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ULTRALEARNING: A strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.

This book really hit the spot for me. It combines learning, productivity, and doing things in unconventional ways to increase effectiveness. There was no way I was not going to read this. I think I learnt about it from a mention by Cal Newport somewhere. It has a similar feel to his own writing.

I found much of the advice matched my own experience of language learning: while I didn't have names for the principles, I definitely used a lot of them.

Examples of ultralearners in the text are not just from language learning, but also public speaking, the authors’ own experience learning of the MIT curriculum, chess, drawing, etc. The anecdotes are actually useful in giving examples of the principles in use, not just sprinkled through the text as filler.

The author touches lightly on many different learning tools, but the focus is more on the principles held in common by these learners. The idea is that regardless of what you're studying, you can use the same principles to learn more quickly and more effectively than you would in a traditional school environment period (not a high bar, maybe). With self directed learning, staying motivated is often the bottleneck, and this book delivers plenty of motivation (enough to get you started, probably not enough to keep you plugging away for a few months, you have to work that part out yourself).

I am also reminded how good we have it right now. Learning a language has never been so easy. You can consume foreign media 24/7, for free, without needing to be in the country (although that does help a lot still). Anki, sub2srs, podcasts, youtube, newspaper websites, blogs, online chat, etc. etc.

Upon finishing I couldn’t wait to design your own project and become fluent in some new skill. It made me feel nostalgic for my language learning days. I already have a couple of pages of notes written for a “learn to write better” project. Worst case scenario, my writing improves. (Best case scenario, nobel prize?)



Location: 77 He had catapulted to internet fame one year prior by learning the entire MIT undergraduate computer science curriculum and passing all of the final tests in less than a year—four years’ worth of classes in under twelve months. I had seen the TEDx Talk summarizing his experience, […] But there was something else about Scott’s projects that resonated with me on a deeper level: he had a bias toward action. […] My point is that Scott’s method works. By following the techniques he lays out in this book, I was able to build a writing career, create a successful business, and, ultimately, write a New York Times bestselling book. When I released Atomic Habits, it was the culmination of years of work centered around the process of ultralearning.

Location: 133 Second, deep learning is how you get outsized returns. The simple truth is most people will never intensely study your area of interest. Doing so—even if it’s just for a few months—will help you stand out. And once you stand out, you can get a better job, negotiate for a higher salary or more free time, network with more interesting people, and otherwise level up your personal and professional life. Ultralearning helps you develop leverage that you can use elsewhere.

CHAPTER 1 Can You Get an MIT Education Without Going to MIT?

Location: 166 Except that I was not an MIT student. In fact, I had never even been to Massachusetts. All of this was taking place in my bedroom, twenty-five hundred miles away in Vancouver, Canada. And although an MIT student typically covers the entirety of multivariate calculus over a semester, I had started only five days before.

Location: 382 That project, which my friend and I titled “The Year Without English,” was simple. We’d go to four countries, three months each. The plan in each country was straightforward: no speaking English, either with each other or with anyone we’d meet, from the first day. From there we’d see how much we could learn before our tourist visas ran out and we were pushed to a new destination.

Location: 405 Most people think they sit in the top two-thirds of the head. In truth, they’re more typically halfway between the top of the head and the chin. To overcome these and other biases, I did sketches based on pictures. Then I would take a photo of the sketch with my phone and overlay the original image on top of my drawing. Making the photo semitransparent allowed me to see immediately whether the head was too narrow or wide, the lips too low or too high or whether I had put the eyes in the right spot. I did this hundreds of times, employing the same rapid feedback strategies that had served me well with MIT classes. Applying this and other strategies, I was able to get a lot better at drawing portraits in a short period of time (see below

> "below" is amazing

Location: 430 Other ultralearners shed the conventional structures of exams and degrees altogether. Trent Fowler, starting in early 2016, embarked on a yearlong effort to become proficient in engineering and mathematics. He titled it the STEMpunk Project, a play on the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics he wanted to cover and the retrofuturistic steampunk aesthetic. Fowler split his project into modules. Each module covered a particular topic, including computation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and engineering, but was driven by hands-on projects instead of copying formal classes.

Location: 435 Some, like Tamu, preferred punishing, full-time schedules to meet harsh, self-imposed deadlines. Others, like Jaunzeikare, managed their projects on the side while maintaining full-time jobs and work obligations. Some aimed at the recognizable benchmarks of standardized exams, formal curricula, and winning competitions. Others designed projects that defied comparison. Some specialized, focusing exclusively on languages or programming. Others desired to be true polymaths, picking up a highly varied set of skills.

Location: 443 The ultralearners I met were often unaware of one another. In writing this book, I wanted to bring together the common principles I observed in their unique projects and in my own. I wanted to strip away all the superficial differences and strange idiosyncrasies and see what learning advice remains. I also wanted to generalize from their extreme examples something an ordinary student or professional can find useful.

Location: 449 What if you could create a project to quickly learn the skills to transition to a new role, project, or even profession? What if you could master an important skill for your work, as Eric Barone did?

CHAPTER 2 Why Ultralearning Matters

Location: 461 ULTRALEARNING: A strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.

Location: 482 The first reason is for your work. You already expend much of your energy working to earn a living. In comparison, ultralearning is a small investment, even if you went so far as to temporarily make it a full-time commitment. However, rapidly learning hard skills can have a greater impact than years of mediocre striving on the job.

Location: 539 Consider learning a new language, such as Chinese. A half century ago, learners needed to consult cumbersome paper dictionaries, which made learning to read a nightmare. Today’s learner has spaced-repetition systems to memorize vocabulary, document readers that translate with the tap of a button, voluminous podcast libraries offering endless opportunities for practice, and translation apps that smooth the transition to immersion. This rapid change in technology means that many of the best ways of learning old subjects have yet to be invented or rigorously applied. The space of learning possibilities is immense, just waiting for ambitious autodidacts to come up with new ways to exploit it.

> Yes!

Location: 567 Professional success, however, was rarely the thing that motivated the ultralearners I met—including those who ended up making the most money from their new skills. Instead it was a compelling vision of what they wanted to do, a deep curiosity, or even the challenge itself that drove them forward. Eric Barone didn’t pursue his passion in solitude for five years to become a millionaire but because he wanted the satisfaction of creating something that perfectly matched his vision.

Location: 634 The third way is to integrate ultralearning principles into the time and energy you already devote to learning. Think about the last business book you read or the time you tried to pick up Spanish, pottery, or programming. What about that new software you needed to learn for work? Those professional development hours you need to log to maintain your certification? Ultralearning doesn’t have to be an additional activity; it can inform the time you already spend learning. How can you align the learning and studies you already need to do with the principles for maximizing effectiveness?

