Or how to understand what the teacher says without going mad trying

“The ten thousand questions are one question. If you cut through the one question, then the ten thousand questions disappear.” Zen proverb

If you are a student or you simply are planning to learn something and you don’t want to spent countless hours trying to memorize things, this article is definitive for you. I call this series of posts Minimalistic Fast Learning for two reasons. First off, the Minimalistic points that this model for learning forgets about useless stuff and gets to the core of the information; secondly, is Fast because you only focus on the important things, because just enough is JUST ENOUGH. And yes, it gets incredible results. Paradoxically, you get way better results with less effort.

Why I call this chapter ‘Uncluttering Information’

There is a phenomenon about home organization going around. I am myself an amateur unclutterer. If you didn’t know about uncluttering, start by reading this. As you could see, basically, uncluttering is about getting rid of the clutter, not only in your house, but also in every area of your life.

What has Unclutering Information got to do with learning fast? Everything. Although there are are really good teachers that will hammer into your mind the principles and actually teach you the righ way, the sad truth is there are not a lot of this teachers. Most teachers will spent classes spreading disorganized and totally out of context information.

The Golden Rule

If this series of articles could be summarized in just one sentence, that would be focus on understanding, not remembering.

In fact, all I’m telling here apart from that is just how I deal with the topic, but if you understand that rule you could come up with your own personal system. Do you want to know how I approach Minimalistic Fast Learning? Awesome, keep reading then.

Life, and exams won’t be an exception, are dynamic. You don’t know what situations you are going to be asked, or what you will need to remember. So don’t remember anything, at least not on purpose. A basic trigonometry example:

You could memorize this:

0 = 0° π/6 = 30° π/4 = 45° π/3 = 60° π/2 = 90°
sin θ 0 1/2 √2 / 2 √3 / 2 1
cos θ 1 √3 / 2 √2 / 2 1/2 0
tan θ 0 √3 / 3 1 √3 undef.


OR you could squeeze your mind a little and put your grey matter on work. The steps would be:

1. What does this all mean?

You first need to have a notion of everything. You ask yourself what is that table about, and you discover it is about common acute angles ratios. Then you need to know what is a sine, a cosine and a tangent.

2. What are the connections?

Sine, cosine and tangent are related. And each trig ratio means something.

3. Is there anything I already know that I can relate to these?

So, thinking and thinking you end up relating this to real triangles. And instead of learning the ratios, you understand how to find each by knowing what means. A rectangular triangle which minor article is 30º, a equilateral triangle and a rectangular triangle. But this is not maths class and I’m getting off the topic. You get the picture.

Processing Information

Another skill you need to unclutter information is to actually unclutter information ;]. You need to discriminate between useful and not useful information. For example, in that sentence you could only read the underlined words and still get the information.

You need to discriminate between useful and not useful information.

We’ve uncluttered the sentence in a 70% percent without losing important information. Imagine all the things you need to ‘study’ reduced to its 30%. I will write another article on underlining, but this serves as an introduction.

Cool things that will help you:

  • Doing mental summaries, and extracting just the core idea instantly.
  • Knowing what’s useful and what not fast.
  • Working with models.
  • Reading ‘Learn more, Study less’
  • Analyzing and structuring ideas.
  • Thinking in lists and diagrams.

Do you want more?

Don’t worry, in the next months I’m going to write 3 or 4 posts about my personal approach to learning, because it’s giving me amazing results with almost no time. I’m not sure how I’m going to organize the next posts of this series, so if you have particular interest in one topic, or you have some doubts you want me to cover on the next post make sure to comment. If you don’t mind the order, make sure to check the blog often or simply suscribe if you find it more convenient ;].

Update: Check out Matt’s article about Speed Learning on Life of Matt


How to have a role model and actually learn something from it.

Have you ever admired somebody? I bet that at anything you tried to learn and master you watched carefully at those who did it way better than you. Everybody admires someone, everybody has a few role models. This is because of the human natural tendency to improve and feel fulfilled.

But having role models is not enough, you should actually ‘use them’ (I know how silly that sounds) and get something good from it. Focusing on people that are more advanced than you – your role models – will be intuitive after reading this. Let me help you.

Credit Oberazzi.

I’ll give you a few tips on ‘how to use’ a role model so you learn faster:

  1. Watch. This is probably the easiest, yet the most important one, thing you can do to learn from your role model. Watch so you know what they’re capable of do and you can have a direction to go. Set goals based on what you watch.
  2. Compare. Mastery is about little, subtle things. Don’t look for the tricks. Instead, watch your role model execute the basics and compare it to how you do it. Anyone can do a trick, but mastery is about the basics.
  3. Ask. If you are too good to ask for help and advice, forget learning. Do you have a problem? Don’t beat your head against the wall. There’s a lot of people in this world who have walked the path before you, and had a similar problem – if not the same. The clever thing to do is to ask, to make yourself a fool and admit that you can’t do it right now. Ask them for help, they will give you advice that will save you a lot of time.
  4. Tell. Instead of asking, you can also talk with them about the subject you both are passionate about. Thus, you will have a new friend who you will enjoy talking to. As you are talking you will inevitably say how you do something. Don’t be afraid, if you give an ‘I want to learn’ vibe he or she will notice it and the role model will rock your world with tons of things you can improve. A master sees in a second thousands of things that a newbie can improve.
  5. Show. Say to your role model that you want to show him or her what you can do and that you want some advice. Execute the thing. It’s similar – but better – to the tip above.
  6. Give. If you ‘are friends’ with your role model because you see him/her as a means to you learning you won’t get anything in the long-term. Don’t think about how can them help you. Help them, in a real authentic way, they will return because, you know what?, most people are really nice and kind ;].
  7. Understand. With all the advice, with everything you see, try to form strong principles. Try to understand what is more important and what works in each situation. This you will create a value system, that is like a personal role model.
  8. Imitate. Repeat exactly what they until you do something very similar. If you doubt, continue to repeat.

Those are the principles I apply to my learning and to teach. If you want more information on the topic start by reading my mate’s post The Law of Average Joes and then get the book Mastery, by George Leonard. Next time you admire someone apply these principles and you will get so good, if not more, than that person. And remember that, as my sifu says: ‘You can learn from everybody. I learn even from a white belt.’

Do you have any other ideas about the proper use of a role model? Write them in the comments section!