Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Feel Like The Incredible Hulk: Learn Anything You Want This Year

If you're like me, you're spending parts of the beginning of this year considering ways to be better, live better, make more money, be more healthy, create more fun, experience more love, and give more to the world in 2009.

In a search for how to maximize vacation time I came across a blog by Tim Ferriss, an author who wrote the book entitled The 4-hour Workweek Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. While browsing Tim's blog, I came across a video which ought to inspire most people, entitled "How To Feel Like The Incredible Hulk":

If you don't watch this, you're doing yourself a disservice. I'm not completely sure that Tim succeeds in SHOWING us how to FEEL Like The Incredible Hulk other than how to overcome FEAR. It isn't really about fear, it is about PROCESS. You throw out "the how" and instead focus on "the WHAT". Of course, once you start doing something easier, with more results in less time, you NO LONGER FEEL AFRAID OF IT! That's the glory of his process. In so doing, I feel Tim introduces a revolutionary approach in learning.

Tim's example topics are swimming, foreign language, and ballroom dancing. Each could be an example of aptitudes many people struggle to learn, would you not agree? Yet, I believe Tim describes a brilliant approach that takes something daunting and makes it easier to grasp, thus making it more quickly and effectively something you CAN DO NOW. I'll outline it for you below.

In each example Tim gives in the video, he demonstrates the following techniques to improve what you learn to become a master:

1. THROW OUT EVERYTHING you've been TAUGHT so FAR on the subject.

2. Deconstruction: with a new perspective, define WHAT elements of this aptitude are MOST IMPORTANT, by deconstructing what experts do.

3. Find WHO or WHAT SYSTEM can TEACH YOU THOSE ELEMENTS you deconstruct the most efficiently.

4. Reconstruction: Evaluate WHAT do you WANT or NEED TO LEARN to understand THOSE ELEMENTS.

5. STUDY THOSE "WHATS" from point 4 and use them to MASTER THAT SYSTEM.

It is actually a little more complex than this, but I believe this is the process Tim uses to break down how to learn anything. He probably learned this as an athlete, as he recommends treating language as a sport. While I believe that, at some point, you'll need to transition from viewing your topic as "sport" into viewing it as "art" to become truly expert, taking the topic you wish to learn and tackling it as a sport seems to be a rapid way to learn.

The approach applied to swimming:

Let's look at his approach to swimming. With swimming, you will notice his objective was to travel a large distance in water without feeling like he could possibly drown. He didn't really say that, but that's what I gathered. So, let's plug it in the learning technique:

1. Swimming the common freestyle swimming stroke is not the most efficient way to swim long distances effortlessly. The principles and assumptions of swimming, according to Tim, were wrong! Thus, swimming always seemed so difficult and caused fear, when he realized that by breaking down the question "what's the worst that can happen" and then pushing beyond the assumptions to create a new approach to swimming.

2. A better way to swim might be to find ways to eliminate resistance, streamline your body through the water, and get air more efficiently.

3. Discovery: TOTAL IMMERSION. You will notice Tim's focus on TOTAL IMMERSION, his notes on the book and the video, then practice to become a better swimmer in just 10 days. I myself have been considering ways to become a better swimmer, so I thank Tim for sharing this with me. Total Immersion (TI) makes considerable sense to me, too, so I'll be trying it this next week at a pool near me!

4. Evaluate what you need to learn to be a better swimmer using TI: notice how in the post I just referenced in point 3 how Tim makes notes, and then breaks down the basics to focus on: (a) swimming on your side rather than your stomach, (b)focus on shoulder roll rather than pulling or kicking, (c) keeping your head in-line with your spine, driving your hands down into the water rather than floating above the water. These observations and processes are Tim's examples that demonstrate how you focus on learning THE WHAT in WHAT MATTERS MOST to LEARN the NEW TECHNIQUE.

5. Practice this, and also implement refinements to improve and MASTER THE TECHNIQUE you've adopted. You'll notice how Tim then expands and shows a video of "switching hand positions" learned from the Russian swim team to reduce stress and maximize efficiency so that you can swim more laps without tiring.

I can see why Tim is excited to share his ideas on How to Feel Like the Incredible Hulk: his process could be applied to just about ANYTHING!

The approach applied to foreign language:

He further demonstrates this with examples of how he learned a foreign language:

1. He found efforts to learn language embarrassing and ridiculously time-consuming and difficult. He decided to abandon traditional ways to learn Japanese to find a new SYSTEM.