CHAPTER 3 How to Become an Ultralearner

Location: 655 The context of his email was that although I had met and documented dozens of people accomplishing strange and intriguing learning feats, the meetings had been largely after the fact. They were people I had met or heard about after their successes, not before; observations of successes, not experiments that generated them. As a result, it was hard to tell exactly how accessible this ultralearning thing was.

Location: 660 To test this, I put together a small group of about a dozen people (mostly readers of my blog) who were interested in giving this ultralearning thing a shot. […] De Montebello practiced obsessively, sometimes speaking twice in one day. He recorded a video of every speech and analyzed it obsessively for flaws. He asked for feedback every time he gave a speech, and he got plenty of it. […] His relentless drive pushed de Montebello into unusual places. He took improv classes to work on his spontaneous delivery. […] Diverse advice and voluminous practice would soak those lessons in deeply, allowing de Montebello to quickly surpass his early awkwardness on the stage. After a month, de Montebello won his area competition, beating out a competitor with two decades of experience in Toastmasters. He won his district and division competitions, too. Finally, less than seven months after he first tried his hand at public speaking, he was going to compete in the World Championships.

Location: 727 What differentiated de Montebello wasn’t that he thought he could go from near-zero experience to the finalist for the World Championship in six months. Rather, it was his obsessive work ethic. His goal wasn’t to reach some predetermined extreme but to see how far he could go. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and embark on a path that will take you quite far. But even the failure mode of ultralearning is usually that you will learn a skill fairly well.

Location: 732 What de Montebello’s example encapsulated for me was not only that you can become an ultralearner but that such successes are far from being the inevitable consequences of having a particular kind of genius or talent. Had de Montebello focused on piano instead, his experience with giving speeches would probably have remained that one awkward example from his days in Paris.

> Also, it is likely easier to quickly rise in some worlds than others. Piano is a very busy niche. Judgment of piano skill is rather objective. It would probably have been much harder to reach a competition-winning level in piano in a year.

The principles

Location: 750 Metalearning: First Draw a Map. Start by learning how to learn the subject or skill you want to tackle. Discover 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

Location: 753 Directness: Go Straight Ahead. Learn by doing the thing you want to become good at. Don’t trade it off for other tasks, just because those are more convenient or comfortable. Drill: Attack Your Weakest Point. Be ruthless in improving your weakest points. Break down complex skills into small parts; then master those parts and build them back together again.

Location: 756 Retrieval: Test to Learn. Testing 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. Know 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.

Location: 759 Retention: Don’t Fill a Leaky Bucket. 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 through play and exploration of concepts and skills. Understand how understanding works, and don’t recourse to cheap tricks of memorization to avoid deeply knowing things.

Location: 763 Experimentation: Explore Outside Your Comfort Zone. All of these principles are only starting points. True mastery comes not just from following the path trodden by others but from exploring possibilities they haven’t yet imagined.

Location: 769 Better yet, have there been controlled experiments comparing one approach to learning with another? The scientific research supports many of the learning strategies employed by the ultralearners I witnessed. This suggests that ultralearners, with their ruthless focus on efficiency and effectiveness, may have landed on some universal principles in the art of learning.

CHAPTER 4 PRINCIPLE 1 Metalearning

Location: 810 The character 灶, for example which means “stove,” has a 火 on the left-hand side to indicate that it has some relationship to fire. Learning this property of Chinese characters is metalearning—not learning about the object of your inquiry itself, in this case words and phrases, but learning about how knowledge is structured and acquired within this subject; in other words, learning how to learn it.

Location: 828 Being able to see how a subject works, what kinds of skills and information must be mastered, and what methods are available to do so more effectively is at the heart of success of all ultralearning projects. Metalearning thus forms the map, showing you how to get to your destination without getting lost.

Location: 850 Over the short term, you can do research to focus on improving your metalearning before and during a learning project. Ultralearning, owing to its intensity and self-directed nature, has the opportunity for a lot higher variance than normal schooling efforts do. A good ultralearning project, with excellent materials and an awareness of what needs to be learned, has the potential to be completed faster than formal schooling. Language learning through intensive immersion can beat lengthy classes. […] there’s also a danger of choosing unwisely and ending up much worse off. Metalearning research avoids this problem and helps you seek out points where you might even be able to get a significant advantage over the status quo.

Location: 866 find it useful to break down metalearning research that you do for a specific project into three questions: “Why?,” “What?,” and “How?” “Why?” refers to understanding your motivation to learn. If you know exactly why you want to learn a skill or subject, you can save a lot of time by focusing your project on exactly what matters most to you. “What?” refers to the knowledge and abilities you’ll need to acquire in order to be successful. Breaking things down into concepts, facts, and procedures can enable you to map out what obstacles you’ll face and how best to overcome them. “How?” refers to the resources, environment, and methods you’ll use when learning. Making careful choices here can make a big difference in your overall effectiveness.

Location: 884 If you’re pursuing a project for mostly instrumental reasons, it’s often a good idea to do an additional step of research: determining whether learning the skill or topic in question will actually help you achieve your goal. I’ve often heard stories of people unhappy with their career progress who decide that attending graduate school is the answer. If only they had an MBA or an MA, employers would take them more seriously, they think, and they’d have the career they desire. So they go off to school for two years, rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and discover that their newly minted credentials don’t actually get them much better job opportunities than before.

Location: 904 Most experts are more than willing to offer advice and are flattered by the thought that someone wants to learn from their experience. The key is to write a simple, to-the-point email, explaining why you’re reaching out to them and asking if they could spare fifteen minutes to answer some simple questions. Make the email concise and nonthreatening. Don’t ask for more than fifteen minutes or for ongoing mentorship.

> I wonder if this is still the case with writing, it feels busier than piano even.

Location: 917 you can start looking at how the knowledge in your subject is structured. A good way to do this is to write down on a sheet of paper three columns with the headings “Concepts,” “Facts,” and “Procedures.” Then brainstorm all the things you’ll need to learn. It doesn’t matter if the list is perfectly complete or accurate at this stage. You can always revise it later. Your goal here is to get a rough first pass. Once you start learning, you can adjust the list if you discover that your categories aren’t quite right.

Location: 925 In general, if something needs to be understood, not just memorized, I put it into this column instead of the second column for facts.

