Author’s Note: I made this guide a while back in September 2019 when I was just starting out writing. I now advocate more principles rather than tactics, so I’ll revise this article in the near future.
In this guide, I’ve cut out impractical and ineffective strategies so that you’re left with the most practical and easiest ways to transform the way you learn.
This is based mostly on the best books I’ve read on learning, as well as my own experience.
Here’s what you’re going to learn in this guide:
- Before You Can Learn Faster: First Things First
- Chapter 1: How Fast Learners Think
- Chapter 2: Practical Strategies Anyone Can Do To Learn Information Faster
- Learn How to Get the Best Learning Materials
- A Nobel-Prize Strategy for Learning Faster
- Tight Feedback Loops
- Perform Retrieval Practice/Active Recall
- Learn More Through Mind Mapping
- This Is How You Consolidate Information Better (prompted summary sheets)
- Start Note-Taking, Stop ‘Note-Having’
- The Plus, Minus, Equal Method
- Stop The “Practice, Practice, Practice” Mantra Misinterpretation
- Build A Library of “Chunks”
- BONUS Tip: Consume Content 1.5x to 2x Faster (& an amazing extension)
- Chapter 3: How to Hack Your Focus to Learn Faster
- Use Your Brain’s Natural “Steroids”
- Have a stable source of Willpower
- Why 40-year Old Moms Learn Faster Than You
- Remove Clutter Out of Your Sight
- This Simple Hack Will Eliminate Internal Distractions
- Use The All-Magical Tomato
- Don’t Just Take Coffee—Take it Strategically
- Learn at Your Biological Prime Times (When Possible)
- Have a siesta. But follow this rule.
- Chapter 4: How to Quickly Remember What You Learn
- BONUS #1: Learning Tips from Theodore at Practical Psychology
- BONUS #2: How I Learn Faster
Before You Can Learn Faster: First Things First
Ever heard of the “Learning Pyramid”? It’s been debunked.
It’s simply a widely circulating, corrupted version of the original “Dale’s Cone of Experience”.
If the Learning Pyramid was your life, don’t worry, I’ll give you another one. This should be your learning pyramid starting today:
What I mean there is, before you even think about “hacks”, make sure you get the strategies behind them first. More importantly, before you even think about strategies, you should adopt how fast learners think first and foremost.
The thing is, there’s really nothing wrong with looking for shortcuts. What’s wrong is doing the conventional methods but expecting extraordinary results.
That being said, I don’t want to promise you “extraordinary results” here — just to be clear.
While the strategies here are effective, they require enduring humbling amounts of discomfort, especially when you’re trying out the best way to learn information I’m gonna share with you in this guide.
But with the right mindset, I fully believe you’ll be able to implement them properly.
Chapter 1: How Fast Learners Think
“You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”Marcus Aurelius, Great Roman Emperor
First of all, you have to realize that learning faster starts with how we approach our learning.
When we approach it with the wrong mindset or set of beliefs, we unconsciously set a ceiling for our potential. In contrast, when we approach learning with the right mindset, then the opposite happens; we can leverage our brain’s full potential.
Not investing in getting better at learning/productivity…
Believing that talent is everything…
Relying on self-discipline and motivation all the time…
Don’t believe in these kinds of crap. I’ll tell you why.
Invest In Your Learning and Productivity
You have two resources to invest: Time and money.
What usually happens is, when you have a lack of time to invest, you spend more money, and vice versa.
First, investing time for learning faster isn’t just about allocating time for learning itself. That’s just half of the game. The other half is preparation.
It sounds cliché, but investing your time to plan out a strategy from beginning to end makes future work easier and eliminates the guesswork from learning. (As a bonus, you procrastinate less)
“This allows you to gather material, research different learning strategies for your particular skill or subject, plan out your time and conduct a pilot test of the schedule.”
Second, investing money doesn’t mean spending just for books and resources.
You should definitely do that when you find incredible references, but the real purpose of this is to make everything easier.
In my opinion, some of the best things you could invest in is a table lamp, a book about habits, and a pair of headphones. (and probably a desk if you don’t have any)
Or better yet, something that helps you sleep better. More on this later.
Talent is Overrated
We tend to put people with talent on the pedestal.
After all, they do have all the achievements and the praise of being ‘smart’ or ‘talented’ and we don’t.
In an article published in The Atlantic, Dr. James Hamblin states that when praised by their fixed traits, talented people become less of a risk-taker.
They begin to fear mistakes because failures do not conform to their identity of being ‘gifted’.
You see, inaction makes us learn slower than anything else. Failure, however, is an opportunity to become better.
As James Clear says in his best-selling book, Atomic Habits:
“The pain of failure is a great teacher. The greater the pain, the better we learn.”
In other words, these ‘talented’ people don’t really end up becoming the best because they tend to get fixated on looking smart rather than becoming smarter.
The truth is, you can become great without much talent by doing the work. (but we’ll talk about not working hard later)
Even the greats started from the bottom. They experienced a lot of failure, sweat and tears, criticism, and everything in between before they got there.
Now, when a lot of people fear failure, and failure is really a way to learn faster, don’t you think you’re going to learn better than anyone by embracing mistakes and obstacles that come your way?
The way out of your fear of failure, according to science, is by having the Growth Mindset and eliminating the Fixed Mindset—as coined by Dr. Carol Dweck in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
The Growth Mindset will make you…
- Learn for the sake of learning
- Embrace challenges
- See effort and obstacles as opportunities to grow
- Learn from your mistakes and others’ criticism
- Learn from your and other people’s successes
We’re not trying to learn to show off that we’re smart.
We’re not avoiding challenges that make us look dumb in the moment.
The only competition here is ourselves.
What you’ll get by adopting this mindset is greater achievement and higher levels of satisfaction.
Did I mention you’ll get more motivated, too?
To effectively ‘reshape’ your mindset into a Growth Mindset, a 2013 study reports you just have to know this simple fact:
“Effort changes the brain, and it is YOU who control this whole process.”
When I first adopted the Growth Mindset, I became rather extreme with the “challenges” and “obstacles”.
I started 2 websites without even knowing how to write just because I knew I could become better fast by learning from my mistakes.
“Hard work beats talent”, right?
At some point, though, I started overworking myself to a point of constant inefficiency.
I started burning out, and my judgement became clouded. I wasn’t anymore able to see what good or bad writing looks like. Thus, I wasn’t learning faster.
It completely defeated the purpose of trying to create higher levels of achievement.
Which brings me to the next point.
Working Hard For Long Hours is Overrated
Why does “Made in Japan” ring a different, high-quality bell in our brains?
