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Quick notes from & for Ultralearning

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Day Cyberwox
·May 1, 2022·

16 min read

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✍🏽Quick notes from Ultralearning

A tweetstorm styles quick notes 🙂

1 ~ The Basics

  • Knowledge and Skill are different. Knowledge is the raw material but skill comes from refining knowledge through practice.
  • Passive learning creates knowledge, and active practice creates skill.
  • Most people who perform Ultra-learning fall under the spectrum of idiosyncrasy
    • Some people who perform Ultra-learning are polymaths.

2 ~ Why UltraLearning Matters

  • What is Ultra-learning? Ultra-learning is…
    • A strategy
      • A strategy is usually not the only solution to a problem but maybe a good one.
      • Strategies also tend to not apply to every given situation.
      • Basically, using a strategy is a choice, not a commandment.
    • Self Directed
      • It’s about how you make decisions about what to learn and why.
      • It’s very possible to be a self-directed learner but still decide that a particular school is where you choose to learn something. The same thing applies to teaching yourself something using a particular resource e.g a book
      • Self-direction is about who’s in the driver’s seat of the project and not really about where it takes place.
    • Intense
      • Unusual steps are usually taken to maximize your effectiveness in learning something
      • The opposite of this learning is optimized for fun or convenience.
      • Dabbling in something instead of serious practice.
      • Intensity usually brings a positive & pleasurable state of flow where learning challenging things absorbs your focus and you lose track of time.
  • Ultra-learning is focused on deeply and effectively learning things as a priority.
  • Why it matters
    • For your work
      • Ultra-learning is a small investment even if you eventually temporarily scale it to a full-time commitment.
      • Rapidly learning hard skills can yield more than years of mediocre striving on the job.
    • For your personal life
      • Your deepest moments of happiness don’t come from doing easy things. They come from realizing your potential and overcoming your own limiting beliefs about yourself.
      • Ultra-learning offers a path to mastering those things that’ll give you satisfaction and improve your confidence.
  • What could you learn if you took the right approach to be successful?
    • Who could you become?
  • How do you find time for Ultra-learning. Managing Work, school, family?
    • Part-time projects
      • Pursue Ultra-learning part-time.
      • Prioritize intensity and effectiveness over long hours.
      • Spread-out schedules may even be more effective for long-term memory retention.
    • Learning sabbaticals
      • Pursue Ultra-learning during gaps in work/school
    • Reimagining existing learning efforts
      • Integrate Ultra-learning principles into the time and energy you already devote to learning
      • Ultra-learning doesn’t have to be an additional activity if you align it with what you already have going on.

3 ~ How to Become an Ultra-learner

  • It’s important to understand that as long as you stick with the process, you’re bound to learn something new
    • Obsessive work ethic
    • The goal might not always be to reach a predetermined extreme of something but to see how far you can go
      • Even in failure, you’d have learned the skill fairly well
      • You might not be the world champion of your ultra-learning project long as you stick with the process you’re bound to learn something new.
  • Principle of Becoming an Ultra-learner

    • Principles allow you to solve problems; even those you may have never encountered before. They provide guidance.

      • There are 9 universal principles of Ultra-learning

        • 🗺 Metalearning
          • First, draw a map
          • Start by learning how to learn the skill or subject you want to tackle
          • Learn how to do good research and how to draw on your past competencies to learn new skills more easily
        • 🎯 Focus
          • Sharpen your knife
          • Cultivate the ability to concentrate
          • Carve out chunks of time when you can focus on learning and make it easy to just do it
        • 👉🏽 Directness
          • Go Straight ahead
          • Learn by doing the thing you want to be good at; don’t trade it up for other tasks because those are more convenient or comfortable
        • 🪖 Drill
          • Attack your weakest points
          • Be ruthless in improving your weakest points
          • Break down complex skills into small parts then master those parts and build them back together
        • Retrieval
          • Test to learn
          • Testing is isn’t simply a way of assessing knowledge but a way of creating it
          • Test yourself before you feel confident and push yourself to actively recall information rather than passively review it
        • 🥊 Feedback
          • Don’t dodge the punches
          • Feedback is harsh and uncomfortable; no how to use it without letting your ego get in the way
          • Extract the signal from the noise so you know what to pay attention to and what to ignore
        • Retention
          • Understand what you forget and why
          • Learn to remember things, not just for now but forever
        • 💭 Intuition
          • Dig deep before building up
          • Develop your intuition to play an exploration of concepts and skills
          • Understand how understanding works
          • Avoid having recourse to cheap tricks and memorization to avoid deeply knowing things
        • 👨🏽‍🔬 Experimentation
          • Explore outside your comfort zone