> (Concept column)

Location: 926 Facts In the second column, write down anything that needs to be memorized. Facts are anything that suffices if you can remember them at

Location: 930 Procedures In the third column, write down anything that needs to be practiced. Procedures are actions that need to be performed and may not involve much conscious thinking at all. Learning to ride a bicycle, for instance,

Location: 933 Learning new vocabulary in a language requires memorizing facts, but pronunciation requires practice and therefore belongs in this column.

Location: 943 You might look at some of the particular features of the concepts, facts, and procedures you’re trying to learn to find methods to master them more effectively. When I started my portrait-drawing challenge, for instance, I knew that success would depend highly on how accurately I could size and place facial features. Most people can’t draw realistic faces because if those attributes are off even slightly (such as making a face too wide or the eyes too high), they will instantly look wrong to our sophisticated ability to recognize faces. Therefore, I got the idea of doing lots and lots of sketches and comparing them by overlaying the reference photos. That way I could quickly diagnose what kinds of errors I was making without having to guess.

Location: 953 Benchmarking The way to start any learning project is by finding the common ways in which people learn the skill or subject. This can help you design a default strategy as a starting point.

Location: 957 When I wanted to learn more about cognitive science, I found a list of textbooks that the University of San Diego’s Cognitive Science doctoral program recommends for incoming students without cognitive science backgrounds.

Location: 961 If I’m trying to learn a nonacademic subject or a professional skill, I’ll probably instead do online searches for people who have previously learned that skill or use the Expert Interview Method to focus on resources available for mastering that subject. An hour spent searching online for almost any skill should turn up courses, articles, and recommendations for how to learn it. Investing the time here can have incredible benefits because the quality of the materials you use can create orders-of-magnitude differences in your effectiveness. Even if you’re eager to start learning right away, investing a few hours now can save you dozens or hundreds later on.

Location: 970 The Emphasize/Exclude Method involves first finding areas of study that align with the goals you identified in the first part of your research. If you’re learning French with the idea of going to Paris for two weeks and speaking in shops and restaurants, I would focus a lot more on pronunciation than being able to spell correctly. If you’re learning programming solely to make your own app, I’d focus on the inner workings of app development more than theories of computation.

Location: 975 For example, one common recommendation for learning Mandarin Chinese, advocated by people such as the renowned linguist and Sinologist Victor Mair, is to focus on learning to speak before you try to read characters. This isn’t the only route available, but if your main goal is to speak, then this path to fluency might be more effective.

> (I know this is just an example, but I strongly disagree, even if you only want to speak. You cannot reach fluency without understanding the written language underlying the spoken)

Location: 981 However, research can also be a way of procrastinating, particularly if the method of learning is uncomfortable. Just doing a bit more research then becomes a strategy to avoid doing the work of learning.

> Oh yes

Location: 984 You know when you’re procrastinating, so just get started.

Location: 984 The 10 Percent Rule A good rule of thumb is that you should invest approximately 10 percent of your total expected learning time into research prior to starting. If you expect to spend six months learning, roughly four hours per week, that would be equal to roughly one hundred hours, which suggests that you should spend about ten hours, or two weeks, doing your research.

> Quite a lot, more than I might intuitively go for?

Location: 989 The goal here isn’t to exhaust every learning possibility but simply to make sure you haven’t latched onto the first possible resource or method without thinking through alternatives.

Location: 1,015 Each project you do will improve your general metalearning. Every project has the opportunity to teach you new learning methods, new ways to gather resources, better time management, and improved skills for managing your motivation. Success in one project will give you confidence to execute your next one with boldness and without self-doubt and procrastination. Ultimately, this effect far outweighs the effect of doing a specific project. Unfortunately, it’s also something that can’t be boiled down to a tactic or tool. Long-term metalearning is just something you acquire with experience.

Location: 1,021 Many of the ultralearners I interviewed for this book told me a similar story: that they were proud of their accomplishments in individual projects but that the real benefit had been that they now understood the process of learning hard things. That gave them the confidence to pursue other ambitious goals that they wouldn’t have even considered previously.

> Wonder if languages have done this for me? I don't feel they have, although I would be confident in my ability to learn another language quickly – just not in learning other things.


Location: 1,052 Peering deeper, another picture of Somerville emerges. She had a keen intellect, yes, but what she possessed in even greater quantities was an exceptional ability to focus. As an adolescent, when she was put to bed and denied a candle for reading, she would mentally work through the works of Euclid in mathematics.

Location: 1,060 In the realm of great intellectual accomplishments an ability to focus quickly and deeply is nearly ubiquitous.

Location: 1,065 However remarkable this is, I’m more interested in the kind of focus that Somerville seemed to possess. How can one in an environment such as hers, with constant distractions, little social support, and continuous obligations, manage to focus long enough not only to learn an impressive breadth of subjects, but to such depths that the French mathematician Siméon Poisson once remarked that “there were not twenty men in France who could read [her] book”?

Location: 1,074 For some people, procrastination is the constant state of their lives, running away from one task to another until deadlines force them to focus and then having to struggle to get the job done on time. Other people struggle with more acute forms of procrastination that manifest themselves with particular kinds of tasks. I was more like this second kind of person, where there were certain types of activities I would spend all day procrastinating on. Though I have no problems writing essays for my blog, when I had to do research for this book, I dragged my feet. Similarly, I had no problem sitting and watching the videos of MIT classes, but I always tackled the first problem sets with considerable trepidation.

> Same

Location: 1,115 Eventually, if working on your project is not troubled by extreme procrastination, you may want to switch to using a calendar on which you carve out specific hours of your day in advance to work on the project. This approach allows you to make the best use of your limited time. However, it works only if you actually follow it. If you find yourself setting a daily schedule with chunked hours and then frequently ignore it to do something else, go back to the start and try building back up again with the five-minute rule and then the Pomodoro Technique.

Location: 1,135 The psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, the researcher behind deliberate practice, argues that flow has characteristics that are “inconsistent with the demands of deliberate practice for monitoring explicit goals and feedback and opportunities for error correction. Hence, skilled performers may enjoy and seek out flow experiences as part of their domain-related activities, but such experiences would not occur during deliberate practice.” Ultralearning, with its similar focus on performance-driven learning, would also appear to be unsuitable for flow, in the same way that Ericsson originally argued for deliberate practice.

Location: 1,144 Working on a programming problem at the limit of your abilities, pushing yourself to write in a style that is unfamiliar to you, or trying to minimize your accent when speaking a new language is each a task that goes against the automatic patterns you may have accumulated. This resistance to what is natural may make flow harder to achieve,

Location: 1,159 What’s needed is a proper balance. To achieve it, fifty minutes to an hour is a good length of time for many learning tasks. If your schedule permits only more concentrated chunks of time, say once per week for several hours, you may want to take several minutes as a break at the end of each hour and split your time over different aspects of the subject you want to learn.

