How to Be Better at Learning (4 Hour Chef Summary)

How to Become a Better Learner

Becoming better at learning, aka learning to become a better learner, is a skill you can improve and grow. Learning about learning isn’t some silly endeavor, but can be a fantastic strategy for getting to your goals faster.

Do you want to reach your goals faster? What if you could unlock a more efficient way to be successful? What would it feel like if you could be proficient in anything you try?

Learning how to become a better learner, and leaning how to become better at learning is possible with the right framework.

In this post, you will learn how to become a better learner.

Learning How to Become Better at Learning

Can you actually become better at learning?

It sounds bizarre, but there’s actually a science to becoming a better learner.

Why should you care about learning how to become a better learner?

I’ll give an example from something I’m doing at my 9 to 5: learning web development.

When I first started, I had no idea what I was doing.

HTML? CSS? What are these things? And they work together in some magical way?

Slowly, but surely, over the last year, I’ve learned how to build the front-end of a website. Now, at work, I’m learning React JS and putting that into practice. Since I already knew some Javascript, and the fundamentals of HTML and CSS, learning React has been a little easier to pick up, but there’s still so much to learn.

What if I could speed this process up 10%? What about 100% faster? Wouldn’t this be nice?

That’s why learning how to learn is important: you can speed up your time to proficiency, and get to doing great work (instead of banging your head against the wall and struggling to continue to figure out what’s important and what’s not important).

Before doing ANYTHING in life, it’s important to define a few things and set expectations.

What is your end goal? Knowing your end goal will help with the next steps in learning, which is why it’s critical.

Let’s first talk about goals briefly, and then we will get into a framework for meta-learning and learning how to learn more effectively.

What’s Your Learning Goal?

Before starting any endeavor, it’s critical to ask yourself about what you want to accomplish.

In particular, why are you interested in learning and personal development? Why are you interested in learning about whatever topic you are interested in learning?

A few questions you should ask yourself before starting:

  • Do you want to be an expert in a certain field or topic?
  • Do you want to become a little more knowledgeable to round out your wisdom?
  • Are you looking to get a job or new role from your studying?
  • Is there a certain test or level of proficiency you are after through your actions?

Your answers should come from within – you have taken control of your life and are now on the path to success.

An example from my life is from sports. I love playing sports, and in particular, playing basketball.

One skill I’ve worked on considerably the last few years is my dribbling.

What were my goals for my dribbling?

I wanted to be able to dribble with both hands comfortably. I wanted to be able to comfortably go between both legs, around my back, and when in trouble, be able to keep the ball without it being stolen.

These were my goals for the skill of dribbling.

Figuring out your goals is step 0a before diving into learning. After finding out your what, let’s move on to step 0b: figuring out your why.

What is Your Why for Learning?

Without a why, there’s no point to doing anything.

If you don’t care about some action, then there is literally no point to doing it.

It’s critical to have a why, or you will not put full effort into your work, Without full effort, your results will be sub-par.

With a why, you can do anything.

What’s your why?

  • Do you want a better career?
  • Is it you want to increase your income?
  • Do you want to have more fun in your hobbies and unlocking a new skill will do help this?
  • Are you competitive and just want to learn to be better than your friends?
  • Do you just enjoy what you are learning and want to learn more casually?

Your why could really be anything – as long as you are aware of it, you will be on track.

Going back to my dribbling example, my why was quite simple. I wanted to be better at dribbling so I could be a reliable teammate (someone who wouldn’t lose the ball when I started moving around) and also, I wanted to be able to imitate some of my favorite players in the NBA with their moves.

With your why and goals, you are now ready to start learning and growing.

Before starting, it’s important to define what’s your end goal and why you are doing something.

Without a goal, you won’t know where you are going, and without a why, what’s the point?

Now that you have your destination in mind, and your why, let’s get into becoming better at learning.

A Strategy to Become a Better Learner

When learning about different topics, books with techniques and strategies for success can be incredibly beneficial for your progress as a person.

