How to Learn Anything


Nothing is beyond your reach. It doesnt matter how well you did in school or what your IQ is, or what other people think of you. What matters is your willingness to learn and your willingness to stay open.

What also matters is an understanding of your own mind. Not everyone learns the same way, and most of us develop an understanding of learning through empirical methods, conventional pedagogy of top-down, learned-learner methods. Many of us eventually start to learn to teach ourselves as we progress with formal education, but even then, is mixed (or utterly confused) with lectures, quizzes, group projects. Now, all of these things on their own may be useful, but more often than not, not all of them are. Since we usually go to school in classes, which means that we share a learning experience with a variety of individuals, schools do a shatter-shot method, and force their students to go through all of the various possible methods and hoping they choose the right one.

What is even more problematic is that all of these various methods have their own nuances that can make learning difficult. An non-engaging lecturer. Group projects with people who aren‘t interested. Quizzes that focus on memorization rather and application rather than on possibilities. Long readings about theoretical concepts when one would rather get to the heart of the matter. Even more problematic is that when one doesn’t do well with the methods given to them, they fall behind the group and use the group as a measure of their intelligence and ability. This is unfortunate, especially when there is a grading curve, because comparing yourself to other students is no real measure of mastery in and of itself.

I know of no sure-fire way to get good grades other than to be obedient to the teacher. However, I do know the way to learn anything so that it is applicable beyond the classroom.

And this too, is the way to learn astrology.

Get the idea out of your head that external validation means that you know something or that you are ready to apply it. This is not always the case; this is often not the case, because once the motivation to learn is gone when the grade or gold star is given, the topic is forgotten. Topics are often taught piece-meal, and it is up to you (if you are allowed to do so) to integrate everything so as to be useful in a world in which no one thing or concept exists in isolation.

Understand that you are learning all the time. Learning is not something forced upon you. It is essential to staying alive. All animals have an essential curiosity that drives them to explore their environments and learn about them. Babies do this. They put things in their mouths, they pick up things. Children ask questions. Driving in a new neighborhood means learning where there is a stop sign and where there is a traffic light, and where a pothole might be. You learn that lemon flavored candy is sweet while lemon juice is sour, and this takes no effort on your part other than trying either one. The difference between this natural, everyday learning and formal learning is that there is no element of force implied.

The next time you drive down this street, you will remember the stop signs, the streetlights, the potholes. You only need to know it in as much detail right now as you will use it. It would be ridiculous to ask you to drive down a street once then go home and draw a detailed picture of it. Maybe if you have driven down the street a thousand times, then you can do it.

So too, should you see your path to learning new things.

So, while you may not be sure what the difference between the 8th and 12th house is, the more you explore, the more you will learn. The more you try to understand the nature of Uranus, the more you will see that it is different from Pluto in key ways, and in some ways, very much like it. The more you look at charts, the more familiar they will seem. There is no need to know it now or know it anymore than you know it already.

Be open to the experience of learning. There is nothing in the world that you are too good or too busy to learn. One of the most miraculous things about the human brain is that the more stimulation to certain parts of it, the more it grows. The more you learn, the more capable you are of learning. No one is too tired to learn, and no one is not learning if theyre awake and alive. There is always, always, more room in your head to learn. If you are tired, go ahead and do something else.

Saying that there is no way you can learn something guarantees that you cant do it, and that is the only way you are unable to learn. It is a myth that there are math-people and non-math people, or math-brains and non-math brains. Everyone can learn math. Monkeys can learn math. Math is easier to learn than language, and yet, we never say anyone is a literate-person or simply incapable of learning to speak and read. We wouldnt allow it.

I finally learned math at 28, when I enrolled in pre-calculus, well above the level I already understood. However, I spent the summer before re-teaching myself algebra in a way I could understand. Of course, I stopped taking math after a semester of calculus and a semester of statistics, but I learned it. My motivation was that I couldnt honestly accept the idea that I wasnt a math person. I lost my motivation to learn math years before when I was unfairly placed in a slower, lower-level math course by a teacher who didnt like students born late in the year (somehow, maturity level and the ability to learn math were, in her mind, equal, even though I was at the 99% percentile of my class on the standardized tests).

