My learning process is based on the assumption that the unconscious processes of the mind do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to learning. To take advantage of this I have crafted a four phase cycle of learning. Those phases are saturate, incubate, systemize and apply. Ideally what you are learning is a skill or topic that is going to come up in your day to day life. This will allow you many opportunities to practice or review your knowledge without a great deal of conscious attention.
When you have decided on a skill or subject you dive into it, read as many books or articles on it as possible, spend every available moment practicing or thinking about it. Engage all your senses in it. When I’m saturation a topic I’ll even play related audio files while I sleep. The idea is to flood yourself with the topic from as many angles as possible.
It is a very good idea to take notes during this phase. Because this is an unconscious learning program it may be hard to tell where certain ideas came from down the road. Another reason to take notes is that you are increasing your saturation with the material if you are outputting it in addition to taking it in. The way I suggest you take notes is to cite the book, article or recording and to write down your own idea or comment about it. The literal content that you are referencing will be presupposed in your comment. You integrate material better that you use to form your own thoughts and you can always use the citation to look up the original material later. It is also goo dif you can relate the new material to the ideas of another author or a different subject. Associational richness will help you learn, remember and apply the material.
When you just can’t keep up the intensity of saturation, you can stop flooding yourself with the information and trust your unconscious to continue working on it. It helps if you have continued exposure to related ideas or situations in you day to day life but you don’t need to go out of your way to get it. This phase can be very hard for some people because it seems to them that they are doing nothing or being lazy. Experience with this process will make it easier to trust that the unconscious is hard at work without you needing to look over its shoulder. You may notice bits of the material you were saturation slipping out at odd moments, this is a sign that your brain is integrating it for you.
A good point to start this phase is if you start having startling new insights about the topic or skill. Alternately you can start when you feel like the matter has been left long enough. It may take some experience to learn the best times to switch phases. Systemizing is a review and polish activity. Write down what you understand about the topic and how its parts relate to each other and to other parts of your life. This is also a time to clean up and simplify your understanding. If you find you have gaps in your knowledge, you can directly study those missing pieces to fit them into the whole. Mind maps are very useful in this phase.
Now that you have reviewed and systemized your knowledge of the topic or skill, you can stop putting direct effort into learning. Instead you should find opportunities to make use of your skill. Ideally you should stay in the application phase until it does not take special effort or attention to make use of your knowledge. Only then should you consider a new saturation phase. Remember that you always have your notes and mind maps to refer back to if you need to.
Bringing it all together
This cycle is a process for lifelong learning and can be repeated and reused with any number of skills. You can even use it to learn more than one skill at the same time if you stagger them and if they are sufficiently different that saturating one skill will not interfere with incubating another. As you gain experience with this cycle you will find that the incubation phase, and sometimes the application phase, will grow longer and longer while the saturation and systemization phases become short intense spikes. The more information you can cram into your brain in the shorter amount to time the less you are able to consciously filter it and the more your unconscious can work with it.
There can be interesting results to this style of learning such as knowing something but not knowing where you learned it. Also, you may find yourself using a knowledge set in an area it isn’t normally applied. Finally, you may become aware of implications that your sources were not aware of. Congratulations, these are new ideas that you can use.