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How to Learn Anything FASTER

When it comes to learning, we subject ourselves to a number of beliefs. We believe knowledge is power. We believe we know what’s possible, and what isn’t. We believe if we read enough books or take enough classes or do enough work we will attain a certain level of knowledge. Of knowing. But the truth is, these beliefs are holding us back.



Most of us shrink what’s possible to fit our minds, but instead, we should be expanding our minds to fit what’s possible. And that includes our understanding of how to learn. Our capacity to learn is limitless — we simply need to be shown how to access it. That’s where F.A.S.T.E.R. comes in.


Forget


The first letter stands for Forget. Strange coming from a brain coach, right? But here’s the thing. The knowledge we already have keeps us limited. So in order to learn faster, we need to forget what we think we already know.


Think of the mind like a parachute: it only works when it’s open. The same goes for learning. If we begin a class thinking we already know some of the information, we may not focus the way we would if we were brand new to the subject. By forgetting what we think we know, we ensure our brain focuses from the beginning, increasing the chance that we not only remember all the information presented, but learn new information that we may have otherwise missed. So when we sit down to learn something new, forget everything we think we know and approach the subject as if it’s the first time.


We also need to forget situational things. This means stop trying to multitask, which is another belief we buy into — that we can do more than one thing and do it well. But if we’re only giving learning a fraction of our attention, we are guaranteeing that we’re only going to learn a fraction of the information. Instead, give learning our complete attention. If thoughts come up that persist, make a note somewhere so we can let it go.


Finally, forget our limitations. If we go into a memory class believing we can only learn ten new names at a time, that will become our reality. But if we instead approach the class not knowing what we can do, and not believing in our limits, we will be limitless in our ability to learn. Remember, if we fight for our limitations, we get to keep them.


Active


Learning is not a spectator sport. Which means in order to learn faster, we must be active in the way we learn.


We’ve been taught from a young age that learning is passive. Our entire school career is largely dominated by being told to sit quietly in a classroom while a teacher teaches. But we don’t learn by being lectured. We learn when we are actively engaged in the material. The question we need to ask ourselves before we begin any new learning endeavor is this: how can I be more active in my learning?


Taking notes is an excellent way to engage our active learning. When we take notes we are more likely to better remember what we’re learning. It doesn’t matter if we’re reading. listening to a lecture, or watching a video. Writing down what we’re learning forms new neural pathways, encoding the information in our brain making it easier to transfer to our long-term memory. And when possible, use hand-written notes. We write slower than we type, but when it comes to transmitting notes in our brain, slower is better.


When it comes to notes, quantity is better than quality. Write down as much as possible. If it isn’t possible to ask questions, write them down. Same with comments. The more we capture our thoughts during the learning process, the more likely we are to remember the information we’re learning.


State


When we sit down to learn, it’s important to take a snapshot of our mood — both in our body and our mind. It’s important to be present, and a huge part of that is understanding our emotional state when we begin the learning process.


Think back to when we were in school. What was our emotional state for most of our learning life? Boredom? Confusion? Disinterest? Now, think back to something we were genuinely excited to learn about. We were interested, excited, engaged, curious, happy. We tend to remember the positive experiences because information combined with emotion leads to long-term memory.


Our brain likes movement. But what that really comes down to is an altered psychological and physiological state. When we activate our central nervous system, we release a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factors, or BDNF’s for short. BDNF is an important protein when it comes to learning. It supports existing neurons and acts as a sort of brain fertilizer, assisting in the development of new neurons and synapses. Activating BDNF increases the likelihood that our learned experience will transfer to our long-term memory.


We can change our state by paying attention to our bodies. When we’re excited we tend to sit straighter and lean forward. Our muscles are more engaged because our bodies are alert. Compare that to when we’re bored. We slouch, melting into the chair. Our heart rate lowers, our breathing is slower, and overall, we aren’t ready to engage in anything more than a nap. All learning is state-dependent, and we are the only ones in charge of our state.


Teach


There’s an old adage: those who can’t do, teach. It’s a very negative belief and when we accept it as truth, we accept the limitation that we can’t do, we can’t learn. Instead, we can take that belief, and turn it around. Because if we can teach it, we can do it.


Everything we learn should be learned with the intent to teach someone else. When we know we have to present information to someone else, we pay attention differently than when we learn just for ourselves. So if we can take that mentality and apply it to everything we want to learn, we can increase our retention and understanding.


The thing about learning to teach is we actually get to learn twice. The first time when we learn it ourselves, and the second when we teach it to someone else. The information gets cemented through their questions and observations, making learning an interactive process instead of a passive activity.


Entry


In every pocket, on every computer, and hanging on many walls is a powerful tool. The calendar. Studies have shown that using a calendar increases our productivity. When we schedule an event or an activity, we are signaling to our brain that this is important. We tend to focus more on that activity because we know the duration of time we have planned, and we also have a visual reminder of the things we need to do later.


We can keep this importance by scheduling our learning time. Schedule when we’re sitting down to watch a webinar or read a book. Allow uninterrupted time so we can give our full attention to the learning process without feeling guilty, or letting ourselves be open to distraction.


Scheduling our learning also means we are less likely to overextend ourselves. When we agree to do things without scheduling them, we may miscalculate how much time these activities actually take. But when we schedule in thirty minutes a day for reading or an hour a day for learning to play the guitar, we know exactly how much time we’re setting aside. We aren’t going to try to “fit” it into our lives when we have time, promoting the tendency to push it off, or worse, try and engage in the task when we’re not fully present and engaged.


Instead, schedule learning time. We not only will be more focused but will find ourselves getting through material far faster and learning more than if we passively tried to find the time.


Review


We can solidify everything we learn, transferring the information from short-term memory to long-term by reviewing what we learn. The key here is spaced repetition. Take time after a lesson to absorb what we learned, and then review our notes later. Review it again before the next lesson, reminding our brain where the lesson left off and priming our learning for what’s coming next.


Cramming before a test or reading a chapter from a textbook over and over isn’t conducive to learning. In fact, those techniques aren’t how we absorb information and do nothing to improve recall or recollection, two tenets necessary in learning. When it comes to forming new synapses and neural connections that are necessary to take new information into long-term memory, our brain needs time. And that’s exactly what spaced repetition gives us.


Whenever we attempt to learn anything, we’re facing the villainous forgetting curve. How many college exams have we studied for, gotten a good grade, and then promptly forgotten the information? Or get to the end of a book with little recollection of the details we just read? This is the forgetting curve at play.


Studies indicate that we lose up to 90% of new information within three days. However, if we review the information within twenty-four hours, individuals have been shown to retain up to 80% of what they just learned. That’s a huge increase! But that’s just one review. If we review again within forty-eight hours, we retain 85% and if we review one more time within seventy-two hours, odds are we will retain most if not all of the information learned. That’s spaced repetition at work.


By reviewing the new information multiple times over a spread out period of time, we give our brain the necessary time to absorb the data and build the proper neural connections solidifying it.


Conclusion


By putting the acronym F.A.S.T.E.R. to work, we can learn faster and better. Learning how to learn is the ultimate superpower, and these methods will unlock our potential, ensuring we all become limitless in any topic we wish to tackle.

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