It’s a travesty and probably an embarrassment to think that the education system never teaches you the best way to learn.
It took me years of refinement to find the answer.
Like many, I was an “immature” learner, one who rushed to take in as much information as possible.
I thought that Twitter’s newsfeed — with its broad and large volume articles, was the holy grail of knowledge.
My philosophy was to read a wide amount of sources so that I could get enough information to stay in touch with everything.
Yet, despite all the reading, I never felt like I was going anywhere.
All it took was to look at real masters of their fields, those classified as “professional” or “mature” learners, to discover the right approach.
Seneca, a 1st century Stoic philosopher, in his set of Letters from a Stoic, advised us to:
“Focus on the good and master that. Don’t waste your time with inferior quality in terms of authors”.
“To be everywhere is to be nowhere”.
To be reading everything by everybody is to be nowhere. Philosopher’s of old spent months, years, and even decades, contemplating the works of only a handful of authors.
Which of us can even say we’ve read the full works of any one person?
In a world of too many options, we either get so overwhelmed we chose nothing, or we end up having a little bit of everything.
This is what you should not do if you want to become a master in your field.
Instead, focus on specialisation of learning, that is, mastering the words and mindsets of just a few critical writers or leaders in your field. Once you begin, the benefits of doing so are manifold:
1. You Gain First Principles
In Barbara Oakley’s book A Mind for Numbers, she states that:
“Tangible output alone is only worth so much, but with the principles, or view of the world, they can be taken with you to any problem”.
By reading all or most of somebody’s work, and living in their shoes for an intense period, you’re much more likely to understand how they view and tackle the world. This will empower you to take on a similar mindset and hopefully receive similar results.
Seneca used to state that Socrates’ students would learn more from observing how he conducted himself, than his words alone.
2. Immersion Leads to Better Memory
Also in Barbara Oakley’s book, she mentions that:
“When you are first learning new concepts, don’t let things go untouched for longer than a day”.
Indeed, this is the ideal approach. The overall concept is that the more time you focus and build on what you’ve learned, the more you internalise it and connect all the dots.
Immersion gives you an understanding of the bigger theme or underlying story, making it easier to remember than solitary techniques or tactics. To balance the above quote, it’s important to remember that:
“Repeating something twenty times in one evening won’t stick nearly as well as it will if you practice it the same number of times over several days or weeks”.
Hence, digesting the content of your chosen writers shouldn’t become a race, but rather, a paced-out activity.
3. You Save Time
Volume and variety on online mediums means fishing out a lot of rubbish, yet this is how they make money. If you’re searching for news or knowledge on the usual sites, not only are you experiencing inferior content but you’re wasting your time.
So, resist the temptation and change your approach. Keep in mind the 80/20 rule when it comes to taking in your information. 20% of writers are going to give you 80% of your results.
4. You Increase Productivity
When you think of productivity you shouldn’t think of quantity, because productivity is about being effective.
Having a small list of authors and resources to get through is a much easier apple to chew than the broad brush aim of “learning” or “reading”. Broad goals produce patchy work and lead to broad outcomes (which don’t make the difference).
The narrower the focus, the easier it is to get it done, and the greater the impact on results.
What to do?
Starting from now, prioritise the best thought leaders in a field/fields you want to master (a list you can add to), and read everything they have published: books, podcasts, articles, youtube videos etc.
Key resources or notes should be revised every week or few weeks, with the aim of building a “network of deeply internalised, interconnected knowledge that expands from a central, personal locus point” — as the author of The Art of Learning puts it.
By the way, the revision part is something I still have to force myself to do, but it’s critical for the internalising bit.
To make it relative, here’s what my list has been:
If you decide to do likewise, please share your list in the comments.
Final words: learning ‘how to learn’ is the greatest thing you can possess. As Naval Ravikant, renowned thought leader and investor puts it, it’s like “a meta skill, a wildcard, you can exchange it for anything you want!”
From now on, do it right. Focus on depth over breadth, implement the 80/20 rule when it comes to who you read, and become a master of designated fields of study — not a jack of all information, master of none.