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How To Learn Fast: 5 Proven Steps To Smart Learning (2020)

by | Sep 9, 2020 | Essential Ingredients for Success, Essentialist Approach To Success

The internet enabled us to learn almost anything there is to learn in the world. It opened access to almost an unlimited amount of knowledge. If you want to learn something new, you simply make a Google search or enroll in YouTube university. However, with all this information available, one thing didn’t improve: our skills on how to learn fast.

That’s why in this article, I’ll share with you my 5 proven steps on how to be a smart learner. You can apply these steps to both developing a skill or learning new information. Although there are nuances that make them different, the fundamentals are the same.

We’ll take an Essentialist’s approach to learning anything new. That means we’ll focus only on the important things when learning. No bells and whistles that will distract you. And most important, no hacks and cutting corners. Ready? Let’s start!

Just In Time Vs. Just In Case Learning

By the way, before we go right into the steps, there’s something I need to tell you. In my opinion, it’s the biggest killer of productivity when it comes to learning. Why? Because it’s sleek and makes you feel like you’re doing something that gives you progress. In reality, you’re only wasting your time. I’m talking about “just-in-case learning.”

You see this time and time again. You’re surfing through the internet and you stumble on what you think is something good to know. You know, just in case you need it in the future. So you stop everything to read, watch and consume the content like there’s no tomorrow. And then you feel good about “learning” it.

Now, this wastes your time because of three reasons:

  1. You’re never going to remember it. There’s no meaning to you learning it that’s why your brain will discard most of it.
  2. You’ll never use it. There wasn’t any intention whatsoever in learning that piece of content. So it isn’t useful for you because you won’t act on it. At least not at the moment.
  3. You’ll have to re-learn it. Why? Because by the time you need the information or the skill, you’ve forgotten most of it. So what do you do? You go back to study the material – but this time, with intention.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not against learning. I’m against purposeless learning. This is why I always advocate…

Just In Time Learning

Just in time learning is the complete opposite of the one I described above. When you practice this, it not only saves you time and effort, but it also makes learning stick. How? Because you have a purpose for learning what you want to learn. And that ‘primes’ your brain to treat the information that it consumes as something important.

This strategy is based on the principle that you only consume knowledge when you’re about to use it. Therefore, there’s an immediate need and you can make sure that you’re going to apply it. This is a better practice because it increases the effectiveness of learning.

Alright, now that we have that out of the way, here are the… 

5 Proven Steps On How To Learn Fast

“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

Learning is the skill of the future. Whatever your career is or wherever you are in life right now, if you stopped learning, you start dying. So without further ado, here are the 5 proven steps to be a smart learner.

Step 1: Choose Your Focus

Focused Learning

Multitasking hurts your brain – that’s why you shouldn’t do it as much as possible. It hurts your performance and your productivity. That is true for working as it is for learning a new skill or new subjects.

This is why the first step to learn faster is to choose what you want to learn. Whether it’s a skill, topic, or a body of knowledge, you need to decide one thing you’ll focus on. Trying to learn two or more things at a time is possible, but isn’t effective. Why? Because you’re spreading your focus and efforts and energy out instead of focusing it.

Before going on a journey of learning, answer these questions:

  • What skill or topic do you want to learn?
  • Why do you want to learn it?
  • How deeply do you want to learn it?

The first two questions are pretty much self-explanatory. The first one brings clarity to what you want to learn while the second makes you aware of the purpose. The third question, however, is kind of tricky. But it all boils down to this one word: application.

How do you want to apply what you’re going to learn? For example, you want to learn how to play the guitar. Do you want to be a master of it, or learn it just enough to play some songs? Maybe you want to be good enough in playing it that you get invited to play in different events?

This third question is important because it’s how you’ll measure your progress later on. Not all learners reflect on how deeply they want to learn something. That’s why they get frustrated with their progress.

Step 2: Break It Down To Bite-Sized Bits

Most skills or body of knowledge can be broken down into many smaller-sized skills or information. These are called micro-skills or micro-information.

For example, playing guitar has many different aspects that’s making it happen. Some micro-skills you need to learn are strumming, learning the chords, timing, chord progression, etc. If you want more advanced micro-skills, that includes learning the scales, plucking, and more.

When I started learning guitar, my purpose was to look cool and hip. So I started learning the basic chords and some songs I can play with it. Within 2 days, I could play a song (though it wasn’t great, yet) and was happy with my progress.

Another example would be learning how to build a business. You need to know about marketing, product creation, operation, innovation, etc. In fact, even those things I’ve evaluated are big skills that you can further break down.

A skill is just a well-oiled machine composed of smaller-sized skills. Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle and all the micro-skills are the pieces. Each piece is needed to create the big picture and each one builds on top of the other.

Get a pen and paper and think about the puzzle pieces that’s needed to learn what you want to learn. If you don’t have any idea, ask someone who’s already doing what you want to do. They may not be familiar with micro-skills (or micro-information), but they can point you to the right direction.

After breaking it down, focus on developing one micro-skill or learning one micro-information first. Choose which one and go to the next step.

Step 3: Find The Best Resources

Once you pick what micro-skill or micro-knowledge you want to focus on, that’s the time to start looking for resources. Now you’re going to be laser-focused on your study and your brain is primed to treat the information as something important.

Here are some ideas on what kinds of resources you need to look for:

  • Bestselling Books
  • Online courses
  • Offline workshops
  • Conferences
  • Video Tutorials
  • Meetup about the topic (if there’s none, create one)
  • Online and offline communities

Now, I evaluate the resources I get by asking these questions:

  1. Is it comprehensive? Does it include what you’re looking for? And does it go in-depth in sharing the information you need to know?
  2. Is it well-reviewed? Are people who have taken the course or read the book have raving opinions about it? Did they learn what they’re looking to know?
  3. Do I resonate with who’s teaching?

In the first two questions, you can find objective answers. The third one is subjective, and is rightfully so. Why? Because you learn best when you’re comfortable enough to trust and be open with the teacher. If you don’t resonate with who’s sharing, you’ll put your guard up and won’t learn much.

From the materials you gathered, pick 3 materials you’re going to study. Immerse yourself in that material and learn everything you can. Because the next step would be…

Step 4: Apply What You Learned

Once you know enough, it’s time to apply what you learned. If you’re learning about guitar, go get a guitar and try strumming. Try the chords out and shift from one chord to another. This way, you can get real world feedback when you’re applying your skills.

If what you’re learning is a topic, stop reading and start sharing what you discovered. You don’t have to act like an expert to share what you know. Think of yourself as a friend who likes to share what he/she knows to other people.

As the old saying goes, “repetition is the mother of skill.” When you start applying what you’re learning and get results, you’ll know what works and what doesn’t.

When you do things, your brain makes neural connections to remember what you just did. Especially if you enjoyed doing it. The more you take action, the more it wires your brain and soon, it will become second nature to you.

It’s important to note that most people stop at learning and reading. But they don’t reach this step and that’s what’s keeping them from really turning their learning into a competency.

After that, go back to step 2 and identify another micro-skill. Then find the best resources on that topic and rinse and repeat. Soon, you’ll perform the skills you have or be a knowledgeable resource of the topic you’re studying.

Step 5: Find A Mentor

This is an optional step and is a resort only if you want to step up your learning. Having a mentor is one of the ‘hacks’ to learning something – especially something complex. They’re people who have been to where you want to go and have lived it… successfully.

They know what mistakes to avoid, what path to take, and how to cut your learning curve by half. Now, it’s important to find someone who also knows how to teach. Not everyone who’s been to where you want to go has the ability to teach. And without it, you won’t learn as much.

Having a mentor isn’t cheap, nor should you expect it to be. Why? Because it’s one of the best investments you’ll ever give to yourself. That kind of investment is something that will last you a lifetime and it can’t be taken away from you.

Also, not all mentors you’ll find will understand what you’re going through. Remember what I said about having teachers you’re comfortable with? That’s true for mentors, too. I’ve seen mentors who take people under their wing only to boost their own ego. Let them go.

Final Thoughts On How To Learn Fast

These are my 5 proven steps on how to be a smart learner. I hope you learned something from it. After all, the skill of learning could probably be the most important skill you can develop. It’s arguable, but it could be. Try and apply this in your life and see how it can help you learn faster.

To a life of essence,

Jeric Timbang

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