How to Learn Anything in the Shortest Possible Time

How to Learn Anything in the Shortest Possible Time

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“Doing the unthinkable is easier than you think.”
Tim Ferriss

What different decisions would you make in life if you could become really good at anything you wanted – fast? If you were armed with a radically improved ability to learn, how far could you go? What would you do if all the learning barriers were removed? How many things would you learn? How would your life change?

Author Malcolm Gladwell reckons that becoming the best of best in any field requires 10,000 hours of effective practice. That’s a life’s work! What if I told you that you don’t need to do that? Even if you are only better than 4 out of every 5 people, you still have enough ability to earn a good living from your expertise in a certain field. Be better than 19 out of 20 people, and you can do very well indeed. Take it up a notch – be at that level in numerous skills, and the world is your oyster! The greater the variety of skills you master, the more opportunities are open for you. Rather than having expertise in only one skill, a combination of high level skills in several areas differentiates you from the crowd. You could be one in a million!

So much of our learning these days is ineffectual, based on educational techniques designed in the Victorian era. Our assumption is that certain people have a talent for something, rather than understanding that anyone can develop a talent.

To become whatever you want to be and have the skills and knowledge you need, all you require is time and a really effective accelerated learning process. Nowadays, we understand much more about how the human brain assimilates information, and how to model other people’s success by deconstructing their strategies, techniques, actions and thinking processes.

In his book, The Four Hour Chef, Tim Ferriss (Amazon UK, US) explains how any complete boiled-egg-burner can become a world-class chef within weeks. More significantly, the techniques are transferable to any arena, helping you optimise your time and efforts and develop great expertise. His methodology constitutes a real breakthrough model for learning anything faster, better and more effectively in a fast-paced world. This capacity for mastering new skills in the minimum amount of time is cutting edge accelerated learning, requiring just four elements to turbocharge your success:

Step 1: Deconstruct the Problem

Ask yourself, ‘What are the first steps, the building blocks, I should be starting with?’ Take the skill and break it down into the minimum learnable elements, the basic building blocks with which you will build your success.

To deconstruct any skill, start with the outcome in mind. Know specifically what you want to achieve, and know how you’re going to measure it. Then, work backwards to identify the specific steps and resources you need to succeed. In other words – deconstruct your journey to success.

Try throwing a lot at the wall and see what sticks. What’s essential and vital to know and utilise, and what’s merely ‘decoration’? Test common assumptions, and ask better questions. Think outside the box, and contrary to common belief: What happens if I do the opposite of best practice? Discard negative beliefs that provide excuses and block possibility, like “children learn languages faster than adults” (actually, they don’t). Don’t spend a year learning Italian in a weekly class before going to Italy; book a flight a week earlier and immerse yourself in the culture – spend time cramming the language in context.

Seek out and meet maverick experts and innovators, either in person, or through their books and materials. Identify the common features of their practice, to adopt them yourself. Identify your role model or an expert in the skill you are looking to acquire. Look at who is the best, or who breaks the rules to great effect and success, and examine how they do it. Especially look for those who do amazingly well despite not having the ‘ideal’ background, qualifications, shape or size for that skill. Their talent isn’t genetic: they’re doing it with technique, and technique can be learned. Even if they don’t follow the rules, they achieve extreme success unconventionally – and you can do the same, or better! Break down the skill, by what you learn from these experts and what makes them different.

For example, take Terry Laughlin, the expert who invented Total Immersion swimming (www.totalimmersion.net) – enabling people to become very effective swimmers in anything from one hour to two weeks (for a complete non-swimmer). His TI approach deconstructs swimming to optimise your balance, streamlining and breathing to produce phenomenal results and efficiencies. For championship swimmers and beginners alike, the results from using these techniques are astonishing. That has to be better than swimming lessons at your local pool!

Break new skills down and identify alternative approaches to really increase your learning success.

Step 2: Reflect on What Really Counts

Ask: ‘Which 20% of the tasks should I focus on, that will get me 80% of the outcome I want?’ Use Pareto’s Principle (read my 80/20 post) to accelerate learning any new skills or techniques: select the 20% effort that generates 80% of the results and apply it to anything you want to learn or improve. Concentrate on whatever it is that actually makes the difference – that vital 20%. Some of what you’ll identify is common sense: in books, good writing is always good writing. Hard work is hard work. But it also means thinking laterally and asking apparently ridiculous questions. What is the difference that makes the difference?

