Late Night Ramblings on Learning

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My go-to methods for learning these days are reading books, podcasting, and daily habits. But I’d like to get out of my comfort zone and experiment with other forms of skill acquisition.

There’s nothing wrong with reading (and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!) Read a few great books on a subject and you’ll be 80% of the way towards competency. But there’s only so much you can pick up from a book. There also needs to be hands-on learning and experimentation.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of jumping from one book to the next without properly considering how to apply and test what you read to your own life. It’s easy because there are so many flipping books!

As for daily habits, I find it a fantastic way to add practices to your life (even if you don’t think you have a lot of time to spare) add a consistent, momentum to practice what you want to master.

But there’s only so many daily habits you can add to your day. If you have a full-time job and you sleep the healthy recommend 8 hours a night and you add in time to eat, you’ve got about roughly 6 hours left in the day. That 6 hours is powerful and can add up over time, but there’s only so many times you can slice that 6 hours down. So after maxing out your daily habits, then what?

What are some additional alternatives to learning?

How can we increase our ability and capacity to learn?

How did renaissance humans—polymaths/universal minds—from history become so exceptional in multiple skills?

These are a few of the questions I’ve been pondering.

I want to experiment. Turn over every rock and see what others find most effective and see if they work for me too. Weekend challenges. Bootcamps. Thirty-day challenges.

Effective is the word. I’m not necessary after learning more faster for speed’s sake, or quantity just to have more skills—I’m after potency.

I want to unlock the doors to wisdom. This sounds dramatic, but it’s true. What makes someone wise? How can we make better decisions in the moment? How can we live a life true to ourselves? How can we stop holding ourselves back with fear and uncertainty?

We’ll have to figure that out ourselves.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1048

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UnLearning

“If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Half the battle with learning is not getting in your own way. It’s often not what we don’t know, but what we think we know that’s holding us back.

A part of becoming skillful at something is to be continuously working on your knowledge base and re-approaching the fundamentals.

Mastery in your craft is as much about relearning (reinforcing) the fundamentals and unlearning bad (or outdated) habits than learning new things.

“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

In the beginning, learning the fundamentals can be boring (especially when it’s not paired with fun). Take learning the piano, for example. Practicing scales. Learning music notation. Chords. Working the muscle memory in your hands. Practicing playing notes with the left and right hand simultaneously. All of this is great and will enhance your abilities to play anything, but it is also tedious hard work. When you are just starting out, it’s better to take a stab at learning a few songs you love, or mess around and make your own songs first. Once you have a couple of wins, go back to and learn the fundamentals. I love scales now. I don’t find them boring at all, because I know that getting better at them will increase my ability to play across the board.

When we re-approach the fundamentals, we are coming from a more experienced mind. Things we couldn’t see at first becomes more clear each time we look at things from a fresh perspective. We couldn’t see, not because we were bad or dumb, but because we are inexperienced and didn’t know what to look at.

Things can become outdated quickly. Every year (more like every time we turn around) some new piece of knowledge, technology, or idea comes out and changes how the world works.

The problem is we can easily dismiss new knowledge for things we already know. This can work, for a little while anyway. But if we hold on to outdated or false information we eventually become stale. Alternatively, we can adopt a “strong convictions loosely held” mindset. I learned this idea from one of my favorite podcasts, The Drive, with Petter Attia. Strong “Convictions Loosely Held” roughly means holding on to your knowledge, values, and what you believe to be true, but being open to change and always testing your assumptions about what you think you know to be true and accurate.

Needing to relearn or unlearn things doesn’t mean we’ve wasted our time, or that what we know is irrelevant. Everything we learn builds on something that came before. We do need to stay up to date as much as we can (especially if your skills are in a fast-growing environment, like technology or medicine). This can be overwhelming (because of the firehose of information) but trying to learn everything at once is not an effective way to be skilled. One small thing at a time. One small actionable lesson adding to the next.

As long as we are willing to be life-long learners and continuously try to improve ourselves, then we are in the right mind space.

