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How to Become a Better Learner

How to Become a Better Learner

Jim Kwik’s transformative ideas to increase your brain power.

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Most people can read 200-250 words per minute but super-learner Jim Kwik speeds through non-fiction books at around 500 wpm. He reads light fiction at 1300 wpm, and he actually remembers what he reads. He has taught himself to remember every name in a room filled with dozens of people and can remember hundreds of phone numbers.

But Jim wasn't always a fast learner. When he was five years old Jim suffered a head trauma and afterwards felt like his head was broken. In school, he felt like he could never keep up and became painfully shy. He pretended he knew what was happening in class, but he really was completely lost. Somehow, Jim made it to college and thought that it would be a chance for him to begin anew.

“It was supposed to be great,” Jim said. “College was a place where no one knew me. They didn’t know I had trouble learning. They knew nothing about me. I thought that I could be anyone-even a smart guy.”

But at his painfully slow reading and retention rate, Jim quickly became overwhelmed. Determined to succeed, he stopped eating, stopped sleeping and stopped exercising so that he could devote every spare minute to trying to keep up with his courses. Then one day, Jim passed out at the public library and fell down a flight of stairs. He woke up in the hospital bruised, exhausted and dehydrated.

A nurse brought him a mug of tea and on the mug, there was an Einstein quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” The quote made Jim pause and stop thinking about what he was failing to learn. Instead he began thinking about the process of learning itself. And he realized that school had been a great place to learn what to learn, but not necessarily the right place to learn how to learn.

“Today we’re paid by what’s in between our ears. We’re knowledge workers. We’re paid for our ability to learn. Yet we have an educational system that doesn’t teach people how to learn. How to focus, listen, innovate, think, remember, problem solve. Why do most people have poor reading skills? One reason is that the last time most people took a class called ‘reading’ they were probably five years old,” Jim said.

So he made the art of learning his subject, slowly reading through piles of books on neuroscience and adult brain development and applying what he was learning. After two months, Jim was getting better grades with less studying. Then he began sharing with others what he was learning. The first person that he tutored was a woman who was a painfully slow reader who said that her goal was to read 30 books in 30 days. When he asked her what the hurry was she told him that her mother was in the hospital dying of cancer, and the doctors had given her mother 60 days to live. She wanted to speed read books on health and wellness so she could save her mother’s life.

Only 19 at the time, Jim said it wasn’t the answer he was expecting. “I didn’t even know what to say to that. I also didn’t think that it would ever work.” But six months later Kwik received a call from his student saying that her mother had recovered. “It was a miracle,” Jim said. “The doctors had no idea what was keeping her alive. But her mother believes that she is alive because of all the great advice she got from her daughter when she was sick. The same advice her daughter had gotten reading 30 books in 30 days. If knowledge is power, that was the moment when I realized that learning is a superpower.”

After college, Jim continued teaching and sharing with others how he learned how to learn, eventually building a free online school called Superhero You which has grown into a community of 100,000 learners. It has an ongoing series of live events and free videos. It teaches people all over the world how to optimize their minds and learn new skills and ideas at a rapid rate.

Here are four of Jim Kwik’s key ideas to faster learning using the acronym FAST

  1. Forget. If you want to learn faster you need to forget three things. Forget what you already know about the subject. A lot of us don’t learn because we think we already know the information. But our minds are like parachutes; they only work when they are open. The second thing we need to forget is anything that’s not urgent or crucial; we can’t actually multi-task and if we are thinking about our to-do lists, we aren’t fully present and won’t learn. And the third thing we need to forget is our limitations; these are beliefs like we will never have good memories or that we will always be slow readers. If we fight for our limitations, we get to keep them. So forget what limited us in the past and begin learning with a clean slate.

  2. Active. Many of us have been taught to learn by consuming information, but we don’t learn effectively from lectures. We learn by creating and integrating knowledge, by being in active in the process. Learning is not a spectator sport. How can we be more active? By asking many questions, taking notes and then asking more questions until we can apply the knowledge to our own lives. The more active we are, the more we will learn.

  3. State. State is a snapshot of our moods, the mood of our minds and our bodies. It’s the emotional well-being that we feel at this exact moment. Many of us don’t remember much of what we learned in school because our main emotion or state was boredom. We can improve our state by changing our posture or breathing. Sitting or standing as if we felt energized. Think about how we will benefit from the information. All of our learning is state-dependent. We should try to create states of joy, curiosity and fascination while we are learning.

  4. Teach. If we want to cut our learning time in half, learn with the intention of teaching it to others. If we had to give a presentation on what we were learning today, we would learn it differently. We would take better notes and ask more detailed questions. Sometimes if we can’t do something, we can learn and teach it and then we can do it. When we teach anything, we get to learn it twice.

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Visitor Comments: 2

(1) Phil Fine, June 26, 2017 4:50 PM

Self-Help again?

With all due respect to Jim Inc., no one can ever really develop any depth and understanding of any subject unless he constantly adds to what he already knows. Otherwise, he'll be forever coming out of the starting gate. So, continually forgetting what one already knows makes no sense whatsoever.

Becoming thoroughly at home in a field -- particularly a scholarly one such as history, literature, philosophy, or social criticism -- is a cumulative process, one very much like putting one brick or stone on top of another.

Moreover, despite how empowered a person might make himself, he's not going to speed-read his way through Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, or some other equally weighty tome -- unless, of course, he's already read it and has done so slowly!

Although JFK and Evelyn Wood popularized speed reading back in the early sixties, few serious academics I've met ever recommended it to their students.

Real reading comprehension comes about as it always has: through a purposeful, serious engagement with the text, an engagement in which the reader is constantly bringing his mind back by the scruff of the neck because, let's face it, we'd all rather shoot the breeze, than buckle down and read, right?

Anonymous, June 26, 2017 8:58 PM

speed is not the essence of learning. thanks to phil fine for your realistic objective advice from experience.

many tools and learning styles and levels. let's be realistic and give holy texts and Judaism the measured calm they require.
kol tuv.

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