        All the above principles are just starting points. True mastery comes from not just following the paths laid by others but also from exploring possibilities that you haven’t yet imagined. These principles should be flexible guidelines not rigid rules.

    • Take responsibility for your own learning

      • Decide what you want to learn
      • How you want to learn it
      • Craft your own plan to learn it
    • You’re the one in charge and you’re the one who’s ultimately responsible for the results you generate

4 ~ Principle 1: Metalearning

  • Metalearning simply means learning about learning
    • Learning how knowledge is structured and acquired within a particular subject
    • Over the long term, the more ultralearning projects you do the larger your set of general metalearning skills will be
    • Ultralearning is a skill, the more practice you get, the more skills and knowledge you’ll gain on how to do it well.
  • Break down your metalearning research into - Why, What & How?
    • WHY?
      • Understand your motivation to learn
      • Focus on what matters to you
      • Types of learning projects
        • Instrumental Projects: These are for the purpose of achieving a non-learning result like advancing your career
          • Always do in-depth research on these to be sure that they’ll have the effect you want them to before you. get started
            • Talk to people who have achieved the end goal you’re seeking to attain
        • Intrinsic Projects: These are for just the sake of the project like learning a language you’re not sure you might end up using
    • WHAT?
      • Knowledge and abilities you’ll need to acquire in order to be successful.
      • Breaking things down into concepts, facts, and procedures.
        • Create a list of the things you need to learn. This can always be revised and revisited.
        • Concepts
          • What ideas need to be understood?
        • Facts
          • What needs to be memorized?
        • Procedures
          • What needs to be practiced?
      • After the above process, Highlight the most challenging concepts, facts, and procedures and start researching methods to learn them more efficiently
    • HOW?
      • Resources, environment, and methods you’ll use to learn
        • Benchmarking or the Emphasize/Exclude Method can be used for this
          • Benchmarking
            • What are the most common ways people learn this skill/subject?
          • The Emphasize/Exclude Method
            • Modifying the benchmark
            • Prioritize what’s important for your end goal
            • Focus on the primary important things for your specific goal
            • Omit or delay certain elements from the benchmark
              • Either put them aside or put them aside for a later time
  • Don’t fall into the trap of spending too much time researching without ever taking the step to start learning.
  • Also don’t fall into the trap of not spending enough time researching.
  • Metalearning research should not be a one-time activity you do only before starting a project, however, you should practice continuous research as you learn.
  • Always remember that the real benefits of metalearning are not short term but long term
    • Each project teaches you new methods and skills to improve your metalearning.
    • Your first projects might not really show the benefits of metalearning since it’s the lowest point of your metalearning ability but as you get better, you start to see the benefits.

