If you’re focused on leveling yourself the fuck up, you’ve spent a lot of time learning and improving various skills.
But how much time have you spent actually learning how to learn efficiently?
Of all the skills that you can learn, knowing how to learn efficiently is easily among the most important.
Learning is the master skill.
And since learning is the master skill, you must know how to do it properly.
This article is going to destroy many of your misconceptions about learning and teach you how to learn more efficiently. This is incredibly important advice that you can use for the rest of your life!
Seriously, gentlemen, if you have any desire to truly self improve, I cannot stress the importance of reading this article and applying its information enough.
Why Knowing How to Learn Is One of the Most Important Lessons to Know
As humans, we are natural learners. This is because learning is essential to our development, adaptation, innovation, and survival. If the brain was not capable of learning and developing new abilities, we could not survive the environmental hazards we face.
This is basic and logical for our survival, replication, and development as a species. We are learning every waking minute of our lives.
Don’t believe me?
- Every time you’re reading, you’re learning.
- Every time you practice a skill, you’re learning.
- Every time you’re driving to work, you’re learning the route through reinforcement, plus anything new or any thoughts that pop up into your head on the way.
- Every time you have a thought in your head and you proceed to expand upon it, you’re learning.
- Every time you have a conversation with someone, you’re learning. You may be learning more about picking up mannerisms and body language, something new from the conversation, or you may be reinforcing old knowledge about the conversation subject and other elements of basic human interaction.
Get the idea? You are always learning. It never ends.
Often times we are just reinforcing habits, and other times we are learning things that aren’t particularly useful for our life goals. But if we channel our energy in the right direction, we can focus our time on skills that are valuable. And if we know how to do it properly, we can do this as effectively as possible.
So if you can learn efficiently, you can learn new skills and information quicker and more thoroughly — with less wasted time and effort. You can literally save tens of thousands of hours over the course of your life simply by knowing how to learn efficiently!
This alone should inspire you to read this less than 20-minute long article on how to learn effectively.
Additionally, knowing how to learn will significantly increase your self-confidence. When you’ve become damn good at a wide degree of skills, you know that learning something you have no experience with is just a matter of your own time and effort.
And regardless of what we’re learning, since we’re always doing it, we want to be great at it.
If we’re learning a new language, for instance, we want to know how to learn the vocabulary and grammar as efficiently as possible so we’re not wasting time that’s better spent elsewhere. If we’re learning a physical skill set such as dancing or fighting, we want to know how to learn and practice the techniques efficiently so we can use them when it matters the most, such as if we’re performing onstage or if we’re in a physical fight.
For something so important, there’s a lot of misconceptions about how learning is done. You probably hold at least several of these misconceptions. This article seeks to eliminate any of these misconceptions you may have and improve your learning process immediately.
Simply by reading this article and taking just a few of these tips to heart, you will very likely pick up several learning techniques that you will use for the rest of your life. Even if you just pick up one piece of information here on making your learning more effective, it will be useful to you forever.
Therefore I strongly recommend that you bookmark this article so you can refer to it in the future!
Read through this article at your leisure, apply this knowledge to your own life, and come back to it again multiple times in the future to review. This information is that important. Also, as you will see, reading and applying the knowledge within will highlight several of the concepts in this article.
On a related note, many of the tips here can be found in the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The book explains how to learn in its own detail, but this article also goes into detail and research that is not found in the book. I recommend that you pick up Make it Stick if you want to supplement the knowledge in this article.
Let’s get started.
#1) Effective Learning Takes Practice, Experience, and Memorization
Learning is a skill. Like any skill, learning takes practice, and you get better at it with experience.
The best way to practice learning is to use the tips in this article while you are constantly self-improving and learning practical, masculine skills. Simply by taking your time to learn useful skills, you are getting a better idea of how you learn from hands-on experience.
Additionally, all prior learning requires a degree of memorization.
That’s right, learning requires memory. All learning is based on a foundation of previous knowledge!
A good jiu-jitsu practitioner must memorize and practice the steps for various takedowns, sweeps, and submissions. Each one takes a considerable amount of time and effort. In order to instinctively know when to use one technique versus another, he must know both from practice (of which, again, memorization is a huge part of) and experience which to draw from and when.
As another example, a student learning calculus needs to recall many of his lessons from algebra and trigonometry. Therefore, he must have memorized (and be able to use) the lessons he learned previously from subjects that calculus draws its information from.
Memorization is not the only process used when you learn, however. What you memorize must be put to practical use as well, through the ways that we will discuss further in this article. But that said, you must memorize in order to learn.
