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The Secret to Learning Anything

I’ve been trying a lot of things these days to connect my 10-year old daughter Kavya with a variety of new learnings – in life, human behaviour, how the mind works, ethics, and how to develop good lifelong habits.

To say that I have been successful in making this connection would be an overstatement. There are some aspects about such learning that Kavya easily connects with and loves what I show or tell her. But like most kids, her mind wanders away frequently, towards things that she finds more interesting and engaging.

Now, either I could worry about her lack of concentration on a few things that would really matter as she grows up, or I could let her just be herself and learn whatever she enjoys learning. Over a period of time, I have become more inclined towards the latter.

So, it was without doubt that I loved it when I read a 100-year old letter Albert Einstein wrote to his 11-year old, Hans Albert, where he laid down the secret to learning anything.

In 1915, aged thirty-six, Einstein was living in war-torn Berlin, while his estranged wife Mileva and their two sons, Hans Albert Einstein and Eduard Tete Einstein, lived in Vienna.

In November 1915, having just completed the two-page masterpiece on the theory of general relativity, Einstein sent Hans Albert the following letter –

My dear Albert,

Yesterday I received your dear letter and was very happy with it. I was already afraid you wouldn’t write to me at all any more. You told me when I was in Zurich, that it is awkward for you when I come to Zurich. Therefore I think it is better if we get together in a different place, where nobody will interfere with our comfort. I will in any case urge that each year we spend a whole month together, so that you see that you have a father who is fond of you and who loves you. You can also learn many good and beautiful things from me, something another cannot as easily offer you. What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.

I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .

Be with Tete kissed by your


Regards to Mama.

The Secret to Learning Anything Is…
As Einstein wrote to his son, “…the way to learn the most is…when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

Now, this advice works wonderfully not just with a 11-year old but also with a 31 or 41 or 51-year old. Your real learning happens only when you completely enjoy what you are learning.

It’s easy for me or anyone else to ask you to be a learning machine, which is by the way a very important advice you will ever receive in life. But no one else but you must decide what you want to learn, because you know what brings you the greatest enjoyment.

But yes, whatever you want to learn – and this is an advice I also give to Kavya – the first thing you must do is to let go your natural inclination to judge yourself and your current abilities and habits as good or bad. Avoid saying things like…

  • Oh! I’m good for nothing!
  • I want to learn but I don’t know the ABC of this thing!
  • I look like a fool in this group of learned men and women.
  • I want to ask this question, but what if I look like a fool?

It’s only when we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneity and focus in the learning process.

W. Timothy Gallwey writes in his brilliant book The Inner Game of Tennis

…there is a natural learning process which operates within everyone – if it is allowed to. This process is waiting to be discovered by all those who do not know of its existence.

To discover this natural learning process, it is necessary to let go of the old process of correcting faults; that is, it is necessary to let go of judgment and see what happens.

Now, on how to learn, I would advice you to watch this brilliant talk at Google from Barbara Oakley

And you may also want to take up Barbara’s free course on learning how to learn.

You see, most people are held back not by their innate ability, but by their mindset. They think intelligence is fixed, but it isn’t. Your brain is like a muscle. The more you use it and struggle, the more it grows.

New research shows we can take control of our ability to learn. We can all become better learners. We just need to mold our plastic brains in the right way…a way that we love walking, and not one that others want us to walk on.

And to repeat Einstein, when you really enjoy the learning process, you can learn anything…value investing, or even how to ride a funny bicycle as shown in this video

This is my advice on learning to Kavya…and also to you. 🙂

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About the Author

Vishal Khandelwal is the founder of Safal Niveshak. He works with small investors to help them become smart and independent in their stock market investing decisions. He is a SEBI registered Research Analyst. Connect with Vishal on Twitter.


  1. Hi Vishal,

    What a brilliant letter to read on a Monday morning. Its true..when we are immersed in doing things we enjoy..we are fully engaged in present moment behavior and I think thats where the learning happens in a much more apt manner.


  2. Swamy Sripada says:

    Hi Vishal,

    Good one. I think we impose on our kids our perspective of even how to and what to learn thereby killing their natural inclinations. Just leaving them to enjoy what they are inclined to learn and immerse themselves in is definitely a good way to free them up for more productive learning. Thanks for the post.


  3. bharat shah says:

    i think, now-a-days it is challenge to create a proper environment for kids to get learned with our perspective or with their natural inclinations, because houses are full with tvs, computers, and mobiles.and naturally kids and even parents do not know how to do it, and even the parents know, it is not easy for average parents to, if i read correctly, there are residential schools in USA, where kids up to 12 yrs are kept without access TO tv, computers and mobile. and some 80% parents working in silicon valley prefer these school for their child.

  4. Subrata Bera says:

    A great article Vishal. Thanks for posting it along with the wonderful videos. Here is one more video capturing this thought in a remarkable way. Worth a watch.

    Subrata Bera.

  5. bharat shah says:

    any way, is there any transcripts available for the videos mentioned in the post as well as comments? it would be a help to understand the subject ( to deal with kids) for people having hearing deficiency like me?

    • Anshul Khare says:

      Hi Bharat,

      I think youtube has a subtitle/captions option. I just checked the two videos in youtube and I could see the captions.

      Those subtitles aren’t 100 percent accurate but pretty close.


  6. Good read indeed. Just like the elimination technique that many value investors propose to be LEFT with the right choice for investing, unlearning needless things to be finally left with the right thing to learn is the key.

    Has helped me decently especially in my recent life.


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