Location: 1,202 when we are engaging in a behavior, our typical reaction is to try to suppress distracting thoughts. If instead you “learn to let it arise, note it, and release it or let it go,” this can diminish the behavior you’re trying to avoid. If it ever feels as though continuing working is pointless because you’re so distracted by a negative emotion that you can’t possibly work, remember that the longterm strengthening of your ability to persist on this task will be useful, so the time is not wasted even if you don’t accomplish much in this particular learning session.


Location: 1,297 We want to speak a language but try to learn mostly by playing on fun apps, rather than conversing with actual people. We want to work on collaborative, professional programs but mostly code scripts in isolation. We want to become great speakers, so we buy a book on communication, rather than practice presenting. In all these cases the problem is the same: directly learning the thing we want feels too uncomfortable, boring, or frustrating, so we settle for some book, lecture, or app, hoping it will eventually make us better at the real thing.

Location: 1,305 The opposite of this is the approach so often favored in more traditional classroom-style learning: studying facts, concepts, and skills in a way that is removed from how those things will eventually be applied: mastering formulas before you understand the problem they’re trying to solve; memorizing the vocabulary of a language because it’s written on a list, not because you want to use it; solving highly idealized problems that you’ll never see again after graduation.

> !!!

Location: 1,326 The easiest way to learn directly is to simply spend a lot of time doing the thing you want to become good at.

Location: 1,349 Despite the importance of transfer of learning, research findings over the past nine decades clearly show that as individuals, and as educational institutions, we have failed to achieve transfer of learning on any significant level.” […] my own hypothesis as an explanation for the transfer problem: most formal learning is woefully indirect.

Location: 1,394 Learning something new rarely depends just on the mass of easily articulated and codified knowledge present but on the myriad tiny details of how that knowledge interacts with reality. By learning in a real context, one also learns many of the hidden details and skills that are far more likely to transfer to a new real-life situation than from the artificial environment of a classroom.

Location: 1,425 Though this may seem like a case where directness no longer matters, that really isn’t true. It’s simply that the place you want to apply these ideas is less obvious and concrete. In Maini’s case, he wanted to be able to think and talk intelligently about machine learning, enough to be able to land a nontechnical role in a company that utilized those methods. That meant that being able to communicate his ideas articulately, understanding the concepts clearly, and being able to discuss them with both knowledgeable practitioners and laypeople was important. That’s why his goal to make a minicourse explaining the basics of machine learning fit so well.

Location: 1,439 Given the well-documented difficulty with indirect forms of learning, why are they still the default both in schools and in many failed attempts at self-education? The answer is that learning directly is hard. It is often more frustrating, challenging, and intense than reading a book or sitting through a lecture. But this very difficulty creates a potent source of competitive advantage for any would-be ultralearner. If you’re willing to apply tactics that exploit directness despite these difficulties, you will end up learning much more effectively.

> See Working for yourself, grit is a competitive advantage that is easy to forget about or underestimate.

Location: 1,444 Tactic 1: Project-Based Learning Many ultralearners opt for projects rather than classes to learn the skills they need. The rationale is simple: if you organize your learning around producing something, you’re guaranteed to at least learn how to produce that thing. If you take classes, you may spend a lot of time taking notes and reading but not achieve your goal.

Location: 1,449 However, an intellectual topic can also be the basis of a project. One ultralearner I interviewed, whose project is still ongoing, wanted to learn military history. His project, in this case, was to work toward producing a thesis paper. Since his end goal was to be able to converse knowledgeably about the subject, a project to produce an original paper applied learning more directly than simply trying to read a lot of books without creating anything.

Location: 1,479 The overkill approach is to put yourself into an environment where the demands are going to be extremely high, so you’re unlikely to miss any important lessons or feedback. Going into this environment can feel intense. You may feel as though you’re “not ready” to start speaking a language you’ve barely learned. You may be afraid to stand onstage and deliver a speech you haven’t memorized perfectly. You might not want to dive right into programming your own application and prefer to stick to watching videos where someone else does the coding. But these fears are often only temporary. If you can get enough motivation to start this method, it’s often a lot easier to continue it long term.

Location: 1,485 One way you can overkill a project is to aim for a particular test, performance, or challenge that will be above the skill level you strictly require. Benny Lewis likes to attempt language exams, because they provide a concrete challenge. In his German project, he wanted to attempt the highest-level exam, because his awareness of that goal would push him to study more than he might if he were satisfied with comfortable conversations alone. Another friend of mine decided to exhibit her photography as a means of pushing her skills and talent. Deciding in advance that your work will be viewable publicly alters your approach to learning and will gear you toward performance in the desired domain, rather than just checking off boxes of facts learned.


Location: 1,524 One such exercise he documents was taking a favorite magazine of his, The Spectator, and taking notes on articles that appeared there. He would then leave the notes for a few days and come back to them, trying to reconstruct the original argument from memory. After finishing, he “compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.”

Location: 1,528 To improve his sense of the rhetorical flow of an essay, he tried his imitation approach again, but this time he jumbled up the hints so he would have to determine the correct order of the sequence of ideas as he wrote again.

Location: 1,545 In chemistry, there’s a useful concept known as the rate-determining step. This occurs when a reaction takes place over multiple steps, with the products of one reaction becoming the reagents for another. The rate-determining step is the slowest part of this chain of reactions, forming a bottleneck that ultimately defines the amount of time needed for the entire reaction to occur. Learning, I’d like to argue, often works similarly, with certain aspects of the learning problem forming a bottleneck that controls the speed at which you can become more proficient overall. […] Another rate-determining step could be vocabulary when learning a foreign language.

Location: 1,557 This is the strategy behind doing drills. By identifying a rate-determining step in your learning reaction, you can isolate it and work on it specifically. Since it governs the overall competence you have with that skill, by improving at it you will improve faster than if you try to practice every aspect of the skill at once.

Location: 1,577 The tension between learning directly and doing drills can be resolved when we see them as being alternating stages in a larger cycle of learning. The mistake made in many academic strategies for learning is to ignore the direct context or abstract it away, in the hope that if enough component skills are developed, they will eventually transfer. Ultralearners, in contrast, frequently employ what I’ll call the Direct-Then-Drill Approach.