It’s because of a great guy, Joseph Juran.
You see, anyone can work hard, finish everything, or try to ‘outwork’ the competition.
But the problem is: “Are we doing the right thing?”
Juran was the one who sparked Japan’s ideas for Lean Manufacturing.
It’s all about focusing on the right things—the few essential elements of a process/product while minimizing wastes.
And the secret behind it is the Pareto Principle.
Note the term minimizing, rather than eliminating.
They focus on the few essential ones, called the “vital few” and happily miss out on the plenty, less important ones, called “trivial many”.
Gary Keller, one of the most influential people in real estate, says it perfectly in his bestselling book, The ONE Thing:
“The majority of what you want comes from the minority of what you do.”
Tim Ferriss, best-selling author and entrepreneur, learns to speak a new language in 3 months by learning just the few, but most frequently used words in the target language. He teaches this method in his book, The 4-Hour Chef.
Josh Kaufman, author of 3 bestselling books, teaches you how to become sufficiently good at a new skill in just 20 hours by using similar methods to the Pareto Principle. His book was unsurprisingly titled, The First 20 Hours.
Mehdi, owner of StrongLifts 5×5, says that beginners only have to do 5 compound movements: Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift, Rows, Overhead Press instead of gazillions of exercises to get BIG results fast.
Now, what does this have to do with us? We can and SHOULD apply this idea to our learning.
Focus on the most essential ones, and happily miss out on others.
Instead of learning every little detail, step back and think about its importance.
By applying the Pareto Principle, you shave off more than half of your total learning time.
Now, we know that you should invest in your learning, embrace obstacles, and work on the right thing.
“B-but, I’m not motivated or disciplined enough to do that!”
Well, you don’t need much of those, anyway. Here’s why.
Stop Relying on Motivation
Have you ever felt demotivated as hell because you’ve just experienced going toward the opposite direction of your goals?
You’re trying to lose weight, but you see the scale going up.
You’re trying to become a better singer, but somebody just called out your single flat note out of everything else that’s perfect.
You’re trying to learn faster, but you seem to make a lot of mistakes over and over again. (Well, you’re less likely to become demoralized by that now by having the Growth Mindset)
The sad part is…you’re never going to learn faster once you lose the motivation to learn in the first place!
I experienced the same problem 3 months ago when I was just starting out Improveism.
My writing sucked.
The number of visitors sucked. I’m talking single digits.
Either way, I was entirely focusing on the number of visitors on my blog.
But then, an email from Ryan Holiday came in (from his newsletter), and presented the question: “What’s in your control?”
And somehow, that reminded me of what the real deal is. I just have to write better, longer, and more valuable articles. The number of visitors aren’t in my control.
No one will even visit the site if I don’t write many valuable articles in this blog.
As if like magic, the realization popped up when I was listening to Atomic Habits:
Your goal does not matter as much as you think. What matters more is what you do consistently to achieve your goals.
As Scott Adams says in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, “Have systems, not goals.”
When you are goal-minded, you have a direction of where you’re going.
However, what happens when you don’t see any progress? You start to lose motivation.
Goal-oriented thinking leads to thinking about the results that you gain to get to that desired goal.
Systems-oriented thinking, on the other hand, leads to thinking about the things you are doing consistently and let the results take care of itself.
This way, you’re focusing on the process, rather than the result.
When working towards your learning goals, focus on the things you can control rather than the things you can’t.
Stop Relying on Self-Discipline Alone
Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL, is famously quoted for saying: “Discipline builds freedom.”
Being able to proceed with your daily tasks with total intentionality frees you up.
You won’t allow yourself to waste time doing nonsense when you’re a highly disciplined person with a high amount of self-control.
The question is: “Can you always rely on self-discipline?”
In a Stanford University study in 1969, Dr. Walter Mischel performed a rather cruel experiment on children—using marshmallows.
These children were told to eat the one marshmallow in front of them whenever they like, but if they would wait for 15 minutes longer, they will get another marshmallow as a reward.
Of course, some were able to resist, and some weren’t.
As it turns out, 40 years later, the children who couldn’t wait for their next marshmallow were more likely to experience relationship problems, stress and even drug abuse.
Despite higher levels of self-control being correlated to increased levels of achievement, the study proves that not everyone can 100% rely on their self-control to resist immediate rewards even in exchange for a larger, long-term reward.
And relying on Self-Discipline all the time requires immense amounts of our willpower.
When that willpower depletes (a phenomenon called ego depletion), all that’s left for our brains is to choose what’s immediately rewarding at the moment.
UPDATE (3/26/2020): My perspective changed on this one. Some studies show that willpower is basically unlimited, but I still don’t believe it’s a good idea to rely on a fluctuating resource like willpower. (which uses mental energy, by the way.)
Later, we’ll talk about how your willpower works, but for now, let me tell you this flaming fact:
People who actually have ‘high self-discipline’ do not often have their battles against self-control in the first place, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Furthermore, according to an article at Vox:
“In 2015, psychologists Brian Galla and Angela Duckworth published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, finding across six studies and more than 2,000 participants that people who are good at self-control also tend to have good habits — like exercising regularly, eating healthy, sleeping well, and studying.”
Mark Manson makes solid argument about “why self-discipline shouldn’t be too hard” in his article, you can check it out if you’re interested.
But to solve the big problem, we can make just one simple trick to stop relying on self-discipline alone.
And what is that? Environment Design.
In the book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear recommends this method as a way to easily form good habits by making habit cues obvious (thus, reminding our brain more frequently) and making habits easy to do.
Because we humans are naturally wired to make our feelings guide our choices (According to the Somatic Marker Hypothesis), we now realize how important it is to modify what we see in our surroundings; especially those that “go against our self-discipline”.
You don’t need to resist eating junk food if all that you have in your apartment are fruits and veggies.
You don’t need to resist procrastinating if you don’t even have your phone or bed in the same room, and you just have your desk and learning materials in front of you.
So, as a first step, go ahead and start identifying the elements in your immediate environment (your workspace, primarily) that tend to make you act against your intended goals.
Put them where you can’t see them. Usually, that does the trick.
Next, identify elements that help you act towards your goal and put them in an obvious place that’s easy to access.
By doing this, you will, without effort, form good habits that align with your goals and break bad ones.
This is how you stop relying on your ‘self-discipline’—by breaking bad habits and forming good ones through a systematic process.
I started doing these same strategies to get myself to read more often.
The simple tweaks were just putting a book near where I procrastinate (I lie down in bed) and putting my smartphone away from my working space.
