How to Become a Super Learner

How hard can it be?

Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

I’m delusional.

Every time I see somebody excelling at something I think to myself: “I can do that, how hard can it be?”

Then, I actually go and try.

If only I had videos of all my failed attempts.

What pushes me to try out stuff is a mix of curiosity, zest for learning, and competitiveness but mostly it’s my delusional grasp on reality.

“If he can, I can” kind of belief.

Sometimes I even compare myself to Elon Musk and think he’s got nothing on me.

How crazy is that?

And yet, this is my superpower, and it can be yours too, if you change your mindset.

Being delusional is a prerequisite for achieving anything worthwhile. Realistic people never push the boundaries, they just stay in the middle where it gets very crowded and where you can only be average at best.

Delusional people, on the other hand, go and try crazy stuff so they achieve remarkable results. Christopher Columbus, Edmund Hillary, or the Wright brothers were very unreasonable people, had they had any common sense the world would be a very different place today.

The same can be applied to learning. If you think you can’t learn a certain skill then you won’t. Learning begins with the idea in your mind that it’s possible.

Being delusional is necessary but it’s not enough.

You need focus, determination, risk tolerance and patience.

These are prerequisites of success in general, but let’s focus on learning and how to develop your natural curiosity.

Characteristics of learning

I’m a very curious person and so are you. Curiosity might have killed the cat but also made humans thrive.

Just by observing a toddler, is very obvious that we have a tendency to explore, to find out and to test. We have inquisitive minds, it’s just that our interest got buried under years of formal education. But it’s still there, it just needs to be rekindled.

Have you ever wondered how magic, quantum physics or breakdance work?

Well if you haven’t there is something wrong with you, but don’t worry it can be fixed. Just forget all the brainwashing you suffered at school and you’ll be good to go.

Curiosity is a muscle and you can train it. Start with this sentence: “I’ve always wondered how….” Fill the gap and then find out on the amazing worldwide web.

When you are curious, you have a desire to learn and that’s the beginning of a great journey.

When you are learning, you are not competing with anyone but you are using inferiority complex in reverse.

If he can, I can, attitude. You don’t want to be better than anyone else but you don’t want to be worse either.

People that have mastered any skill are not special in any way. They are very ordinary people that just have stayed the course. Don’t put them on a pedestal, you could be there if you were willing to pay the price.

Use this healthy desire to win to push you to the top, to give you that extra motivation you’ll need during the dip.

“At the beginning, when you first start something, it’s fun. Over the next few days and weeks, the rapid learning you experience keeps you going. Whatever your new thing is, it’s easy to stay engaged in it. And then the Dip happens. The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.”

Seth Godin

About 5 years ago I decided to take up mountain biking, I needed to learn about conditioning, strength, and technique. At the beginning, I was the weakest link in my group, soon after I became very proficient. My motivation to become better came from competing with my friends. I just didn’t want to lose.

Imagine if you could play table tennis, chess or poker to a decent level. Wouldn’t that be great?

Desires and daydreams are great motivators to learn.

We all want to get better at something (even the people that say they don’t), and that desire is what keeps you going when the results are not yet visible.

Visualizing your goals is a very effective method to achieve big outcomes. Picture yourself speaking in French to a native in the riviera. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Imagine yourself passing that test or wearing that black belt. Imagination is very powerful, anything that can be imagined can be achieved.

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Advantages of learning

Fun is both, a prerequisite and a benefit of learning.

When you try to learn, you better have fun, otherways you’ll quit.

To make it interesting, first, choose an activity you are naturally inclined to, second, gamify the experience and third, learn to enjoy the hardship.

There is beauty in the obstacle. When something is too easy is boring.

Learning for the sake of it is great, but why not profit from it as well. Realizing how many doors it can open will help you navigate the gap between can’t and can.

If you are a freak, like me, you probably enjoy learning stuff that’s not even useful. I’ve been known to learn very obscure subjects like Latin, DR Dos (yes, not a typo. MS-Dos was too common for me), and some moves of Break Dance. Failed miserably at all of those, mostly due to lack of time and resources. However, I haven’t given up yet. Watch the space.

Learning is a great way to invest your time even when the subject is not useful, when it is useful it can bring many benefits.

Learning is growing and not just in that particular skill but in general.

You become more, your mind expands, your perception increases, your memory develops. The best way to have a fulfilling life is to never stop learning, exploring and growing.