Location: 1,580 The first step is to try to practice the skill directly. This means figuring out where and how the skill will be used and then trying to match that situation as close as is feasible when practicing. Practice a language by actually speaking it. Learn programming by writing software. Improve your writing skills by penning essays. This initial connection and subsequent feedback loop ensure that the transfer problem won’t occur. The next step is to analyze the direct skill and try to isolate components that are either rate-determining steps in your performance or subskills you find difficult to improve because there are too many other things going on for you to focus on them.

Location: 1,586 The final step is to go back to direct practice and integrate what you’ve learned. This has two purposes. The first is that even in well-designed drills, there are going to be transfer hiccups owing to the fact that what was previously an isolated skill must be moved to a new and more complex context. Think of this as being like building the connective tissue to join the muscles you strengthened separately. The second function of this step is as a check on whether your drill was well designed and appropriate.

Location: 1,609 Franklin’s drills were uncommon, I believe, because most people, even recognizing specific deficits in their writing ability, would not have had the ingenuity to find ways to drill subskills such as ordering arguments persuasively and emulating a successful writing style.

> Another competitive advantage could be having good ways of drilling things that don't obviously lend themselves to being drilled.

Location: 1,613 Drill 1: Time Slicing The easiest way to create a drill is to isolate a slice in time of a longer sequence of actions. Musicians often do this kind of training when they identify the hardest parts of a piece of music and practice each one until it’s perfect before integrating it back into the context of the entire song or symphony. […] In the early phase of learning a new language, I often obsessively repeat a few key phrases, so they quickly get embedded into my long-term memory.

Location: 1,620 Drill 2: Cognitive Components […] When learning Mandarin Chinese, I would do tone drills that involved pronouncing pairs of words with different tones and recording myself speaking.

Location: 1,625 Drill 3: The Copycat […] by copying the parts of the skill you don’t want to drill (either from someone else or your past work), you can focus exclusively on the component you want to practice.

Location: 1,633 For flexible creative works, editing works you’ve created in the past may have the same effect, allowing you to selectively improve an aspect of your work without having to consider the other demands of an original composition.

Location: 1,635 Drill 4: The Magnifying Glass Method […] I applied this method when trying to improve my ability to do research when writing articles, by spending about ten times as long on research as I had previously. Although I still had to do all the other parts of writing the article, by spending much longer on research than I would normally, I could develop new habits and skills for doing so.

Location: 1,641 Drill 5: Prerequisite Chaining One strategy I’ve seen repeatedly from ultralearners is to start with a skill that they don’t have all the prerequisites for. Then, when they inevitably do poorly, they go back a step, learn one of the foundational topics, and repeat the exercise. This practice of starting too hard and learning prerequisites as they are needed can be frustrating, but it saves a lot of time learning subskills that don’t actually drive performance much.

Location: 1,651 However, once you’ve identified that it’s the bottleneck preventing you from going further, they become instilled with new purpose. In ultralearning, which is directed by the student, not an external source, drills take on a new light. Instead of being forced to do them for unknown purposes, it is now up to you to find a way to enhance the learning process by accelerating learning on the specific things that you find most difficult.


Location: 1,711 The actual results, however, weren’t even close. Testing yourself—trying to retrieve information without looking at the text—clearly outperformed all other conditions. On questions based directly on the content of the text, those who practiced free recall remembered almost 50 percent more than the other groups.

> Wow. Check This

Location: 1,715 The principle of directness asserts that transfer is difficult. Since self-testing and actual testing are most similar, perhaps it is this similarity that allows this method to work better.

Location: 1,717 in another experiment, Karpicke and Blunt showed that this wasn’t the explanation, either. In this experiment the final test was to produce a concept map. Despite the overwhelming similarity to the evaluation task, free recall still did better than using concept mapping to study.

> !

Location: 1,722 Though it is true that feedback is valuable, once again, retrieval doesn’t simply reduce down to getting more feedback. In the experiments mentioned, students were asked to do free recall but weren’t provided any feedback about items they missed or got wrong. The act of trying to summon up knowledge from memory is a powerful learning tool on its own, beyond its connection to direct practice or feedback.

Location: 1,728 If retrieval practice—trying to recall facts and concepts from memory—is so much better for learning, why don’t students realize it? Why do many prefer to stick to concept mapping or the even less effective passive review, when simply closing the book and trying to recall as much as possible would help them so much more?

> For example when reading a book: after each chapter you could try to recall the content and write a summary before looking at your notes.

Location: 1,754 One can think back to Benny Lewis’s strategy of speaking a new language from the first day. Though this approach is high in difficulty, research suggests why it might be more useful than easier forms of classroom study. Placing himself in a more difficult context means that every time Lewis needs to recall a word or phrase, it will be remembered more strongly than when doing the same act of retrieval in a classroom setting and much better than when simply looking over a list of words and phrases.

Location: 1,824 A simple tactic for applying retrieval is, after reading a section from a book or sitting through a lecture, to try to write down everything you can remember on a blank piece of paper. Free recall like this is often very difficult, and there will be many things missed, even if you just finished reading the text in question. However, this difficulty is also a good reason why this practice is helpful. By forcing yourself to recall the main points and arguments, you’ll be able to remember them better later. While doing research for this book, for instance, I would often print out journal articles and put them in a binder with a few blank sheets of paper after each of them. After I had finished reading, I’d do a quick free recall exercise to make sure I would retain the important details when it came time for writing.

Also confirms if you truly understand

Location: 1,851 Any practice, whether direct or a drill, can be cut off from the ability to look things up. By preventing yourself from consulting the source, the information becomes knowledge stored inside your head instead of inside a reference manual.


Location: 1,900 In his studies, Ericsson has found that the ability to gain immediate feedback on one’s performance is an essential ingredient in reaching expert levels of performance. No feedback, and the result is often stagnation—long periods of time when you continue to use a skill but don’t get any better at it.

Location: 1,932 explains why feedback-seeking efforts are often underused and thus remain a potent source of comparative advantage for ultralearners. Feedback is uncomfortable. It can be harsh and discouraging, and it doesn’t always feel nice. Standing up on a stage in a comedy club to deliver jokes is probably one of the best ways to get better at stand-up comedy. But the act itself can be terrifying, as an awkward silence cuts deep. Similarly, speaking immediately in a new language can be painful, as the sense of your ability to communicate goes down precipitously from when you use your native tongue.

Location: 1,941 Instead of going to the source, taking feedback directly, and using that information to learn quickly, people often choose to dodge the punches and avoid a potentially huge source of learning. Ultralearners acquire skills quickly because they seek aggressive feedback when others opt for practice that includes weaker forms of feedback or no feedback at all.

Location: 1,954 The first type of feedback, and the least granular, is outcome feedback. This tells you something about how well you’re doing overall but offers no ideas as to what you’re doing better or worse.