The only ones who become irrelevant are the ones who refuse to let go of bad habits and stop learning.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1047

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Practice What You Want To Be Good At

“If you really want to be world class – to be the best you can be – it comes down to preparation and practice.”

Robin S. Sharma

After 3+ years of writing a blog each day, I can officially say that my writing has improved. Am I the best writer in the world? Heeeeeeeell Nah. But I’m better than I was 3 years ago. I’ve also gotten better at knowing what’s good work versus bad. Reading helps, surround yourself with great prose and eventually you’ll absorb some of the magic.

What’s eye-opening is what consistent practice can give you. I have a long way to go before I can earn the title of “pretty great writer” but that’s part of the journey. Not to say that improvement is inevitable on its own. We have to work and challenge ourselves every day in order to discover mastery.

As long as we keep consistently practicing, then it’s inevitable that our skills will improve.

If something is important to you, be it a skill or something that brings you joy (like hiking or listening to music or staying connected with friends) then you need to make it into a practice. What your practice will look like is up to you. It doesn’t have to be daily. It just needs to be integrated into your life.

The same goes for things we want to change.

For example, there’s something I’ve noticed about myself that I’m not happy about—

I suck at talking about myself and articulating my ideas.

I know to get my ideas across with words on paper or a screen, but when it comes to words flopping out of my mouth, I’m a joke. Not always. But a noticeable amount. I’d like to blame it on being tired or stressed, but those are just excuses.

The reason for this is pretty obvious:

I’m not practicing speaking. I’m not practicing communicating.

We only get better at what we practice.

It’s a simple idea, but one that’s easily overlooked.

I don’t expect my golf swing to improve by working on my dance moves. Why should I expect otherwise with writing and talking?

Writing is to talking as learning the piano is to learning drums. They’re in the same category of skills, but they have their own unique sub-skills.

Writing has improved my thinking, but it hasn’t improved my articulation.

The only thing that can do that is practice.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1036

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Starting Over

“Begin – to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.”

Marcus Aurelius

“What’s so fascinating and frustrating and great about life is that you’re constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that.”

Billy Crystal

There was this silly board game called Don’t Break the Ice, that I vaguely remember playing as a kid. A character (Polar Bear? Penguin?) stood dangerously on a raised grid of ice cubes. I guess to simulate a frozen lake or treacherous mountain pass. Each player took turns chipping away at the ice with colorful little hammers.

If the little animal dude falls on your turn, you lose. Now that I’m thinking about it, It’s basically like if Jenga was played horizontally, not vertically.

Learning and mastering skills reminds me of Don’t Break the Ice.

When we become good, even great at something, we can easily fall into the pattern of holding onto what we’ve got like we are about to fall to our deaths. We learn, and then we stop. We don’t stay up-to-date. We don’t want to try new things. And we eventually become complacent with our skills and inevitability grow rusty and obsolete.

But getting good at multiple skills requires us to be comfortable with starting over.

A Beginners Mind is learning to enjoy starting over. It’s not only the willingness to start again, but the drive to continuously learn and relearn what you know.

Starting over isn’t a bad thing. It’s a blank slate. It’s our chance to reinvent ourselves and take in knowledge with a fresh and deeper understanding.

Whatever skills we cultivate, we should always be reapproaching the fundamentals and what we think we know. Just because we think we know something doesn’t mean we actually do.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1033

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Learning Through Experience

Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.

Bruce Lee

Books are a powerful learning tool. A book can buy you an author’s lifetime of knowledge and experience at the price of ten-is bucks. In terms of return on investment, a good book can 10x what you put in.

That being said, books aren’t everything. They can give us a taste of experience, but reading a book about dancing, for example, versus getting off the coach and learning to dance yourself is completely different. Books can teach us the steps, but they can’t teach us to move. (That line feels dad-joke cheesy, but I’m going with it.)

For one thing, it’s easy to read a book about something, but never actually try it. By the time we’re finished with one book, we’re already on to the next without properly digesting it and testing things out for ourselves.

You never know until you experience it yourself. Second-hand knowledge is great and can get you far, but it doesn’t replace experience.

But experience alone doesn’t cut it either. We can’t experience everything. We aren’t omnipresent and-or omnipotent. Books, videos, and other media allow us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes (today and across the history of humanity) and experience a world through a different lens. Bruce Lee is no longer alive today, but there’s an ocean of insights in his writing and work I can study and be influenced by.

It’s better to combine both experience and books as tools to improve your life, business, and place in the world. Why tie your hands and only lean on one?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1031

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The More I Learn, The Less I Know

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”

Confucius

The more I get older, the more I read and listen and watch and experience, the more I hone my skills, the more I realize how little I know.

I say that not discouraging, but enthusiastically.

There’s always a deeper level. There’s always a few questions trailing any answer.

Curiosity begets learning begets questions begets more learning — ad infinite.

Don’t let this notion make you feel overwhelmed or behind. Behind who? It doesn’t matter. You know what you know, and with a sound mind, you’ll always be learning more—whether you’re 7 or 80 years old.

But don’t let age make your curiosity ridged and stale like an old loaf of bread forgot in the pantry. Open your mind to new ideas and experiences. Just because someone won’t make you yacht-loads of money doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthy pursuit. Be inquisitive. Get weird. Expand wide. Ask a million questions as a child would. Be annoying.

The only thing that should stop us from learning new things is death—everything else is undebatable.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #964

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A Whole Lotta Learning. Not A Whole Lotta Doing

“He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Learning is a double-edged blade. It can be your greatest opportunity to knowledge and becoming the person you want to be, but it can also be your biggest hindrance. Without practice and application of what we are learning, we are essentially wasting our time. If all we do is jump from one interest to another without using them, we might as well be binging TV.

Skills, values, character, dreams, goals, ideas—none of these things amount to anything without putting them into practice.

Reading a book is the start.
Taking a course is a great way to learn.
Watching tutorials on Youtube can save you a load of time.

That’s more than most will ever do.

But that’s just the first step. Learning doesn’t replace doing. And learning doesn’t get us anywhere by itself. Sure, we can talk big, but one look at our work and any professional will be able to see that we don’t have anything tangible to back up our words.

We need both learning and application to succeed. Now we have to put our knowledge to the test.

The tricky thing is we keep staying in learning mode because we think our skills are good enough. We want to be a professional, so we keep learning but never practice or show the world what we have to offer. This is a lie.

The best thing about practice is its learning in motion. When you practice something, you are both learning and doing at the same time. You might not be as good as you want to be (…yet). But every time you pick up the guitar, or pen or paintbrush, you are getting in your reps.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #893

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Relearning

“We have learned how to do a lot of things. We must try to relearn why.”

Flora Lewis

One important aspect of learning is relearning. As you go about improving in a skill, it’s good to go back and refresh yourself on the fundamentals.

When you started, you were a different person than you are now. But as you improve, you gain clarity and strength in your skills. Things might have seemed new, challenging and perhaps even a little hard to fully grasp. You’ve changed. You’ve improved, however so slightly that may be. Relearning allows you to go deeper. Relearning the fundamentals allows you to solidify your foundational knowledge and go beyond your current level of skill.

By re-approaching the basics—or what you (think you) know—you can compare your more developed mind and skill to where you started with a different perspective.

Perspective is everything and will improve your skills even more. Of course, you don’t want to let your re-learning distract you from taking action.

The goal is to remind yourself —

  • where you started and how much you’ve learned.
  • see what gaps you’ve been overlooking.
  • why you decided to learn it in the first place.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #885

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Applying Multiple Intelligences

“Creativity begins with an affinity for something. It’s like falling in love.”

