Over the past couple weeks I’ve been studying the concept of “meta learning“.
The term meta learning is used to characterize techniques and strategies that we adopt to learn things faster and more effectively. I’ve been reading widely in the subject, mostly because it interests me. The two books that have been the most insightful have been The Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss, and two books by Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code and The Little Book Of Talent.
The main reason that I’m interested in this concept is that, at this point in my life, I am really settled in what I like and what I would like to improve in. I have a very clear vision for the life that I want to lead, and the things that I wish to achieve. So I am constantly searching for things that will help me in this regard, and any strategy that purports to “expedite my progress” I’m going to take a serious look at.
Now I haven’t been able to test all the tips on meta learning that I have come across. So I can’t definitively say whether they all work (from my own experience). However one strategy that both Ferriss and Coyle suggest works, I can unequivocally throw my support behind. I know this strategy works because I have seen it work over and over in my life.
Here is the meta learning tip:
If we want to learn something faster, we should create real “stakes” for ourselves, real consequences that will occur if we don’t put forward our best effort.
I’ve seen this one repeatedly work in my life, so I know it is correct. In school, the term paper deadline and potential failing grade always caused me to get my stuff together, and submit my work on time. In a business context, I will not miss a deadline if I know that doing so will result in material consequences.
I just published my first book, “Unsuited“. I had a deadline from the publisher that I had to submit my finished manuscript. If I missed the deadline I would have breached my publishing contract and would have put the entire project in jeopardy. Who knows if the book would have then been published. Knowing this from the start made it imperative that I submit my manuscript on time. So I organized my life months and months in advance of the deadline to ensure that I could get the work done on time, and submit the book in accordance with the contract.
I know that, without a doubt, my best personal performance always takes place in situations where there is something that matters at stake, where failure to perform will cause a loss to me, or some type of consequence that I deem as negative. I also know that the goals that I have set in my life that I’ve quit on, or didn’t give my full effort towards, almost never had anything personally at stake.
It’s a really interesting, and real observation, about the human experience.
The things that we desire are more likely to result if there are “stakes” at play.
It doesn’t have to be money. In fact, in many cases, emotional stakes are much more consequential. For example the stake of potential embarrassment or failure, if we don’t adequately prepare, can have a powerful impact on the seriousness that we take in our preparations.
Potential loss of money does have an impact though. People who start a business, who have very little at stake personally (ie. their business has a low operating capital requirement, or they are financing the start-up capital), in my opinion, won’t be as tenacious as someone who has their personal money at stake. I believe the banks understand this principle well, which is why most start up capital loans require a personal guarantee. When an entrepreneur’s home is at stake you better believe they will do everything in their power to ensure the venture’s success.
So because I believe in this principle, I am consistently looking for ways to “raise my own stakes” in the things that I want to progress in.
Case in point: I’ve been studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for over a year now. I really like it, and I want to get better at it. I’m a two stripe white belt, and although I often feel like I know absolutely nothing despite my year of training, I’ve been encouraged many times by higher ranked students to try my hand in an official competition.
They tell me that win or lose, if I participate, I’ll expedite my learning. For a long time I’ve been scared of it – the 34 year old, “father of three”, entering and getting beat up, in a Jiu-Jitsu competition. Sounds fun!
But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I’ve realized that the principle of “raising the stakes” applies here. If I want to learn better, and faster, then I have to do something that will raise the stakes on myself.
So drumroll please….
Last night I signed up for the Alberta Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Provincial Championships to compete in the master’s division (30+) at the white belt rank:
Wish me luck! No you aren’t allowed to come watch me 🙂