- Jaime Lang
As humans we are geared to learn. Learning happens automatically from the time that we are born and it continues all throughout our lives. It isn’t something that we stop doing once we graduate from school or that needs to be forced. Learning comes naturally and continually.
It is clear if you spend time with young children and toddlers that the human brain is meant to learn. Young children know how to push the boundaries of their own curiosity. They explore their world as if they are on a quest for knowledge and because of this they develop and change quickly. Children have an innate desire to learn and joy that stems from learning. Playing and learning work together beautifully because as children play they learn about themselves and the world around them. This is a fun experience for them. If pain were not introduced in association with learning, then learning would continue to be fun for adults too. This is because learning is a natural part of being human and since being who and what you are feels good, learning is something that naturally feels good.
So what happened to make learning seem so hard?
Learning is naturally fun for humans if they are choosing what they want to learn. It is far less fun when they are forced to learn things that they do not enjoy. This can shed some light on problems with our current school system, but it can also be incredibly helpful for adults to understand. It is important because learning doesn’t stop when you are done with school and it doesn’t have to be difficult or painful. When it is natural, learning is a positive experience. If you need help seeing this as an adult think about something you enjoy. Think about how easy it is for you to talk about that subject and how much you know about it. Think about how excited you get to participate in gaining more understanding about that topic. Do you like a certain type of music? Aren’t concerts for that type of music enjoyable? Going to a concert is a way of learning more about that music and artist by experiencing their songs. When you come back you will have more knowledge about them than you did before you went—you learned something and it was fun.
The reason this is important to understand is because if you can agree that learning is possible for you and can be fun it will help you look at prior beliefs about learning from a new lens. Sometimes the idea of learning about new technology or a new system at work or picking up a new skill can seem daunting—even if it is something you really want to learn. You might be tempted to talk yourself out of trying if you believe you aren’t capable of learning or that learning will be hard. Even if you try you might find yourself struggling to concentrate as thoughts about how hard it is or how embarrassed you are at your inability to pick up the information intrude. These thoughts and anxieties about learning are not based on an actual inability to learn though, they are based on beliefs. The beliefs are valid and come from past experiences with learning, but recognizing that they are old beliefs that do not need to be applied to a new situation can help you release that prohibitive way of thinking. If you can find ways to prove to yourself that you are capable of learning and that learning can be fun and focus on those new beliefs it will be easier to explore new information and fully engage with the material in order to learn it.
Think about this in terms of the music example. Going to a concert is learning by choice. It is an experience that brings you more information AND it is also fun. You can also think about other things you enjoy in this way as well—movies, sports, entertainment. There are many people that know all kinds of things about pop-culture. How do they know these things? They know because they have learned. Learning comes most easily if you are learning something that you are interested in. We all learn different things based on our interests and experiences, which is why it makes little sense to compare what you have learned to someone else and then judge yourself if it doesn't match. You may know a lot about one thing and not as much about something else, that still means that you have learned and are capable of learning. I guarantee you know more about your life and your experiences than anyone else does—those experiences also count as learning. Use this as evidence that you are capable of and good at learning and that you already have a wealth of knowledge if you are finding yourself in need of a counter argument for old beliefs about an inability to learn.
The problem that often arises when it comes to an adult’s relationship with learning is the association with forced learning and judgement. By the time we finish twelve or more years of school we have spent that length of time being forced to learn what other people tell us is important to learn instead of what we want to learn and then being judged continually for on our ability to retain and regurgitate that information according to other people’s standards. When we ask why we need to know something we are told that we have to in order to be successful and have a good job and that failure to do so will equate to us failing in life. Learning becomes a painful means to an end. If you did poorly in school you will likely have developed a belief that learning is hard and that you are bad at it. This combination of forced learning and judgment can cause many adults to shirk away from opportunities to learn new things, even if they are interested and learning them could be helpful. If you believe you can’t learn or that it will be too difficult or painful to try then you will be less likely to engage in activities that lead to learning. This can include going to school to study something you are interested in, but it can also mean avoiding more mundane things like looking up information on a topic that sounds interesting but you are unfamiliar with or learning how to use new technology that is directly related to your current career.
There is nothing wrong with choosing not to go out and learn new skills. There is nothing wrong with not being interested in something even if it could benefit you. However, what many people fail to realize is that you can’t stop learning. You will always learn whether you recognize it or not. Learning comes naturally. You don’t stop doing it when you are out of school—but what you can do is decide what you will learn. This is where the power of choice comes in. You are going to learn things every day, if you do the same things over and over you will learn (and reinforce) the same types of knowledge. If you focus on and engage with certain information you will learn that information—if you are already familiar with it you will learn to be more certain with your familiarity. Even if you are spending time learning things you have already learned, you are still learning it, it’s just that it becomes reinforced. If you like the things you have learned in life and want to continue learning them, then I am not criticizing you for that, but if you know that you are constantly learning then it might be good to be aware of what you are learning so you can assess how much you want to keep reinforcing it or decide if you want to learn something different.
We all learn. If we want to be conscious about how we choose to learn then we might consider what information we are taking in on a daily basis. We might want to ask ourselves some questions about what we are learning and how we are learning. We can ask ourselves questions like: Is this the kind of information I want to absorb? What am I learning from the things I think about, activities I participate in, and people I interact with? Is this what I want to learn? Are there things I am learning by default because I have stayed in old patterns? If so, do I want to continue to learn them or do I want to try find new sources of information to teach me new things? What would I like to learn about most? What am I curious about? What seems most interesting to me?
Asking yourself these questions and being honest as you answer them can help you identify things you might like to learn and then provide you an opportunity for finding ways to learn them. This sounds simple but you do not know how far you might go as you follow your interest and learn more about yourself or the world around you. You do not know what you might find as you follow the thread of interests you have and become more consciously engaged in your world. You might discover a side of yourself you didn’t know about or pockets of the world you would have never come across. The opportunities are endless, but don’t worry because you always have room to learn.
Thank you for reading.
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