Einstein is known as a genius for his scientific breakthroughs. Thanks to that fame, we have also come to know his insight into other, non-scientific ideas.
One of his best and most timeless pieces of advice is the secret he taught his son in a private letter. It is a secret which can make learning anything an effortless process.
Einstein wasn’t a brilliant father or husband by accounts I’m aware of, but we can all benefit from understanding the following:
[T]he way to learn the most, [is by] doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.
[Note: the full letter is reproduced below this article]
Each of us will have had moments in life where we experienced this. An obvious example is playing a fun new board game – you learn the rules and how to be good at it almost by accident as you laugh and joke and compete with your friends.
Another less obvious time where this rings true is in childhood. Children are like little learning sponges, absorbing knowledge from every possible direction.
This is a deeper insight from Einstein’s advice that perhaps many will miss: curiosity is in itself a source of entertainment. Perhaps one reason (in addition to brain plasticity and so on) for the rapid rate at which children learn is there sheer unadulterated enthusiasm and curiosity for whichever new thing it is in front of them.
Children love it.
But they don’t think to themselves “wow I’m having such a good time”. They simply let themselves be fully present in the moment, enjoying and learning as they go along.
Our adult brains are full of distractions, worries, doubts. But when we are able to turn those off and truly enjoy something it is possible to learn something almost as quickly as a child would.
Enhanced by the extra processing power and wisdom of an adult brain, learning can once again be a speedy and joyful process.
It becomes possible not only to learn to play the guitar in a month, but to love almost every second of it too.
So here is the real secret: find ways to stimulate your deep, true curiosity.
Find ways to connect with the subject matter you are learning.
Find ways to make it more fun.
Play games with it. Get other people involved too.
Eradicate the stress that is often part of learning something new and different by deciding that you are going to enjoy the heck out of it.
Recently I taught myself OIympic weightlifting over 5 weeks. Every day I woke up excited to get to work. It was difficult taking rest days.
Every night I went to sleep buzzing with ways to improve, ideas, recollections and analyses of my performance. These are all signs of obsession but also joy.
Indeed there are two stages in learning something where joy is most easily attainable: the beginner stage, and mastery. Being an intermediate however, can suck.
As a beginner there is joy in the new, in learning fast, in improving yourself and gaining confidence.
As an intermediate things become difficult. Progress slows dramatically. Vast amounts of effort are required for minimal returns. Frustration is inevitable.
As a master you can enjoy your ability to dictate the task to your whim. You can play a guitar without thought, never missing a note. You can freerun through the city like a monkey in the jungle. The joy is in the flow which comes from mastery.
Finding joy in your pursuits won’t just make them easier and your learning faster. It will improve every facet of your life.
So, go learn whatever you want, just make sure you have a damn good time while you do it.
Is there a time where you have learned something almost by accident, simply from enjoying it so much? Let me know in the comments below. Here’s Einstein’s letter to finish:
My dear Albert,
Yesterday I received your dear letter and was very happy with it. I was already afraid you wouldn’t write to me at all any more. You told me when I was in Zurich, that it is awkward for you when I come to Zurich. Therefore I think it is better if we get together in a different place, where nobody will interfere with our comfort. I will in any case urge that each year we spend a whole month together, so that you see that you have a father who is fond of you and who loves you. You can also learn many good and beautiful things from me, something another cannot as easily offer you. What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.
I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .
Be with Tete kissed by your
Regards to Mama.