We must note that experience learning makes you better at learning. The more you’ve learned, the better you understand what you’ve learned from. This makes you a more effective learner down the road.
Additionally, learning new skills also has many benefits that you cannot fully predict. Having a wide set of skills to draw from also enables greater problem solving, and it gives you fresh, creative perspectives on many things in life. For more on this, read about the importance of the talent stack.
So you will see a lot of overlap between the skills you learn. Therefore, if you are good at one discipline, you will be better at learning other related skills.
For instance, properly performed heavy weight lifting will strengthen your entire body, and the core and lower body strength, in particular, will make you more coordinated for other sports and physical activity. Therefore, lifting can make you a better dancer, for instance, if you take the time to learn how to dance properly.
The two skills may not have a lot in common conceptually; you will still have to learn the dance moves, timing, rhythm, and so forth. But lifting will help you become a better dancer by strengthening the muscles used while you dance, just as lifting helps with general athleticism and improves your kinesthetic intelligence.
As another example, learning a new language makes it easier to learn others. If you’re a native English speaker who then learns French as a second language, not only will you find many similarities between the two, but you will also see similarities between those languages and other Romance languages. It will make it easier to learn Portuguese, Italian, German, Spanish, and so on. Many words and grammar concepts are similar between these languages.
Even if you learn a very different third language, such as Japanese, the experience of learning a second language will be very useful when you study for the third language. This is true even though the vocabulary, alphabet, grammar, and sentence structure are nothing alike.
You may have to modify your routine a bit to learn Japanese since there are more new concepts to learn and because it’s more challenging for an English speaker, but the experience from learning an unrelated second language will prove to be an invaluable base to help you through your Japanese learning process.
In fact, if you want to learn how to learn, picking up a second language is one of the best ways to do so. This is because you’re learning something massive and totally new from scratch. It takes tons of memorization, elaboration, practice, and consistency to get it right. Feedback when speaking is immediate.
Anyway, as you can see, having a wide web of knowledge and experience makes it easier to learn new knowledge and skills.
On a related note, and to cap this subsection off, let’s briefly mention a feature of the brain.
As you know, the human brain is extremely complex. Various structures of the brain are assigned to very different tasks, but we won’t get into them right now.
For now, I will simply state that the neurons of the brain are an intricately connected web that strengthens as you learn. The more you learn, the more the web between various neurons is strengthened, and the more neural pathways are enhanced to utilize the knowledge more efficiently.
The more you retrieve a lesson or skill set, and the more elaborated it is (see section 4), the stronger the connections are between the associated neurons in your brain. This makes it faster to recall and it makes it more useful in your brain.
Therefore, as I’ve said, having a wide body of knowledge and experience makes it easier to connect previous knowledge to new knowledge.
#2) Retrieval is Critical to Remember Lessons Better
You have to consciously retrieve something from memory to make it readily available for later. You have to do this enough times until it is well consolidated, that is, solidified and easily retrieved in your brain. There is more on consolidation in the next section.
A simple quiz after reading a text or listening to a lecture greatly improves retention of the material because you have to immediately make use of the knowledge you just learned.
This can be easily done with any material that you desire to learn. If you read an online article, especially one as important as this one, a very effective way to retain it better is to simply quiz yourself on the information afterward.
This will significantly improve retention of the material.
I find myself doing this all the time when I’m reading articles online; I summarize the main points in my head when I’m going through and have finished the article. It only takes a little bit of time and it is huge for long-term retention of the material.
To practice this concept, summarize the main points of this article to yourself or someone else.
When you do this, do the following:
- Explain the main points of this article in your own words.
- Visualize yourself using this new information in your life. Write it down in a notebook or on a whiteboard if you want.
- Connect it to what you already know, either in your head verbally or by drawing it out.
- Put everything in practice (this is extremely important; and note that when you do this, you are automatically retrieving the information on your own)
Review the material as necessary (conscious retrieval)
- The process of connecting new information to what you already know is called elaboration, and it will be explained in more detail soon. All of these require retrieval of the information.
One must periodically practice a skill or re-reread information in order to interrupt the process of forgetting and to strengthen the connections between neurons.
This is pretty obvious, but if you read an article or book a long time ago and want to truly relearn its information, go back and reread it. This will interrupt forgetting and strengthen learning.
However, if you actively use the information in question, it will be much less necessary to read it again because you are using that information in your daily life. Rereading a book or article on that information will probably reteach you things that you aren’t using instead.
