Last week, the discussion on breaking through plateaus led to the idea that progress requires the continuous process of changing paradigms. However, every new paradigm will have a new set of ideas, some of which are abstract and mentally difficult to grasp, while others will directly challenge your current belief. Adjusting and incorporating new ideas and concepts is the hardest part of learning, as you won’t have relevant experiences or anecdotes to back-up your assumptions.
Here are three key principles that I use when trying to learn concepts and subsequently skillsets.
1. Understand at the most basic level. Speakers will often practice with their young nephews and nieces. If you can’t explain an idea or theory to a six year-old, then you don’t understand it well enough.
There are different ways to break down complex topics into their basic forms such as:
Drawing tree, pyramid or Venn diagrams to filter down to truly understand the principles.
Seek to oversimplify or overgeneralize an idea. Often the nuances and exceptions will distract us and take away from our learning.
80:20 rule. This rule can be applied in many circumstances (such as fat loss, aerobic training, and organizational behaviour); however, you can apply this to learning. Identify the recurring ideas that will underpin 80% of the theory. For example, there are many variables in weight loss, but understanding macronutrient consumption will have the most effect on your body.
2. Make it relevant to other areas of your life. Once you can explain an idea with analogies, you’re well on the road to embracing the concept. Furthermore, being able to understand a concept from different lenses and perspectives will ensure you are learning in 3D. We often criticize experts and virtuosos for being single minded, obsessed with nothing else but their craft. I’ve learned that this isn’t always the case; they are virtuosos because they have been able to relate their craft to other facets of life. If you think back to your best teachers, you will realize that they taught with metaphors and analogies, expounding concepts with stories.
3. Test and retest. Once you think you know something, think again. Learning is a process that is iterative, a process that shouldn’t end until you’ve breathed your last breath. What you’ve created in your head is completely fictitious and incomplete. It is a live entity which needs to be fed and maintained, or else its roots will grow old. If you have learned a concept, try to relearn it or better yet, learn the antithesis or opposite set of ideas that blows your concept out of the water. In religious practice, the devoted followers will go to church to reaffirm beliefs, studying texts that they have learned many times over. This approach should be applied to learning concepts – reaffirming knowledge and letting it evolve accordingly is the how you strengthen your neural connections.
“The problem with all students, he said, is that they inevitably stop somewhere. They hear an idea and they hold on to it until it becomes dead; they want to flatter themselves that they know the truth. But true Zen never stops, never congeals into such truths. That is why everyone must constantly be pushed to the abyss, starting over and feeling their utter worthlessness as a student. Without suffering and doubts, the mind will come to rest on clichés and stay there, until the spirit dies as well. Not even enlightenment is enough. You must continually start over and challenge yourself.”
― Robert Greene, Mastery
In the health and wellness industry, new ideas, new supplements and new training programs are constantly being introduced to the masses. Our ability to innovate has allowed us to survive as a species for many generations. However, it is often easy to get swayed by novelty. New methods, new equipment and new supplements are based on the same concepts that have been around for so many years; however, they may work or may even force you to reconsider your own beliefs. Therefore it’s important to simplify, find the relevancy and constantly test these new ideas.
Here's Elliott Hulse on learning.