How to become a super learner (and worker)
In his book “Limitless”, learning expert Jim Kwik shows the best techniques to improve your learning ability without limits. I looked at the best tips to become a super learner.
“Everyone’s a genius. But if you judge a fish by how well he can climb a tree, he’ll think he’s stupid all his life.” — Albert Einstein
Jim Kwik was the kid with the broken head. After a serious accident, the boy had difficulty learning, was not attentive and could not concentrate. He was bad at school and became increasingly shy. He toughed it out, worked harder, only to despair at university. Thanks to a key encounter, he discovered “that we learn everything, but never how to learn.”
For the next 20 years Jim Kwik devoted himself to learning. He has two encouraging core messages:
- It is not about learning harder, but about learning better.
- Anyone can become a good learner.
Both can be learned. Here are a few tips and they work as well for learning as they do for working.
To achieve goals, we must learn. According to Kwik, to become a super learner, it requires three things:
• Mentality (the “What”)
• Motivation (the “Why”)
• Method (the “How”)
Mentality is an emotional state: “whoever thinks she is bad will also be bad”. It is difficult to imagine a positive mentality. But Kwik suggests that we should be open to the fact that we all can. If we limit our mentality, we don’t believe in ourselves. If we limit our motivation, we have no urge to do anything. If we limit the methods (and use the way we learned in school), it takes longer and never gets as good.
Having only mentality and motivation our inspiration remains without action. Having only mentality and method means that we get stuck at ideation (as in school). Having only motivation and method we will be stuck with insufficient implementation.
If all three Ms apply, unlimited learning is possible.
Tip 1 — How to learn better
Pomodoro technique: Dedicate yourself to a topic for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break and reflect on what you have learned. Then the next 25 minutes. Reason: People can concentrate only between 10 and 40 minutes in one stretch.
Jim Kwik likes lists, acronyms and models. Because they’re easy to remember. Let us learn with the FASTER method.
- F (Forget) — Forget that you already know something about your topic. Solidified knowledge prevents you from accepting new things.
- A (Act) — Learning is not a spectator sport (as practiced in school). The more interactive the better. A good start: take notes and underline.
- S (State) — Emotionally charged people learn better. Write down how the material will help you. Do everything so that you are not bored. (eg audio learning while jogging)
- T (Teach) — I remember these learning techniques by compiling them in an article. Teaching someone is the best way to learn.
- E (Enter) — Outsmart procrastination. Do you keep a calendar with the most important dates? Add you learning hours there using an important title. Use reminder function.
- R (Review) — Review content periodically with growing time increment.
Tip 3 — Change your state
How motivated, energetic and focused are you right now on a scale from 1 to 10? What is the one thing you can do now to increase that number? Do this every time before learning.
Most authors make a plan and establish a structure for their book. We can do similar when learning. To give you both structure and motivation, answer these three questions:
- How can I use this?
- Why must I use this?
- When will I use this?
The answers help you charge knowledge with significance.
Tip 4 — How to learn better
Concentration tip: If something important is distracting you, don’t ignore it. Write it on a to-do list for later. Then move on. Reason: the brain can’t multitask.
The 7 lies of learning
- Intelligence is unchangeable
- We only use 10 percent of our brains
- Mistakes are failures
- Knowledge is power
- Learning new things is difficult
- Criticism of others is valuable
- Genius is innate
Let’s replace them with these 7:
- You can increase intelligence the way you want and need it
- We always use the whole brain and we can learn to use it better
- Errors are the first stage of progress
- Knowledge x action = power
- Learning new things is fun if we know how to learn well
- The fastest learners are children. They usually don’t care what the world thinks about their mistakes
- Genius leaves clues. There is always a method behind the magic. Genius is achieved through long and deep practice.
Jim Kwik: “Motivation is not something you have; it is something you do. And it’s absolutely sustainable.” Again, Kwik has a formula for that:
Motivation = Purpose x Energy x S3
S3 = Small Simple Steps
The goal is what we want to achieve, the purpose is why we want to achieve it. Start each task with “Why?”. When you have answered this, set SMART goals:
- S (Specific) — Not “I want to get better” but “I want to get an A”.
- M (measurable) — What you cannot measure, you cannot control. “Being fit” is not as promising as “running a marathon in four hours.”
- A (actionable) — Make a travel plan to your learning destination.
- R (realistic) — choose a challenging goal, but not an impossible one
- T (time-based) — A goal is a dream with a deadline.
To have SMART motivation, do something you are passionate about. Connect it with your life and its purpose, connect it to who you are, the values you have as well as your priorities.
It comes as no surprise that our daily habits influence our energy levels and thus our performance. This includes:
- What we eat. Brain food: avocados, broccoli, dark chocolate, blueberries, walnuts, turmeric, green leafy vegetables
- Exercise — 5 minutes walking after every hour works wonders.
- A tidy environment. Make your bed!
- A positive peer-group
- Stress management
Small Simple Steps
Bad habits prevent us from implementing our plans. Delay, postpone, forget, repress. They are not conditions; but automated actions. They can be replaced with better ones. with those that support us.
Consider the following three questions:
- What is the smallest simple step I can take now?
- How do I start with good habits and end bad ones?
- Which daily routine helps me to become limitless?
Example of a small step: 5 minutes reading. I’ll start by doing it on the toilet, where I have nothing better to do anyway. I make it a daily. If it works, I might even do it on the subway.
Simple things are easy, difficult things give us trouble. Make it easier on yourself this way:
- Time — create free time to learn, then a task is easier
- Money — the more it costs, the harder it feels
- Physical effort — Less effort, much easier
- Brain cycle — If it’s too complex, it gets tough. Start simpler.
- Socially deviant — What is socially acceptable is easier
- Routine — the further away from the daily routine, the harder it is
Try to plan your project so that you can do it as easy as possible. Not surprisingly, the morning is the most productive time to cultivate good habits for most people. But it is also the time when bad habits weigh most heavily. So, get up, take a shower, stretch!
Divide your project into many small steps. If this, then that, followed by the next thing. Each small step is a success and helps you to reach the next one.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as “the state in which people are so engrossed in one activity that nothing else seems to matter. The experience itself is so gratifying that people spare no effort to be in flow for its own sake.”
Being in flow makes us both more productive as well as happy. If you want to become a super-learner or super-worker, strive for this state as often as possible.
In his book “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience” he describes eight characteristics:
- Absolute concentration
- Total focus on goals
- The feeling that time is either accelerating or slowing down
- A feeling of being rewarded by this state alone
- The process is challenging, but not excessive
- It’s as if everything goes on its own
- It just feels good to do it
It seems that you can be five times more productive in flow, but we work less than ten percent of the time in this state. Contrary to my previous belief, we don’t reach flow by accident. According to Steven Kotler of the Flow Research Collective, there are four phases of flow:
Phase 1: Fight, effort
Phase 2: Relaxation
Phase 3: Flow
Phase 4: Consolidation
To get into the flow, you should first eliminate all distractions. Then take your time, two hours would be good. Unfortunately, we usually only get into the flow on things we like to do. Set yourself clear goals and face a challenge, but not a big one. At a certain level of difficulty, the work becomes frustrating.
Jim Kwik does not directly describe how to get into the flow. I know from my own experience that I always have to overcome resistance at the beginning. That takes me 5–10 minutes. If I notice that I can’t do it, then I usually stop and do something else for the time being. But when I have overcome that initial challenge, I feel as if the headwind stops. Then it goes faster and suddenly I have tailwind. That is the flow.
I am almost disappointed realizing that super-learning is not a few tricks that you just — snap, snap — use. Jim Kwik describes learning as a muscle that you can (and must) train. And anyone who has ever been to the gym knows how tedious the process is.
…is the mother of learning and working.
Tip 4 for concentration: When you are in a conversation, focus completely on your partner. If you drift away, refocus. Do this consciously. Then apply the same focus on reading. Reduce your usual duration and amount of reading and focus completely on each word. Then relax, read on and feel the difference. Repeat it regularly, extending the duration of being in focus.
Tip 5: Are you distracted by unpleasant thoughts? Find some breathing exercises on YouTube. Like this: Breathe in through your nose and count to four. Hold your breath and count to seven, then exhale slowly through your mouth and count to eight. Repeat it four times. This is also a good sleep exercise.
• Active Remembering — study your material for 25 minutes. Then in the next five minutes, write down everything you remember. Repeat it twice. Then write a summary of all three units without re-visiting it again.
• Repetition technique — repeat tomorrow what you did today. Then repeat two days later, then four days, etc.
• Change your environment occasionally — Memories cling to visual, auditory and olfactory stimuli.
• Music can help — I use binaural beats (on youtube), meditative music that is tuned to the heart beat.
• Better notes — Don’t write down word for word but translate what you hear or read into your own words. Identify what is important when listening and prioritize when writing.
A good memory is still important to become a super learner even in times of Google. What we do not remember, we cannot think about. Without reflection we do not develop further. Let’s recall, memory is a muscle. The better trained, the more power.
I describe myself as good and fast when it comes to learning. At least if I am interested in the subject. I read quickly, I do a lot of the mental preparation and occasionally reach the flow state. Up to this point, Jim Kwik’s tips are understandable and to a good extent known to me.
In the last third of his book, Jim describes techniques for memory training and speed reading. I will try them out and write about the experience in a future article.
What learning is and how to do it
Learning must be learned. This is time lost in the beginning, as we don’t learn our subjects. But every hour we spend learning to learn will save us many hours in the future. It is a good investment.
Jim’s book makes it clear that learning is like a game of chess. We prepare ourselves, make a plan, set goals, divide them into small simple steps, put ourselves in the optimal state, and then we take the first step. And then the next. All the best for your learning!
I would love to hear your tips and tricks.
Here is a goodreads-link to the Book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49994260-limitless
If you buy via a link on goodreads, you support that great site.