How To Learn & Remember Anything, Fast | Ali Abdaal on Modern Wisdom Podcast

Key Takeaways

  • Learning is supposed to be hard. It’s like going to the gym. Hard workouts are what stimulates growth.
    • “If you’re finding something hard it’s a lot more likely to stick because your brain is having to work harder. You’re operating at the limit of your muscles potential and that’s the stimulus for growth.” – Ali Abdaal
  • Take old exams or create an exam based on the material from class to better remember the information:
    • “There’s evidence that shows that you test yourself even before you start learning something, that’s going to improve your learning. If you test yourself immediately after you learn something, that’s going to improve your learning.”Ali Abdaal
  • Just as you feel like you’re getting the grasp of a lesson and enjoying it, switch to a new one:
    • “If you add a little more variety, kind of make them do a little bit of something, a little bit of something else…the brain is never quite allowed to be comfortable and therefore we’re maximizing our learning and minimizing the time we have to take to learn it” – Ali Abdaal
  • Learning the subject is not the same thing as doing well in the exam 
    • “Unfortunately the education system and the testing system is designed to encourage us to game the exam rather than to encourage us to understand and appreciate the content” – Ali Abdaal
  • 3 Life-changing pieces of tech for Ali:

Intro

Books Mentioned

Learning Should Be Hard

  • “Learning is supposed to be effortful. It’s supposed to be hard.” Ali Abdaal
    • It’s like going to the gym. Doing a hard workout is what stimulates muscle growth.
      • “The harder it feels to learn something, the more likely that information is to stick.” 
        • Teachers have good intentions and try to package up lessons to make it as easy as possible to learn, but by doing so, they’re actually making it harder for the students to remember the information
          • “If you’re finding something hard it’s a lot more likely to stick because your brain is having to work harder. You’re operating at the limit of your muscles potential and that’s the stimulus for growth.” 

Learning Tip #1: Test Yourself

  • “We learn by testing ourselves. We don’t learn by reading stuff.” Ali Abdaal
  • Ali recommends the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, to learn more about how to become a successful learner
    • An important lesson from the book:
      • “There’s evidence that shows that you test yourself even before you start learning something, that’s going to improve your learning. If you test yourself immediately after you learn something, that’s going to improve your learning.”Ali Abdaal
        • Take old exams or create an exam based on the material from class to better remember the material
  • “We kind of think of studying and learning as if it’s a process of putting information into our brains but in fact, it is the opposite. It’s the process of getting information out of our brains. And in trying to retrieve stuff, that’s what’s forming the connection.” Ali Abdaal

Learning Tip #2: Use Spaced Repetition

  • The idea that you learn something from a single exposure is ridiculous. You don’t practice a piano song once and know how to play it. It requires repetition. The same is true for memorization. It requires spaced-repetition.
    • The more we test ourselves retrieve the information we’re trying to learn, the slower the forgetting curve and the longer it takes for us to forget it
      • “When you come across it enough times, over a long period of time, it goes into your long term memory” – Ali Abdaal
        • After you learn something, space out the repetition in one day later, a week later, a month later, etc. and that will help move that information into your long term memory
  • To learn more about spaced repetition, Ali recommends the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

Learning Tip #3: Interleave Your Learning

  • Just as you feel like you’re getting the grasp of a lesson and enjoying it, switch to a new one:
    • “If you add a little more variety, kind of make them do a little bit of something, a little bit of something else…the brain is never quite allowed to be comfortable and therefore we’re maximizing our learning and minimizing the time we have to take to learn it” – Ali Abdaal
  • Only do interleaving if you’re finding the topic easy and understand the material. If you’re struggling with the topic, don’t switch to a new lesson.

How Ali Takes Notes

  • Step 1: Scope out the subject
    • Outline the big picture and how each section is connected to the main subject
  • Step 2: Write questions for each micro-subject you dive into 
    • Ali uses Notion which has a feature that lets you hide the answer for each question (again you want to always be testing yourself)
  • Step 3: Color-code your test results
    • When self-testing yourself, highlight questions green that you got right and red that you got wrong
      • This will make it easy for you to visually see what subjects you understand and which subjects you need to work on

More Studying Advice

  • Drugs and nootropics may help your mental performance a tiny bit, but the thing that will move the needle the most is testing yourself and practicing spaced-repetition
  • Your memorization skills will be better if you study at the same location where you’ll be tested
    • Ex: If you’re going to be tested at the library, and you always study there, you’ll be able to remember more because it’s a familiar environment 
  • Ali follows the Pomodoro technique and studies in 25-minute intervals with a 5-minute break
  • Learning the subject is not the same thing as doing well in the exam: 
    • “Unfortunately the education system and the testing system is designed to encourage us to game the exam rather than to encourage us to understand and appreciate the content” – Ali Abdaal
  • If Ali could only use two tools for studying, it would be Anki flashcards and Spider diagrams (also known as mind maps)

Additional Notes

  • Sleep plays an important role in learning and remembering information:
    • Make sure you’re getting 8 hours of sleep 
    • Keep your phone in a different room
    • Get blackout glasses
  • One way to avoid burnout: Study with friends
    • It will be a lot more fun and enjoyable 
  • A good ROI productivity choice Ali recently made, getting a Herman Miller chair 
  • 3 Life-changing pieces of tech for Ali:
Modern Wisdom : , , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

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