You have it within you! (Learning how to learn)

Im always all about maximising and trying to get the most out of life. Today, I will be talking about learning and how to learn faster. What so important about learning? Learning is basically the key to improvement and getting better. Without it, we’re stuck. We plateau and like a shark, if we don’t swim, we die.

I often hear people say.. “I’m just bad at languages”, or “That guy is just naturally good at Math”. (Like how they always say you shouldn’t examine how good a fish is by its ability to climb trees) Of course, everyone has different natural talents, strengths and abilities. I believe that’s true. Kinda.. To a certain extent. But that can’t just be the sole reason why you’re failing so terribly in your tests surely? No way! I don’t believe that. I sincerely believe that all of us, and by this I mean the vast majority of us (99.9%) of us are able to learn something to an extent that is of a pretty decent standard. Let me give you 2 reasons why I think so. (Correct me if you think i’m wrong)

Point 1: Remember the 3S’s

I used to think I sucked at playing the Violin. In terms of academic subjects, I sucked at History, Physics and Chemistry. Man.. I really disliked them. Really. I still don’t particularly enjoyed studying those subjects. I thought i’d suck at them forever. All this was until I had my GCE ‘O’ Levels in Secondary 4 (Year 10) about 7 years ago. Daily practice of physics and chemistry. Oh man, talk about intense work and studying. However, I noticed that the more I practiced a particular topic in that subject, the easier I found it was to do the questions. I also found that I was slowly disliking the subject less and less the more I practiced. It was like math, the more I practiced, the more I noticed similar patterns and things that were required. I know this isn’t applicable to everything, but for most, it does indeed! Eventually Physics and Chemistry started becoming my favourite 2 subjects during that period, with my Physics results doing even better than the rest of my subjects (including Biology!), by getting an A2. Yes, I know its not a super fantastic result. But this was pretty decent compared to the measly C6 I used to score. What about the Violin you may ask. Trevor, my last violin/viola teacher, taught me SO MUCH. Its insane how he managed to get me from struggling and barely able to play a simple song decently to attaining my Grade 5 Violin (and almost took my Grade 8 Violin exam but I left for New Zealand before I was able to) and Grade 8 Viola exam (ABRSM) within a couple months. Before that, I was struggling to even fathom the thought of going for my Grade 3 Violin exam. How he did it I don’t know. But what I do know is that he taught me the magic of repetition, breaking and slowing complex things down during practice sessions. And that, changed my mentality forever at how I see things that I have to learn. When you try and learn something difficult, it always seems crazy impossible and that may cause you to tear your hair out in frustration isn’t it? But hold on a second! It isn’t necessarily that tough! This is what I’ve learnt.

  1. Take a step back
  2. Calm yourself down
  3. Tell yourself that what you’re trying to do isn’t impossible
  4. Understand the aim or goal of what you have to do
  5. Break your task down into its simplest form possible. (e.g. if you have to play a music piece, you might start off learning how to play the notes correctly from a single bar; if you’re trying to memorise the names of the entire musculoskeletal system, you may want to try doing it systematically and understand why a particular muscle may be called that (e.g. Flexor Carpi Radialis is called that because it helps you FLEX your forearm, Carpi refers to the ‘hand’ in Latin, Radialis corresponds to one of the bones in the forearm it is associated with that is called the Radius); if you have to memorise the entire Krebs/Calvin cycle or all 21 amino acids, you may want to start off by understanding why you have to even memorise it in the first place and then start breaking it down into the various names and enzymes you have to learn)
  6. Take your time and don’t rush through it. Undue stress on your mind makes it harder for you to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. Tell yourself that you have all the time in the world. You just need to understand.
  7. Keep repeating and testing yourself over and over again. And by test, I DO NOT MEAN “RE-READING”. I literally mean you should be testing yourself by taking out a blank piece of paper and writing down everything you have just learnt and everything that can remember.

Basically..

SSS

Step back!

Slow down!

Simplify!

A difficult task is always made easier by slowing down the pace at which you’re trying to learn, and then stepping back to try and understand the big picture by breaking it down into simple concepts. Then PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

Point 2:Right form of motivation.

Talk about hard work just doesn’t cut it. you can try and memorise as hard all you want but you can only progess so far within so much time. let me give you an example.. if one day you attend a free lecture on HIV 101. Are you gonna be able to remember all the new facts suddenly thrown at you? The names? etc etc. (Succumbing to a terminal illness. then you’re suddenly able to learn and remember so many new facts and even the scientific names and terminology used by medical professionals)

No. In fact, usually the best people to normally talk to about such things are those who are personally affected by it. Continuing on from our HIV example. If you choose Person A with HIV and a layman (Person B) from the side road to undergo the lecture, its highly likely that Person A is going to score better than Person B. Its not because Person A is smarter/is better at learning than Person B, in fact, the opposite might even be true. But what made Person A able to remember, learn and pick up that knowledge so much faster than B, was that he had the motivation to do so. He was able to personally relate to the disease! And that was what made all the difference. So remember, if you want to learn or pick something up faster, try to relate that thing to yourself and take a personal approach.

So remember guys, you DON’T suck at something. If you keep telling yourself you do, it’s just going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you guys have any additional tips on how to learn better and faster/be more efficient, I would love it if you could share your thoughts in the comments section below ๐Ÿ˜Š

Thats all from me for today folks!

Thanks for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

Paul Chong

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