This blog refers to the best 5 books I read in 2020 and goes deep on the matter. You can find the list of my best readings here.
Complete title – The Only Skill that Matters: The Proven Methodology to Read Faster, Remember More, and Become a SuperLearner
Author – Jonathan Levi
What are the barriers that discourage us from mastering a field of knowledge?
Most of times, we feel stupid or incompatible with a given art (like me with mathematics, during most of my life). Sure, we might be predisposed to literature more than sciences but, besides giving you an orientation ,that does not count in school.
We find some subjects artful and difficult to understand, let alone to remember what they are talking about. And that is because we lack interest in what we attempt to learn. Following the same pattern, we would excel in the field that we find more interesting. Is that always the case?
The Only Skills That Matters is the story of how Jonathan Levi fought his attention deficit disorder with techniques deemed so powerful that you can learn not only better, but also faster. With the help of his mentor Anna Goldentouch, Jonathan was able to complete an MBA at record time and became a best seller on Udemy with his course “Become a Superlearner”. That is also what his SuperHuman Academy is about.
Reviews about this book are quite discordant about the quality of the content and the real purpose of the item as sales-copy for other services. I also did not fully enjoyed it, however it made it to my 2020’s top-5 list! There are several reasons for that.
Here’s what you’ll find inside the book:
The phenomenology of forgetfulness
Before reading this book, I went across some material of other authors. Many focused on the power of memory, however I rarely have read something about why we forget things. Albeit not at high neuroscience level, this book highlights the reasons why majority of what we try to learn falls soon into oblivion. I already was accustomed with the theory of the forgetting curve, and this particular insight pushed me to learn even more about it.
Knowing that the brain has a section that acts as a filter for what we need to remember is important to me, as it is for everyone who is eager to master a new skill or has issues to remember something. That is, because we know how it works, we learn how to work around it.
What does it mean do be deeply involved in learning?
That is not to mistake with deep learning (in the field of computer science). Through this book I began to familiarize with the theories of adult learning, that compound what is called andragogy. The author refers mostly to the work of Malcolm Knowles, that focuses on the factors that influence the learning experiences in adults.
Adult’s perspective on learning is generally that: “if it is of no use, it is useless to learn”; which together with our inner memory filter, it constitues a barrier to upskilling and reskilling. Worry not, because here’s where play what is the titular “only skill that matters”. That is, in my opinion: curiosity.
The techniques traited in this book are nothing new, they are used by the greatest learner and memory champions out there: S3qr, imagery, using spatial memory and imagery to encode information; and for those who aren’t used to it, how to begin training them.
Everyone can be a “Super Learner”
But of course, you need to be conscious that “learning how to learn” is a skill on its own. And “The Only Skill That Matters” isn’t exactly a manual. It offers examples of how it is possible to build up those meta-learning skills and it also hints that it is something that requires time and dedication, as everything.
However, if handled as a game, as I did, it becomes compelling and effortlessly to better remember what we read and how to put it to practice.
A word of caution goes to speed-reading, that is one of the main skills Jonathan and its enterprise focus on. That is the part I actually enjoyed less when training it, and ultimately I abandoned it. It can work, and could be useful, but I did not find it sustainable for long periods of time. Thus, I stepped back from it and went back to traditional reading. Eventually, if you cannot master speed and retention altogether, you may find alternative, qualitative methods to optimize your way of studying.
My favourite quote from this book
“The ability to remember a list of facts is very different from the ability to think originally on the subject.”Jonathan Levi
This is a call on the difference between expertise and mastery. Knowing something (to be read as: having data) is a step for adult learners who, if not learning for personal enjoyment, need to put to use the newly acquired information. Being able to create new content based on existing one is something that comes natural to few, while the rest of us struggles with it. So let’s revolve around this concept to see it in a different light.
We can also intend expertise and mastery as states of mind in our learning journey. The fact that others could label us as experts or masters of something means acknowledgement; but not indulging on nomenclature is, in my opinion, essential to keep the mind sharp and clear from assumptions. So the only skill that matters rather become: being curious while humbled.
A true superlearner is, in my opinion, not that who can read 500 pages of a book in a day with 90% retention; but the one who never stops honing his skills by molding knowledge, and being able to share that wisdom with others.
What I learned from reading this book
For many years, I studied wrong and learned even worse. Rote memorization is the most standard among the standard tools we are ever given to study, it is boring and painful. It is the one that keeps us reading the same sentences on a book over and over until we do not know it by memory. But do we really have it, then? By the time we finished high school, we forgot most of what we consider useful as long as it makes us pass the exams. For university at least is another story, since we try to chose a field we are passionate about, or one we are at least curious about it. I’ve moved past rote learning before reading this book, and after reading it I was even more motivated to do so.
We don’t have bad memory by default: we don’t use it good. Rote learning is only one of the problems (here I wrote more about it). We aren’t taught of effective mnemonics and we don’t always have a chance in life to apply what we learn. Knowing how our brains work helped me reframe the way I study. Essentially, I aim to transform all my learning experiences in flow experiences. And for that we all need three things: a goal, a purpose and finally, the right resources.
Superlearning is a somewhat cerebral art, but offers great insights. As anticipated, this book as well as other works of the author may be liked or not. When I approached it I was skeptical, so I also engaged in Jonathan’s Superlearner course and did further research. Adults don’t have much time to learn and gets frustrated when they do not see short-term benefits or improvement, so speed-reading seems an appealing skill at first. But I think it is not for everyone, and it was not for me. Yet I got many interesting learning points out of this book and I moved much faster in my career. You must see learning as the journey, not as the goal, in order to complete what you started and having a meaning along the way.