We live in a society where more people go to college and get a degree than ever before. Never has there ever been put so much focus on studying hard and getting good grades.
Yet at the same time society is getting dumber. Most people have less knowledge and less skills than the generation before them.
Why is this? It’s because schools don’t teach you how to learn, they teach you how to be obedient. They teach you that there is only one truth, one path to follow, and to always respect authority (the teacher).
The way schools teach us is actually one of the worst ways to learn. We put kids on a chair and tell them to listen to someone drone standardized learning material at them. We treat children like they’re computers that you can simply force information into.
Is it any wonder most people stop learning as soon as they graduate college? By the time you’ve reached that point, you probably developed a big hatred towards learning. Your experiences with it are all hugely boring and tedious.
Which is a massive shame, because when done correctly, learning can give you massive advantages, and it can also be a lot of fun.
If there is anything you should learn, it’s to learn how to learn (learnception). Once you get good at learning, you will start to see results faster. You will also start making connections between seemingly separate things; allowing you to learn even more.
Most importantly, you’ll actually be able to put what you learned to use (unlike most of what you’re taught in schools).
So how does learning work?
Learning is a combined effort of your conscious and your subconscious. Your ego also plays a massive role, but as usual it’s a wild card. Your ego can both hugely benefit or massively undermine your learning (if you want to learn how to make your ego work for you, read this: Summoned or Not).
Let’s use one of your biggest learning achievements ever as an example of how to learn properly. Let’s talk about learning how to walk. An example made famous by one of the founding fathers of hypnosis, Milton Erickson.
Unlike most animals, the ability to walk isn’t born in us. When a calf or a lizard is born, they’ll be up and walking within minutes. For some weird reason, this got evolved out of us. Probably, two legged walking is just way more complex than four legged walking.
So how do you learn how to walk? Well it starts with the fact that you see everyone else do it. Kids that grow up isolated from other humans never learn how to walk properly. All cases of “wolf kids” show that without proper examples around them, kids will develop some sort of 4 legged half crawling way of moving around.
We are mimetic creatures. Our mirror neurons play an important part in our learning process. We don’t believe something’s possible until we see someone else do it.
Once a baby has decided that learning how to walk seems like a useful thing (subconscious process), it will start by trying to learn how to stand up. This alone can take a month or so to learn.
They have to hold onto things and slowly develop the muscular strength and neural pathways that allow them to control their body on a more advanced level. Babies will fall flat on their ass a 100 times before they manage to stand up.
Once they’re able to stand, they need to learn how to walk. Again, they’ll have fallen flat on their ass a 100 times before they manage to take the first successful step. Then another 100 falls before they can take 2 steps in a row. Then another 100 times etc.
By the time they’re adequate walkers, they’ll have fallen over a 1000 times.
So how does this process work inside your brain?
It’s a rapid feedback loop. You consciously make the decision you want to stand up. You consciously attempt it. You fail. You learn what doesn’t work. Your subconscious responds by storing this information. You try again.
After enough failed attempts, not only will your subconscious pick up on what works, it will actually start developing ways to help the process. It starts to improve your muscle-mind connections. Standing up is a process that constantly requires 100’s of micro corrections.
You constantly use your muscles, your eyes and your balance organ when standing; even if you don’t notice it anymore.
We take standing up for granted, but it is actually one of the most complex things you’ve ever learned. You just don’t realize it because it’s a subconscious process now. Try standing up with your eyes closed after quickly spinning around 10 times. You’ll understand what I mean.
Your ability to stand up is the result of a feedbackloop that your brain ran 100’s of times. Try something consciously, see if it works, store it in your subconscious, subconscious adapts a little, try something else consciously, etc.
After you’re capable of standing, your attention will shift to learning how to walk. Same feedbackloop commences, but for a different goal.
So what role does your ego play? Well for the learning itself it doesn’t really seem to have any role. It’s mostly a motivator. Either it helps you because it tells you, you can definitely do this; or it holds you back by saying there’s no way you could ever do this.
Babies learn optimally:
– Use mimetic brainpower.
– Try out many things to see what works for you.
– Both mind and body are engaged.
– Clear goal in mind.
– Learn when you want to and are ready for it.
– Relying on the subconscious to do its work.
– No ego that gets in the way.
– Perfectly normal to make mistakes 100’s of times.
Compare this to our schools:
– Boring teacher in front of class so no mimetic activity.
– Taught that there is only one way to learn (one size fits none).
– Body totally disengaged. Forced to sit still.
– No goal in mind whatsoever (kids have 0 control over what they want to learn).
– Forced to learn when the teacher tells you.
– Schools focus only on the conscious.
– No focus on ego building whatsoever so risks of negative ego effects.
– Mistakes immediately get punished (bad marks or scolding).
Is it any wonder most kids hate school? It is completely unnatural. In many ways it actually holds them back from learning. I personally remember spending most of my elementary school years just staring out of the window and dreaming of adventures I could go on.
Here’s how to learn optimally:
1) Clear goal of what you want to learn
Be like that baby. Have a clear end goal of what skill you want to develop. Make clear sub-goals. Say you want to learn how to write poetry in Spanish. First learn basic Spanish grammar, then expand your vocabulary, then learn advanced grammar, then learn how to write Spanish poetry.
