Happiness is subjective. Your definition might vary from those around you. To me, happiness means living a fulfilled life. One I look forward to each day. One where I rely more on myself to feel better, and less on others. One where I chase meaningful goals, instead of chasing people.
Selflessness is a virtue, we are taught. It’s important to place others over self. That’s how society functions, they say.
But only someone who takes care of herself can take care of others. To be your best for others, you first must extend that luxury to yourself.
How should you take care of yourself? By nourishing your body, mind and soul. By feeding them the right food. By being a lifelong learner; learning things which broaden your perspective. Do this for a few years and you realize that there are no boundaries, except the ones in your mind.
Remember how much we learned as children? What makes people rigid as they grow old? Why do they stop learning? It’s not because of age, as my mom would want you to believe. It’s the ability (or inability) to embrace the unknown. Dreading the unknown, according to scholars, could be the root of all fears.
Children are curious. Eternally. They bombard people with so many questions that elders celebrate when they stay quiet for a few minutes. If they are quiet for a few waking hours, elders wonder what is wrong with them.
But as children grow up, society demands that they “stop behaving like kids.” They shouldn’t ask questions; just accept the status quo instead. Wonder and amazement are replaced with a cynical, orthodox view of the world.
But successful people recognize that they don’t have to believe the lies peddled by society. They continue to wonder, to stay amazed, and to learn with the hunger of a starved lion. This hunger, fed consistently, makes them do remarkable things.
What stops you from being like them? What makes you settle for less than your dream? What kills your hunger for learning?
If this has convinced you to start learning again, read on. The rest of this post outlines three techniques you can combine to learn faster and remember more.
One of our biggest challenges while learning is the tendency to dive in without thinking. We put in more than one hundred percent in the beginning, without a plan. Within some time, learning goes nowhere, and our brain cannot retain anything. We are left floundering, frustrated and demotivated. And then, we give up.
Research states that clarity of goals is essential for being motivated enough to achieve them. Clarity doesn’t mean knowing where you want to be five or ten years hence. It means knowing what your ultimate goal is, and knowing your next few steps. As Benjamin Hardy writes,
If you’re at mile marker 1 and your dream is at mile marker 50, you just need enough info and support to get to mile marker 3 or 4.
Get to mile marker 4, and you will know how to proceed. Here is how you can get there from mile marker 1.
How Ivy Lee Made $25,000 in 15 Minutes
Charles M. Schwab, one of the world’s richest men in 1918, was an efficiency freak. In the same year, he met renowned productivity and public relations consultant Ivy Lee and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”
“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.
“How much will it cost me,” Schwab asked.
“Nothing, unless it works,” Lee replied. “After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth.”
During his 15-minute interaction with each executive, Ivy Lee charted out a simple method to achieve peak productivity:
At the end of each day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every working day.
Charles Schwab and his team at Bethlehem Steel implemented the strategy. After three months, Schwab was delighted with the progress his company had made. And he wrote Ivy Lee a check for $25,000. (h/t James Clear for the story.)
This technique sounds too simple to work, right? Complexity stimulates our minds – it make us feel challenged. We don’t just give up something simple, we refuse to pursue it. We believe results cannot be achieved because ‘simple’ not exciting enough.
But the discipline to do a few simple things well, makes us develop positive habits to live a fulfilling life.
Let’s apply the Ivy Lee Method to learning a language.
Don’t focus on being an expert. Instead, work on the foundations. It’s easier to build the tower of expertise once the foundations are in place.
So, each night, make a list of three things you want to learn the next day (more on ‘three’ tasks in a bit). Sort them according to priority. The next day, concentrate on the first task and finish it well. Then switch to the next. Move anything missed in the day to the list for the next day. Repeat this procedure every day.
Of course, this isn’t the only thing that you will do all day. Work, managing home, taking care of your children, spending time with your partner and friends… other activities will take up your time too.
Hence a list of just three things. It lets you focus deeper. Plus you feel happier when you accomplish most items on the list. Compare that with a list of six items, and finishing just two every day because time is less. Imagine how that would make you feel!
Devoting Time for Learning
Now that you have a list of three items, how will you allocate time for learning faster? Follow the Five-Hour Rule.
The Five-Hour Rule states that you dedicate five hours each week to learning and self improvement. During these five hours:
- Plan the Learning. Plan how you will achieve each task optimally.
- Deliberately Practice. Practice specific skills you want to improve instead of doing things automatically.
- Ruminate. Give your mind time to assimilate what you learned. Walking, reflecting on what you learned while commuting, and conversations with partners are some powerful ways of letting your learning sink deeper into your mind.
- Conduct Small Experiments. Whether an experiment works or not, it’s an opportunity to learn and test your ideas.
You now have the tasks and the time allotted in place. Now, which experiments you can conduct? And how can you ensure that you remember more of what you learned?
At the Missionary Training Center (MTC), Mormon churches train their young missionaries to master a language fluently enough to spread the gospel, within weeks. The same takes most college students three or four years. The secret? A context-based learning approach focussed on mastery.
Application of learning in the real world differentiates context-based learning from widely practiced rote-learning techniques. At MTC, students recite a phrase and work on its pronunciation. Next, teachers quiz them individually to ensure their firm grasp of the topic. Then, the students are put in groups of two to role-play – one as a preacher and the other a listener. Thus, students learn how to apply their learning in real-life scenarios and absorb their concepts faster.
To sum up, context-based learning is:
- Learn a concept
- Apply it in real-life scenarios
- Get feedback and work in it
- Rinse. Repeat.
Finding a role-play partner is not tough. Today, social media offers peeks into what people are doing. If none of your friends share your interests, connect with someone on Twitter. Meet them in person and practice context-based learning. This helps in two ways: 1.) You and the person you meet develop a deeper understanding of the subject, and 2.) You have someone to track your progress and hold you accountable, and vice versa.
Accountability is essential for you to track progress. Progress, in turn, is key for you to learn better.
To sum up, the keys to learning faster are:
- The Ivy – Lee Method. List three tasks for each day, prioritize them, and complete them accordingly.
- The Five Hour Rule. Dedicate five hours each week to self learning.
- Context-Based Learning. After understanding a concept firmly, apply it in real life quickly.
- Accountability. Hold yourself accountable (or ask someone to do it) so that you can track progress.
You will never find happiness outside unless you find it within yourself first. If you are unhappy from within, no amount of fame or fortune will make you happy. And if you’re happy from within, you will find a silver lining behind the darkest cloud.
Learning is the key to this happiness. It develops self esteem, makes you believe in yourself. The more you learn, the more your ability to earn grows too. Steve Jobs was a champion of lifelong learning. His love for engineering, art and simplicity helped him make Apple the most envied organization in the world. In turn, it made him a billionaire. This is true for all successful people you know – billionaires, millionaires and thousand-aires.
Your earning is directly proportional to your learning. Embrace focused learning. You will become happier. You will progress. You will find yourself in company of people you once admired. Your heroes will become your peers. Eventually, you will find out why you were born, and work towards fulfilling your purpose. Won’t it be amazing to give your life that direction?