1. Learning happens when you solve hard problems, not when you attend classes
One thing that is apparent from Einstein’s early school life is his distaste for rote memorization and attending classes. Einstein often skipped classes and he skipped classes to focus on solving hard problems. Einstein mastered physics, not by regularly attending classes, but by obsessively playing with the equations and ideas on his own. Doing, not listening, was the starting point for how he learned physics.
2. Thinking needs a quiet place and deep focus
Einstein had an incredible ability to focus and was a master of deep work. The obsessive focus that Einstein practised as a young boy while working on hard problems ultimately served him well in cracking general relativity. Einstein’s commendable focus combined with his reverence for solitude, helped him to do some of his best work in physics. Even in his old age, he spent hours and hours on his boat idly pushing his rudder seemingly lost in thoughts, interrupted by bursts of scribbling equations in his notebook
3. Insights come from friendly walks
Although solitude and unwavering focus were vital components of how Einstein learned, it was often conservations with other people that presented his breakthrough. The famous example of this was his walk with his friend Michele Besso. During his efforts to comprehend the theory of special relativity, he walked with his friend trying to explain the theory. Agitated, he declared that he was going to give up working on it. Suddenly, the correct insight occurred to him and the next day he told Besso that he had completely solved the problem. From this, we can conclude that discussing ideas aloud and sharing them with friends can put together insights that were previously disconnected.
Was Einstein’s obsessive focus a result of his curiosity or intelligence? Was his achievement in physics a product of genius, rebelliousness, luck or maybe all three? There are no clear answers to these questions. What is clear, however, is Einstein’s respect for nature and the humbled attitude with which he approached investigating it.
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