What is “lifelong learning”?

I believe in lifelong learning, and I want to explain what I mean by it. In all of my bigger courses, I promise you to triple three critical skills. Yet the more skills we improve, the better we understand the things we still have to do. The better we are, the harder it gets to improve. Hence we need a lifelong commitment.

The initial goal and diminishing returns

One of the things we ask our students is stating their learning goals. They usually write down some reading speed and retention percentage. For example, 1200wpm and 80% retention.  The actual number does not matter. 95% of our students achieve 750wpm at 75% retention. Maybe 5 percent of the students achieve 1200wpm and 80% retention or an equally ambitious memory goal. Why? Because of the diminishing returns.

In the beginning, we acquire new skills quite easily and each new skill is extremely beneficial. Then we polish our skills until be become fluent, and that takes a lot of time. Once our skills are polished we are ready to learn more advanced skills, but we also understand very well the effort required. So the return on investment might not be very good.

Switch and push

We can use our energy in a different direction. Once we graduate from one course, we can try and triple some other skills. The effect will be similar. After a huge gain during the first few months, we will rich a plateau. Then we will invest our skills for a while just to stay fluent.

We can switch again and again because different skills interact with each other making us better at everything we do.

Alternatively, we can push through the fatigue and decide that we want something beyond the level of return on investment. We may decide that a certain skill is so cool that we are in love with it and want to achieve true mastery.

Mastery is hard

The road to mastery is very hard. Since there are not many people beyond the intermediate level, there are also not many materials to help them. The effort required to make small progress might be monumental, and dedication should be high. It does not matter if you want to achieve the highest scores, to reach the deepest understanding of the subject, or to become the most effective coach. Each road is hard and takes years.

Moreover, there is nowhere to rest. If we decide that we riched our mastery, the skill levels will inevitably reduce. When I played chess as a boy, my rating was 2400. I never liked chess but my parents pushed me. I did not play for 30 years and now I think I will not play above 2150. Other skills are even more sensitive. Once you reach mastery, you must push further. You cannot reach mastery unless you truly love what you do.

Mastery is easy

Because it is so damn hard to reach mastery, once we do reach it, the skill is a natural continuation of our being. We apply the skill with no effort. This is like being a person with extra body parts. And then we ask ourselves what else we can do with such a body.

I read very fast. This is effortless by now. So I ask myself what reading actually is? What is effective communication? How the writer can help the reader? Which messages are meaningful and important?

Once the mastery of the skill itself gets easy, we attack more complex subjects.

Is lifelong long enough?

No professional life is unlimited. Eventually, we get older in some way. Memory athletes tend to be young. A huge part of lifelong learning is passing our skills to others. We understand our real place between our teachers and our students. It is our gratitude, our deepest obligation, and our responsibility as human beings to teach others.

What is learning?

I do not think that reading books or professional articles is the main element of learning. It is typically a necessity, but it is not the essence. The true learning is trying different things and seeing what happens, being acutely aware of the smallest aspects, communicating with others who share the same passion. Quite often true learning includes building a pet project, or mentoring someone, competing with others or trying to understand ourselves. At the very least we need to know “what” and know “how”, but we may also want to know “why” and the limitations like “which”, “where” and “when”.

Lifelong learning is a passion. Once we actually think we know something, we witness the most peculiar thing. We understand how much we do not yet know and we feel that we MUST learn it.


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