The urge to learn is built in from birth. As a baby, once you learned to sit, you attempted to crawl. This urge to act then grew, intensified and diversified until you can now jump, climb, and probably swim.
Humans learn for two primary reasons: Necessity and passion.
- Necessity: learning because you need the skill to function in this world. This could range from being able to run away from danger to doing things that are of economic value.
- Passion: learning because you love it and want to derive a sense of purpose from it.
However, in both cases, some degree of pain is inescapable.
In this blog post, we’re going to learn; why learning new things can be hard, challenges faced during learning and how you can enjoy learning even when it’s hard.
What Is Learning?
Learning is the process of gaining new information, understanding, behaviours, skills, values, and attitudes, through experience, study, and instructions and turning them into practical actions.
It’s something every living thing does, including plants. However, for us humans, it is a more complex and dynamic process.
Sometimes learning is immediate, by instinct, for instance, when you are electrocuted by a naked cable; you learn not to try it again. Other times skill and knowledge are accumulated from repeated experiences, i.e. acquiring writing or photography skills takes a longer time.
These accumulated lessons can be easily recalled and seemingly forgotten, however, both scenarios shape who we become.
Why do I find it hard to learn new things?
The reason you may be finding it hard to learn new things is that learning is hard. And, unfortunately, we are not hardwired to love hard work. Humans instinctively want to avoid situations that require a lot of physical or mental effort.
That is why when under stress our brain chemistry changes and mental processes switch gears: Cortisol floods the brain, sapping our energy and focus, while dopamine levels dwindle, dimming our optimism; and pushing us towards surrender. Then the brain also falls back on mental shortcuts and biases, seeking quick escapes and conclusions, even if they lead us astray.
Your brain naturally gravitates toward activities that trigger positive emotions, like eating sweet and fatty foods, or going down the rabbit hole of novel and extremely engaging content on social media.
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What Are Some Challenges We Face During Learning?
Humans are creatures of habit. We crave comfort in the familiar, from routines to rituals (the comfy spots, yummy snacks, special friends, and funny slang). They make us feel happy and safe.
So, whenever we are faced with the need to learn new things, we end up struggling to break the pattern.
Nevertheless, there can be legit challenges/impediments to our learning such as;
- Fear of failure.
- Fear of imperfection.
- Impatience towards progress (expecting instant results).
- From bodily aches to heartbreaks.
- Empty pockets can kill the urge to learn. Hunger, cold, and fear drown out the muse. For instance; living hand-to-mouth leaves you with little time or energy to explore hobbies and passions.
- Also, existential challenges like worrying about things beyond your control, (death, world events or social injustices), can leave you feeling helpless and obstruct your focus on creative expression.
However, if we resist learning because of the way we feel about ourselves, the environment, or how difficult learning is, we risk failing in life, and extinction as a species.
Our progress as an individual and a race is built on each generation’s commitment to learning and improving upon the past.
This means it’s your biological responsibility to be a life-long learner no matter how hard it is.
How do I learn better and enjoy it even when it’s hard?
While the internet offers countless strategies for finding joy in learning and tackling difficult tasks, my apprenticeship in both writing and photography revealed some fundamental principles of skill acquisition.
Attach your Identity to the new habit
When you begin a new pursuit, identifying with the related skill or career can be difficult. You may feel like a fake, an imposter. For instance, when I started learning writing and photography, I didn’t subconsciously or openly consider myself a writer or photographer, even on my social media profiles.
The challenges, skill levels, and years of experience I felt where needed to be called a photographer or writer were overwhelming. This instilled an unrealistic fear of “what if” and slowly eroded my motivation.
However, insightful conversations with some smart folks helped me regain perspective and reignite my mojo.
Self-efficacy explains the importance of believing in your ability to achieve a goal. By seeing yourself as someone who already possesses the desired identity, you can boost self-efficacy and persistence in the face of challenges.
Just like a fry (or fingerling fry) is still a fish, and a puppy is still a dog, so you too can identify with your desired identity even if you’re just starting.
By connecting to your desired identity, you switch focus from the difficulty of the task to who you are trying to become.
For example, instead of saying;
- “Running is hard,” say “I am a runner.”
- “I can’t write like a pro,” say “I am a rookie writer.”
- “I don’t know how to code”, say “I’m an aspiring fullback developer”
- “I don’t know how to play football”, say “I’m a football enthusiast”
And so on.
This shift in perspective can make the process more enjoyable, encouraging humility and perseverance to improve yourself.
Focus on the process
Goals may be identical but the process makes the difference.
Almost everyone thinks of the life of a millionaire, celebrity, and perfect romance but not everyone archives this because they likely go about it the wrong way.
Goals are mere wishes if you don’t have the right habits to reach them.
Like a ladder, each habit brings you closer to the top, but if you try to skip some steps as you move upward you are likely to lose balance and fall off.
Instead of solely focusing on the top of the ladder – the end goal – find ways to savour the process itself. Break down the goals into steps and make improvements along the way.
Set SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound – goals
Make it fun
Games may not be easy but they are fun and addictive because they have rewards lined up for you.
Nature and society understand this too.
For instance, when you engage in meaningful goals your serotonin level increases because it is triggered by a sense of accomplishment and progress, as a result, you become more happy and less anxious.
Also, your dopamine levels shoot up when you complete a task. As a result, your motivation spikes and you become focused on tackling the next step.
