How To Understand Things

Hey everybody,

One of my productive procrastinating habits is to learn about how to learn things instead of actually learning them. After all, learning how to learn also counts as learning, right? :D

On a more serious note, though, this essay on how to understand things by Nabeel Qureshi is the best piece I have read on learning how to learn and it has absolutely blown my mind. I read it not once, not twice, but thrice to even understand the depth behind its simplicity.

Nabeel mentions three simple ideas to develop, deepen, and test your understanding of anything, from how days on Mars work to how the faucets in your bathroom work.

First, you have to have “the will to think,” for thinking itself is a hard activity. It’s mentally draining to want to think deeply about, say, dy/dx and why it works when really, all you need to know is how to use dy/dx to get by in school.

Second, you should want to find different ways to solve a single problem to develop a deep understanding of the concept. I’m listening to Einstein’s biography and can see how his thought experiments and defiance to authority made him think about the same things differently, eventually deepening and sharpening his understanding of things.

Finally, you have to have the courage to look stupid. Qureshi talks about Malcolm Gladwell’s father and shows how Gladwell’s father was unafraid to ask even the simplest questions. I vibe with this attitude, although I still have a long way to go. In college — back when things were normal — I’d often make it a point to ask the simplest questions in lectures to get over this fear of looking stupid. It turned out that many a time, my questions were actually relevant and other students would later meet with me and thank me, saying they had the same questions.

Understanding, then, is a lot about intellectual integrity, honesty, and virtue as well.

Nabeel’s post is the best I have read so far on how to understand things and I will read it again to further deepen my thinking, come up with more insights, and even ask Nabeel some interesting questions. If you have any thoughts or ideas, let me know by replying to this email :)

Until next time,


The Channel

Some Cool Videos

  • I’ll be interviewing Ali Abdaal this week. Check out one of his latest podcast appearances here.
  • If you have a Netflix subscription, check out Latif Nasser’s show Connected, another mind-blowing series on how everything in the world is connected to one another.
  • If you’re into some cool philosophical stuff this week and have 90 minutes, do watch Alain De Botton’s video (here) on what great philosophers can teach us about how to live.
  • For some casual fun and to catch a glimpse of how Steve Jobs used to think back in 1985, see this video.

Some Cool Podcasts

  • I’ve been a fan of Cal Newport’s work and I’m enjoying listening to his podcasts about improving work, productivity, and our quality of life. Check out his latest one here.
  • Derek Sivers’s work and philosophy has always intrigued me. Check out his work philosophy and thoughts on living a meaningful life here.

Some Cool Articles


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