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.
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.
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.”
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!