Learning how to Learn: The ultimate meta-skill for self-improvement and achieving success with your health, wealth & relationships.


Learning is the foundation for success in almost every aspect of life.

Learning matters at school as it allows you to get good grades. Good grades enable you to graduate with a smile on your face and get accepted into your university of choice.

Then you start work and learning becomes a path to self-improvement. You gain valuable skills that allow you to become a leader instead of another cog in the wheel.

Learning matters for your relationships, building deeper connections, and your sense of purpose. You learn new ways to improve yourself.  Your health, what to eat, how to work out, and how to maintain good habits.

“The worst thing you can ever do is think that you know enough. Never stop learning. Ever.”
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Successful learners are great at picking up skills or ideas and developing them over a short space of time.

The question is, how do you break down even complex topics and learn them effectively?

This question hadn’t even crossed my mind 12 months ago.

Then, over the summer of last year, I had a realization.

I enjoy learning new things - skills, ideas, mental models, etc. to use in business and life - but I rarely retain any of what I learn. Which also means that I rarely use or apply what I learn. And this has been going on for the last 10+ years.

After having this realization, I turned to Tim Ferriss, a living ‘How to..” guide.

I searched his blog for post about learning (of which there are several) and listened to different podcast episodes. My ‘Eureka’ moment came when I read this line in the opening pages of Tools of Titans:

Your goals should be to learn things once and use them forever.”

That’s when I started researching how to learn. I discovered meta-learning, also known as learning how to learn.

I was introduced to the science behind learning, different learning techniques, and how to take, store and catalog notes effectively for future use.

I found out how you can turn what you learn into knowledge that you can use and apply for the rest of your life.

Learning how to learn is a way of learning that goes beyond skill acquisition and knowledge-gathering. It’s about knowing how to be a lifelong learner, how to develop your potential, and develop higher levels of understanding.

It’s a form of learning that’s focused on why, when, and how you are learning.

Learning how to learn isn’t a passive task. It demands hard, intense focus. However, the rewards for this effort are great as it allows you to quickly develop skills that other people spend years unable to grasp.

In the last 10 years, my goal with learning has been to:

  1. Gain new or develop existing skills as an entrepreneur;
  2. Understand business ideas and insights; and
  3. Identify systems and processes to help scale my businesses.

During this time I’ve had more failures than successes.

Had I developed the skill of learning how to learn earlier in my career, I believe I would have had more successes than failures. That’s how much value I now place in meta-learning.

If you learn how to learn, it’s the ultimate meta skill and I believe you can learn how to be healthy, you can learn how to be fit, you can learn how to be happy, you can learn how to have good relationships, you can learn how to be successful.”
- Naval Ravikant

This article is a summary of the information I've read or watched about learning how to learn. My sources include online courses, YouTube videos, blog posts, and podcast episodes that have all been referenced at the end of the article.

I’m at the very beginning of my journey to learning how to learn.

I hope that reading this post encourages you to start yours.

Learning how to Learn: The ultimate meta-skill for self-improvement and achieving success with your health, wealth & relationships.

  • The Science of Learning
  • Learning Principles for Self Improvement
  • Learning Techniques for Personal Growth and Development
  • Key Takeaways
  • Resources

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The Science of Learning

Neurons + Long-Term Memory

When we learn, the problem isn’t storage capacity. Our long-term memory has more space than we can ever fill up. The problem is getting information into our long-term memory and making it stick.

To learn well, we need to create strong links in our long-term memory.

We have around 86 billion neurons in our brains. Neurons are the brain’s building blocks and every time we learn something, they connect to form a set of links in our long-term memory.

Depending on what we are learning, they’ll create short or complex sets of links. Learning the Spanish word for house, casa, is stored in a short set of links. Whereas the meaning of osmosis is stored in a more complex set of links.

When we think about something that we have learned, small electrical signals travel along the sets of links we have created. To learn something well, we need to create strong sets of links. If the links are not strong, they’ll break up and we’ll start forgetting.

