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Soak Up Learning

How do I approach Learning? There is so much amazing content about such a vast number of subjects available to us today. It can be both empowering at times, and also confusing and overwhelming at other times. I think it is so important that we invest in our education. While i do not think much of traditional school, i do believe education (or just learning) is paramount to success. In the article on Habits we talked about three states BE, DO, HAVE. In order to HAVE the things we desire we first need to BE the kind of person that has those things, and we have to DO what that person does. Well in order to effectively DO, we have got to spend time learning what to DO and how to BE.


Emersion of content creates mindset.

If we want to BE someone who is great at a subject or skill. Then we need to learn everything that they know about the subject. We need to learn what mastery looks like, what being an amateur looks like, we need to learn about mistakes and pitfalls. By soaking up knowledge surrounding the subject we will create a mindset for ourselves that precedes our success. Here are a few of the paradigms that i have created for myself around learning.


Life is About Patterns

I had a professor in college. Actually it wasmy first ever course at university. He said something that i have always carried with me and found to be true. He said that all learning in life is just patterns. If you learn a pattern in one field of study you will likely see it again in totally different context. And it will be much easier for you to understand the next time. Learning about gardening has helped me build systems as an engineer. Learning about economics helped me deepen my understanding of my relationship with my wife. It’s all just patterns.


So as you approach new knowledge, try these two practices:

  1. Try to take the problems and solutions of the subject and abstract away concepts that are universal to other areas.

  2. Don’t be closed off to learning something because you feel you would never apply it to your life. Because it’s just a pattern, assume that you can learn it and then find that pattern elsewhere in a subject that is crucial to your success.


Write it Down

I think we are all aware that taking notes helps us absorb the information, even if we throw the note away and never look at it again. It is an even more powerful tool to write down your notes and also actions that you can take to apply the lessons learned. Studies have shown that these two steps drastically improve information retention. So over the years I have worked on the craft of writing down what i am learning. Within Evernote, I have separate notes files for almost everything. Workout, nutrition, work, leadership, relationships, everything. I have two loose strategies for note taking that have served me well.


The Journal

As I learn a new subject, i create a note file that i title something like “nutrition journal”. Then as i learn new things about the subject of nutrition, i write down the date and have some “dear diary” time. I always sort newest entries on top since newer is usually more relevant. This writing helps me to reinforce and memorize what i am learning. It is also a great reference to go back to in the future. At the top of the journal i will have a list of things i might want to implement as i work on nutrition. Count calories, watch protein intake, drink water before a meal, etc. In the diary entry i also save links to any content that i found helpful so that i can go revisit it later.


Content Summary

If i am reading a specific book, video, course, article, that doesn’t really fit into a specific subject, then i will create a separate notes file for it. For example for books i always keep a separate notes file. This way if i ever want to revisit the book i can start with my own notes rather than having to re read the whole book. I try to make myself a sort of cheat sheet about that subject for my future consumption. I write down key ideas of the subject along with notes on how i can implement these lessons into my own life.


Create Todos

As I listen to content I try to think about what is relevant to my journey now and what could be relevant in the future. For the things I want to implement right away I add them as todo items either something I need to get done once or as a practice that I need to start as a habit. If I feel it will be helpful but I don’t have capacity for it now or am just not ready yet. Then I either put it in as a todo with no dates or I add notes about it in my journal that it might be a good future action.


Either way by adding these todo items into my life, I am increasing the likelihood that I am absorbing the content, and I and making it relevant to my journey.


Content Overload and Paralysis

A word of caution on over doing it on the consumption side. There are a few signals that I listen for in my own life that point to me consuming too much content. The first is that I start to feel overwhelmed. I start noticing my mind being less present on my task at hand and I feel a certain level of stress in my day because I am constantly trying to consume more information than i can successfully process. Listening to podcast in the gym. Audio book in the shower (yup i do that). YouTube while falling asleep. It sort of takes over my psyche and becomes too much. When this happens I try to do a bit of a reset. I spend more time listening to music and trying to calm my brain rather than work it.


