Seven step process:
1) Learn to be more observant
2) Learn to find everything interesting
3) Learn to question everything
5) Talk to people
7) Create projects
I’ve answered a few Quora questions about Sherlock Holmes, in the last week. Sherlock embodies the first three steps. Holmes trained himself to develop the habit of being observant. We tend to train ourselves to do the opposite – to block things out. But Sherlock pushed through that and started to notice details. To prevent that becoming tiring or boring he trained himself to find those details interesting.
Anything can be interesting if we show interest in it. That was an epiphany that hit me one day in college. I was in a class that I found boring. And then I realized that the subject can’t be boring – because if it was, the professor would not have chosen to devote his life to it. I was the one making it boring. That realization was a wake up call and I became intrigued to learn why the professor found the subject fascinating.
Once Sherlock taught himself to notice details and then to find them interesting, he became curious about the why, what, how, when, and where of those details. What job would cause that particular pattern of wear on the cuffs of a sleeve? Where would one find the orange mud on the hem of those pants? He then had concrete, not abstract, problems to solve. Research was afoot.
Once these three habits are ingrained, learning becomes an almost automatic occurrence. We can amplify and accelerate it by doing any or all of the next four steps.
Travel works wonderfully – it exposes us to new details and details that contrast with our prior experiences. Why do the winemakers in Santorini shape their vines into baskets, close to the ground? That’s different than I’ve observed elsewhere. Or why do the people in this state call carbonated beverages pop instead of soda?
Talking to people works wonderfully. It is the most difficult one for me. I have poor self-esteem and assume other people won’t want to talk to me, so I don’t often initiate conversations. But this is my girlfriend’s true genius. She can talk to anyone and learn something from them. She managed to, in the hills of Salzburg, on the Sound of Music Tour, find someone from her hometown.
Reading opens up worlds to us. It’s one of my greatest joys. I have one British parent and one American parent. We moved back and forth a lot. As a result of that and the fact that kids start school younger in Britain, my first day of school was essentially third grade in Britain. I was way behind the other kids. My parents had just taught me to read. In my classroom there was a big box full of color coded folders. Each folder had stories in it that taught things ranging from history to science. Opening each folder was like a Christmas present, with some incredible new story I’d never heard of. I gorged on them and quickly passed the other kids and finished the box. I still remember some of them today, such as the story of King Alfred.
Creating projects is a good way to require yourself to learn. In college I had a friend that was really into cars. I didn’t understand half of the things he said. I felt ignorant. So I created the conditions where I would have to learn about cars. I gave my functioning car to my sister and bought a non-functioning 1966 Volvo Amazon that had spent a decade rusting in the woods and had two bullet holes from the previous owner, who was currently in Stark prison. I had to walk to and from school until I learned enough about cars to restore that Volvo.