The best way to learn is to test yourself using retrieval practice. For example, when you’re reading a book, close the book at the end of each chapter and try recalling as much as possible.

By doing this, you’re retrieving information from your own memory links. Every time you do this, you’re strengthening those links. Retrieval practice helps you learn new material faster and understand it more deeply.

Focused and Diffuse Mode

Our brains have two modes of thinking: focused and diffuse.

Focused mode is when we pay close attention to what we’re learning. Diffuse mode is when our minds wander while taking a walk or falling asleep.

As we learn, we alternate between focus and diffuse modes. We use focus mode when we’re concentrating hard on a problem. Switching to the diffuse mode by taking a break and not focusing on anything, allows our brain to solve the problem and connect ideas.

Focus mode builds and strengthens the new ideas and concepts that you’re learning. Diffuse mode helps you realize new insights and make connections when you’re struggling to find a solution.

Working Memory

Our working memory has very limited capacity and can only hold onto four simple concepts or ideas at any one time. This makes it difficult to hold a lot of information at once.

To learn something well, we need to store information effectively in our long-term memory. That way our working memory can access more complex pieces of information, even if it can only hold on to four things.

The more relevant information you have in your long-term memory, the less working memory you need when learning something new.

The best learning happens when our working memory is hard at work. That’s why it’s good to challenge yourself. Just be aware that overworking your working memory can lead to frustration

Taking notes when you learn something new also helps. The key to learning from your notes is reviewing them after your learning session.

I started taking proper notes after reading Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain book. In it, he refers to Progressive Summarisation, where you review and summarise your notes in layers.

This technique compliments Spaced Repetition Practice (see Learning Techniques section below) because every time I revisit my notes I add a layer of summarisation until I’ve identified and understood the key components of at I’m learning.

Declarative and Procedural Systems

Our learning is developed through two systems - the declarative system and the procedural system.

The declarative system learns through structure, explanations, and step-by-step examples.

The procedural system learns through immersion and recognizing patterns.

When we learn something new, we learn through the declarative system. Neural links are put in place quickly with the declarative system, but they are slow to use. Those links are developed and strengthened when we practice what we learn with the procedural system.

We learn faster and get more comfortable with the material we’re learning when we use the procedural system.

The declarative and procedural systems can learn the same information. They allow you to use that information differently. The declarative system uses slow and difficult thought, whereas the procedural system is quick and intuitive without thinking.

A good example of using both systems is learning a new language. As you start learning, you remember words through the declarative system. You remember words and form sentences, but it’s slow and difficult.

The more you practice and develop your understanding, you learn language patterns and begin to speak without having to concentrate on what you’re saying.

To enhance the declarative and procedural links in your long-term memory, use a Spaced Repetition Practice, referred to in the Learning Techniques section below.

Learning Principles for Self Improvement

Plan your Learning

Approach learning with a well-designed plan. This is one of the biggest changes I’ve made to how I learn.

I used to rush into learning something new and as soon as I encountered difficulties, I’d get frustrated and give up.

Now I create a personal development plan (PDP) at the start of each year. It outlines what I want to learn, the timeline, and the key learning outcome.

A good learning plan should include:

  1. Schedule learning in chunks and make them a priority.
  2. Constraints limit what you’re learning and how you’re going to learn it. Constraints make it easier to learn because they eliminate distractions.
  3. Limiting your materials and methods. Choose a handful of key resources and methods to start learning. After you’ve exhausted those, start branching out.

Focus + Productivity

We learn more effectively when we avoid multitasking.

Task switching, like checking emails in between reading, activates another part of your brain. This takes time and effort, known as ‘switching costs'', which wastes time and makes you less productive. The more you switch, the higher the cost.

Knowing how to focus and be productive helps you to learn more comprehensively. This can be achieved by:

  1. Eliminate Distractions. Work without your phone, TV, or distractions. During breaks, do something relaxing like meditating or going for a walk.
  2. Schedule your learning. By planning your learning in advance you organize your priorities. Use timeboxing to schedule your day and create time for your learning.
  3. Train your focus. Start small and progressively build up. If you can only focus for 15 minutes at a time, aim for 20 minutes. Gradually develop your focus for learning like a new habit. As you get better, you’ll be able to sustain longer periods of concentration.

Feedback Cycles

Feedback cycles help you understand where you can improve. Use what you learn to identify gaps in your knowledge and understanding. These are the areas where you need to focus your learning.

Faster feedback is faster learning, so go through feedback cycles often. Try to improve the accuracy of your feedback as well so you’ll need fewer cycles to make corrections.


“Overlearning refers to practicing newly acquired skills beyond the point of initial mastery.”

Practicing beyond what you need to perform a skill helps to improve your ability to retain that skill. Scientists call this overlearning.

There are two ways you can use this:

  1. Overlearn the most useful components of the skill you’re practicing; and
  2. To maintain this as a skill for life, practice it beyond where you feel you’re not seeing improvement anymore.

Sleep + Exercise

Sleep is important when we are learning a new subject as it enhances the learning achieved during the day. Sleeping enables our diffuse mode to come alive and identify new neural connections that arise from our learning.

Exercise can help to speed up our learning because it helps the brain produce BDNF, a protein that encourages the growth of new neurons and synapses. Regular exercise is best, although it’s unknown which type of exercise is the most effective.

20 minutes of exercise before studying improves concentration and helps you focus on what you’re learning. Whereas exercising 4 hours after learning something improves your ability to retain the information you learn.

Learning Style

Neil Flemings’ VARK model, which stands for Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, or Kinesthetic learning, has historically been used to figure out your learning style.

I was curious about my preferred learning style and took this free test. I’m a multimodal learner with a preference for Reading/Writing and Kinesthetic.

VARK Results

However, existing research has found that matching teaching methods with learning styles has no influence on your learning outcome. What’s more important is using learning strategies that maximize your recall.

Using science-backed techniques like spaced repetition, testing yourself on the material and immersive learning have a greater impact on your ability to learn something effectively and commit it to your long-term memory.

Learning Techniques for Personal Growth and Development

Active Learning

Active learning means practicing what you learn. By using that knowledge regularly to answer questions, solve problems or use it some other way, you’re applying what you’re learned.

The opposite of active learning is passive studying, where you’re just re-reading notes, skimming textbooks, or consuming online or in-person content.

By compressing as much information as possible and learning it over a defined period of time, you can start to put it into practice as quickly as possible. When you don’t understand or you’re unable to apply something in practice, that’s when you go back and re-read your notes.

Acronyms, Mental Images + Memory Palace

Acronyms are powerful because they combine many words into one. To form an acronym, you have to play around with the order of the words to find the most memorable combination.

If that doesn’t work, you can use a mental image for the word you’re trying to remember. 50% of our neocortex is devoted to processing visual information, meaning we have a powerful memory for remembering images.

The most well-known technique for remembering images is the Memory Place frequently used by Sherlock Holmes. It uses your spatial memory and images that can be recalled through association.

You can build your own Memory Palace by choosing a familiar space (like your living room) and visualizing the things you want to remember in the place of various objects in that space.

I learned these techniques during Jim Kwik’s Kwik Recall training and their effectiveness is astounding.


Chunking consists of breaking down what you want to learn into smaller, more manageable chunks. This method is particularly useful when you’re feeling overwhelmed by what you’re trying to learn.

After mastering each chunk, you can combine them to form the bigger picture of what you want to learn. Applying what you’ve learned through chunking (see Active Learning above) is an important step, as it consolidates the knowledge of what you’ve learned.

Feynman Technique

The Feynman Technique

I was introduced to this technique by Thomas Frank and the Farnam Street blog.

The Feynman Technique helps you develop a deeper understanding of what you are learning. Richard Feynman was a Nobel prize-winning physicist with an ability to explain complicated subjects in simple terms.

There are four key steps to the technique:

  1. Choose the subject you want to learn: Take out a blank sheet of paper and write down everything you know about the subject. As you learn more about the subject, add it to the sheet. Once you think you understand it, move to step 2.
  2. Explain it to a 12-year-old: Use your sheet of paper as a reference and remove any jargon and complexity. Only use simple words that a child would understand.
  3. Reflect, Refine and Simplify: Review your notes and make sure they don’t contain any jargon or gloss over anything complicated. Go back to the source material and learn anything you don’t quite understand. Repeat until you have a simpler explanation.
  4. Organize and Review: Test your understanding by running it by someone else. How effective was your explanation? What questions did they ask? Where did they get confused? Create a simple explanation of your notes when you’re happy with your understanding.

Hard Start Technique

The Hard Start technique uses both focused and diffuse modes of learning.

When learning something new, review the outline of what you are learning and identify the most challenging topics or subject matters for you to learn.

Start by learning one of these challenging topics and when you get stuck, move to an easier one. After spending time learning some easier topics, go back to the more challenging ones and you’ll find yourself making progress.

While you’re working on the easier topics, your brain is working on the more challenging topic behind the scenes.

This technique is particularly useful for tougher questions or problems on tests. Start with the toughest question and move to easier questions when you get stuck. Once you’ve answered a few of these, return to the tough question and continue working on it.

Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is super simple and helps to sharpen focus.

All you have to do is set a timer for 25 minutes and work intently the whole time, without distraction. Then take a 5-minute break. If you get into flow during the session, extend the time. The technique is quite flexible.

I work in sessions that are between 45-90 minutes long after learning about our body’s ultradian rhythm on the Huberman Lab podcast. The ultradian rhythm governs our ability to focus and works in 90-minute cycles. By working in synch with your ultradian rhythm you enhance your productivity and output.

However, focusing for too long without a break will overwhelm your brain and diminish your ability to retain information in your long-term memory.

Taking a break after focusing intently for a period of time will help to transfer information to your long-term memory. This works best when you’re relaxed and doing something mindless. So try to avoid doing anything that requires focus like checking emails and social media.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is a great technique for helping you build strong links in your long-term memory.

Instead of just reading and re-reading the same information over and over again to try and commit it to memory, test yourself on it. Try to retrieve the information from your own memory.

A powerful way to do this is by using flashcards. Write down what you want to memorize on one side and the explanation on the other side. Go through your flashcards and try to retrieve what’s on the other side.

For a deeper dive into learning anything with flashcards, check out this ultimate guide by Ali Abdaal.

Whether you’re learning with flashcards or any other approach, it’s important to space out your sessions over several days, which leads us to our final learning technique.

Spaced Repetition Practice

Learning research is clear: spacing out your practice results in much stronger, longer memories than bunching it together in one session.

You create stronger links by breaking your learning into smaller periods of time (like chunking), spaced out over several days. Learning over several days instead of one intense session enables your brain to retain the information by reinforcing neural connections.

One way to do this is to frequently test yourself on the material you’ve already learned.  Frequent practice after first learning something will reinforce your memories and help your knowledge last longer.

Key Takeaways

Investing in yourself is one of the most important decisions you can ever make.

By learning how to learn, you’re increasing the return on that investment, which can impact your life, your business, and your career. As you develop more skills, abilities, insights, and capacity, you’re increasing your chances of financial freedom and living the life that you want.

From my perspective as an entrepreneur, learning how to learn is especially important.

Success in business means being very good at skills that matter in a particular market or industry. The ability to identify those skills and develop them enables you to create more value. Businesses that produce more value have more bargaining leverage, can charge higher prices, and generate bigger profits.

Taking the time to identify your entrepreneurial skills and getting exceptional at them will be incredibly valuable for your business.

Learning how to learn may start off as a tool to learn better. It can help you understand how the world works, your place in it, and your beliefs about life. Learning how to learn can be the key that opens doors that will completely change your life.

If you want to become a lifelong learner, make learning how to learn a habit.

All you have to do is start.