I was introduced to the concept of Ultralearning through a book of the same name by Scott H. Young. Ultralearning involves a deep dive into a focus area for a well-defined time to reap maximum benefits.

In this book, the author talks about how he was able to put this approach to use by getting an MIT education at home using the free MIT OpenCourseWare. Amazingly, he did so in a matter of one year instead of the usual four. Not all the courses required for the degree were available on the OpenCourseWare so he worked around that by taking other electives. His objective was to pass all the exams for the subjects he took, with or without taking any lectures. And he did it after his intensive 12-month study routine.

What is Ultralearning?

Ultralearning is a powerful tool to help you accomplish what you want to but are unable to do so due to either it being ‘too hard’ or you being ‘too busy’. It involves following a no-beat-around-the-bush approach and diving straight into the work without gathering any background information (such as skipping getting familiarized with musical notations when learning guitar but rather learning chords straight away).

Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick something you want to do or get good at. Let’s take public speaking as an example.
  2. Select a time frame (goals without deadlines are never achieved). Six months looks like a suitable timeline to improve public speaking.
  3. Make a map of the different aspects that you need to focus on & collect the resources you will need. At this stage, often, you will not have much idea of where to start, so doing a quick google search should help.
  4. If possible, find people who are already good at it and talk to them. More than not, they will be able to help you find a good starting point. For public speaking, talk to your friend who is confident on stage or talk to your colleague who has won speaking competitions.
  5. Set a timetable of when you are going to focus on this activity and block the time out on your calendar. Do this for only the next week and see how well its fits into your schedule. Then adjust accordingly for the following week’s timetable.
  6. Go right into it. Dive into it with full spirit. Take the challenge head on and go for the activity from the very first day instead of spending time learning more about it. If you are trying to improve public speaking, then register yourself for seminars/webinars and start speaking. Don’t waste time trying to speak infront of a mirror or by doing mock sessions.
  7. Once you tackle the activity heads-on, then look where you are lacking and improve that particular aspect. For example after doing a couple of public speaking sessions, you notice that your speech isn’t clear, so you focus on techniques to improve speaking clarity. Then move to the next public speaking opportunity. Since you are focusing on getting maximum results in a fixed period of time, it makes more sense to improve aspects which play a bigger role in the overall results such as speech clarity rather than focusing on optimal pauses between sentences.
  8. Lastly, only focus on one aspect till it reaches the point of diminishing return. This way, you can become ‘good enough’ in tons of different areas of the activity rather than becoming a pro in one aspect.

What can you achieve using Ultralearning?

Ultralearning is a pretty powerful tool to have and use. It does depend on you putting in the time to achieve what you want but seeing what others have achieved using it, provides a great deal of motivation.

Here are a select few of the things other have achieved:

  • Learnt a new language in under 6 months (that too to a highly advanced level)
  • Became a national level runners-up in public speaking competition in a few weeks starting from zero experience
  • Written a book in a few months instead of a couple of years
  • Built blogs from scratch overnight
  • Acquired MIT bachelor level education free of cost in quarter of the time

If you find ultralearning fascinating, then here’s a link to the article written by the inventor of this approach which goes into more details on how to start your first ultralearning project.

PS: One of my ultralearning projects was to increase my reading speed and I have been quite satisfied with the progress so far. Here are a few tips that I found immensely helpful in my pursuit.