“If only I could have learned Spanish three years ago…”
“If only I learned about investing when I was still in my early twenties…”
For many of us, there are more things we want to learn than we have time for. And as information becomes more readily accessible online, the number of things we want to learn has only increased. That means that the only variable we can actually control is the time we spend learning them.
Shortening the learning curve is a topic that’s been studied for many years, and this guide will cover the fundamental core principles of learning faster. Were these principles perfectly in place, you could leverage them to push yourself to learn faster and master any category of learning, including languages, business skills, musical instruments and more. To quote Tony Robbins: "One skill you want to master in this day and age we live in, if you want to have an extraordinary life, is the ability to learn rapidly."
So, here are those principles:
1. Don't reinvent the wheel
Why reinvent a wheel that’s already been created? The common tendency we all have when learning something new is trying to master it alone and underestimating the amount of time and effort that can be saved by getting help from someone who’s already learned it.
Think back to a time when you first learned how to speak a new language or obtain a new skill. You probably had a steep learning curve initially, but after a few years or even months of experimenting and making mistakes, you could design a shortcut to help a friend avoid those same mistakes you made early on.
In order to achieve mastery faster, our first step should be to consult the top players in the field, and model the path they have already carved out for us. As Robbins puts it: "Many great leaders have proven that the fastest way to master any skill, strategy or goal in life is to model those who have already forged the path ahead. If you can find someone who is already getting the results that you want and take the same actions they are taking, you can get the same results.
"It doesn’t matter what your age, gender or background is," Robbins continues. "Modeling gives you the capacity to fast track your dreams and achieve more in a much shorter period of time. In this day and age, it’s possible to retrieve almost any solution that’s out there in the form of books, blogs, training videos, consultants, someone in our network — the list goes on."
To quote yet another wise individual, this time Pablo Picasso: "Good artists copy. Great artists steal."
2. Deconstruct the skill
The next step to hacking the learning curve is to deconstruct the skill you see into its basic, fundamental components. Break down the parts and find the most important things to practice first. (See Pareto’s Principle, which describes a goal of generating 80 percent of results by putting in 20 percent of the effort.)
It turns out that this concept can apply to almost anything in life, including:
- Business (80 percent of sales comes from 20 percent of customers)
- Employee efficiency (80 percent of results comes from 20 percent of employees)
- Happiness (80 percent of happiness comes from 20 percent of relationships)
- Travel experiences (80 percent of our travels may be summed up from 20 percent of our highlight experiences)
Embracing this way of thinking only goes to show that very few things actually make a difference in any aspect of our lives, including learning. Our goal then, should be to separate the 20 percent of our learning materials that will give us 80 percent of the result.
As it turns out, fast-learning experts have already embraced this ideology, and have provided some concrete examples on how to do this effectively. In his TED talk, Josh Kaufman said he believed that you don’t need 10,000 hours in order to master a skill. Instead, the key is to embrace the first 20 hours, and learn the most important subset skills within that time frame to get the maximum amount of impact. Numerous studies in the fields of motor and cognitive skill acquisition have established that the first few hours of practicing a new skill always generate the most dramatic improvements in performance. (See Parkinson’s Law.)
3. Stop multitasking
Multitasking is a guilty pleasure we’ve all developed in the age of constant notifications and mobile applications. From checking our emails every ten minutes, to scrolling through our Instagram feed, to welcoming co-workers coming by our desk for a “five-minute break”: Multitasking can be one of the biggest hurdles preventing us from learning faster.
Think about your own computer. When you have 20-plus different tabs open on your browser, your computer begins to slow down and it takes longer to process every action afterwards. Studies have shown that when an individual gets distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the task at hand. What’s more important to note is that a study by the University of California Irvine found that a worker applies himself or herself only 11 minutes before becoming distracted.
The same thing applies to our long-term focus. Many of us aren’t able to dedicate the six-to-12-plus months it takes to learn a skill because of the countless new projects, ideas, or hobbies that come our way. And when we decide to shift our focus to a new distraction, it’s much more difficult to find the same passion and drive to focus on the previous skill.
Once you have deconstructed the subset skills that will give you the maximum amount of results, focus solely on improving those skills and avoid learning anything else until you’ve mastered them.
4. Repeat, repeat, repeat
This is the part where most of us struggle, and what many of us don’t want to hear is the rule that mastering anything faster requires practice. Learning requires frequency of and persistence in performing the same skill over and over again, until you can do it subconsciously, without having to think about it.
The best performers in the world understand this “secret” to learning faster and become the best, yet rarely talk about its importance because of how unsexy it sounds.
Expert-level performance is primarily the result of expert-level practice, not due to innate talent. As K. Anders. Ericsson, a scientific researcher from Florida State University, elaborated in a paper: “People believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance, the expert performer must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults. This view has discouraged scientists from systematically examining expert performers and accounting for their performance in terms of the laws and principles of general psychology.”
5. Seek immediate feedback
In 1960, while they were still an unknown high school rock band, the Beatles went to Hamburg, Germany, to play in the local clubs. The group was underpaid. The acoustics were terrible. The audiences were unappreciative. So what did the Beatles get out of the Hamburg experience? Nonstop hours of playing time, practice and immediate feedback that forced them to get better. That’s the key difference that elevated the Beatles to the top, according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. The band didn’t just practice in a garage for the sake of practicing; they strived to get in front of a live audience that would provide them immediate criticism and constructive feedback.
As the Beatles grew in skill, audiences demanded more performances — giving them more playing time. By 1962 they were playing eight hours per night, seven nights per week. By 1964, the year they burst on the international scene, the Beatles had played over 1,200 concerts together. By way of comparison, most bands today don’t play 1,200 times in their entire career. This is why at Rype, we’re solely focused on connecting you with native speaking tutors, who can give you immediate feedback during your lessons.
6. Go Long
Unfortunately, many of us give up before or during what Seth Godin calls “The Dip.”
Godin says that although it’s important to know when to quit, many potential winners don’t reach success because they quit before the dip. According to Godin, five reasons you might fail to become the best in the world include:
- You run out of time (and quit)
- You run out of money (and quit)
- You get scared (and quit)
- You're not serious about it (and quit)
- You lose interest (and quit)
Psychologists have also studied what’s known as the transition cycle. This is the cycle of progress we go through whenever we’re experiencing change or a novel event, such as a tragedy or the opportunity to learn something new. There’s a sense of euphoria we all experience when we begin something new. That's why we’re so addicted to seeing notifications on social media, because dopamine gets released each time.
Once the honeymoon phase fades away, we experience the “dip” and our progress begins to plateau or diminish. This is when most of us quit. The reason why this is important is that if you can predict that a dip is coming, when you’re learning anything new, it’s easier to fight through it. More importantly, the dip is there because those persistent enough to stick it out can ride the upward wave that is at the end of the tunnel.
So, to restate these points on how to hack the learning curve:
- Model an expert who’s been there, and don’t reinvent the wheel.
- Deconstruct the skills that will deliver 80 percent of results.
- Stop multitasking.
- Practice those reps, reps, reps! Then seek immediate feedback.
- Go long and don’t quit before or during the dip.
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