Howard Gardner

The first time I came across the idea of Multiple Intelligences (MI) was a Creative Live course I took by Vanessa Van Edwards called Master Your People Skills. Multiple Intelligences is essentially the idea to group intelligence (cognitive power/ability) into separate modalities (particular paths of doing something) instead of seeing intelligence as this generic blob of ‘dang pretty good at stuff’. In the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner proposed this theory of multiple intelligences and gave eight examples (meaning there could be more) of unique types:

  1. Musical-rhythmic — sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, and music.
  2. Visual-Spatial — ability to visualize things with the mind’s eye.
  3. Verbal-linguistic — storytellers. People who are are great at reading, writing, memorizing.
  4. Logical-mathematical — ability to think logically and abstractly.
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic — dancers. Athletes. Actors. control over your body. Great sense of timing, response, and clear physical action
  6. Interpersonal — conversationalists. A sensitivity to other people’s feelings and moods. The ability to sway others in a particular way.
  7. Intrapersonal — self-aware. A strong understanding of yourself and what makes you, you.
  8. Naturalistic — in-tune with the natural world.

Don’t think of these as separate or fixed silos we fall into. Like the Enneagram, we might gravitate towards one or more intelligence over the others. For example, you might be better in tune with your body’s movement and what it needs, where as I might be able to pick up math class easily, or play songs by ear (but completely deaf to what my body is telling me). 

You could argue (and many have) that this a very subjective way of looking at intelligence and just another way to reframe ability. It doesn’t fit neatly into our educational system, as IQ does. But as a self-learner, I don’t really give a bleep about what my IQ is. I’m seeking new ways to become more knowledgeable and wiser and to fill in the gaps — and potential pitfalls — of my thinking. Can MI help make you and I a better creative? Potentially!

What’s exciting to me about the idea of multiple intelligences, is that it gives us a framework and a more focused definition we can use to learn how to get better in all the sub-modalities of intelligence. (That’s my crazy Renaissance mindset coming out.)

Each ability is highly valuable to not only learning and creativity but to all nooks and crannies of our lives. MI gives us a better vocabulary, or even a checklist to challenge ourselves with and questions to ask ourselves.

  • How can I add music practice into my life?
  • What if I started a visualization practice?
  • What makes a great story? How can I become better at communicating my ideas?
  • How can I approach my problems logically?
  • Where am I ignoring my body?
  • Who can I surround myself with to create the life I want to live?
  • Am I paying attention to myself and my needs? Do I have a good idea of who I am and what I want out of life?
  • Am I spending time in nature?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #869

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One Success

“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in trying to solve them.”

Henry Ford

The biggest hurdle to any habit or skill you are learning is an overloaded system. It’s often that we fail because we are trying too hard and too much at once, not because we aren’t trying enough.

Not trying enough is a pitfall that can keep you from starting.

If you ever find yourself never quite being able to get started or find yourself consuming a ton of books, courses, and videos but never putting them in practice, then you have a problem starting. Maybe it’s fear of failure or repeating past mistakes or not living up to your own exceptions of yourself. Whatever the case, put all your strength into taking a step forward, however small. Starting is a physics problem. Things at rest tend to stay at rest. What we need is something that pushes us forward, even just a tiny bit, that gets the ball rolling. Start and build momentum.

It’s often that we fail because we are trying too hard and too much at once, not because we aren’t trying enough.

But if you’re trying but making no headway at all, then you’re likely trying too hard or trying too many things at once. Getting results requires focused energy. You can’t reliably half-*ss success (unreliable success is called luck). We need a strategy that gets us to the end goal 90% of the time and on the right track (or at least somewhere interesting) the other 10%. That starts with limiting your focus.

I can’t tell you how many times I unintentionally derailed myself because I attempted too many things at once. There are only so many things we can do at once (…I’m mostly in permanent denial about this). Even if I had all the energy and money in the world, I’d still run out of time at the end of the day. Focus and priority are our best friends here.

The thing we need to remember is success and opportunity stacks. Neither is assured, but both success and opportunity tend to build upon one another. One success leads to more opportunity leads to more (potential) success etc.

So where do you want to succeed?

What’s a problem you are struggling with that would wipe out most of your other problems if you were to solve it?

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #826

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