I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how best to learn something. What practices and methods lead to the best progress in learning? Does it vary by content? Is there a universal rule?
Of course, this is a hard thing to analyze, because everyone learns differently. How I learn best might be different from how you learn best, and I can only relate my own experiences in this regard. Personally, I’ve found my progress to be best generated by notation (taking notes), and application, by doing.
There’s one more component to learning anything that I have found to be important. And beyond learning, it’s a great rule for life.
This is repetition.
If you want to learn something, you have to work on it. All the time. This is only more true if you want to improve your existing skills at something. I’m a firm believer in building habits, and doing some small activities every day.
A few weeks ago was ‘Inktober’, where artists both amateur and professional spend the month of October drawing (inking, specifically) something each day. There’s a theme for each day, but you’re free to do anything you want.
The idea came about when its founder, Jake Parker wanted to get better at inking. So he challenged himself to do a new drawing each day, for a month. The idea being, if you do something every single day for a sustained (even if short!) period, you’ll get better at it. Now, it’s a phenomenon, with participants worldwide.
This same idea could be applied to anything.
The best practice I’ve found is to pick something small and easily achievable each day. The process and discipline required to complete something each day is as important as the activity itself. Don’t feel the need to take on more than you can handle. Ease into it like a warm bath. Soon, you’ll find yourself better prepared to take on more intensive tasks, and not stagnating, even when progress comes slow.
This repetition is even more valuable when you’re trying to learn something. Even on days where you don’t have hours to study or practice, you can keep up your momentum by doing something small. This helps with avoiding “slump” periods.
Lately, my highest priority daily activity has been journaling. Each day, before I go to bed, I sit down with my Hobonichi Techo journal, and make an entry for the day. Usually this is a reflection on the process of that day, but the log format changes at times. I have used the Techo to also track my eating, or sleep / wake times, or habits, in addition to this daily reflection.
There’s something deeply satisfying about doing this every day. It’s familiar. I can do it anywhere. Even in a day marked by setbacks, I can write my log and that in itself feels like an accomplishment.
The beauty of journaling too is that it accomplishes several of my goals at once. It gives me an opportunity to work on my handwriting. Even on days where I didn’t accomplish any of my writing for one of my running projects, I am able to write and express my thoughts. Even on days when I don’t meditate (which are becoming fewer and fewer) I still get a chance to reflect on the day.
At different parts of the year, I launch into new and different habits. In Spring and Summer I run, but in Winter I don’t. Lately, I’ve wanted to work on my poetry more, and have decided to embark upon a similar challenge. Perhaps some of them will end up here, eventually, after they’re filtered through again and again.
Do you do anything every day? What do you want to get better at?