So for Fridays, I thought I’d share something I’ve recently found interesting or useful or fun that you can hopefully take into your weekend.
Today, that’s a tip from a newly released book by this guy called Scott H. Young that I’ve been reading lately, titled Ultralearning, about how some of the best learners do what they do.
Here’s what he says:
The easiest way to learn directly is to simply spend a lot of time doing the thing you want to become good at. If you want to learn a language, speak it, as Benny Lewis does. If you want to master making video games, then make them, as Eric Barone does. If you want to pass a test, practice solving the kinds of problems that are likely to appear on it, as I did in my own MIT Challenge.
And he quotes one of the greatest learners of all time (because, of course):
He who can go to the fountain does not go to the water jar. — Leonardo da Vinci
It struck me particularly because I unwittingly practised this principle when I struggled with algebra in my first year of secondary school. During the holidays, I stumbled on a book in my father’s collection (from his secondary school days) that was all about algebra, and worked my way through the thing from start to finish. Spent the entire holiday on that book, solving algebra problem after algebra problem.
I was an algebra boss by the time the new term showed up, and remained so long after school — even teaching people secondary school algebra when I was already in uni.
It wasn’t exceptional brilliance: it was simply working on the problem. I wasn’t getting more lectures. There was no a lesson teacher. I wasn’t reading about the subject: the book was your standard math textbook, with examples followed by all kinds of questions, and I attempted every single question. Some took days to solve because I had no one helping me. But I was super motivated by seeing the improvements I was making.
The author points out how we tend to learn in theory instead of in practice…
…most students view sitting and listening to a lecture as the main way that they learn the material, with doing problems that look substantially similar to those on the final exam as being a superficial check on their knowledge. Though first covering the material is often essential to begin doing practice, the principle of directness asserts that it’s actually while doing the thing you want to get good at when much of learning takes place.
But don’t take his word for it. Think about your own life: the things you’ve learned most deeply, do you find that they followed this principle even if you didn’t realise it at the time?
And if so, how can you apply it right now to whatever you’re trying to get better at, professionally or personally (even if it’s being better at a relationship or whatever)? Instead of another book, or another lecture, what can you do to work directly on whatever it is you’d like to be better at?
Keen to hear from you! Have a delightful weekend!