Many thought leaders are, by their nature, curious folks. They are life-long learners that constantly want to expose themselves to new and intriguing concepts. And that’s a good thing, but their learning habits are often counterproductive. Thought leaders frequently immerse themselves in a concept, jumping in at a blistering pace, almost obsessive in their pursuit of mastery. They’ll read a dozen books on the subject matter in a month, and spend days on end diving into the latest academic research.
The problem with this is that while it may very well be intuitive, “Hey, I’m really curious about “X” so I might as well drink from the firehose,” it just isn’t effective. We need to learn to sip and to savor concepts and ideas. Space out the time intervals and consume smaller amounts of content over a longer period of time. Sure, it takes a bit of discipline, but your brain needs the time to process and to build new ideas on top of the old ones. We need the time to reflect and to contemplate, to allow the theories and ideas to set and then come to life in new ways that are relevant to us based on our perspective, mind-set and world view.
Too many of us have “crammed” for an exam, meeting, or client deliverable for a variety of reasons— poor planning, lack of time, unrealistic expectations of others—it becomes a habit. Immerse yourself deeply in whatever it is you are doing or want to learn and voila you gain mastery in a short period of time. However, retention is not optimal when we learn things in this manner. The way to increase the efficacy of how you learn (and it is worth taking the time to think about how you learn best, after all, we all spend a lot of time learning but very few of us understand how we as individuals learn best) is to decrease the time between when you are exposed to a new concept and when you apply it, particularly in the work place. Adults learn better this way, much better in fact.
So, the next time you’re eager to master a new concept, idea, skill, or talent, think spacing not immersion. Think of it as a journey instead of the “pulling an all-nighter” method. Take a small sip, let it sink in, seek an opportunity to apply it and focus on the outcomes of each and every learning experiment. It may take you a bit longer, but, if the goal is to master something, this will get you to a level of mastery that will stick as opposed to a temporary uptick that will fade away.