2. His new system had to be something that would break down language into easy to learn parts and then translate across other languages, so he could learn them, too. Again, what are the FASTEST LANGUAGE LEARNERS DOING that sets them apart? Answer: Deconstruction!

3. He discovered a system of learning Japanese, the Japanese Kanji Wall chart, which upon understanding led him to a method approach to learning over six languages. If you learn these characters, you can learn how to read Japanese. He also determined six sentences that enabled him to evaluate just about any language from several perspectives:

The apple is red.
It is John’s apple.
I give John the apple.
We give him the apple.
He gives it to John.
She gives it to him.

According to Tim, "these six sentences alone expose much of the language..." These sentences show you how the language works, so you can drill down from these basics to simplify how you learn the language. It's a method approach to learning but apparently it works.

Sweet, no?

4. What is important about this system is that material matters more than method.

Again, the WHAT more than the HOW. The materials of language include the sentence structure, in comparison with sentence structure you already understand, then in comparison with how the language will be used. For example, is it Subject - Verb - Object (SVO) or Subject - Object - Verb (SOV)? This matters if you want to differentiate Japanese v. Chinese. But it also matters when you get to the WHAT Tim evaluates things like vowel sounds. If they are going to be more difficult, learn those first, then move on to the building blocks of subjects and what you want to say. The what in language, as it turns out, is how it sounds!

5. Again, practice, then learn more advanced aspects of language as you seek to master the language. Tim points out elsewhere in his blog that he hits the wall with mastering languages at 6 months, then has to have the passion to push forward to go beyond that wall. It helps to know these things.

I'm going to apply this approach to learning Spanish and Portuguese over the next year.

The approach applied to ballroom dancing:

Tim's last example is ballroom dancing. He again follows his process here:

1. He shares his disaster story where a great dancer embarrassed him in front of his classmates. He then determined that he would learn Tango and learn to COMPETE in Tango.

2. He deconstructed the dance not from a LEAD but from a FOLLOW, so that he would know the sensitivities and nuance the FOLLOW needs in order for him to LEAD more effectively.

3. He went to Argentina and learned that teaching methods were either implicit or explicit. He then found several systems of tango dance and determined one he could excel in: long-sweeping movements, variations in pivots, and usage of variance in tempo in order to compete against someone who danced for thirty years and win. He then deconstructed the dance steps (hundreds of them) with video from a professional dancer he admired.

4. He lost some weight, learned those steps, and went on to compete nationally in tango dancing contests and won a quarterfinal!

5. I'm sure that he continued to develop some additional dance steps as he learned additional dances, and realized he could incorporate those into his style, but again this process started with deconstruction and then reconstruction from the very best who could teach the WHAT movements he was trying to learn.

I'm going to take this approach to learning to something I've been working on: bongos and piano. First: bongo drums. I've been working to learn the bongo drums lately and sometimes play them publicly; however, I know I must improve in order to IMPRESS people with my bongo drumming.

To use Tim's approach, I'm going to first forget what I know (people hit the drum) and learn from a new approach: that hand techniques, finger techniques, and the speed must be integrated from basic "forms" that can be quickly learned and carried into other instruments, too. I will then break it down into the basics of WHAT I need to know, WHO knows that BEST, then LEARN THOSE THINGS. I already had one lesson with my friend, Tim Costa, who traveled to Cuba for a month to study with masters of Cuban music. So, learning bongos starts with the "martillo" pattern. I've been learning that pattern over slow and faster rhythm structures. To expand upon this knowledge and skill, I purchased "The Art of Bongo Drumming" by Trevor Salloum. I'll show more on this in the future...

Are you striving to learn something new, too? Try this system and see how it works for you:

1. THROW OUT EVERYTHING you've been TAUGHT so FAR on the subject.

2. Deconstruction: with a new perspective, define WHAT elements of this aptitude are MOST IMPORTANT, by deconstructing what experts do.

3. Find WHO or WHAT SYSTEM can TEACH YOU THOSE ELEMENTS you deconstruct the most efficiently.

4. Reconstruction: Evaluate WHAT do you WANT or NEED TO LEARN to understand THOSE ELEMENTS.

5. STUDY THOSE "WHATS" from point 4 and use them to MASTER THAT SYSTEM.

Special nod: I'd like to extend my special thanks to Tim Ferriss for providing inspiration for this article.

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