How to Learn ANYTHING Faster than You Ever Thought Possible

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Do you love to learn?

Do you long to sit at your desk in your den, which smells of rich mahogany, reading from your many leather-bound books?

I do too. If I could spend every hour of every day writing, reading, traveling and learning, I would in a heartbeat.

The problem, of course, is that we can’t do that–we have life to do. Instead, we must relegate our learning and reading to self-allotted “free time.” Forced to remain at our 9-5 jobs, working for a living, we “get” to have an hour in the middle and maybe another at the end of every weekday.

Not anymore.

In this post, I’m going to talk about a learning process that you can implement immediately–as in right now–that will allow you to fast-track your ability to understand a concept.

 

Any concept. 

If knowledge is power, learning is like the road to riches. What would you do if you were able to take a difficult concept that had always escaped you–say, quantum mechanics or calculus or how a jet engine works–and be able to understand it thoroughly enough to teach a basic introductory course on it?

What if you could do it in ten minutes a day, and have it ready to present in a week?

This post will show you how. But first, a little backstory:

It might surprise you to learn that Ludwig von Beethoven, one of the most well-known composers Romantic-period classical music, scribbled and scratched out notes on his manuscript pages.

Albert Einstein, as well, was known as a prolific writer, keeping journals and taking notes on his everyday life. One story suggests that on a romantic boat outing with a significant other, Einstein was berated by his date for “scribbling notes in that journal.”

More than likely you’ve also heard of the magnificent journals of Leonardo Da Vinci, the Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter, and inventor. Da Vinci’s notebooks were filled with cryptic-looking text that was only viewable by looking at the pages in a mirror.

The point of all this.

Obviously, these men didn’t need to write down their genius thoughts and ideas–their writing was simply a reflection of that genius.

Or was it?

In a book written by Win Wenger called The Einstein Factor: A Proven New Method for Increasing Your Intelligence, Wenger makes a point to call out these traits of known geniuses. The fact that Einstein and Da Vinci wrote their thoughts in these notebooks could be a sign of significant swarms of ideas in their heads, needing an outlet.

Or, he goes on to explain, it could be that because these people wrote down their thoughts they were able to develop profound and creative theses on life and their areas of study.

I’ll say that again, for emphasis:

These guys wrote stuff down, and that’s why they were geniuses. 

Obviously, writing a few bullet points in a journal before bed won’t earn you a Nobel Prize. But focusing a significant amount of time on solving problems you’re faced with, finding ideas, and developing thoughts on paper can lead to a serious increase in IQ and overall intelligence, Wenger claims.

I’ve tried most of the methods in the book to some extent, and while all have merit, most of them weren’t easily replicable for longer periods of time.

However, the one thing I took away from it that I strongly believe can lead to massive gains in intelligence, general comprehension, and conceptual understanding is this:

Writing things down makes us smarter, if we do it right. 

And that is the “secret” of learning faster and more efficiently.

In a method attributed to Richard Feynman, there’s a learning strategy that can give you amazing results in half the time, and it involves writing things down.

Specifically, it involves writing down everything that you know about a subject, to find the knowledge gaps, missing facts, and to get a bearing on overall conceptual understanding. Here’s the method, laid out in plain English:

  • On a piece of paper, write down a concept you want to better understand.
  • Start listing the things you know about this concept–dig deep, and try to “connect the dots.”
  • Use pictures, drawings, scribbling–whatever–to explain the concept in more detail.
  • When you finish, read back over it and write down on another sheet of paper the questions that jump out at you.

This process can take ten minutes, or it can take weeks. It depends on our understanding of a subject–if we’re on one of the extreme ends of the “understanding curve,” meaning we either don’t understand it at all or we know quite a lot about it, we’ll probably need no time at all to write down what we know, or we won’t be able to write it all on ten sheets of paper.

Can you become a genius?

Well, I’m not here to answer that. I’d certainly like to be one someday, as I’m sure you would as well. But I’ll let the age-old debate continue in your own mind, urged on by the arguments from our venerable Time Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, leaving us to wonder whether it really is about “nature or nurture.”

What we can do, however, is look at the lives of well-known historic geniuses to see if there is anything they have in common.

Since I mentioned before that many of the world’s best-known geniuses all had a peculiar habit of writing things down, wouldn’t it be a good idea to follow suit?

So what do you say? Pick a concept that you want to understand more, and then pretend like you’re teaching it to an 8-year-old. Write it down as you go, and see what questions come up. Go through the notes and fill in any final tidbits of information, and then start researching the questions you had. Continue the entire process, strengthening and supporting your initial notes, fixing errors and filling in incomplete information, and answer the questions.

This isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, yet I’ve never been asked to do this in school. I was in Honors and Advanced Placement and Gifted and Talented and all that crap–and not once was I ever asked to “write down everything I know about blank.” 

Why?

If this method works–and for me, it does–why isn’t it something we can show to our kids and our coworkers and ourselves?

Let’s give it a shot: in the comments section below, pick an idea–it should be a conceptual idea, like “how a particle accelerator works” or “gravity” or “building an online platform.” This project won’t work as well for fact-based knowledge like “chemistry” or “the periodic table” or for creative/arts-based learning like “playing guitar” or “painting.”

I hope that makes sense. Again, leave a comment below with a concept you’ve always wanted to learn.

And then go learn it!

Nick ThackerHow to Learn ANYTHING Faster than You Ever Thought Possible
  • http://www.blogging24h.com/546/how-to-start-a-blog/ Trung Nguyen

    Hi Nick, Thanks for your great post on learning. Now I’m trying to learn English to improve English myself, as you could see how I’m learning here http://www.blogging24h.com/102/learn-english/ And as you said on your about pai, your experience includes the above jobs/projects, as well as a Music degree from Texas State University with a minor in Business, focus in Entrepreneurship Studies. And you speak English pretty darn well – that’s nice to me to hear, so can you give me an advice on learning English as someone did? Please check my post and tell me your advice. Thanks so much.

    ~Trung Nguyen

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Hey Trung!

      I think your English is great, but I can’t give much advice on learning it, as I’ve been a native speaker all of my life. Might check out Benny’s site, http://www.fluentin3months.com/. It’s a great resource for language-learners!

      Thanks for commenting–and good luck!
      Nick 

  • http://about.me/brandonmarker Brandon Marker

    A) I feel like I need a Mahogany desk. Now if only I could find some Mahogany…

    B) Interesting, nice post. I recently took on a new subject that has always peaked my interest. I’ll put this to use in a month or so!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Haha, nice. Was the “new subject” about beer-making and blogging, by chance? 

      • http://about.me/brandonmarker Brandon Marker

        haha negative, I am saturated on beer making knowledge right now. And I am not yet convinced I would be a good blogger. It is on the universe. You know, space and shit.

  • http://rehunter.org/ R. E. Hunter

    When I was younger I always kept one of those 3″x5″ ring-bound notebooks and a mini-pen (which I made by taking a regular cheap ballpoint pen and cutting it in half) in my pocket. Most often I used it to write to do lists and such, but also questions to be researched, ideas, and anything else that came to mind. I started doing that when I was about 10, because I had so much stuff floating around in my head I was afraid I’d forget it. Getting it on paper made it less stressful. Now I keep most of that on my phone (though I still carry the mini-pen) and my desktop computer.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Hi R.E.!

      That’s pretty awesome–I’ve rediscovered the beauty and zen of writing longhand myself, actually! And I definitely attest to the benefits of getting everything out of the head and onto the page. 

      Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the comment!
      Nick 

  • http://www.journalinabox.com/ Yvonne Root

    OK, I’m a week late for the discussion. Yet, I’m still jumping in. I’m intrigued by your post on this method of learning for a number of reasons.

    I teach journal writing and of course much of what I discuss is that faithful (not every day, please!) writing is productive in about 3,876,422 different ways. (Maybe the number is a tiny bit high.)

    And, because I was a home school mom for 12 years and now am involved in my grandkiddos home school I learned the power of learning through teaching.

    Something else home schooling taught me was to go to the elementary level of a subject I needed to teach and knew nothing about.
    All of those things come into play when using the method you describe. Yet it took your post for me to put all of that information in a nice little usable cluster. Thanks

    And, as you say, there isn’t much use trying this method for learning a skill. I’ve been known to say that writing from now until the cows come home won’t help you learn to play the piano. But, writing about your learning experience after piano practice will avail you much.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this post and others I’ve perused on your site today. Good work.

    Me thinks thou may havest thy rich mahogany den soon. ;)

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Hi Yvonne!

      Wow, awesome story! I’m glad the post resonated with you, but I’d love to hear more about your experience with teaching. Would you ever want to write a guest post for the site?

      And here’s to having rich mahogany desks soon!
      Nick

      • http://www.journalinabox.com/ Yvonne Root

         Yes, I would love to! Private note will be speeding your way soon.

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  • martina e

    “Sun”