How to Easily Learn Difficult Things

A year ago I reached a roadblock in terms of learning — intriguing topics or complex explanations often graze through my mind shallowly until the novelty of reading that first Google search article fades and the forgetting curve dissipates whatever knowledge I had grasped. Upon attempting to recall what I learned in conversation to friends and family, I often struggle to provide a clear explanation of the concept due to my lack of understanding it to a deeper level. However, I stumbled upon this video by Elizabeth Filips, the secretary of Ali Abdaal (a productive guru who I am a big fan of), who provided a step by step instruction on how she learns difficult things as a medical student, that I found very insightful. After-all, we all learn that one encodes new knowledge best by making connections to previous information; however, when we study, it is rarely the case that we apply this rather than force-feeding our brain what we see as useless information that we will soon regurgitate and discard.

Richard Feynman: “People have an inherent curiosity about how things in the world works”

Context broadening

Placing the topic in context of the world:

    • search it up, go to news tab, find interesting news article, see how it is related to the world/someone you know (e.g. find how it relates to a celebrity) > this way you are more motivated/interested in understanding what it is
    • connect something from your pre-existing memory to the new concept
    • try to visualize the news article with the concept

Dopamine Priming

    • be fully emotionally invested in the news article & the topic & how it relates to you
    • try to make the concept/news exciting to you > your brain releases more dopamine > you are more interested in learning it

Singular deep dive

    • narrowing down on one specific thing that you need to know, only learning about that, and asking questions around it
    • not doing “overviews”
    • curiosity jumping: jump from a specific topic to another to another and how they are related to each other > “jump journey”
    • self-teach with your own emotional investment and curiosity
    • Luhamnn, Baecker, and Stanitzek 1987: “When I am stuck for one moment, I leave it and do something else. With this method, to work on different things simultaneously, I never encounter any mental blockages.”
    • you should feel like you have “freedom” to “play” with what you are studying, not being forced to learn it

Challenge Sandwich

    • answer questions on the topic (e.g. find clinical case studies/questions regarding multiple sclerosis and using google/other resources to answer them)
    • Sonke Ahrens: “Experienced academic readers usually read a text with questions in mind and try to relate it to other possible approaches, which inexperienced readers tend to adopt the question of a text and the frames of the argument and take it as a given”
    • do not mistaken time spent on topic to truly understanding it: Robert F. Bornstein: “Doing something many times makes us believe we have become good at it — completely independent of our actual performance. We unfortunately tend to confuse familiarity with skill.”
    • try to think about the topic as you do your daily tasks during the day
    • memory retention curve increases with questions/recall

False deadlines

    • takes a lot longer to understand the topic: “we tend to underestimate the amount of time we need to understand nonfiction texts”
    • spaced repetition: create a “false deadline” for learning the topic, then refresh your knowledge of it with another deadline

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