The Strategic Learner – Better Results in Less Time
I want to summarize everything I wrote so far and devise a study plan, something which will help you get the best results in the least amount of time. You can truly shape yourself into a strategic learner.
I already made a broader step-by-step plan, on how to optimize your learning, using the basic Pareto Principle. Also make sure you read The 1% Rule of Optimized Work, for a full blast of practical wisdom. If you truly want to climb up the ladder to success, they will help you think like a true strategic learner.
Strategic Learning 101
Start with Critical Thinking and Analysis
Before you embark on any learning process, always remember to critically analyze it. Regardless of how complex and important it appears at first … The last thing you want to do is waste your precious time on some useless intellectual adventure. The first impressions of the subject are likely misleading, so you should always think deeply about what you are about to do.
A Strategic Learner never does anything without a reason.
I use critical analysis and filtering. Critical thought is hard and tiresome, but it is the best thing you can do. People who don’t actively think fall into the same old mistakes, over and over again. Here are some of the perks which critical though brings:
- It helps me orient my direction and vision, and it encourages me to think straight.
- Once I know what I am striving towards, it allows me to see which skill set and knowledge base I need to reach those highly valued goals.
- It allows me to separate the wheat from the chaff, in terms of what is useful and what is useless to learn. Especially considering the vast amount of available information out there.
Here is a very important idea I laying out in my other posts:
Before deciding to spend your time and energy on learning something new, you should be straight with yourself and examine whether that which you have set your mind to learn, will truly help you with your goals.
Is it a long-term project you are willing to invest your time in, or is it some fleeting intellectual curiosity?
The Four Steps
Before you start any learning adventure is the following:
- Define your goals, values, and intents.
- Choose the necessary knowledge, understandings, connections, skills, and abilities – the know-how.
- Apply the 80-20 Rule and the 1 Percent Rule on the study resources and materials for the chosen abilities and understandings.
- Start learning.
Let’s say you already have a goal in mind … The second filter is to think about which abilities, behaviors, and attitudes will drive you towards the goals. Again, be honest with yourself. Answer from your heart and with your mind focus inward, truly listening to yourself. Self-Awareness is your most important asset.
Finally, when you know which skills, abilities, and understandings serve your goals, you can apply the third filter. Thinking critically and deciding which are the top essential bits you should learn for most efficient results.
The third step (80-20 Rule) means finding the best quality materials, books, videos, courses, or teachers. And learn the most critical parts, which will yield the greatest improvements and results.
Defining your Goals, Values, and Identity
As a Strategic Learner, your first step is to bring to light your real intents, desires, and valued goals. You might not even be aware of what they are.
The first step helps make you conscious and aware of your deeper motivations and self-propelling drives – your hidden values.
We all have values, things we subconsciously want and strive towards. However, they may not be expressed at a conscious level, because most people don’t know what is in their hearts and minds, at a deeper level. That is why we get lost and wander aimlessly in life. I encourage you to:
- Explore and define your identity
- State your goals
- Look inwards and speak out:
- What is truly important to you?
- What do you want to do the most?
- Which are your most desired and valued possessions, what do you want to have?
- Which kinds of experience are most important for you? So that you want to have more of them.
Self-Awareness is your most useful tool and most powerful weapon.
This clarity of intent and focus of mind will tell you:
- What you need to learn, to get there.
- Which concrete skills, what basis of knowledge you require.
- Which behaviors you need to form into habits.
The Strategic Learner’s Backwards Planning
When the goal is defined and you are congruent with yourself, then everything else will flow more easily.
It is much easier to motivate yourself to do something you want than to fight against your nature and whip yourself into doing something you don’t want.
This next step is adapted according to the principles of Backwards Planning. Basically, it involves starting from the end state, and working your way backward in time, towards the beginning. That unique perspective allows you to see what needs to be completed to get to the end goal.
It is the way NASA designed their first rockets, to get a man on the moon and back.
Step 1 – See the End State.
Hold in your mind an imagined scenario of the ideal future end state. This is the successfully completed goal, which you will have accomplished.
Pretend as if it is real, fully immersing yourself in the movie you are acting in. Become aware of what you see and hear around you, which lets you know for sure that you have completed the goal. There may be objects, people … you may be in a certain place, or with someone, or even doing something specific. Notice how it feel to have successfully attained the goal?
Most people move through life randomly. They don’t reflect the hidden connections between their actions and consequences. As a result, their perspective is straightforward, from present to future.
As a Strategic Learner, you are part of the minority. You are in charge or your life, not a bystander. You know that everything you do today results in a different tomorrow. Because of that, you always have a future in mind and work back towards the present.
That makes everything you do purposefully. And you don’t waste your time with aimless endeavors and wimpy actions. Because you are dead serious.
Step 2 – Trace your Success Backwards in Time
Once you get a full blow of the experience, while still immersed inside that movie, ask yourself while still in the dream:
- Which skills, abilities and understandings did I need, to get here, now?
- What actions and decisions did I make to get here?
- What did I need to:
- … do?
- … change about myself?
- … learn?
- … master?
- Is there something resourceful I started believing? Or something negative I stopped / gave up believing?
- Maybe, there is a physical skill I needed to learn?
