The point of learning is to understand the world better; to connect ideas and make them work.
But most of our time spent “learning” is wasted. We memorize little facts or scraps of trivia, and then forget them as soon as our test is over. We read, listen and watch hours of content every day, but retain nearly none of it.
The reason? We don’t take the time to understand the lesson, so it never makes a permanent home in our brain. To make knowledge useful, we must be able to connect it to other knowledge.
Here’s the Feynman technique:
1 – Pretend to teach the concept to a sixth-grader;
2 – Identify the gaps in your explanation;
3 – Reduce the explanation to be as simple as possible;
4 – Teach the concept to someone who knows the material.
Here’s how it worked for me:
After graduating from college, I applied for an advanced certification in the field of fitness coaching. The textook was thick, and the exam had a notoriously high failure rate (around 60%). This, of course, made the certification even more desirable.
To prepare, I set up a chalkboard in my kitchen (literally a 3-foot-high, plastic kids’ “school” toy.) I ‘taught’ the concepts in the textbook to my silverware drawer. I pretended they were ten years old, and simplified my language as much as possible. When I couldn’t simplify a concept, I knew that I didn’t understand it well enough. I went back to the text and read more, and then returned to my little lectern and “taught” the concept.
On the exam, I had no problem remembering anything, because I understood it well. I finished in the top 1%.
The Feynman technique works because it identifies the gaps in our own understanding. When you KNOW something, you don’t have to try and remember it.
Einstein reportedly said, ““If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” We make logical leaps in our own knowledge all the time. Teaching the concept (even to an imaginary audience) shows us where the gaps lie.
Years later, I used the Feynman technique to help me implement the business-saving advice my mentor was giving me.
I took the books, articles and lectures he gave me and translated them. I wrote them out in the simplest language possible. Then, after a few months, I started publishing them for other gym owners.
My purpose was to test the ideas on an audience who (presumably) were far ahead of me in their gym business. But the outcome was something different. My blog–named “DontBuyAds.com” after the first lesson my mentor taught me–became a resource for other people.
Four four years, I ‘taught’ these lessons from books and mentors as a way to learn them better myself. When I further condensed them into my first book, it sold over 32,000 copies. Now I teach people to teach the same lessons to their staff so that they can learn them better.
The Feynman technique is powerful for opening your mind, learning information better, and making connections to what you already know.