For instance, if you practice your deadlift technique in the gym all the time and think you’re an expert, reading an article might give you an extra trip to improve your form that you weren’t aware of.
While reading the article, test yourself by explaining the information in your own words and/or by visualizing yourself using the information, and then actually put it into practice the next time you’re deadlifting.
You’ve known since grade school that if you want to learn new information, you have to recite it. However, what is often emphasized less in school is that you need to put new information into context and elaborate it to make it useful for the future.
So you cannot simply memorize something and expect to be able to use it effectively when you need it, you absolutely must give it meaning to your own life. This is all effective retrieval, and there is more on these subjects ahead.
#3) Spaced Practice is Critical for Long-Term Retention
To learn something thoroughly, you must space the learning out over a course of time.
Therefore, if you space out lessons and practice skills over a longer period of time, you will learn them significantly better in the long run.
Over time, a strongly rehearsed skill or memory comes from its assigned section of the cerebral cortex instead of the hippocampus, the brain’s short-term and explicit memory center. This means that it becomes much easier to recall.
Again, consolidation is the process by which a memory becomes integrated into your brain for easy recall. Consolidation has been shown to be a more effective process over a longer period of time. It has been shown to happen largely when you sleep. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that caffeine also helps memory consolidation, even if you drink caffeine after you initially learn the lesson.
To add to this point, know that students who cram for an exam are not nearly as effective at withdrawing the material later as students who space their practice out. You likely know this from your own experience as a student.
In studies where one group of students learns a series of tasks in one day and the second group spreads their learning out, then both groups are tested on a given date afterward, the latter group almost always outperforms the former significantly. I’m not going to link to research on this because I don’t feel like it. Google it yourself and you’ll see that this is virtually always the case.
Remember this lesson for anything that you want to truly retain and master: you must space it out and retrieve the knowledge and/or use the skill until it feels like second nature.
As a side note, if you are shown or read about a new technique, then you immediately integrate it into your repertoire and thus perform the technique many times, that is spaced repetition embedded into what you’re doing (as well as elaboration). It may be helpful to go back to the article, video, or person who showed you the technique in the first place to make sure it’s being done correctly, but you don’t need to read about it multiple times if you’re actively doing it.
Anyway, unless you have an upcoming deadline, don’t worry if you haven’t picked up something for a few days. If you seek to learn a new hobby, for instance, and you miss a few days of practice, the added days off help you in consolidating your knowledge and skills.
This is also true about much longer hiatuses. If you started to learn a new language then you stopped using it for a year before getting back into it, with proper practice, you will eventually be stronger at it than ever. You’ll end up with a longer-lasting and stronger understanding of the language because the practice was spaced out over several years.
Sure, you’d be stronger at it had you never taken a break, and when you get back into it, it will initially be more challenging. But the fact that you took a long period of time in between practicing it plays a crucial role in consolidating and solidifying what you know.
All of this is helpful to know if you have a busy routine and you are learning something that you cannot practice every day, or if you have taken a long break from something you started a long time ago. This is one major reason why people find that they are better at something after they have taken a long break from it.
The struggle that you experience when coming back from a hiatus also causes more effective, longer-lasting learning. The fifth section will explain more of why this is the case.
#4) Elaboration Is Essential to Truly Understand Any Concept
As I noted, elaboration is the concept of making something your own knowledge by giving it meaning and connecting it with what you already know.
This is a critical concept to understand about learning.
Let’s say you have 50 foreign vocabulary words to learn. Strict memorization of these words doesn’t work very well on its own. You need to elaborate them in order to properly recall them when you need them.
To practice elaboration, try the following.
- Verbalize them in syllables, emphasizing each syllable.
- Practice relating them to other words.
For instance, in Spanish, despertar (to wake up) is similar to descansar (to rest). It is also similar to the word disparar (to shoot). I can visualize myself waking up (despertar), shooting a target (dispirar), then going to sleep (descansar), while strongly emphasizing the differences in the pronunciations. Ie: des PER tar, des CAN sar, DIS pir AR.
- Draw out a map of various words that are similar — or the opposite. You can do this in your head or on a whiteboard. Just try to visualize or draw them into groups.
- Practice using the words in sentences and conjugating the verbs if it’s a language that uses verb conjugations, like Spanish.
- Visualize yourself in situations where you will use the words in everyday speech.
- And of course, come back and practice the words multiple times in the future. This is not elaboration, but this is retrieval and spaced practice. If you are using these words in conversation, conscious retrieval is not necessary except for words you don’t use.