Location: 1,959 Every entrepreneur experiences this kind of feedback when a new product hits the market. It may sell wildly well or abysmally, but that feedback comes in bulk, not directly decomposable into the various aspects of the product. Did the product cost too much? Was the marketing message not clear enough? Was the packaging unappealing? Customer reviews and comments can provide clues, but ultimately the success or failure of any new product is a complex bundle of factors.

Location: 1,974 The next type of feedback is informational feedback. This feedback tells you what you’re doing wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you how to fix it.

Location: 1,976 That person’s confused stare when you misuse a word won’t tell you what the correct word is, but it will tell you that you’re getting it wrong.

Location: 1,986 Because this kind of feedback often comes from direct interaction with the environment, it often pairs well with the third principle, directness.

Location: 1,988 The best kind of feedback to get is corrective feedback. This is the feedback that shows you not only what you’re doing wrong but how to fix it. This kind of feedback is often available only through a coach, mentor, or teacher. However, sometimes it can be provided automatically if you are using the right study materials.

Location: 1,991 when I finished a problem, I was shown not only whether I had gotten it right or wrong but exactly how my answer differed from the correct one. Similarly, flash cards and other forms of active recall provide corrective feedback by showing you the answer to a question after you make your guess.

Location: 1,996 The main challenge of this kind of feedback is that it typically requires access to a teacher, expert, or mentor who can pinpoint your mistakes and correct them for you. However, sometimes the added edge of having corrective over merely informational feedback can be worth the effort needed to find such people.

Location: 2,013 Similarly, corrective feedback requires a “correct” answer or the response of a recognized expert. If there is no expert or a single correct approach, trying to turn informational feedback into corrective feedback can work against you when the wrong change is suggested as an improvement. De Montebello noted to me that the advice most people gave him wasn’t terribly useful, but the consistency of it was. If his speech elicited wildly different reactions each time, he knew there was still a lot of work to do. When the speech started to get much more consistent comments, he knew he was onto something.

Location: 2,022 In general, research has pointed to immediate feedback being superior in settings outside of the laboratory. James A. Kulik and Chen-Lin C. Kulik review the literature on feedback timing and suggest that “Applied studies using actual classroom quizzes and real learning materials have usually found immediate feedback to be more effective than delay.” Expertise researcher K. Anders Ericsson agrees, arguing in favor of immediate feedback when it assists in identifying and correcting mistakes and when it allows one to execute a corrected version of their performance revised in response to the feedback.

Location: 2,043 Anytime you receive feedback, there are going to be both a signal—the useful information you want to process—and noise. Noise is caused by random factors, which you shouldn’t overreact to when trying to improve.

Location: 2,054 For blog writing, one way to do so would be to use tracking code to figure out what percentage of people read your articles all the way to the end. This doesn’t prove your writing is good, but it’s a lot less noisy than raw traffic data.

Location: 2,056 Feedback is information. More information equals more opportunities to learn. A scientific measure of information is based on how easily you can predict what message it will contain. If you know that success is guaranteed, the feedback itself provides no information; you knew it would go well all along. Good feedback does the opposite. It is very hard to predict and thus gives more information each time you receive it. The main way this impacts your learning is through the difficulty you’re facing. Many people intuitively avoid constant failure, because the feedback it offers isn’t always helpful. However, the opposite problem, of being too successful, is more pervasive. Ultralearners carefully adjust their environment so that they’re not able to predict whether they’ll succeed or fail. If they fail too often, they simplify the problem so they can start noticing when they’re doing things right. If they fail too little, they’ll make the task harder or their standards stricter so that they can distinguish the success of different approaches. Basically, you should try to avoid situations that always make you feel good (or bad) about your performance.

Location: 2,073 A second way you can apply metafeedback is by comparing two different study methods to see which works better. During the MIT Challenge, I’d often split up questions from different subtopics before testing myself on an exam and try different approaches side by side. Does it work better to dive straight into trying to answer questions or to spend a little time to try to see that you understand the main concepts first? The only way you can know is to test your own learning rates.

Location: 2,079 De Montebello’s strategy of improving public speaking relied largely on getting far more frequent exposure to the stage than most speakers do. Lewis’s language immersion exposes him to information about his pronunciation at a point when most students still haven’t uttered a word. High-intensity, rapid feedback offers informational advantages, but more often the advantage is emotional, too. Fear of receiving feedback can often hold you back more than anything. By throwing yourself into a high-intensity, rapid feedback situation, you may initially feel uncomfortable, but you’ll get over that initial aversion much faster than if you wait months or years before getting feedback. Being in such a situation also provokes you to engage in learning more aggressively than you might otherwise.


Location: 2,151 Richards’s cycling, it turns out, also lines up well with the only other clues I’ve been able to uncover about his methods: he reads lists; long lists of words, starting with two-letter words and then moving up. “The cycling helps,” he explains, “I can go through lists in my mind.” He reads the dictionary, focusing exclusively on combinations of letters, ignoring definitions, tenses, and plurals. Then, drawing from memory, he repeats them over and over again as he cycles for hours. This aspect also corresponds with a method that is common to other ultralearners and that has shown up in other principles of learning so far: active recall and rehearsal. By retrieving words, Richards likely takes his already impressive memory and makes it unassailable through active practice.

Location: 2,254 Memory Mechanism 1—Spacing: Repeat to Remember One of the pieces of studying advice that is best supported by research is that if you care about long-term retention, don’t cram. Spreading learning sessions over more intervals over longer periods of time tends to cause somewhat lower performance in the short run (because there is a chance for forgetting between intervals) but much better performance in the long run.

> Anki

Location: 2,258 After my first few classes, I switched from doing one class at a time to doing a few in parallel, to minimize the impact that the crammed study time would have on my memory.

Location: 2,260 If you have ten hours to learn something, therefore, it makes more sense to spend ten days studying one hour each than to spend ten hours studying in one burst.

Location: 2,290 Memory Mechanism 2—Proceduralization: Automatic Will Endure […] There’s evidence that procedural skills, such as riding a bicycle, are stored in a different way from declarative knowledge,

Location: 2,307 If you’ve ever had to enter a password or pin code you use often, you may be in a similar position, where you remember it by feel and not by its explicit combination of numbers and letters.

Location: 2,329 Memory Mechanism 3—Overlearning: Practice Beyond Perfect

> Good examples. Useful anecdotes not just fr the sake of it. Makes you excitted tto apply

Location: 2,344 Overlearning dovetails nicely with the principle of directness. Because direct use of a skill frequently involves overpracticing certain core abilities, that kernel is usually quite resistant to forgetting, even years later. In contrast, academically learned subjects tend to distribute practice more evenly to cover the entire curriculum to a minimum level of competency in each area, regardless of the centrality of subtopics to practical applications.