There’s a minimum effective dose for any skill or goal. For instance spending five minutes swinging a kettle-bell on a regular basis rapidly tones your body; consuming 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up optimises the effectiveness of your ability to maintain a healthy weight; 20,000 fans of your book within its first 2 weeks will guarantee that it is a best seller.

Similar effects are produced from easy techniques for learning languages super fast. The Michel Thomas Method (www.michelthomas.com) of learning languages works by breaking a language down into its component parts, enabling you to reconstruct any language for yourself – making your own sentences, and saying what you want to say. You learn the language in small steps, which the brain loves; then you can progress to produce more complex sentences. It’s actually possible to learn the structure of a new language in an hour, using as few as only 6 sentences translated into your chosen language. Through these you can deconstruct the grammar and understand the principles behind a whole language. This is the “minimum effective dose” for learning any language. From there on, you only have to learn 2.5% of the vocabulary of the given language (1200 -1500 words) to appear fluent.

Why sweat by working hard when you can work smart? All you have to do is Identify the minimum effective dose for the skill or goal you want to achieve, then take the small steps that make the most difference.

Step 3: Get the Sequence Right

Success is not just what you do, but how you do it, and how you sequence the steps in the process. Once you’ve decided which 20% of actions to focus on for maximum results, the next thing is to decide on the best order in which to do them. What should you do first, and next, for producing the best outcome?

Much of our learning today makes things difficult early on and allows a high chance of failure.

Much teaching is about doing the boring stuff first: learning verbs in languages or notes in music. Instead, do the interesting parts first – which are often hands-on. Having a conversation or playing a tune is more engaging than learning what traditionalists call ‘the basics’ first. ‘Basics’ kill the desire to learn and make it difficult for the learner to see the connection with the end result. The secret to motivation is to experience success early. So build in some quick wins, fast. This way, you’re more likely to stick with learning the skill.

Identify the failure points – all the ways in which things can go wrong – so you can avoid them from the outset. Build in a margin of safety from the start, so that if you make any error, there’s still room to manoeuvre, enabling you to succeed.

In learning most new skills there are thousands of methods but very few fundamental principles. Master those, and you become a master of anything you choose. Knowing the most powerful techniques to learn these raw principles is key. If you’re a male wanting to dance tango, learn the female role and steps before the male one. Learn to follow, before you lead. Learn to play chess by starting with the end game, rather than the opening moves. Learn the adaptable base principles rather than memorising the openers. That will take you much further in far less time.

The really important thing to remember is that the order in which you do things can radically improve your chances of success. Do the things that will make the greatest impact, in the right order, and you will successfully learn a new skill to a high level.

Step 4: Raise the Stakes:

If you do a bad job, you get fired. If you don’t follow your diet, nothing changes. Believe it or not, the most important factor of success in learning is staying the course and going through all the necessary steps to reach your goal.

So if ‘keeping at it’ is the most important factor in learning a skill, how do you set stakes high enough to create real consequences if you don’t – which guarantee that you keep with the program?

To ensure a failure-proof system that works for everyone it is important to have the stick as well as the carrot. Try publicly declaring your goals and the stakes – ‘I’ll do this or I’ll shave my head… or give you all next Monday off”. Even better, you can use websites like StickK (www.stickk.com) on which you make your commitments public online – and pay money as a consequence if you fail to meet them. This allows you to put a large sum into escrow and nominate a referee to ensure that you’re accountable if you don’t achieve your goal or intention. If you fail, your money goes to your chosen ‘anti-charity’: a non-profit that you really hate – eg something like the George W Bush Presidential Library. It has to be something that gets your blood boiling for the consequence to have maximum punitive effect!

If the reward of achieving your outcome isn’t motivation enough, raising the stakes will ensure that you’re persistent and resilient enough to stay focused, keep at it, and do all you can to achieve your aims.

In summary, there’s nothing much to stop you learning whatever will help you to succeed in your goals! Through deconstruction, reflection and selection of what’s most important, sequencing well and raising the stakes, you can easily supercharge your ability to learn new skills fast.

If you can learn anything and be good at it within a very short space of time – what would you choose?

● What will you do accelerate and maximise your success?
● What would you do, with a radically higher expectation of what you are capable of?
● How could you change your life?
● How can you change your business?
● How will you change the world?

Further Reading:

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Tim Ferriss (Amazon Link UK, US)

Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice by Matthew Syed (Amazon Link UK, US)

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (Amazon Link UK, US)

If the above topic, or indeed any of my blogs are of interest to you, then contact me and let’s talk! Drop me an email at getintouch@marcwinn.com.

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