Zack Apiratitham

Ultralearning by Scott H. Young

Great book with a lot of useful tips and interesting anecdotes about how to learn effectively. A lot of these principles can be applied directly to your own learning goals. I'm quite inspired by it and planning to start my own ultralearning project soon using these techniques I learned from the book. A must-read for any lifelong learners.

Check it out on Goodreads.


  • Directness is the practice of learning by directly doing the thing you want to learn. Basically, it’s improvement through active practice rather than through passive learning. The phrases learning something new and practicing something new may seem similar, but these two methods can produce profoundly different results. Passive learning creates knowledge. Active practice creates skill.
  • First, deep learning provides a sense of purpose in life. Developing skills is meaningful. It feels good to get good at something. Ultralearning is a path to prove to yourself that you have the ability to improve and to make the most of your life. It gives you the confidence that you can accomplish ambitious things.
  • The opposite of this is learning optimized for fun or convenience: choosing a language-learning app because it’s entertaining, passively watching trivia show reruns on television so you don’t feel stupid, or dabbling instead of serious practice.
  • Your deepest moments of happiness don’t come from doing easy things; they come from realizing your potential and overcoming your own limiting beliefs about yourself.
  • Professional success, however, was rarely the thing that motivated the ultralearners I met—including those who ended up making the most money from their new skills. Instead it was a compelling vision of what they wanted to do, a deep curiosity, or even the challenge itself that drove them forward.
  • The best ultralearners are those who blend the practical reasons for learning a skill with an inspiration that comes from something that excites them.
  • The first problem that many people have is starting to focus. The most obvious way this manifests itself is when you procrastinate: instead of doing the thing you’re supposed to, you work on something else or slack off.
  • Make a mental habit of every time you procrastinate; try to recognize that you are feeling some desire not to do that task or a stronger desire to do something else. You might even want to ask yourself which feeling is more powerful in that moment—is the problem more that you have a strong urge to do a different activity (e.g., eat something, check your phone, take a nap) or that you have a strong urge to avoid the thing you should be doing because you imagine it will be uncomfortable, painful, or frustrating?
  • If you actually start working or ignore a potent distractor, it usually only takes a couple minutes until the worry starts to dissolve, even for fairly unpleasant tasks. Therefore, a good first crutch is to convince yourself to get over just the few minutes of maximal unpleasantness before you take a break.
  • Flow is the enjoyable state that slides right between boredom and frustration, when a task is neither too hard nor too easy.
  • Researchers generally find that people retain more of what they learn when practice is broken into different studying periods than when it is crammed together.
  • Multitasking may feel like fun, but it’s unsuitable for ultralearning, which requires concentrating your full mind on the task at hand. It’s better to rid yourself of this vice than to strengthen bad habits of ineffective learning.
  • When we learn new things, therefore, we should always strive to tie them directly to the contexts we want to use them in. Building knowledge outward from the kernel of a real situation is much better than the traditional strategy of learning something and hoping that we’ll be able to shift it into a real context at some undetermined future time.
  • Many ultralearners opt for projects rather than classes to learn the skills they need. The rationale is simple: if you organize your learning around producing something, you’re guaranteed to at least learn how to produce that thing.
  • One strategy I’ve seen repeatedly from ultralearners is to start with a skill that they don’t have all the prerequisites for. Then, when they inevitably do poorly, they go back a step, learn one of the foundational topics, and repeat the exercise.
  • [S]omething mentally strenuous provides a greater benefit to learning than something easy.
  • Whether you are ready or not, retrieval practice works better. Especially if you combine retrieval with the ability to look up the answers, retrieval practice is a much better form of studying than the ones most students apply.
  • Fear of feedback often feels more uncomfortable than experiencing the feedback itself. As a result, it is not so much negative feedback on its own that can impede progress but the fear of hearing criticism that causes us to shut down.
  • Ultralearners carefully adjust their environment so that they’re not able to predict whether they’ll succeed or fail. If they fail too often, they simplify the problem so they can start noticing when they’re doing things right. If they fail too little, they’ll make the task harder or their standards stricter so that they can distinguish the success of different approaches. Basically, you should try to avoid situations that always make you feel good (or bad) about your performance.
  • One of the pieces of studying advice that is best supported by research is that if you care about long-term retention, don’t cram. Spreading learning sessions over more intervals over longer periods of time tends to cause somewhat lower performance in the short run (because there is a chance for forgetting between
  • Psychologists theorize that the difference between grand masters and novices is not that grand masters can compute many more moves ahead but that they have built up huge libraries of mental representations that come from playing actual games.
  • Simply spending a lot of time studying something isn’t enough to create a deep intuition.
  • One way you can introduce this into your own efforts is to give yourself a “struggle timer” as you work on problems. When you feel like giving up and that you can’t possibly figure out the solution to a difficult problem, try setting a timer for another ten minutes to push yourself a bit further.
  • Explaining things clearly and asking “dumb” questions can keep you from fooling yourself into thinking you know something you don’t.
  • In a fixed mindset, learners believe that their traits are fixed or innate and thus there’s no point in trying to improve them. In a growth mindset, in contrast, learners see their own capacity for learning as something that can be actively improved.
  • Experimenting is based on the belief that improvements are possible in how you approach your work.
  • Experimentation is the principle that ties all the others together. Not only does it make you try new things and think hard about how to solve specific learning challenges, it also encourages you to be ruthless in discarding methods that don’t work. Careful experimentation not only brings out your best potential, it also eliminates bad habits and superstitions by putting them to the test of real-world results.
  • The biggest obstacle to ultralearning is simply that most people don’t care enough about their own self-education to get started.
  • I recommend setting a consistent schedule that is the same every week, rather than trying to fit in learning when you can. Consistency breeds good habits, reducing the effort required to study.
  • Finally, take all this information and put it into your calendar. Scheduling all the hours of work on the project in advance has important logistical and psychological benefits.
  • [I]n my own experience, I’ve noticed that enjoyment tends to come from being good at things. Once you feel competent in a skill, it starts to get a lot more fun. Therefore, although a tension between the two can exist in the short term, I think pursuing aggressive ultralearning projects is often the surer way to enjoy learning more, as you’re more likely to reach a level where learning automatically becomes fun.
  • A hungry person can eat only so much food. A lonely person can have only so much companionship. Curiosity doesn’t work this way. The more one learns, the greater the craving to learn more. The better one gets, the more one recognizes how much better one could become.

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Hey, I’m Zack. Thanks for reading!

I'm a software developer originally from Krabi, Thailand currently living and working in the suburbs of Boulder, Colorado, USA. This blog is a place for me write about my interests and things I find worth sharing.

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