How To Learn Faster & Smarter

By Leon Ho, Founder of Lifehack

How many times have you tried to learn something new but ended up quitting before you made any real progress? If you have, don’t feel too bad about it, as struggling to master a new skill is certainly no walk in the park. Most people find it hard to remember what they’ve learned, which inevitably makes their learning slow and painful.

However, if you’d love to learn but find it difficult, then you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, you’ll find dozens of proven techniques for learning anything fast.

So read on and discover how to become a super learner.

Why Aren’t You Learning Fast?

Years of observing people at college and at work have led us to discover three specific reasons why many people are unable to learn quickly and efficiently. See if you can spot yourself in any or all of these learning blockers:

1. Struggle to Kickstart Learning Something From Scratch

As you’ve probably experienced yourself, sometimes when wanting to learn something new you find yourself not knowing where to start.

For example, you might have wanted to learn how to play chess, but didn’t know the best way to do this. And because you didn’t know the best way, you either didn’t bother trying to learn the classic, 2-player strategy game, or you tried learning from multiple sources at the same time: books, videos, friends and family members.

The problem with this scattered approach is that you will find it hard to focus and you’ll inevitably be given conflicting advice — which is unhelpful when you’re starting out.

The other problem is that by consulting books and asking friends for help, you might find that you’re not getting the latest information. For instance, your friends might not be aware of some of the amazing computer chess learning programs that are available online.

2. Struggle to Recall What You’ve Learned

Think back for a moment to when you were at school. I’m sure there were endless times when you were taught things by teachers only for you to forget the information within weeks, days or even minutes!

And of course, this problem continues from education into the workplace. How many times have you been in meetings where important things have been said, only for half the attendees to forget the details soon after the meeting concluded.

With these types of negative life experiences, it’s no wonder that as people get older they are less willing to try learning new things.

3. Struggle to Put What You’ve Learned Into Practice

This is certainly one of the most common reasons for people failing to learn new things. They spend all their time learning theory; but never put anything into practice.

For example, consider for a moment how people learn to ride a bicycle.

In most cases, a parent or elder sibling would tell you the steps you need to take to successfully get on and begin riding a bike. However, it’s only when you attempt to ride a bike for the first time that the real learning begins!

It’s the same with most things. However many tutorial videos you watch on a certain subject, until you start to do the thing you want to learn, you’ll struggle to make any real progress.

4. Get Overwhelmed When Learning A Lot Of Difficult Things

The wrong teacher or course can quickly dampen your enthusiasm for learning something new. This is especially the case if they make something overly complex at the start.

Take learning a new language, for instance.

If all a teacher did was force you to learn grammar rules for weeks on end, you would no doubt call a halt to your learning. However, if they made learning the new language fun and immersive, you would not only want to keep learning, but you’d grow your confidence too. And of course, you could still gradually learn the required grammar and vocabulary.

5. Can’t Seem To Learn It No Matter How Hard You Work

From time to time you may have thought to yourself: “No matter how hard I practice or revise, I still don’t learn well.”

This is a very common problem.

Unfortunately, many people make the problem worse by putting more and more effort and practice into what they’re trying to learn. This is actually counterproductive, as — without an effective approach to learning — time and effort alone will not be enough for you to succeed.

The good news is there are tried-and-tested ways to learn quickly and effectively. I call this approach ‘smart learning’. Let’s look now at what it’s all about and how you can start using it in your life right now.

Understand the Different Learning Styles

Different people learn differently. Some like to be shown how to do something, others learn better by reading about their chosen topic.

While Vanderbilt University recognizes more than 70 different learning styles, there are actually just 4 main styles that you need to be aware of:

1. Visual (Spatial) Learning Style

The visual learning style is best suited to individuals who like to watch videos and like to see presentations that are embedded with pictures, charts and graphs.

They are learners who learn best by seeing (e.g. through photos, video or PowerPoint presentations).

