1 Surefire Way to Learn Anything In Depth (Plus 1 Bonus Tip)

1 Surefire Way to Learn Anything In Depth (Plus 1 Bonus Tip)

How proactive learning and consistency pay off

Identify gaps in your understanding

Join me for a minute in a thought experiment.

Pick a topic that you're genuinely interested in learning more about.

How much do you know about that thing? Be honest with yourself.

Think about all the things that you know about this topic.

You don't have to write them down, just take a minute to stop what you're doing and think deeply about the topic that you have in mind.

How well do you know the topic in detail? What concepts are you uncertain about or don't fully understand? What areas would you need to deepen your knowledge in to explain this topic effectively?

Whatever topic you've picked, hold it in your mind for a minute and think about how vast the topic is and what gaps you have in your understanding.

Now, ask yourself

Could I give a 30 minute talk on this topic to an audience of peers who would critique my understanding and ask questions?

If the answer is no, then this is where your journey starts. What topics would you need to study up on in order to give the talk and communicate it effectively? Remember, if your audience doesn't understand something after you've explained it, it's not because they're not competent. They're peers, after all. It's your responsibility to make sure that what you communicate is understood as intended.

Keep in mind that the less experience you have in a topic, the more confident you are about it. See: Dunning-Kruger effect

If the answer is yes, and you could indeed give the 30-minute talk, then great. Let's move on.

Now, break down every one of the points about the topic that you originally verified that you could effectively explain and ask yourself

"Can I explain each of these points in their own individual 10 minute talk? What would I say?"

Note that the numbers used in this article are not scientific, but they're perfect for evaluating your understanding of a topic.

If the answer is no, then you've identified gaps in your knowledge. If the answer is yes, then you're either not being honest with yourself, or you know the topic extremely well, in which case, you probably already knew that you could literally talk for hours about this topic.

Now, all you need to do is learn those things to gain a clearer understanding of the topic as a whole, right?

Rinse and repeat this as many times as you would like to learn the topic in depth.

Fill the gaps in your understanding

Asking questions often leads to more questions.

When you follow up on finding answers to questions that you have, you fill in the gaps of your knowledge, expanding upon and painting a clearer mental image of the topic as a whole.

This often comes at the expense of putting something else that you're doing on hold, since these questions generally arise while you're doing the thing that you have questions about. This means that you have to slow down to speed up and bake buffer time for learning into your routine.

You subconsciously create a figurative mind map between related topics. You start to understand what they are, how they relate to one another, what they do, how they affect each other, why they do the things that they do, what they look like, and how they work.


Gaps in your knowledge also appear as challenges you need to overcome to reach goals. Overcoming challenges often become learning experiences, and it's important to push beyond what you think you're capable of doing. Practice encourages that you're consistently pushing your capabilities because it forces you to take a proactive approach to get something done that you're not familiar with.

Don't wait for someone to comprehensively teach you everything that you need to know. it's not going to happen. Watching a 10-hour course that covers the topic broadly, may be great if you're completely new to a topic and don't have a grasp on basic fundamentals, but understand that the opportunity cost here is the 10 hours of time that could have been spent actively researching the topics that you don't understand, building, and experimenting. Watching a course or tutorial is not practicing.

A quick aside about watching courses and tutorials. If you already understand something, then skip it. Don't waste your time reiterating over things that you already know. The time that you spend learning should be directed toward things that you understand are knowledge gaps.

The deeper in depth of a topic, the less likely you are to find information pertaining to that topic. Eventually, there won't be a resource available to walk you through step by step process to get from point A to point B. This is why it's important that you learn how to teach yourself through experimentation by making hypotheses and testing their validity.

In order to play an instrument, ride a bicycle, or be an effective software engineer, you have to put time into practicing your skills and closing your skill gaps. Whenever you get a spark of inspiration, take it - this stuff powers learning.


Don't treat this exercise as a "cramming for final exams" situation. It's great to dedicate some time to researching topics that you want to explore more deeply, but this strategy really compounds on itself over time. Something as simple as spending 5-10 minutes per day reading or learning gives you a monumental amount of knowledge over time.

People often encourage pursuing a passion and, while this isn't an argument for or against that, passion certainly helps you stay consistent because you keep coming back to the thing that you're learning over a long time. Passion makes you consistent without trying, but discipline can also make you consistent.

Read, but don't skim. Read for understanding

This tactic is great in professional settings, particularly on Slack, where large threads can outline and expose all kinds of information that you're not familiar with about the product. Sometimes just being involved in the conversation is all you need.

Be okay with asking the dumb question. This requires you checking your ego; there's a good chance that it's handicapping you. At very do your own research if you don't understand something.