Location: 2,358 Interestingly, this rate of forgetting was the same for better- and poorer-performing students; better students retained more than weaker ones, but the rate at which they had forgotten was the same. One group, however, did not show such a steep decline in forgetting: those who had taken calculus. This suggests that moving up a level to a more advanced skill enabled the earlier skill to be overlearned, thus preventing some forgetting.

> Algebra

Location: 2,361 Memory Mechanism 4—Mnemonics: A Picture Retains a Thousand Words

Location: 2,383 as someone who has spent much time exploring them and applying them to real-world learning, their applications are quite a bit narrower than they first appear, and in many real-world settings they simply aren’t worth the hassle.

> Mnemonics


Location: 2,531 One way you can introduce this into your own efforts is to give yourself a “struggle timer” as you work on problems. When you feel like giving up and that you can’t possibly figure out the solution to a difficult problem, try setting a timer for another ten minutes to push yourself a bit further.

Location: 2,563 The illusion of understanding is very often the barrier to deeper knowledge, because unless that competency is actually tested, it’s easy to mislead yourself into thinking you understand more than you do. Feynman’s and Einstein’s approach to understanding propositions by demonstrating them prevents this problem in a way that’s hard to do otherwise. Were you one of the lucky ones who managed to put the chains on correctly? Try the exercise again, except this time with a can opener. Can you explain how it works? How many gears are there? How does it cut the lid open? This one is much harder, yet most of us would say we understand can openers!

Location: 2,585 Feynman’s habit of developing a concrete instance of a problem can be seen as an example of this deeper form of processing, which not only enhances later retention but also fosters an intuitive understanding. This technique also enables some feedback, because when it’s not possible to imagine an appropriate example, that’s evidence that you don’t understand something well enough and would benefit from going back a few steps and learning the material better before continuing.


Location: 2,613 The method is quite simple: Write down the concept or problem you want to understand at the top of a piece of paper. In the space below, explain the idea as if you had to teach it to someone else. If it’s a concept, ask yourself how you would convey the idea to someone who has never heard of it before. If it’s a problem, explain how to solve it and—crucially—why that solution procedure makes sense to you. When you get stuck, meaning your understanding fails to provide a clear answer, go back to your book, notes, teacher, or reference material to find the answer. The crux of this method is that it tries to dispel the illusion of explanatory depth. Since many of our understandings are never articulated, it’s easy to think you understand something you don’t. The Feynman Technique bypasses this problem by forcing you to articulate the idea you want to understand in detail.

Location: 2,648 A final way to apply this method is to ideas that are so important that it would really help if you had a great intuition about them. In this application of the method, instead of focusing on explaining every detail or going along with the source material, you should try to focus on generating illustrative examples, analogies, or visualizations that would make the idea comprehensible to someone who has learned far less than you have.

Location: 2,651 Imagine that instead of trying to teach the idea, you are being paid to write a magazine article explaining the idea. What visual intuitions would you use to pin down the abstractions? Which examples would flesh out a general principle? How could you make something confusing feel obvious?

Location: 2,654 I applied this to understanding the concept of voltage in an early class on electromagnetism during the MIT Challenge. Though I was comfortable using the concept in problems, I didn’t feel that I had a good intuition of what it was. It’s obviously not energy, electrons, or flows of things. Still, it was hard to get a mental image of an abstract concept on a wire. Going through this technique and comparing the equations to the ones for gravity, it’s clear that voltage is to the electrical force as height is to the gravitational force. Now I could form a visual image. The wires were like troughs of water at different heights. Batteries were like pumps, moving the water up.

CHAPTER 12 PRINCIPLE 9 Experimentation

Location: 2,791 Once again, experimentation plays a pivotal role. Pick some subtopic within the skill you’re trying to cultivate, spend some time learning it aggressively, and then evaluate your progress. Should you continue in that direction or pick another?

Location: 2,802 The key to experimenting with different styles is to be aware of all the different styles that exist. Once again van Gogh provides a good model, as he spent an enormous amount of time studying and discussing the works of other artists. That gave him a large library of possible styles and ideas he could adapt to his own work. Similarly, you might want to identify masters in your own line of study and dissect what makes their styles successful to see what you can emulate or integrate into your own approach.

Location: 2,838 The scientific method works by carefully controlling conditions so that the difference between two situations is limited to the variable being studied. You can apply this same process to your experiments in learning by trying two different approaches and varying only a single condition to see what the impact is. By applying two different approaches side by side, you can often quickly get information not only about what works best but about which methods are better suited to your personal style.

Note:Compare voice and wtitten speed and quality

Location: 2,841 I applied this to learning French vocabulary. I wasn’t sure how effective mnemonics would be so, for a month, I would find a list of fifty new words every day, put together from my regular reading or random encounters with the language, and for half I would simply look them over with their translations I got from the dictionary. With the other half, I made an effort to use a visual mnemonic to link the two meanings. Then I compared how many of the words I remembered from each list on a later test, with words picked randomly from each side. The result is something you would probably expect after reading the chapters on retrieval and retention: I remembered the words I used mnemonics for at almost twice the rate of those I didn’t. That showed that even if creating the mnemonics took a bit more time, they were worth it.

Location: 2,870 Van Gogh’s art pushed well outside normal conventions along many dimensions. His thick application of paint was far away from the thin layers of glazes used by Renaissance masters. His quick application was far more rapid than the careful brushstrokes of other painters. His colors were bold, often garish, instead of subtle. If you were to draw a chart that mapped out van Gogh’s style compared with those of other painters, you would probably see that he lay along the extreme in many dimensions.

Location: 2,912 Experimentation is the principle that ties all the others together. Not only does it make you try new things and think hard about how to solve specific learning challenges, it also encourages you to be ruthless in discarding methods that don’t work. Careful experimentation not only brings out your best potential, it also eliminates bad habits and superstitions by putting them to the test of real-world results.

CHAPTER 13 Your First Ultralearning Project

Location: 2,919 By now you’re probably eager to start your own ultralearning project. What things could you learn that you have put off due to fears of inadequacy, frustration, or lack of time? What old skills could you take to new heights? The biggest obstacle to ultralearning is simply that most people don’t care enough about their own self-education to get started. As you’ve read this far, I doubt that is true of you.