Remember, how the clapping from your classmate made you feel good and energized you into doing more? This can be a form of societal reward.
Rewards and punishment are ways to get anyone to do anything. This is known as operant conditioning.
Your education can follow a similar process. Learning tough tasks is fun when they are gamified and when you are rewarded for it.
When learning a new skill or concept, implement small rewards after completing the hard task. This makes you endure the boredom and frustration that comes with it because your eyes are fixated on the price to be won when you reach the final level.
For example; each blog publication feels like unlocking a new achievement in my content creation journey.
This encourages a sense of growth, and builds confidence, fueling continuous learning.
Don’t take on something too hard or too easy
Learning, like alchemy, demands a delicate balance. Dive headfirst into the most challenging version of a task, and you’ll likely find yourself burnt out before you even begin. Choose something too simple, and boredom will quickly creep in, leading to abandonment. This is why a baby chooses to crawl after being able to sit rather than to run.
- Instead of writing 2k words as a beginner, focus on writing meaningful 300-word counts often.
- Instead of starting with three lights set up in photography, start with a one-light setup.
Avoid both extremes. Start with manageable steps – the Goldilocks zone of learning – where the difficulty provides a satisfying challenge without being overwhelming. As you conquer these initial hurdles, gradually increase the complexity, ensuring your journey stays engaging and rewarding.
Sustainable learning thrives on finding the sweet spot between frustration and boredom.
Teach what you’ve learned to others
To fill your knowledge gaps, you must take up the learner’s position; to solidify what you know, you must share it as a teacher.
Teaching isn’t just about pouring information, it’s a two-way street that makes everyone sharper.
Don’t wait to be an expert, start sharing what you know. Teaching clarifies your understanding and makes you more proficient in what you’ve learned, saving you time and effort.
There’s a popular saying usually attributed to Einstein which says, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself”.
Curate your environment
Like a sponge soaks up surrounding liquid, the places you spend time subtly influence what you learn and how you learn it.
Immerse yourself in a community of passionate learners, and you’ll find yourself naturally absorbing their curiosity and drive.
Here are some ways to curate your environment:
- Swap out the endless news cycle for podcasts on your desired field. Instead of passively consuming negativity pumped out by news channels, actively seek out knowledge and inspiration from podcasts. For example, I listen to Alan Watts for intellectual and philosophical rejuvenation.
- Disconnect from mindless scrolling and connect with a mentor or learning group. Surround yourself with people who share your goals and can challenge you to grow. You can easily find such people and groups on social media by typing relevant keywords in your industry. As a writer, you can search for keywords like “Writing”, “Writers”, “authors”, and so on.
- Fill your bookshelf with biographies of inspiring individuals. Their stories can become your roadmap, their struggles your motivation. For instance, Lee Jeffries’ story of juggling his photographic passion and the necessity of an accounting job resonates with anyone facing similar choices.
- Find a community. Surround yourself with others who are also working towards similar goals. This can provide support, motivation, and a sense of belonging. For instance, I joined Pawns and connected with other amazing writers who helped me quickly grow as a competent and confident writer.
Be Patient – learn by adding 1% each day.
Learning bumps are inevitable, even after implementing these tips. But by pushing through, regardless of your feelings, environment, or opportunities, you pave the way for the exponential rewards of consistency.
Learn by adding 1% each day.
The magic of 1% isn’t in the daily gain, it’s in the compounding effect. Multiply those small improvements over a year, and you’ll be amazed at the outcome. For example, I’ve been learning to write and take photographs since the year 2021, and I am still learning, but if you’ve followed my journey you will notice my growth trajectory.
Conclusion: Learn Things That Align With Your Goals.
Will Smith said that Life is learning. Overcoming ignorance is the whole point of life’s journey, and I agree.
What would have been our fate if our ancestors hadn’t discovered how to make fire, were too lazy to make clothes from plants and animal skin, and were fearful to design weapons for hunting and protecting them from predators? They stacked up different skills to preserve and promote humankind.
Nature designed us to be learners. But you can’t learn or master everything, and that’s okay. You can choose to learn only a few important ones.
Imagine choosing 5 skills that align with your goals. Even if you reach only 20% proficiency in each, the combined effect is a 100% increase in your overall skill set.
To help you understand this point better;
Think of it like building a toolbox.
Pick a few skills that fit your goals and
develop one at a time. Once you’ve got that hammer down, add other tools like a saw or wrench.
Even if you’re not an expert on each tool/skill, having a variety lets you tackle more projects. This diversity of knowledge, as Robert Greene rightly said, is the key to the future.
“Jack of all trades master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one.”
So don’t get stuck just hammering. Play around, combine knowledge, skills, and tools, and see what you can create. That’s where your unique skills and ideas come to life!
Learn, explore, and have fun building your toolbox.
Did you enjoy this content or have a question? Let us know in the comments section.
Here are some other content you might find helpful
- How To Develop Your Meta Skills, And Unlock Your Hidden Potentials
- Love for Learning: Why It Matters and How to Cultivate It
- Attention Management: 4 Ways To Clear Your Mind From Distractions And Information Overload
- Please Do Less: 4 Negative Consequences of Multitasking
- The Importance of Breaks in Achieving Long-Term Success and Happiness:
A mindful self-help writer and photographer