For most people, education ends after college. But I fell in love with learning and became a self-taught person (aka autodidact) after my formal education was over.
But being an efficient autodidact isn’t easy in this age of information overload and constant distractions.
So I took a survey of my readers asking their biggest barriers to learning and self-education. And here are the results:
Getting started or procrastination (33.3%) and staying committed (25%) are the biggest culprits followed by being able to focus (16.7%), overcoming self-doubt (16.7%) and remembering what they learn (8.3%).
So in this post, I cover how you can overcome these learning barriers so you can learn effectively as an autodidact to teach yourself anything you want!
But first, let’s understand what being an autodidact means.
What Is An Autodidact?
An Autodidact person chooses their topics, learning resources and schedule to learn what they want when they want.
Does that sound like you’re one of them?
If so, congratulations! You’re among the ones who make the best investment with their time and money.
Being a self-taught learner requires discipline and a love for learning, because it goes beyond formal education.
But there are right and wrong ways to learn. In this post, you’ll find the best learning techniques to learn effectively and make the most out of your learning so you can get the most results.
Let’s start with how NOT to learn…
I had a coaching client who wanted to study all day. He thought learning more would bring him better results. Common sense, right?
Except that’s complete bullsh*t. He would start the day thinking he had all the day to learn, so he would procrastinate. When he finally picked up some pace, he wasn’t able to focus and got distracted easily. At the end of the day, he would get so mentally fatigued that he couldn’t study at all.
Sadly, that’s the story of most students and lifelong learners. And the worst part is that people don’t realize how detrimental it is to their success.
First, they think that they’re improving, but they’re not. Second, they end up wasting their time and life! They neither invest their time into the future nor do they enjoy life. That’s because when they’re learning, they’re thinking about distractions and when it’s time to enjoy, they’re thinking about work. That’s insane, don’t you think?
Let’s end this misery right now. By the end of this post, you’ll have the arsenal of the best learning techniques so you can become an effective autodidact and get better results from your self-directed education.
How To Become An Autodidact: 11 Learning Techniques To Be Self-Taught
1. Learn Less
Yes, you read that right.
Your brain can only handle so much in one day. So you must reduce the cognitive load by eliminating an endless stream of information. With too much cognitive load, your attention divides and you don’t even remember what you consume.
At the end of the day, you want to consume less, but better quality material with intense bursts of focus. Learning less in a day also reinforces the power of spacing effect as your mind gets the chance to process and remember what you learn.
2. Plan And Set Learning Goals
Planning and goal setting gives you a direction and lets you set intentions. They let you achieve massive growth in a short time when you set a deadline.
I’ve written a full post on this topic which you can read here: How To Create Your Own Personal Development Plan (With Example)
You can also get a template for creating your own learning plan below.
3. Learn With Deep Focus With Hardcore Learning Sessions
If you’re serious about learning, you can’t get distracted while learning. An hour of focused learning is more effective than 3 hours of shallow learning.
The formula for a hardcore learning session comes from Cal Newport’s deep work philosophy. He says:
Deep Work = Time*Intensity
When you use this formula for learning the right things in the right way, you’ve got yourself a hardcore learning session that induces intense flow.
In order for you to get into the peak state, first, you need to remove the distractions from your environment. Here are a few ideas for that:
a) Hide your phone and put it on silent mode.
b) Use a distraction blocking app (try Focus Me)
c) Go into the isolation mode
d) Wear a noise-blocking headphone
e) Clear out the physical clutter (stuff) or digital clutter (tabs and folders)
Then, you can also enhance your focus by pre-conditioning your mind using:
a) Coffee before a session
b) Sleep or nap before a learning session
c) Deep breathing before a session
e) Music during a session
f) A timer or Pomodoro technique during a session
4. End Procrastination
Procrastination is one of the biggest enemies of autodidactic learning. How long will you let it hold you back? You’re in the battle against it, and the more times you win, the more you’ll grow.
We procrastinate due to the anticipation of pain. And the best way to beat procrastination is to just get started. If you want to turn the anticipation of pain into the anticipation of reward, you can set a reward for each learning session you do.
If you struggle with motivating yourself in the long term, ask yourself why you’re learning in the first place. Is it for your personal growth, career success or to satisfy your curiosity? Dig the reason and remember it whenever you feel less motivated.
Another way to take willpower out of the equation is to systemize or routinize your learning sessions. You could learn at the same time every day or around the same events to turn it into a habit. That way, you’ll learn on autopilot like you brush your teeth.
5. Adopt The Right Learning Mindset
The mindset you need for learning is the growth mindset. First, you need to have faith that your future will be better because of the time you’re investing in learning today.