Location: 2,932 Your ultralearning “packing” checklist should include, at a minimum: What topic you’re going to learn and its approximate scope. Obviously, no learning project can begin unless you figure out what you want to learn. In some cases, this is obvious. In others, you may need to do further research to identify which skill or knowledge would be most valuable. If your goal is to learn something instrumentally (to start a business, get a promotion, do research for an article), learning what you need to learn is important and will suggest how wide and deep you need to go. I suggest starting with rather a narrow scope, which can expand as you proceed. “Learning enough Mandarin Chinese to hold a fifteen-minute conversation on simple topics” is a lot more constrained than “Learn Chinese,” which may include reading, writing, studying history, and more.

Location: 2,939 The primary resources you’re going to use. This includes books, videos, classes, tutorials, guides, and even people who will serve as mentors, coaches, and peers. This is where you decide what your starting point will be. Examples: “I’m going to read and complete the exercises in a book on Python programming for beginners” or “I’m going to learn Spanish through online tutoring via” or “I’m going to practice drawing by making sketches.”

Location: 2,944 A benchmark for how others have successfully learned this skill or subject. Almost any popular skill has online forums where those who have learned the skill previously can share their approaches. You should identify the things other people who have learned the skill have done to learn it.

Location: 2,948 Direct practice activities.

Location: 2,965 I recommend setting a consistent schedule that is the same every week, rather than trying to fit in learning when you can. Consistency breeds good habits, reducing the effort required to study.

Location: 2,967 If you do have some flexibility in your schedule, you may want to optimize it. Shorter, spaced time chunks are better for memory than crammed chunks are. However, some types of tasks, such as writing and programming, have a long warm-up time that may benefit from longer uninterrupted time chunks.

Location: 2,971 The third decision you need to make is the length of time for your project. I generally prefer shorter commitments to longer ones because they are easier to stick with. An intensive project that lasts a month has fewer potential interruptions from life or from your motivation changing and waning. If you have a big goal you want to accomplish that can’t be done in a short time frame, I suggest breaking it up into multiple smaller ones of a few months each.

Location: 2,984 As a bonus step, for those who are embarking on longer projects of six months or more, I strongly recommend doing a pilot week of your schedule. This is simple: test your schedule for one week before you commit to it.

Location: 3,008 Feedback. Am I getting honest feedback about my performance early on, or am I trying to dodge the punches and avoid criticism? Do I know what I’m learning well and what I’m not? Am I using feedback correctly, or am I overreacting to noisy data?

Location: 3,013 Experimentation. Am I getting stuck with my current resources and techniques? Do I need to branch out and try new approaches to reach my goal? How can I go beyond mastering the basics and create a unique style to solve problems creatively and do things others haven’t explored before?

Location: 3,043 one of the worries I had after the year without English project was that learning languages so intensively over a short period of time might lead not just to rapid learning but to rapid forgetting. As a result, I made an effort to continue practice after the trip finished, spending thirty minutes a week on each language in the first year and thirty minutes a month on each language in the year after that.

Location: 3,046 Another option is to try to integrate the skill into your life. This is how I maintain my programming skills, where I write Python scripts to handle work tasks that would otherwise be cumbersome or annoying. This kind of practice is more sporadic, but it ensures that I will keep it up enough to make it usable.

Location: 3,065 Option 3: Mastery The third option, of course, is to dive deeper into the skill you have learned. This can be done through continued practice at a lighter pace or by following up with another ultralearning project. A common pattern I’ve noticed in my own learning is that an initial project covers a wider territory and some basics and exposes new avenues for learning that were previously obscured. You might identify a subtopic or branch of skill within the domain you were learning before that you want to follow up. Otherwise, you may decide to transfer a skill learned in one place to a new domain.

CHAPTER 14 An Unconventional Education

Location: 3,235 Prior to doing the research for this book, all of the ultralearners I had met were ambitious self-starters. I was convinced that ultralearning was something that held great potential for the individual. However, owing to the intensity and commitment required by the learners themselves, I was skeptical that ultralearning would have any direct implications for the educational system at large. Children already struggle against onerous studying conditions, and it seemed to me that increasing the intensity of study would only increase their stress and anxiety.

Location: 3,283 Finally, László was entirely against coercing learning. Self-discipline, motivation, and commitment, he felt, must come from the girls themselves. He explained, “One thing is certain: one can never achieve serious pedagogical results, especially at a high level, through coercion.” He also felt that “one of the most important educational tasks is to teach self-education.”

Location: 3,329 Mirroring the Feynman Technique, László encouraged his girls to write articles about chess, explaining, “If one writes an article, one considers a matter more deeply than without a goal, thinking alone or speaking with someone about it.” The girls were also encouraged to come up with creative solutions to problems. Play, not merely in the sense of chess being a game but also in the sense of an unconstructed, goalless activity, was part of the teaching strategy.

Location: 3,354 Suggestion 1: Create an Inspiring Goal Better yet, allow people to design their own learning goals that inspire them. Inspiration is an essential starting point in the process of ultralearning. There must be something very compelling for a person to summon up the energy and self-discipline needed to learn.


Location: 3,412 Although a writer researching for a book is hardly unique, not all ultralearning projects need to be one of a kind to matter to the person doing them. Sitting in my den at home are stacks of binders filled with thousands of pages of printed journal articles. My bookshelf now has dozens of obscure, out-of-print monographs on thin slices of the question of how people learn. Recordings of calls with various researchers helped me realize how much nuance there is to even simple questions such as “Is feedback helpful?” and “Why do people forget?” I’ve poured over numerous biographies of famous intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and scientists to try to arrive at an understanding of how they approached learning. In many ways, the process of writing this book was a reflection of its subject—an ultralearning project to write a book about ultralearning.

Location: 3,446 Many pursuits in life have a kind of saturation point, after which the longing for more of a thing eventually diminishes as you get more of it. A hungry person can eat only so much food. A lonely person can have only so much companionship. Curiosity doesn’t work this way. The more one learns, the greater the craving to learn more. The better one gets, the more one recognizes how much better one could become.

Location: 3,506 This was a shorter project, taking one month and totaling one hundred hours of practice. In addition to the strategy of drawing quick sketches and comparing them by overlaying them on semi-transparent reference photos, I also greatly benefitted from the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and from Vitruvian Studio’s Portrait Drawing class. I’ve uploaded every drawing, sketch, and self-portrait I did, along with a more detailed discussion of what I used to learn on the project homepage: portrait-challenge.

Location: 3,638 This is essentially the question: Jeffrey D. Karpicke, and Janell R. Blunt, “Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping,” Science 331, no. 6018 (February 11, 2011): 772–75,


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