After failing my first exam as a college student (it’s not wise to begin studying for an 8:00 a.m. exam at midnight the night before), I decided to create a “studying process.” By using this process during the rest of college, I ended up graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University with a 3.74 GPA. (Less than 1% of college students get inducted into Phi Beta Kappa each year.)
While I definitely worked hard in college, my GPA was not the result of spending 50 hours a week in the library. Instead, it was the result of a very strategic approach to learning and development that produced the best results in the least amount of time.
After college, I adjusted my studying process to expand my knowledge quickly on a variety of topics. Here is my 4-step process that you can use to become an expert on virtually anything in record time:
Step 1: Study. Identify three of the world’s top experts on a topic of interest. Then, read a book, attend a seminar, or take an online course by each person. In only a few days or weeks, you will be able to learn what it took each expert many years to discover.
Step 2: Practice. While you will definitely benefit simply from absorbing the wisdom of thought leaders, you can’t become a true expert on a topic until you practice what you have learned. For example, you can’t become an expert on public speaking just by studying public speaking; you have to practice speaking in public. You can’t become an expert on LinkedIn just by studying LinkedIn; you have to practice using LinkedIn. You can’t become an expert on strength training just by studying strength training; you have to practice strength training. By practicing what you learn through your initial study, you’ll deepen your understanding of the topic.
Step 3: Summarize. Before any exam in college, part of my studying process was to go through my textbook and class notes and create a concise review sheet of the major ideas and concepts. This action forced me to synthesize the key points and to translate the ideas from the authors and my professors into my own words. My summary was also much easier to review right before the exam than a 500-page textbook. So, after you study and practice what you have learned, create a brief summary of your new knowledge. This will expand your learning and leave you with a concise, valuable resource to refer to for years to come.
Step 4: Teach. After you study, practice, and summarize what you have learned, you can take your expertise to an even higher level if you teach your topic to others. You can do this by writing articles about what you have learned, by delivering presentations about what you have learned, or simply by sharing your ideas informally with friends, family, or colleagues. As the Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”
Few people have a strategic approach to learning and development. If you study a topic by learning in-depth from three of the world’s leading experts, practice what you have learned, summarize your key findings, and teach your new knowledge to others, you will know more about your topic than 99% of the population, classifying you as a true expert.
I challenge you to identify a personal or professional topic where greater knowledge would take your career or life to a higher level. Then, work this 4-step process (study, practice, summarize, teach) over the next few months. The payoff in personal satisfaction and personal or professional growth will be well worth the effort.
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About the author: Pete Leibman is the creator of StrongerHabits.com and the author of Work Stronger; Habits for More Energy, Less Stress, and Higher Performance at Work. His work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and CNNMoney.com.