On a related note, as you learn more vocabulary in any language, it will make it even easier to learn even more vocabulary down the road. When you’re learning a new vocabulary word, you’re learning more than just the word; you’re getting a true feel for the language as well. This concept is also true of virtually every other subject you can possibly learn.
Anyway, if you do not elaborate on a concept, you will not have nearly the same understanding when you need to use it. You’ll be lucky to be able to recall it in any meaningful level of detail. You absolutely must give anything meaning in order to understand it later.
Let’s look at another example.
Learning about one ancient culture is easier if you already have a strong understanding of other cultures. In other words, if you elaborated on those other cultures thoroughly and have a strong working knowledge of them. If you know dates, times, and details of many cultures or events, then you can relate them and connect them to new lessons more effectively.
If you know one set of facts about the Incan Empire, for instance, and you are now learning about the Aztecs, you can connect a lot of your previous knowledge about the Incans (and other cultures) to what you’re now learning about the Aztecs. Dates, times, events, locations, how they got food, their technology, how they were similar and how they differed, and so forth.
The information you may know about the Incans will connect to what you’ve learned about the Aztecs. Once your knowledge about the Aztecs is solidified, you will be able to use that in your web of knowledge to connect to something else that’s related.
If you’ve ever seen someone who knows an insane amount about a certain subject, and you’ve asked yourself how it’s possible, it is because they have become well versed in the subject from years of experience and they can easily elaborate anything new and connect it to previously learned knowledge.
On that note, there’s one last point I’ll state here. If you practice learning new concepts by giving them meaning, there’s no known limit to how much you can learn.
Just knowing this fact about elaboration should prove useful very useful for a lot of people. When I was younger, I used to think I’d forget some old knowledge if I learned something new. I cannot possibly tell you enough how important it was for me to drop this misconception.
It’s true that you do “forget” old lessons that you haven’t retrieved in a while. However, if you have a healthy, functional brain and you forget something, you just need to consciously retrieve that old information to strengthen your previously established memories.
#5) When You Struggle With a Concept, You Learn Better.
Contrary to what you may believe, if you struggle to learn a lesson before you come to the conclusion, you will retain it much better.
This is very counter-intuitive to what you may have learned growing up. “Failure” and struggling while learning is actually productive as long as you eventually come to the conclusion.
When you struggle with a lesson, you typically have to draw upon multiple trains of thought to come to the conclusion. This added effort makes the conclusion stick better, again, as long as you eventually arrive at it. This can occur on your own or if the answer is eventually given by somebody else after you put in real effort.
However, the initial struggle makes it feel like you are not learning anything, or perhaps that you are not as smart as you thought you were. Rest assured that this is an illusion, and when you come back to the lesson later, you virtually always find that you remember it better than lessons that you did not struggle on.
For example, let’s say that you just entered a new city but you took a wrong turn and you’re now lost. You have to navigate your way to your destination but your GPS doesn’t work.
The process of having to spend extra attention figuring what street is which, where landmarks are, and perhaps even some emotion spent into it as you wonder whether or not you’ll actually get back, all mean you’re struggling more than you typically would. Additionally, you have to use navigational skills you may not have used in a long time, which would enhance those skills and contribute further to the learning process.
When you finally get back you’re probably a bit relieved. The next time you’re navigating through the city, especially if it’s the next day or beyond, you’ll come back to the same city streets with a much greater understanding of the city’s layout.
Thus, your struggle to learn the city the first day contributed significantly to your learning of its layout. If you were to only study a map or use a GPS, you wouldn’t understand the layout nearly as well.
So remember, don’t be afraid to struggle when learning a new lesson. It might not be something you intentionally do, of course. But if you find yourself struggling, as long as you eventually reach the conclusion of the lesson, you’ll have learned it a lot more thoroughly.
#6) You Are Often a Poor Judge of When You Are Learning
This is a critical concept to know.
We naturally want to explain what is going on inside of our own minds, but we are poor judges of when we are learning.
I’ve noticed that if I’m learning something on a day that I’m tired, I often don’t feel like I’m learning it very well. But the next day when I’m rereading the material and I’m better rested, I realize that I picked up a lot more than I thought.
I’ve also noticed from learning Spanish that despite initially struggling with many new concepts, much of it became second nature down the road.
Remember from the last section that when you struggle with a task you typically find yourself better able to recall it in the future. During the initial struggle, it is very common to believe that you are not picking up the task.