Since then, I’ve started reading more without any additional effort and most especially, without relying on my self-discipline.
I’m currently in my 2nd week of building this habit again after some failed past attempts.
I did this because aside from writing itself, I believe reading is one of the fastest ways to become a better writer.
Anyway, once you’ve done all that, go back here and thank me later. (Or don’t.)
Prioritize Building Learning Habits (4 Easy Steps)
Big results are rarely made by massive action. They’re created using small, consistent actions—habits.
Now, this really has to do more with learning more than learning faster.
In the long run, however, your learning habits actually help you learn much more quickly.
Knowledge builds upon knowledge. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to learn.
Some entrepreneurs even persuade people to build a learning habit by saying:
“The more you learn, the more you earn.”
But…how exactly do you build learning habits?
In the New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, James Clear lays out 4 easy steps to build any habit from scratch:
- Make it Obvious
- Make it Attractive
- Make it Easy [to do]
- Make it Satisfying
If you wanted to build a learning habit of reading every morning, for example, the process would go like this:
Put the book near your bed such that you’ll wake up seeing the book (#1) and easily grabbing it. The less steps you need to get that book, the greater the chance of you doing it. (#2)
Then, you just read for 2 minutes. (#3)
Why? You can’t expect to read for 1 hour every day if you can’t do it for 2 minutes every day. Establish a habit first before you improve it.
Lastly, you want to track your habit by marking your Calendar immediately after reading. (#4)
Certainly, there are many ways you can skin a cat, and you can learn about that in Atomic Habits.
- Investing in your learning and productivity is perhaps the fastest way to hack your learning curve.
- Effort changes the brain. Anyone can become better, regardless of ability. You, not your talent, control what you achieve. Adopt the Growth Mindset.
- Instead of trying to learn everything, try to work on the right things. Working hard does not matter if you’re working on the wrong things.
- Stop relying on your motivation brought by your goals. It comes and goes. Instead, you want to establish systems. Goals only set a direction, but systems, not motivation, will keep you running in that same direction.
- Your self-discipline helps you stick to your goals. BUT it isn’t something you can rely on all the time. Our biological composition doesn’t allow it 100% of the time. Instead, you want to design your environment such that you’re not exposed to temptations of putting off what you need to do.
- Build learning habits. The more you learn, the more you’ll learn.
Chapter 2: Practical Strategies Anyone Can Do To Learn Information Faster
“Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. You might know how to succeed, but more importantly, what’s your plan to succeed?”Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker.
Once you’ve gotten the right mindset for learning faster, you now have to learn how to learn.
It’s ironically not taught in schools, and it seems that they assume we already know how to do it effectively.
The truth is learning is not intuitive. Intuition, most of the time, fails us at learning.
And a lot of scientific research shows this is the case.
Rereading, Highlighting, Underlining, and even Summarizing were shown to lead to poor results in learning and retention.
Just because plenty of people do something does not make it right.
Certainly, there are times where our intuition makes us succeed in learning; teaching others what you know is the best example.
In this chapter, we’ll discuss which of the existing methods actually work.
Learn How to Get the Best Learning Materials
Again, preparation shaves off a significant amount of learning time. That said, you must learn how to get the best learning materials for your own purpose.
Here’s a simple trick you could use. Say you’re trying to learn a subject, Physics, on your own.
Common sense tells us that you should be getting the one that’s recommended in your syllabus. However, this is a rather narrow way of thinking about references.
Unless you instantly come up with a really, really great and well-written textbook that’s easily understandable (while not compromising information), you still have to find another reference book for that subject.
What you want to do is get recommendations from Quora. Quora is a question-and-answer website that allows people from all over the world to answer any questions you may have.
Just type in “best book on *topic* quora” on Google and you should be able to see multiple results.
I scroll through each question and I just choose the one with a lot of upvotes.
By now, you should realize that the wrong search queries will end up giving wrong results.
Another thing you want to do is search for recommendations in Forums like Reddit.
Why these places? They contain real people with real experiences.
Just enter “Best physics book Reddit” or “Best physics book Quora”.
You can even try to get more specific by adding prepositions, e.g. “Best physics book for Engineering students”.
Most of the time, you’d find gems lying around on Reddit.
I even found out that James Clear used Reddit 7 times for his research on Atomic Habits in an AMA (ask me anything) post.
One caveat is when you’re trying to find books that expand your learning and influence your thinking.
For that, I suggest you check out this article.
A Nobel-Prize Strategy for Learning Faster
Have you ever heard your teacher explain something so well he could teach 5-year old kids Quantum Physics?
The real benefit, surprisingly, is higher for the teacher.
This technique is called the Feynman Technique, named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman.
In an interview, Feynman described his teaching to others as “catching a guy on different hooks”.
In short, it meant explaining things so simply that others could understand it well.
Use a lot of analogies. Use metaphors.
I link to this how-to video a lot, but I’ll do it again for you guys:
Use the Feynman Technique every single time you encounter a hard-to-grasp concept.
You’ll learn it faster than ever before.
Tight Feedback Loops
Getting stuck is the enemy of learning faster. The act of waiting effectively bottlenecks your ability to learn regardless of what mindset or technique you use.
There are plenty of ways to do this, including (but not limited to):
- Getting answer keys and solution manuals
- Getting instant feedback
- “Solved Problems” books
- Getting a coach (for skill learning)
- Going to YouTube
- Going to Quora to check if someone asked the same question
Thus, always prefer materials that prevent you from getting stuck.
School does a really poor job at this, to be honest.
For example, answering a test would let you know if you actually learned anything during the course (more on this later), but the time it takes to get feedback is just too long.
If real learning is your goal, then make sure you learn immediately about your mistakes and your correctness.
You want to immediately expose your weaknesses to work on them ASAP, rather than hide them.
That’s Growth Mindset 101.
Feedback also allows you to discover new strengths, thus you can eliminate a ton of your learning time only working only on things that need attention the most.
Later, in the Spaced Repetition section, we’ll discuss how exactly you could do that.
Perform Retrieval Practice/Active Recall
Retrieval Practice/Active Recall is simply self-testing.
A study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences even showed that retrieval practice was tremendously effective in improving your memory even without knowing the correct answer.
But learning materials shouldn’t be the only ones with tight feedback loops; our methods should have them as well. In this case, we should immediately know whether we’ve actually learned something or not.
Have you ever experienced doing a reading assignment, and then feeling like you know it already, but when exam time comes you can’t even remember anything at all?
That’s because merely feeling you know something does not mean you actually know it.
