Mastery and the Art of Learning

By: Martin Grunburg

“How many times have you listened to that playlist?” my friend asked. “I don’t know,” I answered. “Probably a couple hundred times.” He was referring to my personal development playlist on my phone, which includes some of my favorite thinkers, from Wayne Dyer to Tony Robbins, with a healthy dose of Covey, Nightingale, Hill and a host of everything in between.

This “PD Playlist” just goes into auto-shuffle mode during any run or workout, and at this point I almost always hear a familiar lesson or message. Rarely I will introduce new material, and sometimes — to add variety — I’ll throw in my “metal-love” or Jack Johnson playlist.

Let me back up, though.

I used to think I was foolish — or perhaps just not too smart — because I always liked hearing a lesson or message several times. And by “several” I mean in the dozens-plus! I seem to do this with books, as well. So I will re-engage any playlist or book I’m studying over and over and over.

I’m sure it seems like listening to the same message or lesson (material) over and over and over again — AND then some more — must be a huge waste of time, energy and, by association, money, right? I’m not so sure; it might be the exact opposite. Let me explain.

We don’t seem to question a person who practices a “discipline” (interesting choice of words), such as piano, over and over and over again. Or, the person who puts in hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours to perform better, right? When it comes to performance-related activities, practice and repetition are essential, yet somehow, when it comes to learning, it’s considered a waste of time.

Have you ever watched the same movie more than once? How about more than a half-dozen times? What happened each time you saw the movie? Did you happen to notice any new material? Were there any nuances or new information you interpreted differently? Perhaps you even said, “Huh, I didn’t catch that the last time I saw this!”

Well, watching a movie isn’t too dissimilar from learning — at least for me ; ). I can listen to the same podcast (here’s mine) or lesson or class, or read the same book or (you name the material), and all of a sudden it seems as though I’m picking up on brand-new information. Here’s the best part: I am!

Of course, that information was there all along, wasn’t it? So, what happened?

What happened is “life.” One of my favorite quotes (link) is, “When the student is ready, the master appears.”

Sometimes we’re just not ready. Sometimes our head is in a different place, our attention is elsewhere (and of course this is a great case for learning to focus our attention in the moment, particularly when it comes to learning, but that is for another time). Then there is this theory: Maybe there’s only so much NEW info we can jam into our heads before it’s “full” (for the moment anyway).

It reminds me of the quote (reportedly attributed to Samuel Clemons), “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

The point is we live in a highly dynamic world where information and our attention are always shifting. Therefore, it’s essential to revisit the same information/material when you want to learn it deeply. By studying the same material over and over and over again, you gain incredible depth that you wouldn’t otherwise have attained. BTW: I know now that this is precisely why and how The Habit Factor was able to provide such breakthroughs around the subject of habit.

GO DEEP and REPEAT, whether it is a performance or learning a subject that interests you. In many ways there is nothing new here; it’s the same as when people are achieving a Ph.D. What do they do? The student goes deep. She spends four years learning about ONE discipline from various aspects, angles and perspectives. She studies DEEPLY ONE SUBJECT.

Why aren’t you doing that with the subjects that tickle your fancy!?

So, whatever captures your attention and curiosity, give into it, do not be rushed. Spend 15 minutes a day reading about it, listening to the same lessons over and over, and writing about it. Be sure to let me know what happens! Chances are good that around year five you will be considered an “expert”. ; )

Until next week,



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