Learning Differently

I recently finished reading Jim Kwik’s book, “Limitless”, and really appreciate his approach to learning and his passion for helping others overcome obstacles in order to change their lives. If you’re not familiar with him or his story, please check him out at his site (Jim Kwik) and the site for his book (Limitless – Jim Kwik).

He makes a compelling argument that we are often overwhelmed & fatigued in our fast-paced environments mostly because the way we were taught to learn isn’t helping us cope anymore. Learning by rote & memorization can be inefficient and ineffective when we’re bombarded by the sheer amount of information we passively & actively consume.

I do understand the benefits of that style of education – I’m a product of that and if I may say so, pretty successful in my ability to learn. However, I have felt that my approach to learning needed some tweaking and I wasn’t sure where to start.

Memorization has served me well in the past, especially high school. I have pretty good recall, and in some cases have a near photographic memory for text & books. I’ve also been blessed with a good musical memory. For songs that are near & dear to me, I can “hear” them in my head at will, and they are fairly hi-fidelity, meaning that they are pretty faithful reproductions, right down to pitch, tempo & orchestration.

I became better at memorization by sheer habit. It really was a kind of muscle for me. The more I did it, the better I became and the more I pushed myself to try a little more. I truly believe that learning by rote & memorization benefit us by helping us to develop a habit. In the right context, we can learn discipline through this process.

But fast forward to today when I am trying to adopt a new technology or concept, I find that memorization is not the best approach. Sure, terminology and basic facts are available to me through memorization but they often won’t stick around as long as before.

It was at this point that I came across Jim’s book and I thought it would be good to approach learning from a new perspective.

I won’t summarize the book here and I encourage you to look into it for yourself. There were some key takeaways that I found that have helped me adapt my learning approach these days.

What is my motivation for learning?

I had forgotten about motivation and how my context today is completely different than when I was younger or in school. Back in high school, my motivation was to get good grades and ultimately, a standing high enough to qualify for a scholarship in university. When I had my first company, I was motivated to be the first to adopt a new technology to help my clients.

These days, there is still motivation but I admit, not nearly as driving as it was when I was younger. This really helped to objectively look at my current context and pinpoint my motivation. If it isn’t obvious, then my task is to really dig deep to better understand whether my motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic. External motivation is powerful but sometimes not obvious – maybe this software release I’m working on will help a team become more efficient & accurate and reduce the amount of stress that arises around year-end. If my motivation is intrinsic – then I have homework to dig into understanding my needs and my fears; my motivation is likely hidden there.

What can I accept?

Part of maturing and getting older is learning the power of acceptance. In the context of learning, acceptance for me is about understanding what is truly & realistically possible for me to learn. Will I be able to become an accountant? Likely not, but I will be able to understand enough to be able to effectively do my taxes.

Acceptance gives me the gift of being able to know my limits & boundaries in a healthy way. It’s not about taking the easy way out or giving up quickly. It’s about being pragmatic and understanding that some people will be much better than me at certain skills. This knowledge makes it easier to save my energy & effort and instead look to engage someone to help me instead.

Acceptance also gives me the perspective to understand that some things that are important are hard. It allows me to be forgiving to myself and not put unrealistic expectations on myself if I choose to pursue a path.

What can I stop telling myself?

I find it amazing sometimes that I can talk myself out of a project even before I start. I believe we all have our own stories like this. These are the ones that have told us that we’re not smart enough, not worthy, and probably going to embarrass ourselves anyway.

In these times, it’s more important to get out of our own way. We can be our own worst critic so why do we sabotage ourselves like this? There are many reasons – for me, there’s fear & needs that can get in my way.

I can now see this better and take the opportunity to stop telling myself these stories. Being my own coach & cheerleader can help me immensely when I embark on a new project.

How can I better take care of myself?

I definitely understand better the roles that health, nutrition and emotional well-being play in our ability to learn. An athlete needs to take care of their body in order to perform their best. The same goes for our intellect & brain – we need the nutrition, activity, training, sleep & emotional hygiene to be able to perform at our best.

There have been times when I would be losing steam or feel unfocused and I would reach for a coffee or something else to help power me through. I now know better than to reach for an easy stimulant and I have instead tried to maintain a healthy nutrition regimen, a good sleep habit, staying active multiple times in the week, and doing mindful activities to help me process & understand what I’m experiencing.

Ultimately, these habits will help me feel better. And I know that in order to think better, I have to start with feeling better.

How can I stay curious?

Staying curious has been key to learning for me, especially in the area of personal growth & empowerment. The stuff that is initially the hardest to work through ends up being much easier once I get curious about it. Curiosity has the unique ability to disarm any fear or anger or embarrassment from an experience. When I become curious about my own feelings & reactions to a situation, I can learn more about myself and as a result, learn more effectively in general (see the section on Motivation above).

Curiosity about the world around us brings us new perspectives as well. When you become comfortable in a bubble, it might feel scary to poke the surface to break through your boundary, but it’s necessary for growth.

When I’m curious, I tend to think more laterally and look for solutions to puzzles that aren’t obvious. Curiosity begets creativity for me. It’s also similar to the “beginner’s mind” approach that is referenced in the Buddhist philosophy. When I’m curious, it’s more likely that I can learn something from someone else. Even if it’s a topic that I’m familiar with, I will always be able to learn something from someone else.

In our modern times, and especially now in these current circumstances, understanding how you learn and how you can learn better or differently can make all the difference. Learning is a lifelong journey and not something that stops at retirement. Fostering a healthy approach to learning can help keep your brain active and alert.

Thank you for the time you’ve taken to read this article. I hope that it has resonated with you in some way.