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Laura Lindeman for Salesforce Engineering

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Principles of Learning

by Rafay Syed

When I was in middle school, I used to think that I was not capable of learning new concepts very quickly because my peers would tell me that they never studied. Some of them would receive high grades in the range of 95–100, while I would sit there thinking how hard I studied and I would have a 90 or a high B. I would feel discouraged thinking that maybe I was not smart enough, because I would spend all this time studying while others would tell me that they would not study and would receive such high grades. However, I realized that studying is essential to learning and that there is no substitute for drive and persistence, and even IF people got by without studying, they would not be successful in the long run. Here I will highlight eight principles of learning from Andreia Neagoie’s Udemy course Learning How to Learn that helped me reach this mindset.

Learning vs. Winning the System

When you go to school, do you think about what you are going to learn on that day, or do you think about how you can make an A in the class? Many of us are guilty of the latter. When you are studying for an exam, do you actually study for the sake of learning the material, or do you think about what will and will not be on the exam? We have to learn how to un-learn this tendency in order to embark on a lifetime of learning. Cramming for a test the night before is never a good idea because you will not be able to retain all that information and your brain will not be able to make the synaptic connections you can make through compound learning, studying a little bit at a time, every day, for a sustained period of time.

What is Success?

A lot of people think that in order to be successful, you have to be very smart, but that is not enough nor will it ever be enough. There are two things that help you get to the success that you want to achieve: drive and persistence. You can be very smart, but if you are lazy and you are not willing to put in the hard work, you will never be successful.


When you go on your learning journey, you will always encounter obstacles. Obstacles will help us grow, and if you do not encounter any obstacles, you are doing something wrong. If there were no obstacles in life, everyone would be successful. When we see an obstacle, we should say, “I know this is something that I’m struggling with, but I will overcome it and this just means that I am growing”.

The “Dip”

The dip is when you realize that something is not meant for you, and I can give you an example. Let’s say that I wanted to work hard to get into the NBA and play basketball for a living. Is that possible for me? I am 26 years old now, and most players get drafted from college at 19 or 20 years, and they have been playing since they were kids. And some people are naturally gifted, meaning that genetics can come into play. However, we must take advantage of what WE have, and think about how we can maximize our potential.

Choice vs. Chore

When we think of doing something that we enjoy, it becomes our choice to do that thing. But when something is a chore, you think about getting done with that task as soon as possible and it is something that is not enjoyable. When we think about learning, we have to think about it as a choice and not as a chore. We should make learning a choice just as we choose to go to the beach or go to Walt Disney World. We want learning to be an enjoyable experience and not something that should be treated as a chore. If it is treated as a chore, then you will not be able to reach your goals in the long run.

Failures Don’t Count

Think about a time when you failed a test. Now look at yourself today. Does anyone remember the time you got a 40 on a test, or do people see you at where you are today? I can guarantee you that no one will remember what you got on a test that you did years ago, or what obstacles you had to face. They see you at where you are at today. That F you got on a test is not the end of the world for you. Learning is a journey, and it will involve all kinds of failures in order to reach that success. Failures help us grow.

Productivity Time

Are you an early bird, or a night owl? Only you will know what your most productive hours are in your day. For me personally, I work better in the mornings than I do at night, so I am an early morning riser. The motivation comes from doing everything during the day so that I can have the rest of the night to spend time with family, friends or even game. When you know the hours that you are most productive, use that time to get the most work done.

Skill Stacking

Skill stacking is a phenomenon where if you learn different skills and combine them together, you can be one-of-a-kind. For example, if you have really good programming skills, a strong business acumen and design skills, you can combine those skills together and build an amazing company. You have different skills that you use together in order to accomplish something.

These principles, and the others covered in Learning How to Learn, changed how I think about and approach learning, and I hope they will do the same for you!

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