Maximizing how I learn

A few techniques and methods that have helped me with learning new skills and getting better.

Posted by Eddo on August 13, 2017

We learn everyday, whether it is explicit by studying or practice, or implicit by just passively absorbing knowledge from others, yet learn we do. In the past I have been struggling with learning, sometimes still do, yet I have found a few techniques that have helped me.

Thinking in systems

“Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.”

James Clear writes in his article about having a system in place that focuses on habits in order to get better at something. If you have the habit of practicing something that you wish to improve regularly, there is a more likely chance that you become actually better at it. Of course this depends also on other factors, a few of which I’ll tackle further in this article, such as focused work, coaching and recovery.

Focus

Any skill can be learned as long as you put enough practice into it; are the top athletes actually predisposed to become the best in their sports, and are the top programmers in a company from birth set to become the best programmer? No, they have spent a lot of time in practicing their skills.

“Ericsson, who has studied hundreds world-class performers—from athletes to chess players to musicians—discovered that what separates the best from the rest is the intention with which they practice. His research demonstrates that the most effective way to practice is to eliminate all distractions, devoting your full attention to mastering a specific goal. He coined this “deliberate practice.””

Brad Stulberg goes even further by phrasing that you can get better by deliberate practice, practice without any disturbance.

For me personally this means that I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and dive deep into programming something, not being distracted by outside noise, or finding a calm place in house to read a book. Other times I try something to practice with as an experiment, and check the outcome afterwards; deliberately focusing on that one thing.

Coaching

Jimmy Chin is a world-renowned photographer, and mentions the following about coaching:

“With good mentors, you get to see someone doing something they’ve been honing for 10, 20, 30 years. You get all of their knowledge condensed and shared with you and hopefully, you get to learn from their mistakes and successes. Then you get to add your own perspective or style or ideas to it. It’s incredible.”

The secret seems to be to find a good coach that is willing to share his/her mistakes and successes with you, so that you don’t fall into the same traps or get better at something quicker knowing what works to achieve your goal. The other part of being coached is how coachable you are yourself; do you accept feedback from your coach?

Recovery

“[..] a physical inability to fall asleep may indicate that you’re too tired, that your body is over-stressed, and needs more recovery. An over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system simply can’t unwind; it’s still in fight-or-flight-mode, which is why you can’t fall asleep.”

Steve House

This is true in all situations where you learn to become better. Not just in sports, in everything. Maybe not if you’re trying to kick sleeping, yet that is IMHO insane. Personally I can struggle with this, which I tend to address both to stress that I apparently built up, and the fact that ideas spark in that time. I’ve restricted myself in not looking at my iPhone or iPad anymore about half an hour before going to bed, reading a paperback seems to work better in winding down my mind.

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