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Repetition over novelty

Learning again instead of learning new

An old Latin saying states that "repetitio est mater studiorum", which loosely translates to "repetition is the key to learning". However, in today's world, with no shortage of topics to learn, it might be tempting to reach out to something new instead of something you've already explored. As someone who has consumed podcasts and online courses at double speed, I've been as tempted as anyone by novelty. But I think there's a better way: Studying the same material more than once.

Not long ago, I used to believe that the more new material I consumed, the better I'd get. But in reality, with an ever-moving goal in sight, I rushed through the material to get to the next topic. I wasn't present. And, in hindsight, I don't remember much of what I read or listened to.

Link to this headingApproaches to relearning

In his bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie lays out nine rules to get the most out of his book. In rule number two, Carnegie recommends reading each chapter first rapidly and then going back and rereading each chapter thoroughly. He hypothesised that, in the long run, this would mean saving time and getting results. Maybe Dale was onto something?

I learned a similar tip from a Finnish entrepreneur Jari Sarasvuo's book "Sisäinen Sankari" ("Inner Hero"). He advised the reader first to skim the book, no more than four to seven seconds per page. Depending on the length of the book, that will take around half an hour to get a good overview. Curious as I was, I tried the approach. When I started to read the book after skimming, I felt like I was reading the book for the second time. (Note that using this technique for fiction literature might lead to undesired results.)

Although I don't always follow these rules, I've recently started to read or listen to the same books again. For example, Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle have proven to be treasure troves for me.

Link to this headingWhy relearn?

Now, one might argue that if you need to reread the same material repeatedly, you either don't have a good memory or you're not intelligent enough to process the information. While both arguments might be true for some, I believe learning is repetition.

If an author has condensed years of experience into a book, I don't expect to remember or internalise everything in one go. Through repetition, I always learn something new.

I don't encourage you to stop using and seeking new learning resources. Instead, I encourage you to take a look at the sources you've already studied. You might be surprised how much there is to relearn.

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