- Did I learn some new way of communicating, acting, talking, working – in general, behaving? Something that I needed to learn to do differently…
- Which piece of knowledge, information, and understanding did I acquire? So that it enabled me to perform better?
Pay attention to the answers, and listen to what feels real, solid and truthful. Because this is an exercise of self-exploration, and you are about to find the answers you don’t even know that you know. Write down whatever finding your subconscious mind shares with you.
If done correctly, you will have a list of all the skills, abilities, and understandings you needed to reach your goal. It doesn’t matter how many there are … There may be anywhere from 3 to 20, or even more, depending on how complex your objective is.
There are many similar inquiries and questions you can ask yourself. And they are going to help you reveal what you need for your goal.
Questions lead to Answers, lead to Insights.
The answers to the questions above will tell you everything you did, attempted, and every opportunity you took. Additionally, they show you how to get good at each of the skills that you need for your goal.
In the next step, you shall see the optimal path to the end state and a strategy for how to move towards it. Usually, that means finding the optimal learning scheme. In my opinion, that is how you become a Strategic Learner.
The third step is to be re-applied for each of the items on your newly created list. You don’t need to do them all at once.
Step 3 – Finding the most Direct Learning Path
While in the visualization session, hold a self-exploratory dialogue with yourself:
“I am now in a future where I attained my goal and mastered the necessary skills, abilities understandings, and disciplines for that.
- How did I master that skill (or discipline) to the level it required?
- What specifically did I learn from those broader subjects / fields of study / abilities?
- Which parts?
- What is the 20%, how about the 5%, and the 1% of the top elements of that abilities?
What sets apart a Strategic Learner from your average person, it the time dedicated to reflective thinking, self-analysis, self-dialogue and critical thinking.
People don’t think, unless they word out their thoughts and hear themselves.
“I am now in a future, where I can do this skill (whatever it might be) at near master level. Good …
- What did I do to learn it so well?
- How did I practice?
- What materials helped me the most?
- Did I attend a class or did I learn by myself?
- Did I ask someone for help, like an authority in the field or an instructor?
- What small and critical part of all the available information out there, about how to learn the skill, has helped the most, in reaching the level I am at now?”
And that is the point where we transitioned into the third step, which is applying the Pareto Principle. In fact, it is neatly integrated into the entire Backwards Planning process. Because we already bridged the gap between the successful completion of the end goal and the concrete level of each individual skill learnings.
In conclusion, this 3rd step is all about separating the wheat from the chaff. If you have trouble doing that, read the next section.
Tunnel Vision – How to Differentiate between the 20%, 5%, and 1%
Separating the essential parts from the unessential elements can be difficult. However, critical thinking and analysis will help you, if you are willing to pay the price of painstaking mental strain. That is how some would define critical thinking.
Human beings have a very narrow vision, and their goals define what they see in the world. We are tool-using creatures, and everything around us is a tool for one of our important values. That is how the brain is designed and there is some literature on that. I will perhaps write another article on the subject.
That is related to how we select useful information in a book or a manual. In conclusion, our brain’s tunnel vision focuses us on discerning the useful knowledge against the useless data. That is how we separate the signal from the noise:
Our goals show us what is important.
So, let your attention be guided by your vision when you scan a book or look over the study material. Other strategies of mine:
- If it is a technical book, skim it once or twice, and get a feel for what is essential and what can easily be discarded.
- If you need to master a physical skill, talk to a trainer and have him explain what are the basics you must practice to become proficient at.
- You can search YouTube and Google for information and explanatory videos, on any skill and discipline.
- There are basic intros and training videos for any skill and subject ever invented. By listening to someone who knows his trade – you will quickly get a sense of the essentials of the subject.
Strategic Learner’s Best Tool – The 80-20 Rule
You know your destination, and you have a clear image of a future you would like to live in. And you also know which strategies, skills, behaviors, and modes of being will get you in that future state.
As a Strategic Learner, the best path you can choose is the shortest one to success. Because time is short.
The Pareto Principle (3rd step) helps you strategize the shortest path to those skills. Additionally, it also allowed you to see the shortest path for the fastest results. If you start seeing results faster, then you will stay motivated and move towards the goal at a steady pace.
The last step in the exercise was the application of the Pareto Principle. You can learn abilities close to master level (or unconscious competence), by applying the 80 20 Rule:
There is a fundamental and critical slice of 20% of any ability or subject, which if learned and applied masterfully, will consistently get you 80% of the total results, you would get if you knew the entire subject.
The 80-20 Rule is what you apply, once you know your destination. And once you have a list of the knowledge and skills you need to get there. Out of all the knowledge, skills, behaviors and beliefs, only 20% of them are the most critical and will help you achieve 80% of your success, results, products and wealth.
If you read the articles above, then you know the 80-20 Rule becomes the 50-1 Rule, by recursive reduction. Strategic learners start with the 1%, then move to the 4% and finally up to the 20% …
In each complex skill, you will find the most important 20% of sub-skills or chunks. Once these are understood, internalized and mastered, you will achieve 80% of the results you would get if you had learned 100% everything about the entire skill.
By applying this 80 20 and 50 1 Rules, you shall get a vivid overview, a detailed plan and the best strategy towards your goals and for learning. I hope this showed you how far you can go if you are willing to put in the mental energy it takes to become a Strategic Learner.
Please leave your comments below, if you found this article helpful.