Retrieval Practice obliterates this problem.
I mean, how are you supposed to learn higher level of information if you couldn’t even remember its prerequisites? Do you get what I’m saying here?
Alright, but how about studying repeatedly? Repetition is key, right? Not so fast.
First of all, repeated studying is a passive way of learning unless you consolidate information using the Feynman Technique or similar methods.
But here’s what I want you to remember: Understanding does not automatically equate to retention.
And to learn new information faster, nothing’s more important than building upon accumulated knowledge.
In a 2008 study entitled The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning by Karpicke & Roediger, they concluded that repeated studying did not have any effect on long-term retention.
However, when their subjects performed repeated testing, the results were clear: retention of information drastically improved.
In addition, students who re-studied the material felt like they were going to do well on the test, but they actually didn’t. The students who did repeated testing were the ones who performed better, despite low performance expectations.
Repeated exposure only counts for familiarity, not mastery.
When you study something repeatedly, it’s not certain if you’re going to retain it.
But if you can retrieve something from your brain, it’s there. Period.
The best part is, retrieval practice effectively slows down your rate of forgetting in each retrieval. (more on this later) Not to mention it could be applied with other strategies as well: Memory Palace, Mind Map, Elaboration, Summary sheets, and many more.
You can say Active Recall is the godfather of learning methods.
Make sure you do this every time you finish a learning session.
Recall what you learned out of thin air. Create your own questions and answer them. Use the questions given at the end of each book chapter. Use the Feynman Technique after you’ve finished learning the material without looking at it.
Learn More Through Mind Mapping
Similar to the Feynman Technique, a University of Melbourne study says that structured diagrams like concept maps and mind maps actually help in understanding complex topics.
While this is the case, I found that a 2010 study supports Mind Mapping as a good Note-Taking strategy as compared to standard note-taking techniques.
However, what I’d like to advocate is to use Mind Mapping as a tool for Retrieval Practice.
This means combining Mind Mapping with Retrieval Practice to get both creativity and memory benefits.
If you’d like to know how to create a true mind map, I suggest watching this excellent 10-year old video.
Otherwise, the basic idea is to create a central idea and work your way outwards to sub-ideas.
This Is How You Consolidate Information Better (prompted summary sheets)
You can also create summary sheets to incorporate Active Recall to your learning.
However, to make this process a bit easier, I devised a method that uses prompts.
This way, all you have to think about is the connection between your prompts and then forming sentences about them.
You’re still performing Active Recall, but this time, you’re doing it with certain cues.
Since I heavily use Anki for my learning, I experienced having “disconnected knowledge”–I was able to retain everything, but not in a synthesized fashion.
As a solution, I create summary sheets. Nowadays, I made it even easier to do by including prompts.
For example, here’s a prompted summary sheet from my book, Anki 102: (only subscribers have access to this book, though)
There’s no need to worry about thinking everything from scratch. However, if you so desire to do that, I’d argue that it’s even better for your retention.
In fact, a study from the University of London revealed that the feelings of ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ or TOT phenomenon actually preceded recall that results in better retention.
Start Note-Taking, Stop ‘Note-Having’
In a book written by Cal Newport, named How to Become a Straight-A student, he always referred to effective note-taking as the best way to reduce your learning time.
If you can use your notes to learn faster, you can eliminate much of the review process because it is already strongly encoded into memory.
However, if you’re just taking notes for the sake of having it, then you’re doing it wrong.
Note-taking should be cognitively demanding.
Jotting down when you think ‘That’s important’ is NOT effective note-taking. That’s just ‘note-having’.
Consolidate what you understood first before taking them down. If you want to learn how to take incredible notes, check out my giant Note-Taking guide.
The Plus, Minus, Equal Method
When trying to learn as fast as possible, there’s no bigger obstacle than your ego.
One of the most successful MMA fighters, Frank Shamrock revealed a development system that solves this problem. It’s called “Plus, Minus, Equal”:
- Plus – Learning from someone with more experience
- Minus – Teaching someone with less experience
- Equal – Learn together with someone of the same experience
The “Plus” puts you in your place. There’s still a lot to learn, and mentors shortcut this process.
You can actually have two kinds of mentors:
- Real mentors. From those one step ahead of you up to those with years or decades of experience.
- Virtual mentors. Books and videos. For a relatively small amount of money, reading a book allows you to ‘sit’ beside the author and absorb his ideas. The moment I realized this myself, I fell in love with the idea of reading.
The “Minus” allows you to teach others and solidify your learning. Gain confidence with your knowledge base and develop intuition.
The “Equal” challenges you, motivates you and makes learning fun. It does this by getting us to the “edge” of our abilities.
Stop The “Practice, Practice, Practice” Mantra Misinterpretation
We’ve been taught at a young age to “Practice, Practice, Practice” or “Do it until you can’t get it wrong.”
This cheesy mantra is actually a principle called Overlearning in the skill learning world.
While it can be used strategically for skills (Problem Solving skills), it should NOT be the primary focus when the goal is to remember information.
We’re not training to be able to say a word out loud. We’re trying to expand our knowledge. Overlearning isn’t the most practical thing to do here, except for learning problem-solving and classification skills.
While it’s true that we need to practice for long accumulated amount of time (hence the 10,000 hour rule), it does not necessarily mean we should always practice the same thing for a long stretch of time.
If that were true, then by the same logic, cramming should work for expanding our knowledge.
But that’s certainly not the case.
“Cramming is like putting wet cement on top of one another,” as Dr. Barbara Oakley says.
The way to go is not massed practice, but rather distributed practice.
Note, however, that “practice” here means Retrieval Practice. To learn, retrieve.
In advertising, showing the promotions intermittently led to drastically better results than displaying the ads back-to-back. And the way to know when brand awareness advertising works is when people actually remember the brand through strategic exposure.
In a 2009 study, subjects who used massed practice showed greater initial improvements for the functional task, route learning.
However, those who learned in a ‘spread out’ fashion showed greater improvements long term.
Furthermore, the improvements were far larger when the delay between sessions was increased.
Instead of cramming your learning into one session, strategically space them out throughout the day or week.
This way, not only are you free from stress due to cramming, but also gotten more out of your learning.
Hence, by acknowledging this fact, you eliminate a habit that makes you get less out of what you’re learning.
You learn faster as a result.
Build A Library of “Chunks”
When you first start driving a car, your brain goes haywire thinking about every detail about your driving.
Your foot pressure on the gas, your timing of pressing the brakes, how hard you should press the brakes, and even how much steering is enough.