Recently, I read The 4-Hour Chef.

The 4-Hour Chef is a book all about learning and how to become a better learner (and at the same time, teaches you how to cook… but that’s not what we are going to focus on in this post).

In the book, Tim Ferris explains how anyone can be an expert in anything in 6 to 12 months, and if practiced effectively, even 6 to 12 weeks.

In his teens, he was a student in Japan and had to learn Japanese on the fly to perform well in school. Over the next few months, he struggled, but finally it clicked.

Instead of trying to memorize and learn the entire language at once, he figured out patterns and tricks to “unlock” the language more effectively.

After scoring at the highest level in his Japanese tests, he wanted to see if his strategy could be applied to other languages. Now, he has mastered many languages – some he learned in as little as 2 weeks!

At this point, you are probably wondering, how can you learn anything in 6 to 12 months? What’s this amazing learning strategy? What are his secrets?

Let’s get into The 4-Hour Chef Learning Strategy.

The 4-Hour Chef Learning Strategy

The 4-Hour Chef Learning Strategy is simple. Complexity is what trips up many people when they go to learn.

Ever heard of keep it simple stupid? K.I.S.S.?

The 4-Hour Chef learning strategy is simple as well: DiSSS.

DiSSS stands for the following:

  • Deconstruction
    • What are the smallest learnable pieces of information or tasks which you can break the learning into?
  • Selection
    • From those smallest blocks of information, which ones should you focus on? (20/80 Principle)
  • Sequencing
    • What is the correct order you should go about applying the important small blocks?
  • Stakes
    • How can ensure you follow the program? Can you set-up a system where if you don’t do the tasks you identified that there are real negative consequences?

Next, there are some advanced techniques we need to cover to give you a full strategy and framework to learn anything.

The advanced techniques are represented by the acronym CaFE:

  • Compression
    • How can you compress and condense all of the information into a cheat sheet which is simple and not complex?
  • Frequency
    • How long should you practice? What is the right time period for your studying and doing for maximum effectiveness?
  • Encoding
    • How can you make your ideas and thoughts stick for the long term? Can you represent your thoughts with images or sounds for maximum retention?

For the rest of the post, let’s go into each of these in more detail.

Deconstruct Your Goals to Figure Out Your Path

deconstructing your goals for more effective learningIn the DiSSS acronym, deconstruction is step 1.

What is deconstruction?

Essentially, deconstruction is exploration.  To deconstruct something is to dig around, get the lay of the land, and understand what there is to learn to become an expert.

After getting a feel for what is out there, the next step is to try to figure how the smallest learnable blocks which you will be learning and performing.

How can you find these blocks?

Tim Ferris recommends the 4 following methods:

  • Reducing
    • What are the common patterns, strokes, actions, etc. which make up the desired skill?
    • Figure out the mechanics of the skill, and try to break it down:
      • For example, in running, there have been countless studies on how to bring your foot up and then bring your foot down, for maximum power.
      • Without this knowledge, just going out and running probably won’t get us to our goals as fast as possible.
  • Interviewing
    • Who are the experts in the skill you want to become better at?
    • Better yet, who are the people and practitioners who aren’t just talking heads, but actually have practiced and became better over time?
    • Find out from others who have been successful – stand on the shoulders of giants!
  • Reversal
    • Have you ever heard of reverse engineering? Essentially, you go from a finished product, back to the bones.
    • This method works well with physical objects: cooking, electronics, etc.
  • Translating
    • Are there any parallels you can draw to the current task at hand from previous experience?
    • The method of translation works well with languages: both spoken, but also in programming.

Some of these methods will be better than others, so thinking critically about which one makes the most sense for you will be important.

Select the Best Actions by Applying the Pareto Principle

After figuring out what is necessary, now it’s time to apply the Pareto Principle, and select which 20% of actions are going to lead to 80% of the results.

The goal with learning is proficiency and excellence in the shortest period of time; why do somethings which will only get you 5% of the way. when you could do something which will get you 50% of the way?

