I was never the best student at school or university - I was the master of last minute revision and late-night essay writing, and our dog ‘ate’ so many pieces of my homework that it’s ablutions must have been college-ruled.
My focus got a little better through my corporate career as I realised that no-one would believe that the dog had eaten an e-mail, but since it was rare that I needed to do anything in the way of formal learning, I never really needed to develop my studying skills.
Everything changed when I started training to become a Coach - at a practical level, there were books to read and certifications to complete, but more importantly I was introduced to concepts such as deep-listening and mindfulness which fascinated me; suddenly, learning was no longer a chore.
Over the last 4 years, my learning skills have really started to improve, and although I feel like I am a still very much a novice, I am happy to share what works for me, and the skills I am looking to develop in the long-term.
Books, Books, Books
Much of my learning and knowledge comes from great personal development books. Classics like Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’ and Jim Rohn’s ‘7 Strategies for Wealth and Happiness’ mix with modern writings such as Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’, Derek Sliver’s ‘Anything You Want’ and Russell Brunson’s ‘Expert Secrets’.
Initially I was reading quite sporadically, but just over a year ago I committed myself to at least 30 minutes of reading a day, and since then my book count has increased dramatically. (I’ll share my reading list, and my thoughts on the best books on my bookshelf in a later post.)
I tend to read the whole book, cover to cover - I know others advocate speed reading, or stopping once you have ‘got the joke’ but I prefer to read the whole book, just as the author intended. It can be a chore sometimes, trying to keep the enthusiasm going on a book that’s breaking no new ground, but I have lost count of the number of ‘ah-ha’ moments I’ve found buried deep on page 237.
There’s more to learning than books
It’s probably my age, but my automatic assumption is that if I want to learn a new skill, I either need to buy a book on the subject, or flex my googling skills and search for related articles.
Recently however, I have started to understand the power of YouTube as a learning source - it turns out that I am quite a visual learner (not surprising since I got pretty much all of my qualifications based on what I could remember from lessons and lectures) - and now I regularly turn to YouTube first for new skills, especially practical ones; I wrote the William Hannah ‘Alexa Flash Briefing Skill’ in a couple of hours by watching a step-by-step video on-line).
We all have our own preferred learning approach - and finding the best one for you could unlock all sorts of knowledge.
Choose your best time to study
I always assumed that the best time to read was in the evening, once the working day was complete - I saw reading as a nice relaxed activity that helped me to close down the day. The problem was that I was usually pretty tired after a day of work and I seemed to spend a lot of time re-reading paragraphs, and there were times when it seemed like nothing was going into my brain.
Then, a few weeks ago, I switched my reading to become part of my morning routine, just after my daily meditation, and it has been a complete revelation. I am reading more and faster, and what I am reading is sticking in my mind much better too. Just like the realisation about my visual learning style, understanding that my studying is way better first thing in the morning is changing my whole learning experience.
Whether you are a morning, afternoon or night-time person, I’m pretty confident that you will have a best learning time too, you just have to find it.
Make your mark
I’m not particularly kind to my books - I use fluorescent highlighters to pick out anything valuable, and I apply ‘Post-it’ tabs to anything that I think is particularly powerful, and I have no worries about writing on the pages of my books about how I might apply the knowledge I am discovering. As far as I am concerned, these books are mine and are my own long-term personal reference library - if I decide I love a book enough that I want someone else to read it, I gift them a brand-new copy.
I’m happy to buy used books too - often it’s the only way to get hold of an older classic - and it’s quite interesting to see what others have highlighted.
Whilst we are on the subject of leaving your mark in a book, this is one of the reasons that I much prefer physical books to my Kindle; I want to love my Kindle, I really, really do, and I know I can highlight passages, make notes, and send myself quotes, but I just prefer the printed page.
Apply the knowledge
One of the benefits of moving my reading to become part of my morning routine is that it often happens just before my daily walk, and that means I get to reflect on what I have just learned. I used to listen to Podcasts on my daily walks (and sometimes I still do), but I do enjoy trying to apply what I have just learned to my own situation and experiences, especially when it is a particularly deep or spiritual book.
I regularly put my reading book aside and jot down random thoughts or ideas that come to me as I am learning, and I often reflect for a minute or two on a particularly strong idea. I see little value in learning for learning’s sake - for me, learning is most valuable when I am able to apply it to my own situation, or find a way to help someone else apply it to theirs.
Keep a learning journalBuilding a learning journal is one of my biggest ambitions - and one that I am finding incredibly difficult. Although I highlight and mark the pages of the books I read, I can’t help but feel that I need to make notes as I read each book, to build a powerful resource for my both my future self and for my children.
For my recent books I start a new page in one of my A5 notebooks, and note down anything that I think is a powerful-enough idea to keep forever, and I also have an A6 notebook which I am using as a Commonplace Book for the most powerful quotes and ideas I come across outside of my daily reading and learning. Both are nowhere near as comprehensive as I would like, but I am slowly getting better, and maybe a year from now both will be a habit as regular as the learning itself.
And there you are - that’s how I practice my daily learning. I really do feel that my life is richer and better for those 30 or so minutes each day, and I can really tell that every day is building on the last, compounding the benefits of my learning as the weeks turn into months.
I would love to know if you have a regular learning habit, and would be really interested to hear any approaches to studying that work particularly well for you, so please leave a comment below.