How to teach yourself anything

Like all great teachers, Feynman stressed the difference between knowing something and "knowing the name of something."

He used a four-step process, often called The Feynman Technique, to teach himself whatever he wanted to know. By removing jargon and imagining that you're learning something in order to teach it to someone else, you can learn nearly anything, even quantum physics.

Here's how it works.


Step 1: Gather

Write down everything you know about the topic you want to learn. Core concepts, details, and everything in between. Keep adding to the list when you find new information. Feynman even kept a notebook called "Notebook of things I don't know about," to do this continually.


Step 2: Share

Imagine you're teaching it to an enthusiastic audience of exactly one non-expert. Take out all the specialist words that the non-expert wouldn't know, and replace them with simple words. Use metaphors, consider what the first principles might be. Write it all down. As you do this, you'll see gaps in your knowledge.


Step 3: Go to the gaps

Now you'll find the edges of what you know. This is where you might feel like a dumb amateur for failing to grasp the core of a concept. That's exactly where you should be. Go to source material: academic journals, notes, videos, school textbooks, graphic novels – anything that helps it click with you.


Step 4: Tell a story

Organize what you've learned. Simplify it. Give it a logical sequence. You need to truly understand something in order to tell a good story about it. Your ability to turn a topic into a narrative is the true test of that.