, with fresh energy and a well-rested mind, we focus all our attention on learning, perfecting, and linking the chunks (see step 3). Then, when we start to feel our effectiveness dissipate, we take breaks to recharge.

Focus burst, recharge, focus burst, recharge. Over and over again. This is the way to speed up the learning process. Long study sessions are not as effective as short bursts. In long sessions we are prone to distraction, and we are also prone to focusing on time rather than repetitions. However, if we will train ourselves to learn like a top athlete trains (in smaller, high intensity chunks) we will be very happy with the results that we get.

More by this author

Ryan Clements

A lawyer turned marketing professional, entrepreneur and writer who writes about entrepreneurship, career and personal development.

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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

There is a great deal of advice in the world telling us how to succeed in life, but often we are given advice that isn’t tailored to our needs, desires and priorities. Success means different things to each of us, and living a life that feels genuinely successful to me might be very different to your idea of a successful life.

Naturally, when we follow the advice of someone else, which is tailored to their life goals and personality, we can end up with something that doesn’t deliver on the promise. We don’t get rewarded with our vision of success: we get theirs.

This is why I’m a proponent of self-discovery, introspection and personal sovereignty. So how to succeed on your own terms?

These 7 essential steps are not going to tell you exactly what to do, but they will provide you with the tools and the questions to ask so that you can discover your own path, so you know how to succeed in life on your own terms.

1. Know Thyself

One of Socrates’ most well-known quotes is,

An unexamined life is not worth living.

I argue that an unexamined life is not a successful one. Self-knowledge is something we could dedicate our lives to, but I’m not suggesting you sit around and navel-gaze in order to find happiness and meaning.

Thankfully, there are people who have created techniques and systems that less us fast-forward through a lot of personal philosophizing, and quickly identify some key aspects of what makes us, us.

You might want to find out what your ideal daily schedule is,[1] and you can take tests that reveal just that. Or you might want to figure out what you need to get things done – and yes, there’s a quiz for that too.

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None of these tests are infallible, and some are more scientific than others, but the process of asking yourself questions about your behaviors and traits is invaluable when it comes to determining your path to succeed in life.

For example, if you know you are an introvert and are unhappy in your current workplace, it might be worth considering why that is (an open plan office space perhaps) and what you would prefer.

It’s these little questions that will provoke answers in you that can guide the decisions that truly improve your life now and in the future.

2. Figure out What Matters to You

What lights you up? This is a question that often gets forgotten as we age. A fortunate child will be given the stimulation they desire in the form of bright toys, affection and entertainment. Little by little, the things that bring a child joy get replaced by what society demands on their behalf.

When we return to that question, and ask ourselves what really matters and what brings us joy, we can move closer towards a successful life. It can help to think back to your childhood, and the times in your life when you were in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state.[2]

In a state of flow, time slows and our focus is directed like a laser. We are fully present.

Whilst not everything in life that matters to you will conjure up a flow state, it’s a good indication of the kind of activities and experiences you can try to incorporate into your life on a regular basis.

A successful life is made up of moments like this, and when you know what matters to you and brings you a sense of joy and purpose, you can go about creating more of that.

3. Play to Your Strengths

Why spend your time only on mitigating your weaknesses, only to feel average? Instead, playing to your strengths and amplifying those skills and qualities you already have will help you go from average to extraordinary.

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If you’re great at big picture thinking and love dreaming up new ideas, but often lack attention to detail, acknowledge that. Then instead of trying to improve your analytical skills, focus instead on developing your existing skills of imagination and insight. When you need someone with a keen eye for detail, you can collaborate with those people.

Jackson Pollock was an extreme introvert, with no real desire to get his artwork in front of people. Fortunately, he had Clement Greenberg, who was much further towards the extrovert end of the spectrum, to popularize his work and get Pollock the publicity he needed.[3]

Start by identifying your strengths and what comes naturally to you. Then work on developing those and becoming known for those strengths. You can always find someone who will help you in fill in the gaps.

4. Listen to Yourself

It isn’t always clear to us that we’re on a path that leads us to failure or to success. People can spends decades in a job that is unfulfilling and slowly breaking their spirit, without even realizing it – until it’s too late. This is usually because they haven’t learned how to truly listen to themselves.

The challenge we face is that we’re listening to so many other sources of information; whether it’s the news, television, social media, family, friends or colleagues. Many may want to help, but that doesn’t mean they know what’s best for us. Only you know what success means for you, and working this out begins with listening to yourself.

Listening to yourself requires practice. It’s a daily effort, which over time, does get easier. That inner voice of wisdom will get clearer, and the decisions you make will feel more convincing.

To start, you could try to set aside 10 to 15 minutes when you first wake up, in silence. Rather than look at your phone, checking emails or social media, simply sit in silence, listening.

Ask yourself a simple question like, what am I feeling right now, in this moment? Notice the answer that bubbles up, without getting lost in the story. Starting an inner dialogue, without judgment is one of the key tools you can use to start making better decisions in your life.

Learn more about listening to your true self in this guide: How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment

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5. Listen to Others (But Not Everyone)

Listening to yourself is one thing, but listening to others is crucial in order to learn, empathize and be of benefit to your community.

Truly listening to others is not just waiting patiently until it’s your turn to speak. Active listening requires focused attention, and the intention to understand where the other person is coming from.

When you do this, you can ask better questions and discover more about the world and everyone in it, as well as learn how to interact with others in order to succeed in life on your own terms.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone you come across. Trolls on the internet may come into the category of people not to listen to. Some people’s opinions will do more harm than good, as not everyone has your best interest in mind.

It’s worth identifying a shortlist of people whose opinions you will listen to. Brené Brown, author of the New York Times best-seller Daring Greatly, recommends taking a 1-inch x 1-inch square of paper and make a list of people whose opinions matter to you. These are the people who love you and will genuinely support and help you. According to Brown,

“If you need more paper, you need to edit.”

6. Make Time for Reflection

It’s easy to go through life without taking inventory of what you’re actually accomplishing. Missing this crucial step means we end up jumping from one goal to the next, without feeling like we’re getting anywhere.

Make time, ideally each day to reflect. You might keep a paper journal, or an online document. Either way, jot down:

  • What went well today
  • Something you’re grateful for
  • What would make tomorrow even better

Doing this can have measurable benefits to our overall sense of well-being, as well as keeping us focused for more success in the future.[4]

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It also helps combat feelings of lack and doubt, that arise when we compare ourselves to others. When we look at someone who appears to be more successful than us in an area of life, we can forget how far we’ve come and how much we have to be grateful for.

Making time to reflect on what you have accomplished is critical to keep you on track, and just not looking at what others are doing.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind

Arguably the most important step of all:

Remember that there’s nothing wrong in changing your mind and correcting course.

The path to a successful life is not straight and narrow. It meanders and there’s no harm in going back and picking a different (and better) route.

“I think our life is a journey, and we make mistakes, and it’s how we learn from those mistakes and rebound from those mistakes that sets us on the path that we’re meant to be on.” — Jay Ellis

Be willing to make mistakes, learn from them and change your mind. Ultimately, there’s no better way to succeed in life on your own terms.

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Featured photo credit: Shirly Niv Marton via unsplash.com

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