What is the best way to learn a new subject, profession or habit?

This is a subject that intrigues me. I dropped out of school quite early. It was a combination of not wanting to be forced into something I then saw no point in learning, but instead wanted to choose my own direction, my own path. Back then, and from what I get to hear from many even today, the school system was a rigid machine. Shaping students into identical pieces of output, no matter the input. It is a set-up that generates miserable students, students that in many cases also end up outside the system later in life. However I do have the belief that these conditions might also inspire those strong or lucky enough to find their own way to happiness. I have met many inspiring and successful people later in life that share my story as school drop-outs.

Anyway, that is a different article I think. The other day on Quora the question “What is the best way to learn something?” popped up and I shared some of my experiences, for good or bad, hoping the former. Here goes:

What is the best way to learn a new subject, profession or habit?

I would say it depends on where your desire to learn the subject comes from? If it is not a desire but forced upon you through work or school it becomes a bit harder.

Will write this from a personal angle, it is where I learned how to learn myself, so guess it’s a good place to start.

I dropped out of school quite early, I wasn’t ready to be put in a pre-defined space in this world, I wasn’t interested in what they had to teach me, I wanted to choose what to learn earlier in the school system rather than later. Sure, certain subjects stood out such as language etc, but it wasn’t enough.

After that I had no real plan, I was quite shy, no social skills to speak of but I had plenty of interests in tech, music, video games and different kinds of media. I continued doing what I had been doing in my spare time, soon my hobby started becoming my business. I worked part time in a store and learned to communicate from a business perspective with customer.

At 16 I got into importing video game accessories for my friends, interest grew and I started an e-commerce site with the help from a friend, took care of the finances, stock, taught myself soldering through printed out documents from the web etc etc. I took the store from the web in to the real world with a shop.

It struck me back then that the single most important factor for me to learn was a genuine interest in the subject and to enjoy it. Of course there were setbacks, financial crisis, learning to quit when on top, crisis management – all of those were some of my subjects. 😉

If you want to skip the back story, start here:

So, to make a long story short. Recently I’ve found my way back to learning subjects that are outside my area of expertise, both subjects I have an interest in but also subjects that might be a bit more out of necessity rather than interest. Here’s what works for me.

A subject or profession you are interested in:

  1. Surround yourself with things, cues / triggers related to the subject.
  2. Surround yourself with people that have more experience than you, go to meetings and events, lectures, online forums, MOOCs (something I recently started with).
  3. Find a method of learning that works for you. Personally I’ve been reading up on how the brain works, what makes us tick, what makes us remember. I also embrace technology, tablet and cell phone to learn when I am traveling with work for example. Make it easy to learn.
  4. Even though you’re interested, don’t forget to take breaks; walk, swim, read, sleep, listen to podcasts etc. Variation is important, helps you tackle things from new angles, remembering and ignite new ideas.

A subject or profession you’re less interested in, or you’re lacking in motivation, perhaps forced through work or school:

  1. First. Is this what you want to do? If no, check point 2.
  2. Is this what you need to do? If no, try something else, try to disrupt your life, personal well-being is important.
  3. Create a new habit, complete with a cue, routine and reward. It is not easy, but it can absolutely be done, The Power of Habit is a good book on the subject. I did this when I dropped 30kg, swimming and walking for me did the trick and now it is very hard for my brain to be without that daily. Re-program yourself!
  4. Again, find people that are studying the same subject, meet, discuss, make it a lifestyle.

Hope some of the points that helped me can help you. It is a very individual process and many factors weigh in of course. Have fun!

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