One of the problems in America is that students learn little in school and are forced to do most of their learning at home through rote work. This is problematic, because it means that students dont learn much in the environment designed for learning and places the burden on the children him- or herself to learn, and by proxy, the parent. This is even more problematic when the home environment is not conducive to learning, and as such, poor homework grades means poor scores, meaning an unfair grade that is unfortunately and erroneously used a measure for what the child has or has failed to learn. This continues on to college for some subjects, where the students have to read and then simply review it in classes. Even worse are when students are forced to attend classes in which they must adhere to a different learning style that can effectively confuse them and waste the time they would spend learning in their own way. Since students have little control over the measures that they will be judged by, and the method in which they can learn, there is little wonder that many students grow to hate school and equate this with learning.

To be open to learning, one must get rid of the old ideas that come from a bad educational experience; one must realize that the formal, conventional educational experience was not learning at all. It was a measure of obedience to the factory that intended to make you into something.

No one learns through fear. This is why punishment isnt discipline and it always fails to teach. Studies show that children who are subject to corporal punishment in their formative years have less grey matter in their brains. The grey matter is where learning takes place. Sure, the harsh punishment effectively creates the outcome it ultimately sets out to do: destroy curiosity and critical thinking and force obedience. It is no wonder then that very religious people tout this as a mandate by their god, since curiosity and critical thinking are the enemy of blind obedience. Punishment raises base cortisol, which effectively destroys brain cells.  Fear shuts down the part of the brain that learns. Long-term exposure to high stress like this also makes it difficult for the hippocampus to form long-term memories. This is why kids never remember what they were spanked for, but rather, the spanking itself and the circumstances surrounding the spanking.

Likewise, it is of no use to you to punish yourself for not learning. The first thing is to quiet your inner critic. The second thing is to ignore everyone around you.

Since we often have poor learning experiences in youth, or have learning experiences that fail us, we may have internalized the critics. We may feel that if we dont understand something right away, or arent satisfied with what we get at the moment, we have failed in some way. This isnt true. Not everyone learns at the same pace. Not everyone learns deeply AND quickly; most dont. Some learn superficial things quickly, and some learn things slowly and deeply. The most important thing is to keep it with you. Moreover, not everyone has the same focus when learning. Some people are concerned with just the facts, while others want to understand how the facts fit in the gestalt of things.

The voice that criticizes you doesnt know what youre capable of. That is why it is criticizing you, even if it comes from you. One of the amazing things that happens when we learn without realizing it is that that voice never pops up. Usually, we are having fun while learning.

The second thing you must do is ignore everyone else around you. This is because, and especially if youre in school, everyone is listening to their own inner voice and comparing themselves to each other. The blind cant give vision tests to each other. No one can actually see into your mind and know what is there. Even if you say something that they think is wrong, it is entirely possible that this is just leading to learning something, or they just dont understand you.

So, for example, if you think that having Jupiter on the midheaven doesnt always mean that someone has an aptitude for business, but rather, has a general desire to be popular, thats fine. Actually, both are correct, given other factors. No one is actually the final authority on most things worth learning, including astrology. And for those who think that someone actually is the final authority, sucks to be them. Theyre shutting themselves off to a world of possibilities.

Its entirely possible that you may look foolish sometimes. This passes. It is entirely possible that other people will think that youre wrong or that youre dumb. Fuck em. Fuck em all. What do they know anyway? A mind that cannot entertain more than one thought at once isnt a strong or capable mind, and is therefore no measuring stick for you.

Find the way that you like to learn and stick to it. I have found this to be more problematic for me since I actually have classes in which I get a grade for showing up. This isnt fair to me, but that is the way it goes. I much rather prefer learning through reading and doing then slogging through everything I just read.

Now, for as much as you may or may not like Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, one must admit that, in his chosen field of medicine, he is a genius (though perhaps not in many other places). When he first went to Yale, he did horribly his first year. He was in serious trouble of being kicked out of school. What was his solution?