Narrow-minded people like extremists, bigots or misogynists are ignorant, they learned some toxic BS at an early age and then refused to learn anything else. They are stuck in a false paradigm and that can only be cured through opening the mind to new concepts.

Learning is one of the most effective ways to increase your confidence. Your brain is a muscle, the more you train it the stronger it becomes.

To start learning something you need some confidence in your ability (even if it’s delusional) but the more you learn, the more it will grow.

I’ve always thought of myself as useless at languages, yet here I am, writing in English and publishing on Medium. Next will be Japanese (wishful thinking?) What about you? What do you think is out of limits for you? Maths, Spanish, Coding? Nothing is out of reach if you really want to learn.

The more skills you add to the pipe the more creative you’ll become.

Creativity is not about arty-farty stuff that gets exposed in National Galleries, it’s about combining two or more different skills in a way no one has done before.

The more skills you have, the higher the possibilities.

Uber, for example, is a combination of Geo-location, transport, and mobile payments. Whoever came up with the idea is a creative genius.

Very often the biggest breakthroughs come from people outside the industry. That’s because they were thinking outside the box and bringing new creative ways to tackle an old problem. Tesla, the iPhone or Airbnb came from outsiders that used creativity by combining existing technologies.

Leonardo DaVinci is considered to be the most creative person in history and I’m sure a good part of that is the combination of all those different skills he had.

Every time you learn a new skill, you join a new tribe, you become an insider.

You get accepted in an exclusive group you didn’t even know existed. You learn the secret code of the group and you get accepted.

This creates new connections with people you wouldn’t have met other ways and that expands your horizons.

Over the years I have joined many different clubs, the Jazz club, the bike club, the Linux club, the solar energy club, the Japanese club, and most recently the writing club.

This way I’ve met wonderful people and develop friendships that will last forever. Just for that reason is worth learning.

Joining a club has a price though — you are expected to follow the rules and talk the talk — but as long as you don’t become a new convert evangelist the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Here is an example. When I started cycling, my fellow riders made fun of me for not wearing the right equipment and for having hairy legs. In the end, I gave in and decide to look the part. It’s all about the status I guess. A small price to pay.

The moment you learn a skill you can immediately teach it, you don’t need to wait until you become a master. All you need is to be one step ahead.

I’ve recently taken my first steps with the guitar and already I’ve been asked to teach it, which I have. I think they appreciate that I’m reachable, that I can relate. The fact I don’t charge also helps.

You see, you can be an impostor and still teach.

There is certainly a benefit to learn from somebody who still remembers how hard it’s to start. Learning from pros is harder because they can’t relate.

I’m always looking for teachers that are only slightly ahead of me when I start something. At later stages, I search for more experienced masters.

The best way to learn something is by teaching.

Pros and cons of learning new skills

If you focus on one narrow subject, say medieval French poetry, you can gain a lot of depth and become a top expert. That’s great but it’s also very risky — the niche might be too small, trends could change or technology could make your skills obsolete.

Specialization is for insects

Robert Anson Heinlein

It’s safer to have width and become a generalist. Combining many skills will boost your creativity.

Narrow Artificial Intelligence is here already and the more you specialize, the easier will be to replace you.

If your desire is to win the Nobel prize you have to be a specialist, for everybody else, generalist is better.

If you keep jumping from one skill to the next you could become a dilettante or a junkie.

That’s something you have to watch for. Have a master plan, add new skills that complement previous ones, find new and creative ways to integrate all of your knowledge.

Don’t learn and then forget. Keep it up. Practice and maintain your level. Use it or lose it.

Learning takes time. Maintaining and implementing your knowledge takes even more time.

The good news is that you have plenty of time if you get rid of time wasters — tv, social media, your phone, etc — anything that doesn’t add value is out.

Learning is an active pursuit and that beats any passive pursuit like watching Netflix.

Often people ask me if I’ve watched “Stranger things” or “Ozark” to which I respond: “No. I’ve got a life”. A little bit rude, I know, but true. Life is too short to be wasted watching 100 episodes of some random show. Rant over.

Conclusion

If you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance.

Life learning is the best thing you can do for your mind, body and soul. Not only you’ll learn plenty of skills but you’ll also expand your horizons, grow and stay young.

Some people stop learning right after college and that’s the time they die. They may look alive but they are not, they just go through the motions.

Get out of your comfort zone, join that Zumba class and shake your arse like there is no tomorrow.

Learn to live and live to learn.

Student of life. Trying to make sense of it all, be happy and help others achieve their dreams. Join me at: albertotheauthor@gmail.com

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