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Six steps to successful learning

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In 1989, I took a martial arts newbie and trained him for six months. After that training, he entered the Dallas City-wide Open-style Martial Arts Tournament. He took second place. How did he learn so rapidly, and become so skilled in so short a time? I'll give you some tips, shortly.

Years before that, I taught a 6-year-old girl some martial arts basics. When two boys twice her age tried to mug her for her lunch money, she broke the collar bone of one boy--and gave the other one a "whuppin' like he shoulda got." She kept her lunch money and whatever else they had in mind to take from her.

In one summer, I taught an 11-year-old girl (not the same one as above) how to be a mechanic. With really no help from me, she was able to do some remarkable things to her mother's car and to a race car:

  • Remove, repair, and reinstall the starter
  • Remove and replace the radiator
  • Remove and replace a water pump
  • Change transmission fluid and filter, do a band adjustment
  • Rebuild a carburetor and install it
  • Adjust the timing

I have also taught myself to be an expert in many fields. What is going on here? It is nothing you can't do, yourself. Here are the "secrets" to effective learning, as evidenced in my own experiences.

  1. Instill a passion in the student. A childhood friend of mine could tell you every basketball stat from the inception of the game, but was barely a C student. He was passionate about basketball. Without the passion, there is not enough focus for rapid learning to take place.
  2. Focus on concepts, not details. The girl who was the great mechanic? She learned how to use tools and service manuals. She learned basic mechanic techniques and orderly work habits. That is all she needed to fix any car she had a manual for. The two martial artists didn't learn katas or other "robot" stuff. They learned the essence of fighting.
  3. Clearly define the benefits of the knowledge gained. The one martial artist wanted to be free from bullies. The other wanted to win a tournament. Each used this clear definition to imagine--over and over--the final result.
  4. Use imaging. The student must know the goal, and then picture it. The more intense this picture, the more the body and mind respond to it.
  5. Make learning fun or rewarding in as real-time a manner as possible. All work and no play can make a person lose interest. If you are teaching a child math, you can say, "If you work hard for half an hour each night, I will take you to a movie on Saturday." That's a reward. And if the child misses a night? You'll have to be firm and say, "I can't take you to that movie. But what I can do is let you decide what we have for supper tomorrow." Always give some reward for the effort. Praise, a smile, a hug--all of these are appropriate for all settings. Even in academia--just not as often. When my favorite professor hugged me on graduation day, then I knew I had succeeded.
  6. Follow good nutrition, get the right kind and amount of exercise, and get plenty of rest. A healthy mind requires a healthy body. 

Motivation resources:

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