The art of learning
3 min read

The art of learning

While running in the heat last week, my body endured quite some stress. While I was super tired and had trouble breathing, I knew one thing: I did this before, I had run in a climate like this.

Because I had done it before, I knew that I was able to do it again.

That’s all I needed to know to keep running.

In the last couple of months, you probably found yourself in rare situations. You experienced something that almost never happened before. In unique situations waiting on more information will not help you make better decisions.

The faster you make a decision, the cheaper the solution.

In uncertain events, being educated is a superpower; you are better prepared.

That is why it's essential to make learning and taking the time to think a practice.

Thinking hard takes effort.
How often do you find yourself in the position that you think you understand something, but if you are honest, you actually don't.

As Feynman says;

A mindset that can be of great help (to learn) is that you don't accept answers that you don't understand. This is hard because of three reasons; Ego, motivation, and energy.

Thinking deep (something that you need to do while learning), costs a lot of energy, and you need to be motivated. That's why it's important to work on things you are interested in. But even then, you have to pay attention to how you feel during the day.

You need to understand when during the day do you have the best concentration. I'm most productive early in the morning, that is why I end the day with writing down questions I want to solve the next morning.

After I defined the questions (or tasks), I'll it to the subconscious mind, I take a rest and enjoy the evening. Once I wake up, and I'm at peak concentration level, I start working on the solutions.

Lately, I'm trying to understand better how we learn things; more precisely, I try to figure out how we understand the first principles of things we are working on.

In 1970 Noel Burch came up with the 'four stages for learning a new skill':

  1. Unconscious incompetence - you're not aware that you don't understand something.
  2. Conscious incompetence - you understand that you don't understand something.
  3. Conscious competence - with great focus, you understand something.
  4. Unconscious competence - after a lot of practice, you can easily do something.

According to Waitzkin (now learning to surf), most people stop at level 2. Why? Ego. Once you learn that you don't understand something, it's hard to continue. Because the mind always seeks the path of less resistance.

Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning, is an eight-time US National Chess Champion, a two-time World Champion in Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands, and the first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt under nine-time World Champion Marcelo Garcia.

🔗 Listen here to the podcast between Tim Ferris and Waitzkin.

To overcome this, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You need to embrace the struggle, the uncertainty of not knowing. The mind and body are starting to learn a unique skill; that giving up is not an option.

Once you get to the other side, you will get the 'Aha!' moment. One of the best feelings there is.

Waitzkin also mentioned that focussing on a core component will accelerate the momentum of learning something new. Keep it simple in the beginning. For example, while he started learning chess, he only started with a couple of pieces.

Learning something new is hard, that's why I believe that there is nothing wrong with stress or failures. Like with running, the stress you muscle endure makes you stronger. For the mind, the same thing is true.

Taking time off is as important as being active. Otherwise, you will get hurt or burnout.

So when will you block moments in your calendar, just to think?