You can spot these people easily. For example, they say they’ve read a book, but lack the words to explain their takeaways. Likely, they haven’t learned a thing from reading it.
Every night, the family and I went for a socially-distant swim at the house next door. I thought about how, possibly next summer, I wouldn’t have to worry about the chlorine turning my fake brown hair orange and could swim carefree underwater again. “Growing out your hair will make you look old,” advised the 70-year-old neighbor who generously let us use his pool, “Don’t do it.”
Not only is the Feynman Technique a wonderful recipe for learning, but it’s also a window into a different way of thinking that allows you to tear ideas apart and reconstruct them from the ground up.
To protect ourselves from overstimulation, our brains filter and forget most of what we consume. If we remembered everything we absorb, we wouldn’t be able to operate in our world.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918–1988) was an expert for remembering what he learned. Bill Gates was so inspired by his pedagogy that he named Feynman, “the greatest teacher I never had.”
In essence, the Feynman technique consists of four steps: identify the subject, explain the content, identify your knowledge gaps, simplify your explanation. Here’s how it works for any book you read:
Teaching is the most effective way to embed information in your mind. Plus, it’s an easy way to check whether you’ve remembered what you read. Because before you teach, you have to take several steps: filter relevant information, organize this information, and articulate them using your own vocabulary.
But most people act like their brains would keep everything. They focus on reading a specific number of books a year. By focusing on quantity, instead of learning, they forget anything they read. Ultimately, for them, reading is mere entertainment.
When August rolled around, I truly looked like a calico cat. I carefully watched both political conventions, and not a single woman had gray or white hair. Same with The Office, which my family was binge-watching. Also same with the movie Gloria, the original Spanish version, which is about women getting older. What the hell? My hair was starting to symbolize, to me anyway, another lie in an era of misinformation.
The Feynman Technique is one method to make us remember what we read by using elaboration and association concepts. It’s a tool for remembering what you read by explaining it in plain, simple language.
Feynman mastered this process like no other. The people of his time knew him for being able to explain the most complex processes in the simplest language. They nicknamed Feynman “The Great Explainer.”
What I love about this concept is that the approach intuitively believes that intelligence is a process of growth, which dovetails nicely with the work of Carol Dweck, who beautifully describes the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Here’s how it works.
If you’re after a way to supercharge your learning and become smarter, The Feynman Technique might just be the best way to learn absolutely anything. You can think of it as an algorithm for guaranteed learning.
It was Schopenhauer who already stated in the 1850s, “When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process.” So to learn, we need to think by ourselves.
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