How to Absorb Information Like a Prodigy

by Vlad Dolezal on February 23, 2011

If you read any of the more popular personal development blogs, you might have noticed that most comments on there are variations on “Great post!”, “So true.” and “You’re absolutely right.”

I have guest posted for a couple of blogs that have several times the readership of Fun Life Development, and I’ve noticed the same pattern.

At first I was assuming these might just be people trying to “get their name out there”, as one of the most common pieces of advice for aspiring bloggers is to comment widely and frequently to build connections. (I’ve never been a fan of commenting unless I have something to add to the discussion, but hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Which I probably won’t.)

But one of the fun things I like to play with is finding different explanations for the same phenomena. So I was considering this one – and I had a sudden Eureka moment!

(By that, I don’t mean I suddenly jumped out of a bath and ran around the town naked. I mean I had a startling realisation.)

So I ran to my computer to check some of the posts I’ve written for popular blogs, and sure enough, most of the comments weren’t just saying “great post!”. They were saying that, and then rephrasing the message of the post in their own words.

How exactly is this different?

Because it’s very similar to something I’ve noticed when talking to some of the smartest people I know.

When you talk to super-smart people about some concept, they don’t just nod their head without saying anything. They’re continually checking their understanding of what you’re saying, rephrasing it in their own words, and making connections to other related concepts they’re already familiar with.

This makes the difference between someone of average intelligence and a genius, because in the end, practical intelligence comes down to the number and quality of the connections in your brain. These allow you to quickly come up with creative ideas and solutions that are relevant to whatever you’re doing. And that’s what applied intelligence is all about!

While you could acquire encyclopedic knowledge (like memorising a phone book) without bothering much with interconnectedness – being able to apply information comes directly from the connections between different areas of your knowledge.

So, to absorb information like a genius, forget being like a passive receptacle. Don’t be like a bucket, passively waiting to have water poured into you.

Be like a pump, actively drawing it into yourself.

No, actually scratch that as well. Be a human. With a straw, to keep up the analogy.

Because as a human with a straw, you not only draw in water like a pump. You then mold the water, and distribute it around your body, and modify it, and use it as a part of every living cell in your body, until it’s nothing like what you absorbed in the first place.

And in the same way, you can suck in and modify information. Don’t leave it bland and unchanged. Make connections. Draw parallels. Apply your own experiences to what you learn. The information that comes out at the end will be very different from what came in, and that’s brilliant! That’s exactly how it should be. That’s when you’re at your best.

In short, when you learn about new stuff, just ask yourself:

  • “How does this relate to things I already know?”
  • “How can I put this in my own words?”

You already naturally know how to do this. But like a muscle that hasn’t been used for a while, if you’re not used to actively dissecting and reassembling everything you learn, it might take you a while to re-develop this skill. That’s okay.

Every little step makes a difference. Once you get in the habit of interconnecting incoming information, you’ll be amazed how much better you absorb and learn new concepts.

Plus it’s fun!


Quick news about this blog and Unleash Your Confidence:

You may have noticed I have slightly dropped off the face of Earth for the last two weeks. (Yes, I can slightly drop off something. Shut up.) I’ve had a bunch of personal stuff going on, but I’m back and better than ever. In the foreseeable future, I will be posting roughly once a week, but I’ve got some other exciting stuff lined up to add to that.

As you’re also probably aware if you read Fun Life Development regularly, I’ve been working on an e-book called Unleash Your Confidence for the last couple of months.

Well, it’s nearly finished!

The official launch will be on Wednesday 9th March, at 12:00 GMT. Exactly two weeks from now. Mark your calendar.