However, this is an illusion. Typically the next day you will come back and realize that you now know the information better than ever.
Conversely, the illusion of knowledge can occur as well, even with experienced learners. This can happen when you read something in a book but you cannot explain it very well when it is tested. Another example is when you learn foreign vocabulary but can only remember it in one context and you struggle to use it in conversation.
College students are known for re-reading and memorizing textbook information because it provides them the illusion of knowing the lesson better than they actually do. They can recall the information well in the context of the book, but they often end up doing poorly on the exam or a real-world situation. This is because they over-estimated their own understanding of the material because they did not practice it well enough.
The best way to determine how well you’ve learned a lesson is come back and test yourself with it later. Wait at least 15 minutes to several hours from when you first learned a lesson. Quiz yourself, elaborate it to yourself or someone else, and/or utilize the knowledge in another practical manner.
And be aware that even though you now know about this illusion, it will still occur from time to time. The best thing you can do is recognize it from experience and to test your knowledge and skills to see where you really stand.
You only know how good you are at something when you’re tested on it.
#7) To Greater Understand a Lesson, Analyze it From Multiple Angles
Strict memorization by itself doesn’t work. You cannot effectively memorize facts without making any attempt to connect them to your previous knowledge, and then expect to be able to use them effectively later. You have to elaborate and make new information part of your own knowledge.
As previously mentioned, the brain is largely comprised of a web of interconnected neurons. The more connections you can bring together, the easier it is to recall new information and make a new lesson a part of your knowledge forever.
If you analyze a new lesson from many angles, you will retain and understand it much better. Despite what many believe, having a preferred “style” of learning that helps you learn more effectively is not consistent with research. Lessons are best retained when you approach them from many angles.
As an example, let’s say that you’re learning a grammar concept in a new language.
First, read the concept in a book. There’s your first angle of understanding it.
Then apply it by using it in multiple sentences. That is your second angle of understanding.
Then talk to a native speaker and hear the way they use that grammar concept in a sentence. Practice using it with them. This is your third angle of understanding the concept.
Then close your eyes and visualize the grammar chart in one form or another, filling in the blanks with your brain.
This gives you four angles of understanding one concept.
This method will be much more effective than just looking at the chart briefly and not thoroughly applying the information within. Analyze any lesson with these four ways of understanding and you will be able to learn it significantly better. It will also feel like a lot more stress on your brain, which is a good thing!
When you switch between the various ways of understanding a concept, it is called interleaving. Interleaving is shown to be extremely effective for greater understanding and long-term retention.
It may not feel like it is producing immediate results, but remember that you are often unaware of when you are learning effectively.
Studies where learners interleave their practice produce better long-term results, even if they do worse on an initial test. The book Make it Stick has a lot of information on this.
#8) Socializing With Like-Minded People Helps You Learn More Efficiently and Solidify Your Knowledge
Socializing with others who are into the same subject will help you learn a subject more completely and effectively. Frankly, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
Like-minded people will give you a realistic perspective on what you know compared to them. They can put their input into what you know and add to your knowledge. They can also give you different perspectives on the subject that you have not considered on your own. If you teach them something about the subject, this elaboration process solidifies concepts in your brain and helps you retain the information better.
Some find that it is initially easier to learn a difficult new concept on their own. But once you have the basics down, surrounding yourself with like-minded people will be immensely beneficial toward a greater understanding of the subject. This cannot be understated; you should not attempt to learn something in a vacuum.
Ideally, it is best to surround yourself with people who know more than you about a given subject. If you cannot do this, find great resources online: podcasts, articles, and videos by experts on the subject you seek to learn. There’s a ton of free, high-quality information out there. Just make sure that you can effectively separate the good from the bad. Listen to how an expert approaches and discusses the subject that you are interested in.
Congratulations for making it through this article, because most people don’t have the patience to learn this type of information.
I hope this lesson taught you a lot about learning. I’ve revised this article many times and linked to it many times because the information is that damn valuable.
Again, if you haven’t already, I strongly recommend bookmarking this article and referring to it multiple times in the future.
Make sure you elaborated on the concepts of this article but explaining them into your own words. And of course, make sure you practice the techniques discussed! This will also take advantage of spaced practice which will make your learning of these facts stick in the long run.
Every concept in this article is crucial to make your future learning much more effective. The more you come back to this article to elaborate and practice the techniques given, the more the information will solidify into your brain.
A lot of credit goes to the authors of Make It Stick, which is definitely worth a purchase to supplement the information in this article. Many of these ideas are stated in this book.