Now, you may think that he hit the books harder, went to study groups, office hours, and paid more attention in class.


He stopped going to class.

But why?

Because he figured out, and perhaps rightly so, that going to class was a waste of his time. Ben Carson knew himself enough to know what sort of learner he was, and sitting through a lecture going over what he just read the day before was not helping him, but rather, wasting the time he could have used to read on his own and teach himself. The next year, he took his finals and passed with flying colors.

Im not saying this is for everyone. Not everyone is highly self-motivated or smart enough to know what they dont know and teach themselves. And even still, not everyone is capable enough of teaching themselves to the test.

If you havent done this yet, it can be a bit of an exploratory mission, but the easiest way to do so is to figure out what you are comfortable with, and avoid doing the things you dont like to do. Doing things you dont like to do are harder to learn than things you like to do. It really is that simple. And, if those things seem extraneous, dont do them.

Trust your own mind. This is easier for some more than others, especially when you are feeling insecure.  It is easy to fall back on someone else you think knows more than you do, or is better equipped to learn than you are, and simply try to drink up everything put in front of you. This often leads to more confusion. The easiest way to know what you know is to try doing it, not to compare yourself to other people or see if you are on the same page as everyone else. Even if everyone else is right, they might not see something you see. Your brain, unless it is somehow very damaged and cant find a way around the damage, is just as capable of neuroplasticity as others.

Accept that you are not the same as everyone else. In any given situation, no one is perfect. Sure, someone else may be at the top of the class, but that doesnt mean they will be more successful in their chosen profession or more successful than you are, or that they have creativity, imagination, courage, or drive. Those things dont come from books.

Heres a tale of two lawyers: One got a full-scholarship to an exclusive high school. He did very well academically, so he got a full-scholarship to a very good private college. He excelled there, so he got a full-scholarship to a good law school, where he graduated #3 in his class. He became an associate at a top law firm, where he was an associate for 11 years until they let him go (by this time, you are definitely on track to be a full partner, or you simply havent taken the hint to get out). He went into solo private practice where he struggled for many years.

This lawyer rented an office space from a successful attorney. The successful attorney wasnt academically gifted in high school or college. He barely got into law school and went to one in the lowest tier. He graduated in the middle of his class, and went onto a bad law firm where he had a heavy case load and often the cards were stacked against his clients. In a way, this is the best training for someone who wants to be an excellent litigator. He excelled at litigation, and one day, his closing argument was overheard by the owner of a better law firm who hired him. However, he got tired of the low pay, so he struck out on his own with his friends who were also tired of working for others. Soon, he landed big, highly-publicized cases, and he was a success.

Whats the difference? If life was fair, wouldnt the academically-gifted one, the harder working one, be the more successful? Well, life isnt fair. Or wait, maybe it is.

The difference is that it takes no courage, none at all, to get good grades. It takes no courage to simply do your job. It does, however, takes a lot of courage to go into a professional school in a competitive field where the cards are stacked against you, because you never worked hard in school before and because youre not in a good law school. It takes courage to work your way up and take opportunities as it comes. It takes courage to step out on your own, and it takes courage to face that possibility of failure and still venture on.

Real learning takes courage, and courage requires trust in yourself.

I would also add that the successful lawyer was more charismatic than the other, which is something you cant learn in law school. They dont teach you how to attract clients, to gain trust. They just teach you how to do the work. In time, the successful lawyer learned to work well, because he was working in the field and he needed to work well, and because he, more than anything, wanted to be a successful litigator. Grit is what you acquire outside of school.

Be patient. Some things will come to you more quickly than other things. Sometimes, you will think you know something and then become utterly confused. This is okay. You arent actually performing on stage.

Learn other things, too. The mind isnt a box that can only be filled to a certain point. Polymaths know this. People who excel at one type of art often do well in others, and people who are good at learning one thing can often learn other things well. They know that the mind doesnt actually compartmentalize things. I dont, for example, have a law school part of my mind, or a recipes part of my mind, or an astrology part of my mind, or a storywriting part of my mind, or a business part of my mind. Even if I am only going to exercise one at a time, or are told to only exercise one at a time, Im not. That is impossible. If it were possible, then each and every time I go into a new endeavor, I would have to learn things from scratch. I couldnt imagine having to re-learn arithmetic for astrology AND for doing my taxes AND for scaling up a recipe.