But as more days go by, you will notice improvements in your driving.
The steering becomes “automatic” for your mind.
The foot pressure becomes ‘second nature’. You don’t even think about when to press each pedal.
When something suddenly appears in front of you, your foot automatically reaches the brakes.
Why is this? It’s because through constantly focusing hard on the skill of driving, the complex processes become a single chunk.
In cognitive psychology, “chunking” is like tying up individual pieces of information into one, easily-retrievable ‘string’. You’re not anymore thinking of “gas, brake, road, mirrors”. You’re just going to think “Drive”.
And when you get advanced enough, you’re not even going to think at all; your mind will be able to wander while driving. That’s mastery right there.
Now that you know it’s related to information, not only you could use this technique to build skills faster, but also learn faster.
When you have a library of chunks, the learning process becomes easier since you can easily access them without much brain power at all. The “space” you freed up will go toward comprehending new material or skill.
Perhaps the best way to build chunks is to navigate between two modes of thinking: the Focused Mode and the Diffuse Mode.
When building a chunk, it’s important to learn something with total concentration. Why? Because our brains have very limited number of items it can hold on to at a time.
To put that into perspective, Timothy Wilson from University of Virginia states in Strangers to Ourselves that there are 11 million bits of sensory information bombarding us at any single time, but we can only focus on 40 of those; roughly only 0.000363636%.
The Focused Mode is easy. You just have to work without distraction and focus on the task at hand. Later, you’ll learn easy ways to do this.
The Diffuse Mode is a difficult one nowadays.
The Diffuse Mode is a ‘wandering’ state of mind that connects unrelated ideas.
Thomas Edison took naps and woke up with an idea light bulb when stuck with a problem. Pun absolutely intended.
One of the best direct-response marketers, Gary Halbert, told his son, Bond, the secret to his creative ideas in his letters from prison. The secret was reading a lot of material, and then taking a break.
He knew that suddenly, ideas would connect if he didn’t think about it for a while.
But there was one exception: that was long before smartphones were even invented.
Tell me, when was the last time you’ve experienced being bored? A long time ago, yes?
Smartphones have been keeping us from entering Diffuse Mode. What happens is, we’re not able to connect ideas we’ve recently learned and group them with ideas we previously learned.
As we all know, associating a new piece of information into something you know already is one of the best ways to learn quickly.
By keeping our focus in check and creating space to think, our ability to comprehend complex ideas and connect information tremendously improves.
Use smartphones with more intention. Learn without distractions.
BONUS Tip: Consume Content 1.5x to 2x Faster (& an amazing extension)
If you want to learn faster…
Then just consume information faster. It’s common sense!
When watching videos, make sure to download them first or just speed up the videos by 1.5 to 2x. Scott Young, author of Ultralearning, does the same.
By doing so, you’ll also train yourself to get the most important points of a topic fast.
But what if you didn’t have videos available? Reading text all the time can drain the hell out of your mental energy.
If you could only make someone speak the text out loud…
The good news is, I just found something that’s tremendously beneficial for that purpose.
And that is the Read Aloud Chrome Extension. (It’s free)
It’s a bit robotic, of course, but it’s pretty good, in my opinion.
Chapter 3: How to Hack Your Focus to Learn Faster
“Only one thing has to change for us to know happiness in our lives: where we focus our attention.”Greg Anderson
Earlier we learned that focus is a vital element when we’re trying to learn faster.
Focus is essential for building chunks, comprehending information quickly, and to your productivity itself.
But we think focus is all about going all in “hermit mode”.
I think this is a rather short-sighted view of focus. Not only does focus have to do with distractions, but also with our biology as a human being.
To solve this problem, I dived into the world of personal productivity and cognitive psychology for research.
As you’ll learn later, most of what we thought we knew about focusing are wrong.
It’s not your fault, but now that you’re here, I want you to learn the truth.
Use Your Brain’s Natural “Steroids”
Imagine if you could do ALL of these overnight, without effort:
- Improve your ability to focus and therefore, finish tasks in half the time
- Become instantly more sociable and therefore, attractive
- Make better decisions effortlessly and quickly
- Have better recall of everything you’ve learned–new or old
Wouldn’t you want something that could do all of these for you?
Let me be your magic genie for today and I’ll grant your wish in one condition:
Take your sleep seriously.
For the love of God, sleep is one-third of your life; are you really willing to spend that one-third of your life unsatisfactorily?
I think not.
All of these benefits, you wouldn’t believe, are FREE. And all you have to do is treat your sleep as you would work or school or appointments.
Sleep restores your fuel for tomorrow’s tasks, hence, your ability to focus and learn.
In a study done by K. Anders Ericsson (the leading expert on Deliberate Practice), they studied three groups of violinists consisting of young ones (in their twenties) and professionals (in their 50’s).
Guess what they found? Other than practicing, music theory, and listening to music, the most relevant contributor to their elite performances was sleep.
You can say that it’s the most effortless way they improved their abilities.
Now, if you can get better at skills by having plenty of high-quality sleep, does that mean you could actually learn information faster?
Why, I’m glad you asked. Again, the answer is yes, but it does not only come from increased focus, but also from sleep itself.
According to a peer-reviewed article in 2012, our memory, specifically the declarative memory (contains information we consciously learn), becomes stronger through slow-wave sleep.
That said, the benefits do not end there.
Have a stable source of Willpower
Remember those “angel-and-devil” scenes from cartoons when characters are faced with temptations?
They’re actually a bit real.
Except imagine that whenever you choose the angel (say you chose to skip the dessert in front of you), you pay a fraction of your willpower to feed the devil.
What happens is, when the devil gets fed enough, it can overpower your actions and you become impulsive.
And when you become impulsive, you start procrastinating when learning gets hard.
Worse yet, you start quitting earlier when you experience even little roadblocks in your learning.
That’s a recipe for disaster, note to mention a total contradiction to the Growth Mindset.
However, this isn’t entirely your fault. The real reason lies within your brain.
In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers tested whether or not practicing self-control would have any effect on the performance of subjects in a puzzle-making activity.
The experiment consisted of two groups, and a bunch of cookies: one group was permitted to eat the cookies, and one group was shown the cookies but were only allowed to eat a substitute–radishes. (How evil.)
Now, did the cookie eaters perform worse on the puzzles because they didn’t practice self-control?
Nope. The “cookie eater” group, on average, spent 150% longer working on the puzzles than the “self-control” group.
Meaning, the “self-control” group actually lost their will to continue working on the puzzles as they were constantly resisting eating the cookies in front of them. They succumbed to the impulse to quit doing such a tedious task.