5 ~ Principle 2 - Focus: Sharpen Your Knife

  • Great intellectual accomplishments are backed by an ability to focus quickly and deeply
  • The three struggles of focus
    • Starting
      • Problem 1: Failing to Start Focusing (aka Procrastination)
        • Why do we procrastinate?
          • It’s simply the craving to do something else, a disinclination for the task...or both
        • Overcoming procrastination
          • Realize that much of procrastination is unconscious so start by recognizing when you’re procrastinating
          • After realization, the next thing is to take steps to resist the impulse of procrastination
            • The unpleasant thing about a particular task or the pleasant thing of an alternative task usually doesn’t last long if you’re able to get through the first couple of minutes.
            • Convince yourself to get through just a few minutes of the unpleasantness
            • Also - using the Pomodoro Technique
            • Block out time for studying
    • Sustaining
      • Problem 2: Failing to Sustain Focus (aka Distraction)
        • What kind of Focus is the best to sustain?
          • This depends on the topic or the thing being learned. Getting into a flow state for certain tasks can certainly be beneficial, however, for other tasks, it might not be applicable.
        • How long should you study?
          • A proper balance is important, however 50 minutes to an hour is a good length of time for many learning tasks
          • If your schedule has more accommodation for several hours at a time, then using the pomodoro technique and taking breaks at the end of each hour could help with efficiency.
          • These are just guidelines, do what works best for you.
        • Sources of Distraction
          • 1 - Your Environment
            • Phone, Internet, TV, Games, noise, sounds, and so on.
            • Be aware of what environment you work best in and test it.
            • Try to avoid multitasking in order to enjoy productivity.
              • Multitasking may feel like fun, but it’s unsustainable for ultralearning because ultralearning requires concentrating your full mind on the task at hand.
              • Rid yourself of this vice and stop strengthening the bad habit
          • 2 - Your Task
            • Whenever you have a choice between using different tools for learning (e.g video vs book), consider which is easier to focus on for you.
            • You can also subtly or intensely modify what you’re doing to enable greater focus. Examples:
              • Subtle - If have difficulty reading, jotting down notes that reexplain hard concepts can help.
              • Intense - Solving a problem, making something, writing and explaining ideas aloud. These limit the scope of distractions.
          • 3 - Your Mind
            • Negative emotions, restlessness, daydreaming, and so on
            • A clear, calm mind is best for focus, however an anger, anxiety, frustration or sadness filled mind will be harder to study with.
              • Deal with the main issues first.
              • Acknowledge the feelings, be aware of them, gently adjust your focus back to your task and allow the feeling to pass.
              • Diminish mind distractions by not letting them take over your mind.
              • Constantly practicing releasing and letting go of distracting thought strengthen you resolve to continue working in future situations.
    • Optimizing
      • Problem 3: Failing to Create the Right Kind of Focus
        • The right kind of focus is dependent on two variables
          • Arousal
            • Not the sexual kind.
            • This is based on your feeling of energy or alertness
            • Arousal has a major influences on attention
              • High arousal is beneficial for a narrow range of focus - simple tasks or ones that require intense concentration for a small target. However, Too much of this could have adverse effects on focus (kinda similar to the jittery effects of excess coffee).
              • Low arousal is beneficial for a larger and more diffuse range of focus - more complex tasks or even creative tasks that might require considering many different inputs or ideas. However, this state is usually achieved when you’ve been focusing on a problem long enough that the residue of ideas remains in your mind.
          • Task Complexity
            • Complex tasks may benefit from lower arousal
            • Simpler tasks may benefit from higher arousal
        • Find out what works best for you through self-testing.
          • Trying various task complexities in various environments that stimulate the two levels of arousal (e.g busy coffee shop vs quiet library)
        • To improve your focus, recognize where you are, start small and continuously refine & improve.

