In 2021, I learned how to fly a plane, be the CEO of a company with 100+ employees, speak Hebrew, and reach level 1700 in chess.
I’m not an expert on learning, but I’ve learned a thing or two about learning new skills and how to learn FAST.
In this post, I’m going to share powerful mental tools you can use to accelerate your learning and master any skill.
Are you ready?
Let’s dive in.
How to Learn Anything FAST
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Why Learn How to Learn?
Think about this, if you can learn how to speak a language or learn a new skill, when you do something else in another area of your life — like in your business or even in your relationships — don’t you think those skills will transfer over?
Let me give you an example.
A friend of mine recently became a father and I asked him how he’s preparing for it. What books is he reading? What videos is he watching? Has he hired any coaches who are fathers?
He said no. He’s winging it.
You can wing a lot of things and figure stuff out on your own… Or you can put some structure and concepts in place to master the things you want to do in life.
Up to you. I know what I’d choose.
One of my favorite books on this is actually Mastery by Robert Greene. It’s an old-school book. He talks about how there’s a process to learning stuff, and you have to be responsible for how you approach your learning if you want to be able to master it.
Let me walk through a specific example.
When I started out on YouTube a couple of years ago, it was just me filming super casually on my phone. Some of y’all watched it, but it wasn’t really strategic and it wasn’t organized.
But over the past 18 months, I’ve hired experts, I’ve built out a team, and I’ve actually learned how to run a successful YouTube channel. And through learning how to do YouTube, it’s impacted some of the ways I run AppSumo, too.
So even though something might seem small — like learning soccer, or basketball, or jump rope — it might actually be an amazing skill that you can transfer over to more significant or serious parts of your life.
Learning How to Learn
How do you approach learning?
There’s two key things.
Step 1: Make Sure Your “Why” is Powerful
The first is knowing your “why.” (You’ve probably heard this before.)
For example, I have a really strong “why” behind why I want to learn Hebrew. My father’s from Israel and his family still lives there. Since he passed away, one of my dreams is to travel to Israel and be able to speak fluently with his family, and then maybe one day speak to my dad in heaven.
I know that’s kind of a crazy thought, but that’s a really strong motivator for me when I have my Hebrew lessons and I don’t really want to go. Even though it’s fun and I like my teacher, I still need a little motivation to get to class, so I remind myself of my “why” and that gives me the motivation I need to keep going forward with it.
For you, let’s just say you want to be a video editor.
Why don’t you write out your fantasy?
So write out where you want to be in 5 years. Maybe you want to be editing movies for Pixar. Maybe you want to be editing YouTube videos for me (or maybe not). Whatever it is, put it on your mirror or your phone so you see it regularly and that will remind you of your “why” when things get tough.
Step 2: Be Accountable for the Outcome
The second thing that’s critical to know about learning how to learn, is taking responsibility for learning.
This is really interesting to me because when we learn in school, we just take what we’re given. But in the real world, the responsibility falls on us.
For example, when I started Hebrew lessons a few years ago, I called a local Jewish community group and asked if they knew a teacher and they set me up with one. A few months later, she wasn’t teaching classes anymore but I wanted to keep learning.
So I called another teacher.
The next teacher was actually better! But it’s not about comparing teachers — it’s about taking a step back and realizing that I had to be responsible for what I want to learn and how I want to learn it.
I had to be proactive.
It was on me to make the change happen, not just take whatever was given to me.
You’re responsible for identifying what you need to do in order to improve your own skills.
Storytime: How I’m Learning CEO Skills
When it comes to learning how to be a CEO of a company, before AppSumo, I really only ran a company of around 20 people. Now, AppSumo has 124 employees and will have around 162 by the end of the year!
Which is amazing. And it’s a lot.
So how did I learn how to actually be a CEO?
First, my “why.”
It’s clear: I want to help people become entrepreneurs, and I want to be a great CEO.
Next, I’m being accountable to learning how to be a great CEO of a big company. I’m not going to wing it. Like I said, I want to be a great CEO.
How do you actually measure what a great CEO is?
You have to decide what your ideal goal or outcome is.
That’s a subjective thing. I’m deciding for myself, and you can choose what you want it to be for yourself.
For me to learn how to be a CEO, let’s just break down that process.
What do I actually need to know to get there?
For me, I get advice from people who have already done it.
Because they’ve already been through the problems that I’m having!
Learn From The People Who Have Done It
None of us are unique. Most of us are going through the same problems that everyone has gone through. We’ve gone through being lonely. We’ve gone through being CEO. We’ve gone through going to Mars (okay, maybe not yet).
But we’re not alone in what we’re facing. So I ask people who’ve been in my shoes for help. I don’t reinvent the wheel or struggle more than I need to.
I found a guy named Raj who’s already done a lot of the things that I want to do, and now I go to him on a biweekly basis for advice on the key questions I have. I’m basically taking a shortcut by getting a lot of knowledge he’s gained from the experiences that he’s already gone through.
Who can you find that’s already gone to the promised land?
Actually Take the Time to Study
Every week, in my calendar I’ve scheduled 1 hour to study leadership.
There’s unlimited content to learn from on YouTube, HBR.org, and in books — like the one I’m reading now which is called Work Rules by Laszlo Bock who was the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google.
Most of the information you need is out there. But are you actually putting in the time to study it now?
And not just studying it! But taking the information you learn and integrating it into real life.
Learn Fast by Getting Feedback
This has been one of the most powerful tools of learning and growth for me.
I always think of feedback as a gift.
In almost every single meeting, I ask at the end for people to give me feedback. I ask them to tell me how the meeting went and for feedback on my behavior.
And I learn a lot from it.
Like today, feedback came back twice that I wasn’t including people when making decisions, so I wrote it down in my leadership notes and now it’s something that I’m going to be more mindful of so I can be even more effective in the future.
Be Patient With Yourself
Through being mindful of my own learning process and learning how to learn FAST, I realized that it takes time to learn things.
I know that isn’t what you want to hear. We all want to learn a language, be an expert video editor, or a top CEO in a week.
And it’s possible to optimize the learning process so you can learn as fast as possible, but you still need to have patience with yourself.
Give yourself a break.
Don’t be so hard on yourself when you’re not an expert immediately. Realize that this is actually a journey. It’s gonna take you 10 years to become an expert, or even longer.
So find things that you want to learn, and be patient about taking time with them.
Change the Way You Learn Skills
Next up in your learning process, change things up and see how that goes.
What do I mean by that?
For me, I noticed with Hebrew that I needed some structure. So I found a site called Ulpan that has a very structured course. So I take a class on there once per week and then do 2-3 lessons of audio learning on Duolingo per week.
That combination creates the structure I need to elevate my Hebrew skills. For whatever you’re learning, find the structure that’s both manageable and effective for you.
Practicing vs. Playing
The other thing about how to learn fast that I really want to highlight is practicing versus playing.
I’ve been playing squash for a while, and I watch a lot of videos to study the gameplay.
But, there’s a VERY big difference between studying it and actually being on the court.
My brother taught me this thing about practicing versus playing…
When you’re playing the game, you’re not really learning the game. You’re just playing the game.
So if you want to be good at the game (whatever it is — mountain biking, being a CEO, video editing, speaking Hebrew, playing squash, etc.) you have to actually PRACTICE the back-end of things.
- For a CEO, that would be practicing leading meetings or practicing optimizing your schedule
- For squash, that would mean practicing backhands over and over and over
- For video editing, that would mean learning different editing techniques and practicing them until they’re second-nature
Then, when you’re in a meeting or on the court or editing a video, you’ve developed the skills to be excellent at what you’re doing.
You’re not just winging it and hoping for the best. You’ve practiced.
Find an Accountability Buddy
Find someone to support you on a regular basis for whatever you’re learning.
So every single Friday, I have a thing called the Senior Leadership Team where my business partner Chad and the former CEO of AppSumo Ayman, give me feedback on my leadership.
There’s two questions that they ask me every week:
- Are you moving the business forward?
- What is the top focus and how are you doing against that?
Who’s holding you accountable?
Find someone who you’re actually going to care about what they have to say to you.
Commit to Taking Action
Commit to one year of learning everything you can to reach a certain level of outcome that you define, and try the different things that I talked about in this post.
If you commit to that for at least one year, I promise that you’ll have benefited from it, and you’ll have learned how to learn and you can apply that to other areas of your life.
Try the Law of 100 to really stay on track. Commit to 100 days or 100 videos or 100 lessons before you even think about giving up or anything like that.
What’s scary definitely becomes easy.
Coming into meetings as a CEO and people are looking at me and listening to me, it’s scary.
But the more time you put in on the court, the more you study, the more you learn, the more you practice, and the more you continually improve — the less scary it all is.
And think of learning like stairs.
You’re gonna go up and you’re gonna plateau. And then you’ll go up again, and you’ll plateau again.
That’s what Robert Greene talks about in his book, Mastery. If you can get through those plateaus, you can become an expert at anything.
Just keep persevering.
And honestly, make it enjoyable for yourself.
If you’re doing all this stuff and it’s not fun and there’s no reward — how are you gonna be motivated to do it? So make it fun for yourself somehow so you keep sticking with it.
Now get out there and make it happen. I know you can do it.
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