2. Auditory (Aural) Learning Style

The auditory learning style is best suited to individuals who like to listen to lectures and audio books. These learners find it easy to learn what they hear.

These are learners who learn best by hearing (e.g. through podcasts and audiobooks).

3. Reading/Writing Learning Style

The reading/writing learning style is best suited to — as you’d expect — people who enjoy reading and writing. That’s because the words they read and write become easily imprinted on their minds.

These learners learn best by reading and writing (e.g. through books, magazines and websites).

4. Kinesthetic (Physical) Learning Style

The kinesthetic learning style is best suited to people who like to get “hands on.”

They are learners who learn best by moving and doing (e.g. starting to learn to drive by getting behind the wheel).

Understand the Stages of Learning

The 3 Stages of Learning That Help You Learn Effectively: From the moment we’re born, we’ve been learning new things every day. And without consciously thinking about it, we’ve used at least one of the three stages of learning to gain knowledge and skills. The three stages of learning are:

Stage 1: Cognitive Learning

This style of learning encourages students to use their brains more effectively, by fully engaging in the learning process. For example, a student learning to dance will need constant support from their tutor to show and tell them what they need to do.

Stage 2: Associative Learning

This style of learning happens when two unrelated elements (e.g. ideas, behaviors, sights and sounds) connect in our brains through a mental process known as conditioning. The student dancer has now begun to understand the skills they need and they are starting to see some consistency in their performance.

Stage 3: Autonomous Learning

This style of learning allows learners to gain knowledge through independent efforts and to develop an ability to inquire and evaluate without the need for teachers and mentors.

The student has now become a proficient dancer, and they are able to perform skills with accuracy and consistency. They are also able to concentrate on complex tasks and they have the ability to adapt their performance where needed.

This workbook will help you understand the stages of learning and your current stage of learning, enabling you to improve the way you learn and master the skills you want.

Active Learning

Once you’ve decided on what you want to learn, discovered your learning style and understood the different learning stages, you’ll be ready to move into active learning.

This is where you engage in both practical and theoretical learning, putting you in the best possible position for learning rapidly and successfully.

Let me give you an example to illustrate this process in action:

You want to learn how to play drums, perhaps for fun, perhaps as a potential career — or perhaps both!

Whether you choose to work with a personal drum tutor or learn from books and videos, the key element will be to have access to a drum kit so you can regularly practice and develop your drumming skills. This kit could be in your home or it might be in a rehearsal space that you have access to once or twice a week.

Theory plus practical application is a powerful combination that will help you develop your skills and knowledge in the quickest possible time, whether this is drumming, coding or swimming, etc.

Of course, with the advent of YouTube and online courses, many people nowadays choose to self-learn. This has the benefit of being cheaper and on-demand. In other words, you can learn when and where you want to, rather than having to go to a specific place at a specific time.

This gives you freedom to learn new things without impacting on your current work and social schedules.

Our article 9 Remote Learning Tips for Efficient Learning will help you to get started.

If you do choose self-learning, try to at least find a knowledgeable friend to buddy up to ensure that you’re on the right track. For instance, if you’re thinking of taking an online Spanish language class; try to take advantage of any Spanish-speaking friends to test out your conversational skills.

For inspiration on what new things to learn — including advice on finding your life purpose — check out our helpful article: 7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

How To Learn Faster

1. Digital Brain

Did you know that beyond your physical brain, there is a second brain you can call upon? It’s called the Digital Brain. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, then let me give you a quick overview of what exactly a Digital Brain is.

Put simply, a Digital Brain is an app or a piece of software that allows you to quickly record and recall information.

I’m sure you’ll be familiar with some of these popular Digital Brain tools:

  • Airtable
  • Apple Notes
  • Evernote
  • Google Keep
  • Pocket

Instead of relying on your memory when learning something new, you can instead turn the information over to your Digital Brain, thus freeing up your mind for other tasks and relieving yourself of the stress of trying to remember everything. To give you an example of this, instead of trying to remember the forecasted weather for the week, you could quickly and easily check this info on your phone, tablet or laptop.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to make room in your brain for memories, learning and creativity.

