When it comes to studying for the sake of learning, the old phrase, you get what you give applies. To become an expert in any field, you need tons and tons of practice in that field. I’m all about efficient ways of learning information but the process of becoming an expert is one area that efficiency isn’t necessarily the most important factor… I’ll get to that.
In this article, I’m going to be discussing what I call my Zen Method of learning. Zen is a term referring to a style of meditation. That is, ideally, a little like how this method of studying feels like. This is not the classic, study super fast and still pass the test method taught on this blog. This is more of a, absorb all the information to become an expert method. Then, of course, tests are no problem because you’re already an expert.
I do not recommend using a Zen method with any subject that you’re not completely invested in understanding well. If you just want to pass the test and have no reason to deeply absorb the subject then using a Zen method is probably a little excessive. Instead, I’d recommend using a few of the memory tricks taught in this article. If, however, you require a deep understanding of a subject then this is a much more effective strategy than my usual recommendations for the long term. (Sure, there are faster ways to learn it but they’re not quite as sticky and they are a whole lot tougher in the short term.)
When Efficiency Doesn’t Come First
Efficiency is everything when it comes to short term studying. I realize this is a point that has been hounded on hundreds of times on this blog so I’ll keep this short. If you want a longer explanation then check out some of the older articles in the archives.
Most students study with virtually no efficiency for a long period of time. For hours of studying, they’re lucky to memorize a short list of facts. That poor efficiency usually has to do with crappy study methods, low motivation, low focus, and unsticky material. Most of those problems can be solved with the right study strategy. Once those problems are solved, that same list of information can often be remembered in less than 5 minutes. It really is that important for studying.
If you want to learn my strategy for studying all your subjects in less than 15 minutes a night (this applies for most college majors and high schools) then check out some of the archived articles on it. They’ll go into a more thorough explanation of the mechanisms at work.
It would be possible to become an expert in a subject using the study strategies outlined in this blog. That being said, to do it, you’d likely have to have military grade discipline with motivation leaking out of every hole in your body (Hey… Wipe that up… Eww… That’s a disgusting joke… I regret it.)
On top of that, you won’t be as inclined to get a deep understanding of the knowledge you’re learning. By that I mean, it’s easy to learn a set of facts. It’s hard to connect those facts in non-superficial ways. How does one relate to the other and how do they both relate to the greater issues? That kind of thinking can’t be quickly studied without completely taking on someone else’s opinion. Developing your own is much more important for an expert.
Studying a subject efficiently can be really challenging in the long term. It works well for school because school tends to have short bursts of a single subject. Then you get vacation time to chill out a little before you start over again. If you tried to keep a high-efficiency study routine in a subject for a full year, I’m willing to bet, half way through the year your efficiency would be down from plain old boredom and stress. That’s why I work with a Zen Study Method.
Zen Study methods can be used for years straight without a reduction in motivation…
What Is A Zen Study Method?
Theoretically, a Zen Study Method can be just about anything you want it to be. The zen refers to your own reaction to the studying. How do you feel when you’re studying with a certain method? If you feel almost completely relaxed and you actually are learning something then you are using a Zen Study Method.
Often, these study strategies have everything to do with the material that you’re studying.
For example, you may find listening to a history podcast the most boring thing in the world. I personally find it one of the most relaxing things ever. For me, it feels productive (because I’m learning stuff) and entertaining (because they’re telling a story.) For you, it might feel boring and completely unproductive. That means it is a Zen study Method for me. It is not for you.
Zen Study Methods are completely personal. Perhaps watching historical documentaries (or even plain old Hollywood films about history) would be more effective for you. Take note, 100% accuracy is often less important than the stickiness of the way you’re learning. 90% accuracy that’s memorable is way better than 100% accuracy that can’t be remembered.
Now, imagine you take something you love and actually learn something while doing it. Suddenly, efficiency is the slightest less of a factor because you would end up studying much more time. (Sure, it’s not ideal for short term school goals but for long term learning, it’s great.)
Online you can find a ton of different methods for learning virtually any subject. Use those resources and find something you enjoy. As soon as you find a method you enjoy you get one thing that most of the study methods I recommend don’t get…
Long Term Consistency
Long-term consistency is much more important than efficiency when becoming an expert at any subject. Most people study in short bursts of hard work. Then they spend months or more forgetting everything that they learned before. Long-term consistency is a much more effective method. By studying a subject daily, even if you learn less, you’re getting much farther than the average person. Don’t underestimate its power.
A little progress every single day will eventually get you where you want to go.
That being said, you have to be truly committed to learning a subject.
If you’re not completely committed (which is okay, by the way) then be sure to look into the archives of this blog to learn some new and better strategies for studying. You can learn to study all your subjects in less than 15 minutes a night while watching your grades go up.
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Let me tell you (an inappropriate) true story…
It was high school Spanish class…
I was a Senior in a class of Sophomores. There was one other Senior in the class. Best of all –
She was smokin’ (as the old folk say.) She was gorgeous. 10 out of 10. Tight jeans. And she always sat right in front of me in class (gulp.)
We were the only Seniors in the class. By default… that made me the coolest guy there… And trust me… I’m never the coolest guy there.
But we’d talk. Sometimes in class she’d lean over. I’d continue to pretend me importa la espanol stuff pero… Seriousamente… 😛
Sure… I’d show up to class. But my brain rarely stuck around for the lecture. And that’s why you might not be surprised I was getting a C- in class.
It’s funny how that stuff that distracted me in highschool wasn’t so problematic in college where I took a double course load and still scored near the top of my class…
You don’t need to be perfect to score near perfect.
You just need to know how…