Learning begets learning. It is a mistake to think that because you have something important to learn that you must do so to the detriment of all other things. Even if you only have a little time to do something else, do it. Making the one thing you must learn be the sum total of your existence makes your brain atrophy. Literally.

If you are burned out on something, do something else. There is no benefit to forcing your brain to learn more when you are exhausted of it. Its like weight lifting: if you get to the point of failure, stop. You are done. You now must let the muscle recover and build itself to be stronger. If you keep going, you not only run the risk of injuring the muscle, but disabling yourself so that you cant lift any weights at all.

To learn is not a punishment, and to fail to learn something right now is not a punishable offense.

Go to sleep, and get wonderful sleep. Sleep is a wonderful thing. Not only does it keep you from venturing out in the darkness where critters might attack and eat you, it also triggers the body to heal itself. Sleep is a magickal thing. While your body is healing, your mind is going through all the crap that came up that day. No one is exactly sure why we dream. Some think it is a way for the brain to re-organize and clean house. Others think it is a way to present issues not addressed during waking life. Others think that it is a connection to the other world we dont acknowledge in waking life. Still, to dream is to sleep wonderfully, even if you have a nightmare sometimes.

Lack of sleep, besides aging the body, not allowing it to heal, and fucking up the hormone balance, leads to inability to form new memories. We have often pulled all-nighters studying for college exams, thinking that the more we try to learn, the more we will learn. This is patently untrue.

Sleep is actually a vital part of the learning process. You know how your word processing program pauses when you are saving the file? Consider sleep to work in that way. It helps you absorb and categorize the information you learned.

Now, I mean that you should get good sleep. I mean in a quiet, dark room, for an uninterrupted length of time. No television on, no snorers in the bed, no thing that makes it hard to sleep.

I was about 29 the first time I really started getting any good sleep. I grew up sharing rooms with siblings or there was other noise in the house all night. As a child, I was forced to keep my bedroom door open at night, and the light was always kept on in the bathroom until my mother went to bed at 11 p.m. In the winter, my parents kept a very loud dehumidifier running outside my door. My sister snored. I would wait until 2 a.m., when everyone was asleep, and turn off the lights and the dehumidifier. In the summer, we had to keep the windows open, but we lived in a bad neighborhood by a highway, where there was constant noise. As a teenager, my parents forced me to take the bedroom downstairs, and there was noise and activity all night long. There was a lighted motion sensor outside my bedroom window that would go off when cats went by, or even leaves blowing in the wind, and it would flood my bedroom with light, even though the blinds. What was worse was that I was designated to be the last person to take a shower for the day in a house with eight people, so the only time I could shower was usually after midnight.

Sometimes, I would party with friends and sleep over at their houses. On those nights, I would get some sleep.

My fiance and I have a no television rule in the bedroom, and if you cant sleep, you have to leave. We go to bed together. We get into a made bed. We cuddle, we dont turn on lights when getting up. We dont wake the other one up. If one needs to take a nap, we are quiet.

To sleep well, you must sleep at night as much as possible, even if you are naturally a night owl. This is hard for me, because I learned to be a night owl as a child. If you wake up in the night, dont fight it. It is actually perfectly normal for grown adults to wake up for a few hours in the night. It is only a post-industrial fallacy that we should fall asleep and stay that way for eight hours straight. Sleep in the dark. Sleep in quiet. Sleep in restful places reclined as much as possible. Make your bed as comfortable as possible. Make it a place only for sleep. No working, no playing games, no watching television. Your bed is not a sofa or a desk.

If you wouldnt sleep at your desk every night, then dont bring your laptop to bed. Turn off your phone. Put it on silent. Turn off the lights. Give yourself the night to finish learning what you learned during the day and ready yourself for another.


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