This study gives us an insight on why the strategy, Environment Design, is so damn effective.
If they didn’t see the cookies in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a desire to eat it, and hence, they wouldn’t have anything to resist at all.
Furthermore, the ‘saved’ willpower could now be used to work for our purposes.
That’s why, in Chapter 1, we discussed that you should perform Environment Design such that you won’t encounter the “angel-and-devil” duo often.
That said, we should be doing our all to either manage our willpower or
develop it. better idea: to bypass it.
In The Willpower Instinct, Stanford Psychologist Kelly McGonigal says that we’re low on willpower in these two conditions:
- Naturally, when we get hungry or sleep-deprived.
- Actively, when we do inhibitory control, or choosing an action that entails a long-term reward rather than an immediate reward. This action depletes a lot of our willpower because our brains are naturally wired to prefer short-term rewards than larger-later ones.
This preference to short-term rewards is what economists call hyperbolic discounting.
When our willpower depletes, we then experience what’s called ego depletion, or simply, a state of high impulsiveness—the opposite of having high self-control.
The only way to restore our willpower, according to a study by Matthew Galliot, is to have stable levels of Blood Glucose.
Perhaps this is why many people believe eating sugar (more on this later) increases their mental performance—it restores impaired performance due to lost willpower.
To have a steady source of glucose, try eating slow-release carbs. Check out this article to learn more: Slow-release carbs list.
But there’s more.
There is one thing we can do to improve our levels of willpower. This one activity not only improves our levels of self-control, but also our focusing capability.
And that brings us to the next point.
Why 40-year Old Moms Learn Faster Than You
Back then, I thought doing meditation were just for 40-year old moms.
Well, it turns out they were getting more out of it than enjoyment, relaxation, and a sense of belonging. They can also focus better as a result.
Again, focus is an important ingredient in our recipe for learning faster.
Chris Bailey, productivity expert, describes meditation as a way to “expand our limited attentional space” in his book, Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive In A World of Distraction.
Look, it’s hard to persuade people into meditation. Don’t you agree?
Even when I tell them that:
- Michael Jordan does it
- Oprah does it
- Steve Jobs does it
- LeBron James does it
- Tony Robbins does it
Still, no luck. Anyway, here’s just a list of what you’re missing out if you don’t meditate (and moms don’t):
- Stop feeling stressed instantly. (study)
- Improve how you sleep. No more groggy mornings again. (study)
- Enhance your attention span and finally beat the goldfish in a focus competition (study)
When we try to focus on what we’re learning, it’s not just external factors that are at play. There’s also our thoughts.
There’s no better way to improve our than to catch yourself thinking of unrelated thought patterns.
Meditation helps solve that problem by ‘silencing’ our thoughts and increasing our awareness of it.
Do you know what you’re thinking right now? How often have you thought about thinking? Probably not so often.
Again, meditation makes you aware of what you’re thinking (impulses, irrelevant train of thoughts, distractions) and tremendously improves your self-control and focus as a result.
Remove Clutter Out of Your Sight
This concept relates to Environment Design more than anything else.
In a 2019 study done on workspace design, researchers have found that not only physical clutter impedes our productivity, but it also promotes stress.
Incidentally, our brains learn differently when stressed.
According to a 2018 study, this is because stress impairs our ability to consolidate and recall information successfully. (Note: Acquisition isn’t negatively affected, though)
Have you ever felt so stressed and told yourself “now is the best time to learn”?
Of course not. You probably experienced a decline in your ability to comprehend the material when you’re stressed.
On the contrary, when you’re in a really good mood, the opposite happens. You learn better.
Honestly, I don’t think the stress factor brought by clutter matters that much.
However, because they’re visual distractions (and we don’t want any of that), you want to set up your study area or workspace such that you only have what you need in your sight, or at least minimize those you do not need.
This Simple Hack Will Eliminate Internal Distractions
It isn’t just physical clutter that promotes unnecessary stress, but also mental clutter.
The way out of this mess (pun intended) is by using a technique called Externalization.
Externalization is popularized by Productivity Expert David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done.
It’s a vital element to the “art of stress-free productivity”.
You do this by getting a pen and paper, or just open a notepad app.
Whenever some “thought distraction” comes up, you write them down. Whatever it is.
It’s a 2-in-1 practice because you’re training yourself to be aware of what you’re thinking while you’re learning something.
I remember back then when I was still in college, I used to do this technique a lot when studying.
This book I was reading was incredibly dry and I’d try so hard to resist the urge to avoid it:
I went to a coffee shop to reduce potential distractions, put on my earphones, and faced the wall so I couldn’t see anything or anyone else in the area.
But it was a reaaaally, really dry read. My brain just goes “how about we look for Skyrim mods later.”
And then, I started writing my thoughts down, one-by-one, and told myself “I’ll get back to these later. They’re not that urgent, anyway.”
Then, boom—in an instant, I was able to go back to what I’m trying to read.
Take note that this only takes seconds to do.
Seconds of externalization will free up hours of your time—guaranteed.
Use The All-Magical Tomato
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, states the relationship between the amount of work you do, the intensity of your focus, and the time you spent focusing.
The equation goes like this:
High Quality Work Done = Intensity of Focus × Time Spent
Of course, algebraically, when the intensity of focus increases, you can do the same amount of high-quality work in less time.
It’s a fascinating concept that persuaded me to take the intention I give into each task seriously.
And as we’ve learned earlier, focusing is an important ingredient to learning faster.
The reason is focusing allows the build-up of myelin, a fatty sheath that allows neurons to communicate with each other faster.
But the problem, as he says, is that focusing intently takes its toll on your mental energy. You could easily get burned out.
The way out of this is to use the Pomodoro Technique, and you can learn more about this here.
The basic idea is to set a timer for 25 minutes, and work ONLY on your specific task. When the timer expires, you take a 5-minute break.
After 4 sessions, you take a longer break.
However, I found this method too restricting sometimes and it’s often too intimidating for beginners.
Well, I say the most important thing here is to block out undistracted periods of focusing, and take a break short enough to avoid losing momentum, and long enough to recover mentally.
Whether that be a 15-5 minute work-break pair, a 50-10 minute pair; do whatever you prefer.
And make sure to increase the focus time progressively.
It’s the most practical way to get a lot of things done without burning out.
Don’t Just Take Coffee—Take it Strategically
Back in college, I used to be one of those night owls who did caffeinated all-nighters before an exam.
But never again.
Since sleep is one of the most important things you could do to improve your focus, performance, and overall health, we can’t afford to waste all of those benefits by letting caffeine disrupt it.