The second signal is related but slightly different. It’s when I am listening to a lot of content but don’t feel like I am learning or absorbing anything new from it. Everything seems boring, and I am just sorting rushing to finish the videos to get them off my list but not really enjoying it. Not taking notes and not trying to implement what I am hearing. This is also a sign that I should probably take a break from consumption and just make sure I am executing on my priorities and give my brain more rest.


The last signal is more common when starting a project. When we just don’t know where to start sometimes the easiest thing to do, is to do nothing, but tell yourself you are “still learning”. This can be true up to a point, but after a while you become in danger of “analysis paralysis”. You can become sucked into zero action. There is a constant balancing act of execute vs plan, step vs see. Both are incredibly important, but if i find myself in a place where i am only consuming content but taking zero action, i know i have gone too far. I must find some small way to step forward in what i already know. It could be a step in the wrong direction, and that is ok, i just need to take step, learn, and adjust the path as i go.


My Mediums

Here is a collection of the different ways i like to consume content and a few tips for each. Note that i am writing this in September of 2021. I imagine this list will become out of date quickly which is why i saved it til the end. If it is irrelevant already, just skip it.


YouTube

This is my bread and butter. I watch tons of YouTube and I love it. I highly recommend using the the Watch Later playlist. I will just scroll through my home feed and subscriptions and add videos of things I want to learn. If I ever have questions about something specific I will search and find a handful of different videos on the subject and throw them into watch later. I also pay for YouTube premium so that I can download all of my watch later videos so I can still listen to them in the car or watch them when I’m off wifi. I also experiment with watching videos at 1.5x - 2x speeds, depending on the speaker you can go pretty fast and still process all of the content, which is a great time saver. YouTube does have a pitfall though. Like all social media it is designed to keep your attention glued and has built in addiction mechanisms. So i have to be very caution that i am using it responsibly as a tool, and i am not mindlessly wasting time watching funny shorts of people balancing water bottles on top of their dog’s eye brow. I do my best to stick to the educational content and not let myself get lost in time watching videos.


Podcasts

I used to consume a ton of podcasts when I was commuting to work longer everyday. Now I have less of a commute so I find it a bit harder to find the time. Because it is usually a little broader in substance and less targeted they usually get a little dusty and I prioritize YouTube higher because they are shorter topics of things I specifically looked for. But it still has it’s place in the list and i do still enjoy using it to stay current with some of the happenings in the world of finance and investing. I use an app called Overcast, which has a pretty cool dynamic speed feature, which cuts out silent space and saves time without degrading my ability to understand the content.


Audiobooks

Love listening to audio books and it’s pretty much the only way I have time for reading. Like podcasts and YouTube, i am able to consume content while i do other things like driving, walking, or pretending to be asleep so my son takes his nap. My problem with it though is that when i consume books i really like writing down a good amount of notes. Otherwise I feel like I’m not absorbing the info and making it easier for my future self to revisit without re-reading the whole book. I sort feel like i am wasting the time investment it takes to finish a book. I don’t feel this way about podcasts or YouTube because the content is so much shorter, if i wanted to i could save that video or episode and listen to the whole thing again. Books are a much larger commitment. I’m trying to come up with a system that allows me to listen to books and try to still take small short notes. But i have yet to be successful in this so far.


Online articles

This is new for me and usually around work stuff. There are relevant business articles that are passed around work that I have been trying to read through. Online reading is nice cause it’s usually pretty quick and easy reads. It I still prefer audible formats the best. I am more likely to consume it if it is just read to me.


Paid Courses

When there is a subject with a massive amount of content out there and i feel have sorta reached a plateau with how much i can learn from free content or cheap books, then i will usually look for a course that will help me take my learning to the next level. Fitness is a good example of this, there are so many content creators in the fitness industry, which is great, but when i am trying to put together a full program sometimes it’s nice to just pick a creator that i like and respect, and just buy their prepackaged stuff. Lots of times you can get the same info for free, but the organization and convenience is sometimes worth the price.




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