Growing up, I developed a poor relationship with the word “learning”. I used to love learning as a kid, but then schooling brainwashed my mind.
Learning became a means to get better grades and beat other students. And if I failed, I was punished and humiliated. Studying became a chore and I dreaded every second of it.
Then finally, I remember when I fell in love with learning once again.
I was in college studying game design. When others were partying on the weekends, I was learning. Not because I wanted better grades, but because I genuinely enjoyed it.
For the first time in my life, I started feeling knowledgeable. I realized that knowledge is a by-product of curiosity. And when you know things most people don’t know, people see you as an intelligent person.
My professors called me a “bright student”. Never ever in my life did I imagine someone would call me that.
My grades shot up, and I was among the top students (I still doubt if it was a dream). I (along with my team) started winning awards after awards.
During my first internship, people much more experienced than me would come to me asking for my advice. They wanted to borrow me to “pick my brain”.
But then, I left everything behind on my quest to live an epic life and started a new journey from scratch. I had no experience. No connections. No business knowledge. No writing skills. No marketing skills. Nothing. ZERO.
So I learned everything from scratch to reach where I am today. I have this growing blog. I get to help people through coaching. I freelance using my skills where I choose the clients I love to work with. I have to admit that I love my job(s).
I’m not saying all this to brag. I want to show you the power of self-learning and the potential you have inside you if you choose to become a self-learner.
You too can become a top-performer, become an expert in your field or start a new career from scratch.
What Is Self-Learning?
Self-learning is much like entrepreneurship. Nobody asks you to be productive or perform at your best, you just have to do it and take full responsibility. Only those who are fueled by a burning desire and passion are the ones who succeed in business.
Similarly, pursuing self-directed learning is about taking responsibility, being passionate and staying committed to mastery. No one’s there to grade you, so you have to do it yourself. No one will ask you to keep learning and growing, they’re just going to fire you or hold off your raise. Or if you’re an entrepreneur, your customers will stop paying you and go to your competitor instead.
Here are the biggest mistakes you can make as a self-learner:
- Thinking education ends after college
- Learning without a plan or a direction
- Learning too much in a day i.e. information overload
The first thing you need is a commitment to dedicate time for learning. How you structure your learning is up to you because you’re the boss in self-directed learning.
It would be optimal if you carve out 1 hour every weekday or a total of 5 hours on weekends. But how do you take out that much time from your life?
First, you don’t have to learn in one sitting unless you want to. Four 15-minute or three 20-minute sessions will also do. I personally like to break the sessions down into focused learning sessions.
Second, you need to eliminate something to make time for learning. It could be unsubscribing from 50% of the email newsletters or YouTube channels, cutting 50% of your Netflix time, or wherever your time goes.
At first, you may feel withdrawal or FOMO (fear of missing out), but if you push through for the first few days and stick with the “learning habit” long enough, it will become part of your life.
Next, you need a plan and a structure for your learning…
How To Create A Self-Directed Learning Plan
Here’s my personal formula for deciding what to learn. I like to switch between three main themes:
a) For myself (personal)
b) For my business (professional)
c) For my readers (hey, that’s you!)
Within personal topics, I cover health, fitness, finance, social skills or anything that interests me at a particular time in my life.
For professional growth, I learn about business, leadership, marketing, writing, coaching, etc.
Finally, for you, I study whatever I’m about to write on. It could be related to psychology, philosophy, emotional intelligence, and so on. At this time, I’m learning how to learn.
My personal topics and reader’s topics often overlap, but it’s a good rule of thumb I stick with to make sure I diversify my learning efforts in a balanced way.
You can create a similar topic structure for yourself so you can make sure you’re not lagging in any area important to you.
I pick three resources at a time based on three main themes I wrote about above. These resources could be online courses, books, or a set of book summaries on the topic (depends on the topic and the way I want to learn it —going deep or going wide).
Then, I time-block 1 hour of learning at least 5 days a week. Hence, following the 5-hour rule followed by Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jack Ma, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, and more.
That’s the setup. Now let’s take a peek into what I do while learning besides eliminating distractions, not multitasking and going full-on focus mode.
How To Make The Most Out Of Your Learning Session
Before starting a learning project, a book or a course, I think about what I already know about a particular topic and what I hope to learn from the material. I may create a mind-map of the things I already know on the subject which I can edit it later when I learn new things. Or I may write questions I seek answers to in the learning material.
Then before each session, I check-in with my emotions to see how I’m feeling about the learning session. Sometimes, I’m all excited, positive and curious. But every then and now, when I’m not too uplifted, I reframe my emotions to prepare myself mentally to get in the right mental state for the learning session. And when I simply get started, I carry on through the whole session.
If I find it difficult to focus during a session due to other thoughts or emotions, I bring my attention back to the present without judging. Or I write down whatever bothers me to deal with it after the session. The more I’ve practiced this, the more I’ve increased my ability to focus.
During a session, I keep my journal beside me to take hand-written notes. This practice forces me to take out the information from my mind to paper where I can makes sense of it and remember it.
While I take my notes, I decide whether it’s something I want to remember, implement, or contemplate. The next step is to process all the categories once I’m done learning:
To Remember: I either create questions out of the things I want to remember or mark it as important. Later, I can transfer it into my flashcards or simply revisit the notes and answer the questions.
To Contemplate: I give myself question prompts to ponder upon something. That I believe is the most important part because it gives me the most insights and lessons.
Here are some question prompts I use:
a) How can I…?
b) What if…?
c) What does this mean to me?
d) How does this apply to me?
e) How does this relate to what I already know?
f) How can I make sense of this with an example from my past?
g) How has this changed my mindset?
h) Who can I teach or discuss this with?
i) How would I explain this to a child?
j) What’s a good analogy for this?
k) What’s another example of this?
l) How was I wrong before?
m) How can the author/teacher be wrong?
n) What change am I resisting with this new information?
o) How can I challenge myself or get out of my comfort zone with this new information?
To Implement: This could be a habit or a one-time task to implement. For each thing, I write the exact implementation intention and track it if I have to.
Example #1: I will do 2-min mindfulness sessions 3 times a day until it becomes a habit.
Example #2: I will do a random act of kindness every day for 7 days.
Example #3: I will introduce myself to 3 new people in the next event I’m attending on 7th September.
From there, you can use your calendar, reminders or a habit tracker to make sure you implement what you intend to do.
After each chapter, module or book, I like to summarize the key takeaways (usually in bullet points) to comprehend better. And if I discover a lot of new insights, I would write an article to share what I learned. You may also teach someone to have a similar effect.
That’s all! I may tweak a few things to pick the best learning methods for a particular subject but this is the overall learning system I’ve been using for years.
Once you finish a learning material, choose your next book or course to master the topic or start learning a new topic while making sure you keep revisiting the key lessons from the previous books.
I can’t emphasize the power of learning enough. It can make you a fortune. It can help you become the best version of yourself. And It can help you achieve the life of your dreams.
Now it’s time for you to do the “boring part” every day. No one will take notice during the process. But when you’ll reach greater heights, everyone will think you’re a genius.