I actually learned this idea from The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey.
In a 2013 study, scientists looked upon the effects of consuming caffeine 0, 3, and 6 hours before bed.
Here’s the best case result. Those who consumed caffeine even 6 hours before bed reduced sleep by more than 1 hour.
In case you don’t know yet, that’s almost the length of an average sleep cycle!
I like to think of it as losing one-eighth of the benefits in an 8-hour sleep.
Just to be safe, if ever you’re a coffee lover like me, then limit your coffee to 10 hours before your sleep schedule.
This way, you’re getting all the energy benefits, skipping on the midday energy crash, and be able to fall asleep instantly once the caffeine’s effect wears off (the caffeine crash).
Learn at Your Biological Prime Times (When Possible)
Relevantly, the thought of a “midday energy crash” might have surprised you because you thought you’re the only one who feels sluggish after lunch.
Not your fault. It’s actually our body’s natural rhythms that causes that crash.
You see, we actually have fluctuating energy levels throughout the day. You can call it “human energy cycles” if you like.
But the thing is, not everybody is wired the same. Some are more active at night, some are in the mornings. These are called chronotypes.
Regardless, this shouldn’t be a reason to procrastinate. That’s a wrong way to put it.
If your schedule only allows you to study in the morning, then by all means do so; even if you’re a night owl.
Though I’d argue that learning is better in the morning because of a fresh state of self-control reserves.
What I’m saying is, when you have high alertness in a specific time of the day and your schedule allows it, you might as well take advantage of it.
By doing so, you’ll be more likely to learn better in the long run.
You’ll start getting distracted less by your natural rhythms.
Have a siesta. But follow this rule.
Have you ever taken a nap to recharge yourself but ended up getting more tired instead?
The reason is you experienced what we call sleep inertia.
A recent 2019 study confirms that napping for 120 minutes causes temporary sleepiness after waking, increased fatigue and reduced performance.
Another study then recommends you to nap for no more than 30 minutes to avoid these dreadful feelings.
Researchers also recommend that you take into account the time you’re going to take naps.
You see, naps work similar to caffeine, except naps have memory-enhancing benefits.
And just like caffeine, it could affect your sleepiness later in the day. So, we have to take naps strategically, too.
When you take naps frequently during the day, it could do more harm to your body than good by affecting your nighttime sleep, according to a University of Pittsburgh study.
What you want to do is take naps no further than 3 pm.
By napping strategically, you maximize the energy benefits while at the same time avoiding to compromise your energy the next day.
Consistency beats intensity all the time.
It doesn’t matter if you could work for 10 hours today but take the next week off.
Now that you know how to learn better and faster, it wouldn’t make sense if you wouldn’t be able to remember a thing after a day. And that’s what you’re going to learn next.
Chapter 4: How to Quickly Remember What You Learn
“Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.”Corrie ten Boom
Surely, just hard work isn’t enough for extraordinary results. Methods also matter.
That’s why I’ve read research that took hundreds and hundreds of subjects to test methods that improve their memory and retention.
I did experiments on my own learning and re-learned the whole Electronics Engineering curriculum (and some more) in 5 months.
I learned from “living proof” like Cal Newport, Scott Young, Dr. Barbara Oakley, Peter Brown, Anthony Metivier, and even memory champions like Dominic O’Brien and Ron White.
In short, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants right now.
In this chapter, you’re going to learn how to retain information efficiently and quickly.
Because simply understanding material does not always mean you’re going to remember it for a long time. That’s why we have cram schools in the first place.
Spaced Repetition: The “Big Daddy” Of Remembering
The cool part about long-term memory is that it’s even more counterintuitive to repeat the same thing over and over again.
Storing information into long term memory only requires that you retrieve information you’re almost about to forget.
Proof of this is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which shows how we forget information over time:
Two things happen when we retrieve information during those “almost forgot” periods:
- We restart the forgetting curve again.
- We dampen the forgetting curve. (Basically means you forget more slowly)
Luckily, there are some pretty good guidelines already laid out for us, like Dominic O’Brien’s Rule of 5.
- First review: Immediately
- Second review: 24 hours later
- Third review: One week later
- Fourth review: One month later
- Fifth review: Three months later
I like to reduce the intervals, though, since we’re trying to learn a lot of new information. But this goes to show you that you don’t have to study the same thing every single day.
The fastest way to do all of these, though, is by using Anki.
It’s hands down the most effortless way to retain information. The best part? It’s totally FREE.
And it has tons of communities (especially Med Students) all over the globe!
So there you have it.
Certainly, there are some information that’s harder to remember than others. What do we do about that? We use what I call “Artificial Knowledge”.
Use “Artificial Knowledge”
Prior knowledge in a relevant subject is our primary way of making sense of new information.
Because this is the case, Herman Ebbinghaus yet again performed memory experiments. This time, he tried to remember nonsense syllables such as “DAX” or “YAT” or “PED” and avoided syllables that included any meaning, like “DOT” or “DOG”.
This way, he would try to recall these from memory “with a fresh perspective”, or without association.
What happened was, Ebbinghaus discovered that even though these syllables were nonsense, our brains had automatic tendencies to associate prior knowledge despite not having any sense, and therefore, remembering the abstract information better.
For example, “PED” is the first three letters of “Pedal”, and that would automatically be associated with it.
So what does this have to do with us? Well, we can take this a step further and create “Artificial Knowledge” using our Associative Memory.
Like the Feynman technique, we can associate new knowledge to what we previously know, but this time, even without making sense. This is the basic principle of memory techniques like Mnemonics, Story Method, and the Memory Palace.
When you think of Madison as “Mad Sun”, Harrison as “Hairy Sun”, you start forming associations that make your memory of “Madison” and “Harrison” stronger.
If you want to learn more about these other memory techniques, then you should follow along my guide to Memory Techniques.
Stop trying to “Use All Senses” all the time
While there are studies that show it is good for remembering information, I’ve always found it impractical to use for everything.
For example, if you’re learning Electromagnetics, you don’t even have to “feel” or “hear” electromagnetism. We just have to visualize it.
As John Medina says in his book, Brain Rules, our vision trumps all of our senses when it comes to memory. We just tend to remember images better than sounds or tastes.
And it’s not because you’re a “visual learner” or an “auditory learner”. Please, that’s complete bullshit. The idea of “learning styles” develop your Fixed Mindset by making you believe you’re only one type of learner over anything else.
Why do you think people drew cave paintings and used symbols for communicating in ancient times? It’s because we humans remember images better.