6 ~ Principle 3 - Directness: Go Straight Ahead

  • The first story in this chapter is very very important, read it
  • Directness is the hallmark of most ultralearning projects
  • Directness is the idea of learning being tied closely to the situation or context you wan to use it in.
  • It’s a very common thing to build the wrong portfolio of skills for the kind of career and personal achievements you wan to create
    • Trying to learn a language by playing on a fun rather than conversing with actual people
    • Trying to get better at speaking by buying a communication book rather than practicing presenting
  • The above examples are indirect approaches to learning the main thing because it feels too uncomfortable boring or frustrating.
    • Thus pushing us to settle for a book, lecture or app hoping it will work for the real thing we want to achieve
  • The easiest way to learn directly is to simply spend a lot of time doing the thing you want to become good at.
    • If you want to learn a language speak it
    • If you want to master making video games, make them
    • If you want to learn cybersecurity/tech/cloud/coding, do it
  • This approach is often more intense and uncomfortable than passively watching lecture videos or something similar
  • Why do seemingly small projects of direct learning make large differences in one’s skill level?
    • This question can be attributed to the concept of transfer which is when you learn something in one context and are able to use it in another context (e.g learning something in class and using it in real life)
    • Transfer has been found through intense research to largely fail to occur in formal education. Which is why people graduate with 4 year degrees that have little to almost no applicability in real life.
      • Basic reason for this is most formal learning is mostly indirect.
  • How do you overcome the problem of transfer with directness?
    • Learn by doing
      • In some cases creating an artificial environment to test your skills.
      • The cognitive features of the skill you’re trying to master and the way you practice it should be substantially similar
    • Learn with a direct connection to the area in which you eventually want to apply the skill
    • Learn in a real context that transfers to real-life situations
    • In learning new things, the goal should always be to strive to tie them directly to contexts we wanna use them in
  • How To Learn Directly
    • Acknowledge that learning directly is hard, frustrating, challenging, and more intense than reading a book or sitting through a lecture.
      • However, this difficulty creates a potent source of competitive advantage for any would-be ultralearner that can help them learn more effectively.
      • Tactics
        • 1 - Project Based Learning
          • If you organize your learning around producing something, you’re guaranteed to at least learn how to produce that thing, however, if you take classes you’d likely spend more time taking notes and reading - not achieving your goal
          • The key is to work on producing something at the end
            • Learning to program by creating your own computer game
            • Learning cloud by working on cloud-based projects
        • 2 - Immersive Learning
          • Immersion is the process of surrounding yourself with the target environment in which the skill is practiced.
          • This has the advantage of requiring much larger amounts of practice than would be typical, as well as exposing you to a fuller range of situations in which the skill applies
            • Joining communities of people actively engaged in learning (e.g cybersecurity newbies joining a discord group or community of professionals to expose themselves to cybersecurity conversations, skills & challenges)
        • 3 - The Flight Simulator Method
          • This is applicable for skills that have no way of direct practice (e.g piloting a plane, performing a surgery, hacking a company - might not even be legal)
          • Prioritize cognitive features - situations where you need to make decisions about what to do and draw from the knowledge
        • 4 - The Overkill Approach
          • Increase the challenge so that the skill level required is wholly contained within the set goal.
          • Put yourself in an environment where the demands are going to be extremely high, so you’re unlikely to miss any important lessons or feedback
            • This could feel intense and you might be afraid and feel “not ready”
            • The fear is often temporary and if you can get enough motivation to start this method, its often a lot easier to continue it long term
          • In this approach, you’ll aim for a particular, test, performance, or challenge that is above the skill level you strictly require
  • Try learning straight from the source.

7 ~ Principle 4 - Drill: Attack Your Weakest Point

  • Using the “Direct-Then-Drill” Approach
    • Secondly, isolate the rate-determining step
  • Certain aspects of learning can form a bottleneck that controls the speed at which you can become more proficient at something
  • By identifying a rate-determining step to your learning reaction, you can isolate it and work on it specifically.
    • Since it governs your overall competence, by improving that single rate-determining step, you will improve faster than if you try to practice every aspect of the skill at once.
      • Identity components of the overall skill
      • Figure out which matters the most in your situation
      • Come up with clever ways to empathize them in your practice
  • Using the Direct-Then-Drill Approach
    • A drill takes the direct practice and cuts it apart so that you are practicing only an isolated component. How can you resolve the contradiction with practice?
      • The first step is to try to practice the skill directly. Figure out where and how the skill will be used and then try to match that situation as close as possible when practicing.
      • Next step is to analyze the direct skill and try to isolate components that are either rate-determining steps or subskills you find difficult to improve because there are too many other things going on for you to focus on them.
        • Develop drills and practice those components separately until you get better at them
      • Final step is to go back to direct practice and integrate what you’ve learned
        • This helps you incorporate the isolated learning into a bigger picture

The Feynman Technique

  1. Write down the concept or problem you want to understand at the top of a piece of paper
  2. In the space below, explain the idea as if you had to teach it to someone else
    1. If it is a concept, ask yourself how you would convey the idea to someone who has never heard of it before
    2. If it is a problem, explain how to solve it and -crucially-why the solution procedure makes sense to you
  3. When you get stuck, meaning your understanding fails to provide a clear answer, go back to your notes, teacher, or reference material to find the answer

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