Why learning new things is so hard, and why you want it to be that way

3 minute read

Do you know that feeling when you are starting to learn something new? The feeling of being lost in all that stuff that you can not grasp? Feeling like an idiot while thinking that you will never learn it. Good, that is the best place where you want to be. Learning new things should be challenging, it should make you cringe sometimes, and make you want to bash your head in the wall.

I was looking at my son a few days ago, and I noticed how he was learning how to climb, trying, his feet would not listen to him, and be there where they should, he was aware of it, and it made him angry, because he wanted to climb up. But he tried again, and again, and again, and then he succeeded, now he is climbing fast and precise, which for a 20 month old kid, that is very good.

So the best place you can be is this one, banging your head, because it is where you learn the most. If you remember those editor learning curves, that are so steep, they are because we learn that way, we have to learn so many things in the start, be it vim, emacs, or even Ruby on Rails. The content you have to wrap your head around is so big, that you can’t fit it in your head in one go. But because of your frustration, you learn faster, likely some animal self preservation instinct kicking in. If learning something new becomes too easy, you are not doing it correctly. There is a saying in cycling, that goes something like this: “If your legs are not hurting while climbing a hill, then you are going way too slow, and need to pick up the pace”.

When do we stop learning like this, headstrong, just pushing until you accomplish something, I can’t tell, is it the moment when we become aware of other people, who may judge us, or we fear others judging us? Basically school, i would say high school inmost instances. Ironically, the place where you must be able to learn the most, makes you unlearn learning. Makes you give up trying to do things you do not know how to do, because you believe someone will laugh at you. Yep, that happened to me, and I gave up, only to pick it up later in my life, and realize the time I have wasted. And you must not waste your time like that too.

Just pursue your dreams and ignore the bad critics. Of course you need to have some common sense, and someone you trust to tell you when you suck. But, for example, some if not most people are told they can’t sing when they are teenagers, by underpaid public teachers, and then they give up completely. Maybe they needed more practice, their performance was not, and never would be Elvis like, but they could have learned to sing, a little at least. All people are not the same, and each one of us learns differently. Because of that, you must find a way that is best for you personally, also a reason why public education sucks, by treating and grading everyone the same. When you find your way, it might be writing things down, doodling, repeating out loud, or presenting at user groups and conferences, do it, and do more of it. Your brain will be grateful to you, and regular mental stimulation does the same for your brain, as exercise does for your body(and brain). Not only will you reduce the risk from e.g. Alzheimer’s Disease, but it could indirectly improve your life style, and with that your life expectancy. Learn more, live a longer and healthier life.

There is a great quote that describes this perfectly, and it is from a great book series, that everyone must read, at least once. “My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.” - George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones