I was picked up by my neck and thrown over a table backwards, but this wasn’t some pub incident in adulthood. I was 9. It was a teacher.
It was the same teacher that told me over and over again that I was many things that, let’s say, were not pleasant. Needless to say, I did not enjoy school and learning very much.
I think I need to rewind and give a bit of context.
When I was nine years old I was picked up by my neck and thrown over a table backwards by a teacher in front of the whole school during lunch. I remember it really hurt but the pain was nothing compared to the shame I felt. I must’ve been a pretty naughty kid, right?
Actually I was dyslexic, had ADHD, Irlen syndrome, dyspraxia and I was also scared and ashamed most of the time.
This was just one event from my childhood schooling. My teacher continuously told me I was stupid over and over again. Actually his words were much worse than stupid. To say I was ashamed would be an understatement.
In truth this has haunted me for most of my life.
I was so ashamed I didn’t even tell my parents. Because in my mind the teacher was right, I am stupid. Or so I thought. This is the silver lining part because this was to become one of the best things that have ever happened to me.
From a nightmare, came a dream. It propelled me to find a formula to completely upgrade my brain and become a super learner. Since I was 9, almost everything I have done has been a journey towards being a super learner.
Over 30 years later, I’ve been a chartered accountant, I’ve become trilingual and have never spoken a word of English to my children, only French and Spanish. I read a book a week and now I teach others how to learn and upgrade their brains while they create the career of their dreams.
What I’m trying to say here is if we want to do it and if we go for it we can upgrade our brain in a really epic way.
My aim with this article is to show you how anyone can become a super learner and for you to get to the end and think “That is so simple, I can start doing that today.”
What is a Super Learner?
There are undoubtedly many thoughts on what this term might mean, but for me it is simply the ability to learn any subject or skill quickly and thoroughly.
It’s pretty easy to learn quickly, but retaining that knowledge indefinitely is the slightly harder part.
The key is to simplify the way you do it, learn purposefully and make it fun.
I want to take you through a method that I have been refining since I was 9 (I might not have known it at that age, but the process did start then). It takes into account your awareness, beliefs, restrictions life puts on you and your brain’s ability to learn.
Step 1 – Awareness and Belief:
In order to break the limiting factor of your own personal version of my teacher, you’ll need to know what that limiting factor is.
That might be a traumatic event or anyone who has told you you’re not enough or you are stupid. It might be seemingly insignificant, such as a tiny thought in your head that keeps telling yourself that you’re just not capable.
Learn from the most difficult things you’ve experienced and know that they are often the things that create amazing transformations.
I want to do a quick exercise:
Close your eyes and ask yourself “who or what has put a limiting idea on my abilities”. Locate those faces or voices or events that come into your mind. See them clearly.
Now tell them, “You have no power over me.”
One more time, “You have no power over me.”
I have completely taken that from the film Labyrinth (I love that film). Let those characters that hold you back fade away, like David Bowie’s character did.
It is a powerful, yet simple technique to help you take back some control.
I know you can upgrade your brain in a very exciting way, because I’ve been through the journey.
At my darkest hour, my dad believed in me and took a week off from his work to teach me. His learning style was somewhat interesting; it was a sort of quantity thing – work 8 hours a day and something positive will happen, surely? Nevertheless, he believed in me.
You will be pleased to know I have refined my approach a touch since then, but the big thing for me was having belief that I would find a way. Sometimes, you get that from someone believing in you first.
So, I believe in you, whatever it is that you would love to do, you can do it, you can learn it.
Believing that you’re not fixed as you are makes a huge impact and it’s actually 50% of the journey. For those of you who want more science or if you do not believe me or if you are just not a fan of the film Labyrinth, there is a scientific side too.
The field of neuroplasticity is where this subject is studied and they find that our behaviours have a huge influence over how our brain develops, even in adulthood. There is a fantastic TED talk by Dr Lara Boyd that introduces this idea perfectly.
The brain is a muscle and it is important to exercise it regularly, just as we might run to build our physical fitness.
Are you ready to build the brain you want? I will take that as a yes. Now you are over 50% of the way towards being a super learner!
Step 2 – Upgrade Your Time
Now for more of the practical side of super learning. You don’t need to be superhuman to be a super learner, actually it is quite simple.
If I tell you I read one book a week and I don’t spend any of my precious free time doing it, what would you think?
I love boring things like washing up, painting and decorating, tidying? I am going to help you love these things too.
I upgrade dull time into learning time.
Trust me, you have time. I am a parent of 3 kids, I coach 20+ people a week and I have a never-ending list of things to do, often not relaxing until after 10 pm.
So when I’m off doing my tidying, organising, cooking, commuting, I’m also listening to audiobooks, I’m dictating ideas into my phone, I’m watching educational videos.
The brilliant part of this upgrade is that you are turning a boring task into a learning task and therefore you see the learning as more fun than it might otherwise have been. You get to learn from the masters of self development or whatever area of interest you want to choose and it is taking your attention away from a boring task.
Attaching emotions such as joy to your learning, have a big impact on memory retention too. It’s a win, win situation!
While you tidy up the kids’ toys, you can be learning how to upgrade your career or learning about ancient Rome or how to develop a morning routine or why bees are important.
It doesn’t have to be restricted to this upgraded time though, one of my favourite questions is “What can I learn from this?” and I might be asking myself that several times a day, in many varied situations. Life is one big lesson and the more we learn from everything we experience, the better it gets.
Step 3 – Maximising Your Upgraded Time
Change the goalposts of how you take information in and process it.
I am a big believer in the power of books. It seems a little old hat but, if you think about the concept of a book, it is a record of one person’s specialised knowledge that they have given to the world.
If you can find the right books, extract knowledge from them in the right way and retain that knowledge then there is an almost infinite amount you can learn from books.
How many just sit on the shelf half read and instantly forgotten? I have a self improvement library at home that I barely touched!
You start with such good intentions and then life finds something else to distract you before you’ve even read 50 pages. Another book comes along that you just have to read. Before you know it you have 10 half-read books.
Here is what I did to change things around:
I listen to a book.
I would prefer to read, but with kids, a busy job and the many distractions in the world there was no chance I would stick to it as regularly as I wanted to.
Before you cry ‘expensive!’, I only spend £10 a month for all the books I could ever get through. An Audible subscription gives you the opportunity to treat it like a library, swapping books in and out when you want.
I feel investing in your growth, happiness and future success is worth at least £10 a month!
I add in an extra element of efficiency by having a Blinkist subscription too. I can listen to a summary in 12 mins and get most of what is important out of a book. If I want to go a bit deeper, I’ll listen to the full book on Audible.
But you don’t have to eliminate proper reading entirely, in fact it can benefit your learning to mix things up. What I love to do is have a fiction book on the go that I can pick up and put down for another fun element when I have time. Even if it’s just a chapter before sleep.
I remove the perfect image of reading a book.
It’s tempting to note down every useful bit of information from a book, but now I focus on the top things in the book that can really change my life. If it’s good enough you will usually remember and if not it’s somewhere there within your subconscious to be triggered.
All the time information is triggered in my mind and I’m not sure where it’s come from but it’s fun to have highly useful information for a lot of different topics swimming around.
Allow yourself to skip books if it’s just not happening for you. Keep that interest and excitement up by only listening to books that you enjoy.
If a book stands out as being particularly influential with a lot of important knowledge for you, read it again. It is far better reading a great book 10 times than reading 10 mediocre books.
I listen fast!
I listen at two times the speed on English books and one and a half in French and Spanish. You get used to it and then it gets you trained to take in information quickly. Start speeding it up gently. The moment you realise it has become comfortable, speed it up!
Listening to audio at 25% faster doesn’t make much of a difference, but do that four weeks in a row and you’ve reached twice the speed you originally listened at.
I choose my books wisely.
Direct book choices towards learning away any weaknesses or pain. But also build on your strengths.
Use the tools that were made to help you acquire knowledge. Google is constantly getting better at knowing what you want and there are a plethora of amazing books in any area you could be interested in. The cream usually rises to the top through consumer reviews.
Goodreads is a great resource for book recommendations. You can keep track of the books you’ve read and you’ll be automatically recommended books that suit you. There are thousands of book reviews, author insights and top book lists to help you out.
Get super-concise in your learning with a book summary tool like Blinkist.
As I mentioned, they provide 12 min summaries of the key takeaways from a book (that’s 8 mins at 1.5x speed for me of course!). Using the thought process I covered earlier about taking the few most powerful insights from each book, it’s almost as if your super learning just got ultrasonic!
I mix things up now and then.
I am most often learning about personal development but I try to mix in other creative, fun and useful learning too.
I taught myself French and Spanish, I practice drawing, I learn to exercise in different ways, I learn to tell my children stories in a compelling way, I learn to play music.
Linking fun and learning, such as time spent with children and friends, helps bring emotion into the process of learning. This supercharges your ability to retain the information as well as motivating you to carry on learning indefinitely.
I take action with my new knowledge.
There is no use having all this information if you’re not doing anything with it. Choose the top one point for each book to add into your life. Use it to make your life better.
Before my third child was born, I read all of the top books on natural birth over a weekend while I was painting our house. This allowed me to give my wife her perfect birth at home.
Use what you need at that time to direct your learning so it can be highly useful to you and directed toward your current circumstances. Your brain learns even more effectively if you can use what you have learnt to trial and test in real life.
I share my learning with others.
Find those people who you know love reading the same things as you. They could be friends, your partner, or people you meet virtually in a Facebook group. Listen to the book and talk about it together later so you’re all accountable to reading that really cool book which is relevant to you all.
Teach each other and teach people you think will benefit from it too. You only truly understand a subject when you are able to teach it to someone else.
Let’s recap a little bit, because I’m conscious that I’ve thrown lots of actions at you and want you to really understand the simplicity of it all.
- Listen to books.
- Take only what you need from a book.
- Listen fast.
- Choose wisely.
- Put new knowledge into action.
- Learn with others and teach others.
Step 4 – Increase Your Learning Capacity
The aim here is to create a structure that increases your creativity and focus and stimulates your energy.
To get to a whole new level of learning, super learning, you need to combine your intake of knowledge with a healthy body and mind.
Learning is not just about the time you put into acquiring and embedding knowledge, it is also about giving your mind and body the best chance of getting the most out of it.
Exercise not only strengthens your body but improves brain function. When you have a moment, check another TED talk by Wendy Suzuki on the brain-changing benefits of exercise.
If you’ve just shut off at the word exercise, let me tell you that I sometimes only do 4 mins a day. It’s just really targeted and intensified.
Would it have too much of an impact on your life to do 4 min of exercise a day? Depending on your level of fitness it could be anything from a quick walk outside up to a quick burst of push-ups.
I often do the same with meditation. Any spare 5 minute break and I jump at the chance to clear my mind.
I eat a natural and varied diet. Want a better diet in one, short sentence? Eat more vegetables and drink more water.
We often know what works really well for us but are so busy we do not end up adding them into our days. Make it as simple as you can so that it’s harder not to do it. It’s impossible to work or learn all day straight, you know you need breaks, so make good use of them and turn them into power breaks.
To begin with, try adding in one thing that will improve your body or mind each morning and afternoon and you are off to a performance-enhancing start.
Whatever your pain, whatever your challenges are, I want you to know you can upgrade.
I’ve read hundreds of books over the last 10 years. I can honestly say it’s changed my life. It’s like having a team of therapists, mentors, friends in every new direction that I wanted to go or just to experiment and understand more about other areas.
It was a guide to each new thing I wanted to explore and then a guide for the action steps from then on.
I’m not saying that you have to read hundreds of books, just things that really stand out to you and give you the opportunity to grow.
My method hopefully means a few less books collecting dust on the shelf and a few less dull moments doing chores because you’ve turned them into something a lot more interesting and exciting!
What is it you’ve always wanted to do? I know you can do it, I help people to do it all of the time, it’s a matter of belief and learning intelligently.
So I say thank you to my teacher for picking me up by the neck.
I thank him for helping me to become a super learner.
I thank him for helping me share this with you which has become my dream since I was 9 years old.