How To Learn Faster And Smarter

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Implement your Digital Brain to free up your mind for other more important tasks.
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Learn more about boosting your brain power: How to Increase Brain Power, Boost Memory and Become 10X Smarter

2. Spaced Repetition

As you’ll read if you click through to this article, Spaced Repetition works like this: The more often you encounter certain bits of info, the less often you’ll need to refresh your memory of it. Sounds simple? That’s because it is!

However, the Spaced Repetition technique lays out a specific map for when and how to take in new information. I’ve used this technique for years, and I can definitely testify to its effectiveness.

Here are the key steps of Spaced Repetition:

  1. Review Your Notes — Within 24 hours of your initial intake of information, write down notes and then review them. During the reviewing session, read your notes, but then look away and try to recall the most important points.
  2. Recall the Information for the First Time — After a day, try to recall the information with minimal reading of your notes. You might also want to try recalling the information when you’re taking a walk or sitting down and relaxing.
  3. Recall the Material Again — Next, recall the information every 24-36 hours over the course of several days. These don’t have to be lengthy recalls, instead you could do it while standing in a queue for a latte or when walking your dog. You are still free to look at your notes, but you should only do this if absolutely necessary.
  4. Study It All Over Again — After several days have passed since you first tried to learn the information, take out your material and study it all over again. This will allow your brain to reprocess concepts and will cement the information into your mind.

Spaced Repetition can genuinely make a difference in your ability to learn quickly. In fact, I would go so far as to say it can be the difference between failure and success.

How To Learn Faster And Smarter

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Use the spaced repetition method to learn faster. Read more about it here: A Scientifically Proven Technique That Can Make Your Learning 50% Easier

3. Deliberate Practice

Deliberate Practice is a technique of breaking down the skill you want to acquire into separate components so you master each individual part of the skill. This technique shuns the idea of practicing something needlessly over and over again.

Imagine for a moment that you want to start your own podcast. Deliberate Practice would mean breaking down the skills of podcasting into different sections.

For example, you might need to spend time learning the technical aspects. After that you might want to work on your content and your vocal delivery. And if you’re interested in growing the audience for your podcast, you’ll need to learn some basic marketing skills.

If you tried to learn all of the above in one go, you’d probably end up confused and demotivated. However, if you learn one thing a day, you could quickly begin to master all the skills you needed to be a popular podcaster.

To make Deliberate Practice easy to adopt, just do the following when you want to learn something new:

  1. Break the information down into small, manageable chunks
  2. Create a learning schedule
  3. Get a mentor or coach
  4. Continually seek feedback

As someone who has used Deliberate Practice for many years, I can confidently say it’s a fantastic way to accelerate your learning.

Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice for more information on this important topic.

4. Feedback Loop

One of the best ways of learning fast and mastering any skill you want is to use a little-known technique called a Feedback Loop — a process whereby a learner gathers information about their performance and leverages it to optimize the quality of their learning style or methods.

A Feedback Loop is made up of three stages:

  1. Practice/Apply – This is the stage where you put what you want to learn into action.
  2. Measure – This is the stage where you’re acquiring information about your performance. This is also the stage that learners typically ignore or do ineffectively.
  3. Learn – This is the stage where you analyze how well you performed, and make adjustments to improve and practice/apply again.

Feedback Loops can make a significant and positive difference to how you learn. It might be just what you need to turn your learning failures into successes!

5. Brain Supplements

Are you aware that there are certain nutritional supplements that can improve your memory and boost your brain power?

Let’s look at a handful of these supplements now.