So, if you have a hard time learning or remembering something, use images–it doesn’t matter if the image is too bizarre or doesn’t make sense.
Just as long as your brain associates that image to what you’re trying to memorize.
To make it more robust, I’ll tell you the secret of memory athletes right now in the next section.
The Staggering Memory Technique of Ancient Greece
How do you think information were passed down from generation through generation by the Ancient Greeks before paper existed? Through the method of loci.
It’s basically a memory technique that uses “mental images” and your most robust form of memory–the spatial memory, to remember and organize information. It’s famously known as the Memory Palace Technique.
The benefits of memory palaces don’t just end with learning and memory.
A 2013 study even showed that the Memory Palace helped subjects with depression remember their self-affirming memories.
Basically, the Memory Palace technique helped them remember, without much effort, something they should and want to remember!
So, how do you create your own memory palace? Basically, there are three steps:
- Create a mental image for a piece of information or concept.
- Make it bizarre and animated.
- Imagine the image in a familiar place or piece of furniture.
For the last step, you could even make it easier by standing in front of the place itself and then imagine your mental pictures there.
You can actually get a memory palace course using Anthony Metivier’s Memory Improvement Kit. It’s totally free.
But let me warn you.
Once you’ve used this ultimate memory technique, there’s no going back.
You’re going to unlock your unlimited memory potential.
You’re never going to have problems remembering hundreds of pieces of information.
Heck, you could even go as far as ignore taking notes altogether; Ancient Greece style. (but I wouldn’t recommend that)
And the best part is, you can combine this memory technique with EVERYTHING we have discussed so far.
It’s really the secret sauce for your brain, in my opinion.
BONUS #1: Learning Tips from Theodore at Practical Psychology
Whether you’re a student or not, perhaps you just have your personal learning projects, these tips will help a lot as it did for me and Theodore.
If you didn’t know, Theodore has a huge YouTube channel called Practical Psychology (1.7M Subscribers and counting) where you could get actionable self-improvement advice straight from the field of, well, Psychology.
And you get them in an entire level of fun because they’re animated videos.
Make sure you check out his awesome channel! I’ve been a follower of his channel for I think 1 or 2 years now, and he was actually the one who inspired me to start a blog.
Anyway, here are his tips!
Learning Tip #1: Learn something you’re interested in
Learning faster doesn’t have to suck.
Learning itself doesn’t have to be a chore.
With his diverse knowledge of human behavior, Theodore knew that human emotion is incredibly powerful to leverage when trying to learn something.
“It is WAYYY easier to learn something that you’re interested in.
For example, I’m programming a workout app with a friend.
In doing so, we are having to learn how to use Android Studio and a new programming language similar to Java: Kotlin.
I have some experience in other programming languages, but I’m really interested in creating this app, so we both can work for hours on this project at a time.
Interest and curiosity are a huge driver to many of our behaviors, so it’s important to have it in learning too.
This is actually why I dropped out of college: I was “getting taught” things that didn’t interest me in class, while I was actually learning 10x the information of stuff I was outside of class.”
And I highly agree.
I personally didn’t have the guts nor the power to do the same, but back in College, I spent most of my time learning the most interesting subjects only.
When I didn’t like the subject, I’d just 80/20 rule my way out of there and instead spend my study time to extra references on the subjects I’m interested in.
Learning Tip #2: Schedule a whole month to learn something
Learning faster isn’t simply going to happen if you don’t allocate the time to make it possible.
For Theodore, he recommends at least 1 whole month for what you’re trying to learn.
That’s enough to read 4 textbooks! (1 per week)
And as you can imagine, you can easily become more knowledgeable than 90% of the population after reading 4 textbooks.
All in one month.
“When I wanted to learn about memory, I scheduled the entire month of August to learn about it.
I read 4 textbooks, watched countless lectures on Youtube of hidden professors, and wrote everything I learned in a notebook.
Some of it was vocab, some of it was me drawing models.
But all of it was me organizing the information I had learned and spitting it out in my own style.
By spending a whole month learning something, and reviewing it almost every day, you’re constantly reminding yourself of the content and giving you more “reviewing sessions” which have been shown to reduce something called a forgetting curve.“
Learning Tip #3: Teach others
This hits two birds with one stone.
Teaching doesn’t only allow you to make a difference in the world (or the people around you), but also makes you understand what you’re teaching better.
Robert Heinlein once said, “When one teaches, two learn.”
“By teaching someone else, you’ll greatly improve your confidence in understanding of the topic, and give your brain another association to what you’re trying to learn.
For example, I told my mom about how photographic memories don’t really exist, my girlfriend how we have like 7 different kinds of memories, and of course… I am writing on my blog about everything I’ve learned on memory.
Teaching others on Youtube, has in fact, been my greatest learning tool.
Imagine writing a script, narrating the script, listening to yourself while you edit the audio file, and then spend hours animating the video.
By the end of it, you’ll really understand whatever you were talking about. (Sometimes you even realize what you said in the script might’ve been wrong though, too!)”
Theodore is constantly using the Feynman Technique we talked about earlier to transform complex information into easily understandable chunks of knowledge.
Also, because he animates his YouTube videos, he’s also constantly associating images to what he’s learning.
He even told me that he could still remember every book he summarized in the past when he started the channel years ago.
BONUS #2: How I Learn Faster
If you’ve been a reader for a while, then you know I’m a big fan of using Anki.
Using it, I was able to re-learn the entire Engineering curriculum in just 5 months.
Give or take, I didn’t learn much 90% of the time in my first 4 years in College since I had bad study habits (cutting classes, cramming), so I had to re-learn 90% of everything.
And it was only until the last 2 years of college that I took learning seriously. I didn’t even graduate on time; which was a huge deal.
But during the 5 months of preparation, I was able to finish 7 textbooks (some using 80/20 rule) and four 300-page modules.
And then I was able to retain everything I learned up until my Board Exam.
Well, to be honest, it wasn’t 5 months. It was actually 3 months.
I spent time experimenting on Active Recall, Spaced Repetition, Interleaving in the first 2 months, but I didn’t know they were THAT powerful.
Anyway, Anki is completely free to use for PC, Mac, and Android.
Best of all, it automatically schedules my reviews so I don’t have to worry about which cards to review. Everything is done for me.
All I have to do is finish the due cards.
That’s why I’m a huge proponent of using the app now, and I’m teaching it to others so they could learn really fast without losing retention.
Now, if you want to learn how to use Anki to learn faster, you can check out my tutorials in the Anki archives.
See you there!