After reading his newsletter for years, I got the chance to meet Scott Young this year at World Domination Summit. Hearing him speak got me even more fired up about reading his new book Ultralearning than I had been before. I want to do my own ultralearning project, and I’m taking his advice by planning it first.
Like most people with internet access, I tend to be a dilettante. Dipping in here and there on demand is one of the best things in life. I swear the main reason the internet was invented was to share video proof of cross-species animal interactions. Hardly an evening goes by that my husband and I aren’t leaning our heads together and going “WHOA!!!” I never expected to learn so much about capybaras in my adult life. Probably a lot of us have accidentally found ourselves serious students of... something. Slip-and-fall safety hazard analysis? Lip-syncing techniques? Fashion photography? Real-time descriptive linguistics?
(I used to joke with my parents in middle school that I was “doing my social studies homework” when I was on the phone).
All our internet time has gone to something. Somehow we’ve all adapted along the way. We’re using haptic technology, understanding skeuomorphic icons, picking up new slang, figuring out ways to send each other files that were totally unimaginable twenty years ago, and I know because I can distinctly remember how much I struggled with each of these developments. If I’d set out with a serious plan, thinking “Me learn tek now,” I’m sure I would have wound up on the floor reading graphic novels instead. (Which, if you’re into it, also has a certain onboarding process).
We’re able to do it easily when we think it’s fun, when we don’t think of it as “studying” in the first place. Just like when my husband taught me his method of making a seven-layer dip earlier this year. All I could think about was 1. Why I never knew, through fourteen years of friendship, that he could make this seven-layer dip and 2. How great it would be to have seven-layer dip on demand.
Everything should be like that. It should always feel that obvious just exactly why we would want to learn something new. How great it will be! AHA!
Scott Young himself has picked some really impressive ultralearning projects, which is of course why we care to read his book. First he put himself through a self-taught version of MIT. Then he learned four languages in a year. Then he learned to draw portraits. Then he wrote a book, got it published, and it became a bestseller. Nice! He’s still quite a young guy, so all we can do is to stand back and wonder what he’ll take on next. Building his own house? Becoming a master chef or a chess grandmaster? Black belt in Kung Fu?
This raises the question, if I think all of these projects are cool, would I want to do them myself?
It is a very special moment when it dawns on you that, if something is at all humanly possible, then YOU YOURSELF could learn to do that thing.
For instance, when I started “running” and almost blacked out after one block in my neighborhood, I wasn’t thinking about it. But a couple of years later I was: If millions of people have run a marathon, that’s... 26.2 miles? If millions of people have done it, then I bet I can.” And I did.
I’ve rarely been so happy and excited as the day I first got a hula hoop to spin, except for the day I finally did a headstand a few years later.
Stupid Human Tricks. Those are my forte. I couldn’t do any of this stuff as a little child, but as a middle-aged woman I’m 1. Stubborn enough, 2. Smart enough not to pull this stuff when my mom is watching, and 3. Covered by excellent health insurance. If I want to spend my forties trying to finally do the splits then that is my prerogative.
I’m thinking about an ultralearning project for 2020, and the first place my head goes is toward circus tricks, stunts, and stage magic. Here I thought I would be focusing on academics.
Whatever I choose, once I’ve made a public commitment then I know I will take it extremely seriously. This is, after all, how I generate content for my blog. Otherwise it would be literally nothing but photos of my pets, a list of books I read while lounging around with my pets, and perhaps sandwiches I ate in full view of aforementioned pets.
I like to spend the entire month of December in planning and review. This is because I can’t stand Christmas music and I try not to go out in public until it feels safe. Over the past decades, my New Year’s planning ritual has taken on a life of its own. It helps me to feel like I am living intentionally, finding time to do interesting things, and making sure I have something to show for my time on this planet. It puts a clearly defined timeline with regular reporting dates on my calendar.
Goals that I have chosen in the past tend to expand into three-year projects. I haven’t really gone out of my way in the past to set public three-year goals, mostly because I never feel that I’m making a three-year commitment when I start. It’s just that as I start to delve in, I start to get more and more curious about the subject, and the more curious I am, the more I learn, and the more I learn, the more interesting it gets. Three-year blocks of my life keep passing, one after another. If I’m going to get three years older regardless, I may as well have spent that time learning something that fascinates me.
The question is, how about you? What would you like to learn?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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