Panax Ginseng

This herbal remedy has been used in around Asia and North America for centuries. It’s a herbal medicine that has been known to boost attention, memory and focus. In case you’re wondering, panax ginseng is also known as Asian ginseng, Chinese ginseng or Korean ginseng. It’s widely available as a supplement in health and well-being stores.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The body requires a wide range of amino acids to support its physical metabolism of energy and balance of muscle mass. In terms of taking amino acids for boosting brain power, L-Tyrosine has been shown to be a cognitive enhancer due its effect on calming the system and how your brain reacts to stress.

There are two types of Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. These can be found in fish oil supplements (vegans can choose algae oil as an alternative).

DHA and EPA help maintain the health of brain cells, as well as reducing brain inflammation and improving brain cell growth. Memory, reaction time and problem solving skills are all increased by taking a supplement containing abundant DHA and EPA.

Amino Acids

The body requires a wide range of amino acids to support its physical metabolism of energy and balance of muscle mass. In terms of taking amino acids for boosting brain power, L-Tyrosine has been shown to be a cognitive enhancer due its effect on calming the system and how your brain reacts to stress.

Fortunately, as L-Tyrosine is very bioavailable (highly absorbent in the body), only a tiny amount is needed to produce a strong effect. Another amino acid for you to consider is Acetyl-L-carnitine. Research has shown that people taking an Acetyl-L-carnitine supplement had increased focus and alertness. It can also help treat mild dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Ginkgo Biloba

Believed to be almost 270 million years, this herbal supplement aids cognition by allowing more blood flow to move through the brain.

Benefits of taking this herb include, improved focus, enhanced concentration, and a boost to memory power. One scientific study found that it could also benefit age-related cognitive decline symptoms in older populations.

Still unsure if supplements actually work? Check out this article: Do Memory Supplements Work?

How To Learn Faster And Smarter

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Pick out the most suitable supplements for yourself. Check out Amazon or Lifehack Shop – it has everything you need.

6. Speed Reading

Whether reading on screen or on paper, most of us spend hours every day reading content. If you’re a slow reader, then you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to learning something fast.

Fortunately, there are some tried-and-tested techniques for speeding up both your reading and comprehension.

Check out these techniques for starters:

Stop The Inner Monologue

Also known as subvocalization or silent speech, inner monologue is an extremely common trait among readers. It’s the process of speaking the words in your head as you read. It’s also the biggest obstacle preventing you from increasing your reading speed.

Consider this: The average reading speed is similar to the average talking speed (around 300 words per minute). That’s because most people are in the habit of saying the words aloud in their head as they read. So, to read faster, you must break this habit.

You can do this by coming to the realization that you don’t need to say every word in your head in order to understand what you are reading. Try it and see. You’ll find that your brain still processes all the information it receives and you’ll be able to read significantly faster than before.

Skim The Main Points First

If you’re reading a self-improvement book or researching a topic, one way to take in the information quicker is to scan through the material before reading it all the way through. This means reading the table of contents, the introduction, the first paragraph of each chapter, captions under diagrams, etc.

This will give you a good overall feel for the material, and will mean that you’ll be mentally prepared to read, learn and remember the content. You’ll also find that you can read through the material quicker than you would otherwise.

Read More

Slow readers tend to be infrequent readers. That’s because they find the process energy and time consuming. As the saying goes: Practice makes perfect!

When you commit to reading regularly (perhaps a book a month), then you’ll naturally find that your reading and comprehension skills improve. You’ll also enjoy reading and learning much more than before!

The above is just a taster of some of the techniques that you can easily adopt to boost your reading speed. If you want to learn more about this topic, take a look at these articles:

The Importance of Continuous Learning

It’s vital that you never stop learning.

If you give up on learning new things, you’ll feel old and you life will be stale. Conversely, when you grow and expand your mind through learning, you’ll feel young and lively!

Continuous learning has other tangible benefits too. For example, if you work as a freelance website designer, you’ll have a competitive advantage by keeping up with the latest design software and applications.

Whatever your age or current circumstances, learning new skills and increasing your knowledge will be uplifting and inspiring for you.

How To Learn Faster And Smarter

Learning never stops

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