2) Engage your mimetic powers
We are made to learn from other humans. Once you have a clear goal, find someone to learn from. Find someone that inspires you and try to think and act like them. Eventually you’ll mature enough in your skill to let go of your mentor’s ways and find your own. All the old masters, like Rembrandt, da Vinci and Velasquez learned to paint this way. They studied under a mentor for years and then went on to find their own style and technique once they perfected the fundamentals.
3) Engage your body and your senses
The idea of having to sit down to learn is stupid. Engage your body when you want to learn. Muscle movements help you remember things. This can be as simple as writing down what you want to learn. The physical act of your hand putting something on paper massively helps your learning.
Even better, don’t sit down to learn Spanish words, get an audio tape and practice your Spanish as you take a walk. You’ll learn faster as your entire brain is engaged.
When learning something new, use everything. Use your eyes, your ears, your hands. Move when you want to learn and feel free to use your imagination as much as you like.
4) Learn when you want to
There’s two scenarios in which people learn well. Either when they really have to or when they want to. “I need to learn how to sell or I will be broke in 2 weeks” or “I really want to learn how to sell so I can accomplish my goals”. Anything in between like “I need to learn how to sell because my teacher says so” isn’t going to work. Necessity or want are the only true teachers. I’d advise you to go for want unless you’re big on stress.
5) Fail often, fail freely
Failing is a completely natural part of learning. Schools imprint a sickening obsession with always being right in us. Feel free to fail. People that always try to be right are the same ones that will never accomplish anything and will be forgotten as soon as they die.
Besides, people will forget all about your struggles and failures as soon as you hit success. They’ll be too busy trying to profit from your success to even remember how many times you failed.
6) Make learning a story
Our brains are made to think in story lines. Make your learning part of your story. Think of training sequences in movies. Like Rocky running the Philly steps. Training your running becomes a lot more fun when you envision yourself as the hero of a grand story training for something greater.
7) Optimize your ego
Make sure you have a positive ego that helps you learn new skills. Learn here how to rebuild your ego: Rebuilding the ego
Let’s take an example of proper learning and how it helps you to grow much faster as a person.
In the old days, someone that wanted to learn a skill, would take on an apprenticeship.
Say you want to become a blacksmith. You go to the best blacksmith in town. One you hugely admired because he has proven himself time and time again. He has created beautiful and highly functional tools and weapons. You want to be like him.
You’re lucky, he takes you on as an apprentice.
At first you’ll have to do the boring tasks like cleaning the shop. You need to prove yourself. You made the decision you want to be there, you need to prove you’re worthy of being there. Both to your master and yourself. Simultaneously, you’ll (sub)consciously be learning your way around the workshop. You get to ease into the environment.
You’ll make plenty of small mistakes like putting things in the wrong place, or cleaning in the wrong way. None of these mistakes have any terrible consequences. You will simply be corrected by the blacksmith on how to do things properly. You learn a system that has proven itself for years.
After a while you start getting more and more difficult tasks. First you get supporting roles during the smithing process. Here you get to see the master at work from up close (mimetic learning). You also start directly learning skills associated with the smithing process.
All this teaching is done in phases. Usually there are several apprentices at the same time that are in different phases of the learning process. Every phase sees you learn a new chunk of skills. Every skill is immediately practiced by hand. There are no separate theory classes you have to attend.
Every new phase will see you making plenty of mistakes before you master the new skills. This is a completely natural part of the process and the master smith will be there to guide you through them and correct your mistakes.
After a few years of thoroughly learning the basis, you will be allowed to do basic smithing by yourself. By this time you will already be an adequate smith. Yet you’ll still have the master smith to fall back on if needed. You still have ample room for mistakes.
Eventually you will be allowed to smith complex things completely independently. By this time you have learned all your master had to teach to you.
You have now become a journeyman smith. Ready to start your own shop and continue the process of learning on your own. You can now choose your own direction and specialization.
You are now free to create your own shop in the way you like. You’ve thoroughly seen how a successful shop is run. You copy the things that you know work, and alter the things you think could be done even better.
You continue learning and creating the things you want to create.
Eventually, you will become a master yourself, and youngsters will come knocking at your door hoping to become your apprentice.
The cycle continues.
Talking about cycles, my jewelry is also round.
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After publishing, I realized that I forgot to add one major exception to what I wrote. Something that schools (subconsciously) seem to try to mimick. Trance state learning.
Ever been in the presence of a storyteller capable of capturing your imagination? Like when people are sitting around the fireplace and grandfather is telling some of his best stories?
If you have, you’ll know that trancelike feeling where the story starts to play in your head and it feels like you are living the things being told.
You’ve entered a trance state. One of the best states for learning. People in a captivated trance state tend to sit very still. They’re completely fixated on the subject they’re observing.
You know, the way little kids can sit very still with big wide eyes.
It is an exception to the normal rules of learning because there is no physical action or gradual exposure in play here.
Everything is happening inside your mind and it is all happening simultaneously.
A good teacher can achieve this effect. We’ve probably all had that one teacher that was a great storyteller and it was the only class you were actually looking forward to attending.