Second, you need to believe in yourself that your potential is unlimited and you can improve no matter where you are today or how many times you’ve failed before.
Third, you need to persist in the hard times with a strong mind and continuously work on your skills with your full effort. When you run your own race, the only person to beat is the person you were yesterday.
And last, you must see challenges, obstacles, and mistakes as an opportunity to grow. They are blessings in disguise because the more you face them, the more you learn.
6. Do The Fundamentals
Think of yourself as a car. If you want yourself to function at your best, you need proper fuel, recovery, and care. In our case, the fundamentals are — eat, move and sleep.
Eating right, moving your body and resting are the best methods to recharge yourself to perform at your best. When you do the three consistently, it becomes much easier for you to do everything I mentioned in the above points.
While eating right could be different for everyone, generally, you want to have good fats, complex carbs, veggies, and adequate protein to fuel your brain.
For movement, find the way(s) you enjoy moving your body. In addition, you could move throughout the day, take a walk in nature, do resistance training, do high-intensity exercise, do yoga, etc.
To sleep well, go to bed at around the same time and condition your environment and mind for a good night of sleep. Wind down before bed, clear your mind through journaling or reading, keep the bedroom dark and cool and don’t consume caffeine 6 hours before bed.
7. Begin With Mastery In Mind
Stephen Covey’s famous saying “Begin with the end in mind” applies to learning too, but I’ve added a slight twist to it — begin with mastery in mind. Whenever you pick up something to learn, learn it as if you were going to become a master one day.
That will completely change the way you approach learning. Instead of dreading it, you’ll become eager to expand your potential. Instead of becoming bored, you’ll be curious to know what else you don’t know. Instead of losing motivation during tough times, you’ll embrace the challenges because you know they will lead to mastery.
So think big and observe the experts in the field. Pay close attention to their mindset, skillset and the way they perform. Not only will you become more interested, but you’ll also learn faster and better.
8. Learn With The Beginner In Mind — Beginner’s Mind (Shoshin)
Shoshin comes from Zen Buddhism that translates to “beginner’s mind”. It requires you to erase your preconceptions to learn with an open and eager mind. One of my favorite learning quotes is from Bruce Lee who said, “Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.”.
So approach everything with a beginner’s mind and be open to new perspectives, thoughts, ideas, and so on even when you become a master.
9. Mix And Match The Right Learning Methods
It’s important to choose the best learning methods to learn a particular topic. To do that, you can find how the masters did it and follow their footsteps. You can also take advantage of different autodidact resources and learning tools and for effective learning.
For example, for learning a new language, the combination of spaced repetition with experiential learning (talking with someone in that language) is best. But for a conceptual topic, the Feynman technique (teaching or explaining) is one of the best ways to solidify your understanding.
10. Set The Right Difficulty For Growth
It’s important to practice or learn the right things, at the right pace, and at the right difficulty. You want to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and then come back to reflecting mode.
If anytime, you feel things are getting complicated or passing over your head, it’s best to step back and find the gaps in your understanding of the basics.
If your practice is too hard, you may give up when you lose confidence, hope and the desire to excel. On the other hand, if you don’t challenge yourself enough, you may lose interest as you experience boredom, lose curiosity or the desire to improve.
11. Use These Learning And Study Affirmations
Let’s end with some affirmations you can use anytime to bring back your mojo for learning as an autodidact:
I can focus in short bursts and learn intensely.
I don’t let distractions mess around with my goals.
I can learn anything.
I notice the temptations, let it sit there and come back to my present learning session.
I am curious and excited to learn the things I want or need.
I have a strong purpose that drives me to learn more.
I want to acquire the skills and knowledge that will help me succeed.
I trust the process and I know learning is the pathway to a better future.
I embrace challenges, obstacles, and difficulties because they make me stronger and better.
I persist and keep focusing on my effort when the going gets tough.
I show up for my learning sessions consistently.
I’m not a passive learner. I learn actively even if it takes more effort because I’m committed to mastery.
I space out my learning and give my mind the recovery it needs.
I fuel my mind and body with nutritious food, good sleep, and exercise.
I teach what I learn to strengthen my understanding and give back to the world at the same time.
I put in the time and effort and I’m confident in my ability to improve.
Become An Autodidact By Creating Your Own Personal Development Plan
What is a self taught person called?
A self-taught learner is known as an autodidact. They learn because of their curiosity, desire and love for learning.
What is an autodidact person?
An autodidact person chooses their topics, learning resources and schedule to learn what they want when they want.
How do you become a successful autodidact?
Autodidact learning needs intrinsic motivation to learn the skills or subjects of their choice. Deliberate practice, patience and determination go a long way when you’re learning by yourself.