1: “Consistent peak performance requires constant learning,” Steven Kotler writes in The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer. 

Our goal? Learn how to learn faster. 

But how?

“Learning is an invisible skill,” Steven writes. “For the most part, we’re bad until we’re better.”

Of course, we can decide to learn something and then double down and demonstrate the grit and persistence to stay with it.

But how do we get better at something we cannot see?

“The bulk of the[learning] process takes place out of sight,” he writes. “The major neurological mechanisms of learning—pattern recognition, memory consolidation, network construction—are, by design, beyond our ken.”

The answer? We learn “the meta-skills that surround the learning process and use them to amplify the invisible.” 

2: The bottom line? We must start with the right equipment. Steven likens it to skiing: “No matter how big the desire, if you don’t own poles, boots, and bindings, then figuring out how to ski is a nonstarter.” 

The two “pieces of equipment” we need in our quest to become better and faster learners are: 

  • A growth mindset
  • A truth filter.

We start with a “growth mindset,” a term made popular by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. Technically speaking, mindset refers to our attitude about learning. We have a choice: We can approach life with what Carol calls a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.” 

With a fixed mindset, we believe talent is innate: No matter how hard we try or how much practice and effort we put forth, we are stuck where we are. We will not improve. 

In contrast, when we adopt a growth mindset, we understand “talent is merely a starting point and practice makes all the difference,” Steven writes.  

“Without a growth mindset, learning is all but impossible,” he notes. “Having a ‘fixed mindset’ alters our underlying neurobiology, making acquiring new information exceptionally difficult. 

“So before we can begin learning, we need to believe that learning is possible.”

When we show up with a growth mindset, our brain is primed and ready to take on new knowledge. It also serves as a “critical way to limit negative self-talk,” Steven writes: “A growth mindset helps us see mistakes as opportunities for improvement rather than condemnations of character, ensuring we’ll get farther faster, and with much less emotional turmoil along the way.”

3: The other “piece of equipment” we need to accelerate and amplify our ability to learn is a “truth filter.”  

This learning tool “helps us to assess and evaluate what is being learned,” he writes. “Nearly every peak performer I’ve met has developed some kind of truth filter. A great many discovered theirs the hard way, through trial and error.”

Steven’s suggestion: Shortcut the process. We need a have a system to evaluate information quickly and accurately. 

Example one: Scientists and engineers who rely upon the “scientific method” to solve complex problems.

Example two: Steven began his career as a reporter. One truth filter he relied upon was fact-checking with five experts rather than the standard three.

“And that’s when I discovered something strange. Ask four people a question and you’ll likely get very similar answers,” he notes. “But if you take the time to ask a fifth person, chances are they’ll tell you something that conflicts with just about everything you’ve learned so far—which, in turn, usually requires another five discussions with five more experts to sort out.”

Example three: Elon Musk relies upon “first-principle thinking.”

When Elon was analyzing whether he should enter the solar energy business, he understood that intermittent power was one of the biggest challenges. Because the sun doesn’t shine after dark, energy must be stored in batteries. But rather than looking at what his competitors were doing, Elon went online and visited the London Metal Exchange, where we gathered the base price for nickel, cadmium, and lithium.

He asked: “How much do the fundamental component parts of a battery actually cost?” Once he learned the essential parts were available for pennies on the dollar, he knew there was an opportunity. 

The key takeaway from these examples?

“What really matters is that we create a rigorous truth filter and put it to use,” Steven writes. “We can’t get to impossible on bad information.

“With the right mindset to approach new information and a rigorous truth filter with which to judge that information, you’ve laid the necessary foundation for amplifying the invisible.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Do I approach my life and work believing talent is a starting point and practice makes all the difference?

Action: What are the implications of this belief? Journal about my answer to the question above.

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