In other words, what can you learn today which will bring a large percentage of the results?

First, what is the Pareto Principle?

The Pareto Principle is an observed pattern which shows most things in life are not evenly distributed.

Also known as the 80/20 principle, the Pareto Principle states that 80% of the output comes from 20% of the input – and this is observed in many areas:

  • 20% of workers produce 80% of the work
  • 20% of the customers produce 80% of the sales
  • Applied to this learning series, 20% of your actions and things you learn will bring 80% of our results.

The next logical question then is how do you find the 20% of actions? How do you figure out what is completely necessary, and what can wait?

These are difficult questions to answer. Each learning situation is different.

For me, when I’m learning something new, I dive down the rabbit hole.

I watch a couple YouTube videos, do a bunch of Googling, and try to better understand what will result in a headache and what will result in success.

Experimenting and doing my best to get an overview is the first part, and then I start to pare down the results.

Again, each learning situation is different and if you find yourself getting a headache and not seeing results with one methods, then maybe it’s time to try another one.

After setting your goal and deconstructing what you want to learn, figuring out the best course of action is critical.

What are the 20% of actions which can bring 80% of the results? What are the core things you should learn first which will help you get to proficiency fastest?

After figuring out the core pieces to your puzzle, it’s time to order them for your learning success.

Optimally Ordering Your Actions for Success with Sequencing

After figuring out our goals and breaking down these goals into smaller, learnable blocks, figuring out what’s most important is key for success in your learning.

It’s now time to optimize your actions by looking to answer the questions, “how can I best sequence my actions to get the best results?”

The goal with learning and doing is not just to find the right pieces of the puzzle, but also, find how those pieces fit together.

Let’s say you are looking to bake a cake.

It’s probably not optimal to put the pan in the oven without any of the eggs or flour in the pan…

While this is an overly simplistic example, if you don’t do the things you are learning in the correct order, you may get sub-optimal results.

Ultimately, the purpose of this exercise is to ensure you are doing things and having continuous small wins. Many training programs have huge expectations up front and as a result, leave many people in the dust.

How do you optimally order your actions for success?

There are a few strategies for figuring out the optimal sequence of actions:

  1. Go in reverse
    • Reverse engineering is a great strategy for understanding how things work.
    • If you can take it apart, you can put it together
  2. Inventory what others have done
    • You do’t need to reinvent the wheel – copying others’ paths work!
  3. Ask yourself if there’s anything in your past which you can leverage for your future

What’s the best way about going towards your goals? While it’s great to know what the pieces of the puzzle are, it’s also equally as critical to figure out how these pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Again, ultimately, the purpose of this sequencing exercise is to ensure you are doing the right things and having continuous small wins.

After performing the exercise of asking yourself these different questions and thinking critically, you are now equipped with a plan.

Taking action is the next step.

After you’ve figured out your master plan for learning the new skill, you need to guarantee a way you’ll do the work.

Why Stakes are Critical for Learning and Work

Guarantee You'll Do the WorkHave you ever started something and a few weeks later, the spark had faded?

Starting off, you were really excited to be doing something new. Then, for whatever reason, the habit didn’t completely form, or your priorities shifted.

How come it seems incredibly difficult to stick with something for more than a few days, or weeks at a time?

What went wrong?

What if I told you there was a way to guarantee you get your work done?

I have a question for you: would you work harder to make $100, OR work harder to avoid losing $100?

If you are like me, I’m guessing you would work harder to avoid losing $100.

Naturally, humans are loss averse, meaning, humans would prefer to avoid a loss than seek the equivalent gain.

When learning something new, or doing something new, there have to be stakes. An easy example of stakes is at your day job: if you don’t show up, you’ll be fired.

A way to guarantee you’ll do the work from The 4-Hour Chef is the concept of donating to an “anti-charity”. 

Let’s say, for example, you are anti-gun and hate the NRA.

How motivated would you be if you had to donate $10 to the NRA every time you didn’t do what you said you were going to do?

Another example of stakes include an accountability partner where the loser has to buy dinner. There are many possibilities to use stakes, and you can structure this however you want.

At the end of the day, you have to figure out what the best way to get the work done is for you.

By using stakes, you can ensure you get the work done.

Now, let’s take a look at a few advanced things to consider when learning something new.

Retaining Information through Compression and One Page Cheat Sheets

The first advanced how to become a better learner topic is compression.

Every new subject and topic can be overwhelming when starting.

What if there was a way to retain what you’ve learned in an effective way?

Many subjects are incredibly complicated and have so much information. What’s important in your subject? What doesn’t matter?

One of the ways to retain what’s important in a topic is to compress the information into a one page cheat sheet.

Two different types of cheat sheets which the 4 Hour Chef recommends are the following:

  • Prescriptive cheat sheets
    • Writing out all of the principles and rules for a subject so you can go back and build from there
  • Practice cheat sheets
    • Writing out real world examples which will lead to the principles after examining those examples

For example, a prescriptive cheat sheet for driving a car might have the following information:

  • Hit the right pedal when you want to accelerate, hit the left pedal to stop.
  • Try to accelerate and decelerate smoothly.
  • Come to complete stops at a red light or stop sign.
  • Drive the speed limit.
  • Pass on the left.
  • Yield to other cars on your right.

Following these rules and principles would probably get you to becoming a fairly decent driver.

Of course, there are many other rules and regulations on the road (and these are very important to follow…), but the concept is the same when learning any other subject.

Being able to take a concept, break it into simple blocks, and then remembering the most important pieces, will allow you to learn anything at a fast, but low stress, pace.

What’s most important for success? Everything which isn’t important is not necessary to remember.

At the end of the day, a key to learning and becoming better is to always be compressing.

How Often and Long Should You Practice and be Learning?

Have you ever been in the middle of learning something, taken a short 5 to 10 minute break, came back, and everything clicked?

Sometimes, the best thing to do when you are in a rut is to stop digging and take a break.

One of the simplest, yet confusing questions is how long should you practice for progress.

Can you grow only doing 5 minutes a week? OR, should you be doing 25 minutes a day?

There are many studies on this, but it just comes down to figuring out what works best for you and for your goals. If you want to become awesome at something fast, you will have to practice every day for at least a little bit.

One way to keep your level of engagement and efficiency at a high level is to take breaks.

If you are going to train for 30 minutes or more, then a break here and there will vastly improve your results.

One other pro learning hack is based on the Von Restorff effect: learning something and associating it with something crude or inappropriate will allow you to remember and keep going at a high level.

When figuring out the frequency for your practicing and learning, it’s important to critically think and figure out what’s best for you.

The Power of Imagery and Association: Remember More with Encoding

What if there was a way to remember anything you wanted?

Think back to your favorite memories: can you remember those moments like they are a movie playing in your head?

Let me ask you a question: Is it easily to remember a string of letters or numbers, OR is it easier to remember a string of images?

The answer is images, right?

What are the 7 colors of the color wheel?

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

I bet you had that right at the tip of your tongue the second after reading that question.

Why? Simple, when you were in art class many years ago, you encoded ROY G BIV in your mind to never forget the color wheel.

There are a few strategies for encoding:

  • Mmenomics
    • A mmenomic are a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something
  • Chunking
    • The strategy to remember a phone number is to use chunking: chunk it into zip code, the first 3 digits, and then the last 4 digits.
  • Imagery
    • Can you create a picture in your head which represents the concept at hand? If there is a graphic representation of what you are learning, you will remember it more effectively.

Using these strategies will allow you to remember and recall information much more effectively and efficiency in your studies.

Become a Better Learner with The 4-Hour Chef

Becoming better at learning is a great skill to learn and improve upon.

The 4-Hour Chef is a fantastic book and guide for learning the skill of meta-learning. The DiSSS and CaFE framework provided will help you get to your goals much faster.

Learning how to learn, becoming better at learning, and growing as a learner all will make your job in this fast paced world so much easier and more efficient.