When we struggle to improve our performance in a chosen field, it’s usually because we’ve disobeyed simple laws of learning. Knowing what these laws are can improve the way we learn, however it’s important to remember that knowledge is potential power, and that power is only released through the application of knowledge.
A person who reads many books but never puts what he reads into practice is simply a collector of knowledge. But the person who reads, applies, tries and tests what he has read is a collector of power and wisdom.
There are many universal laws of learning, but today I’m going to concentrate on four of the most important: attitude, incremental progress, consistency and feedback.
We’ve all heard it before: “You have to be positive.” “It’s all in the mind.” “You have to believe you can do it.”
There’s a simple reason self-help books and motivational speakers have pushed these idea for centuries – they work!
It’s not just by becoming a person who thinks positively that you will succeed, but what it will do is put you in the right frame of mind for overcoming challenges.
After eight months of learning Spanish I went to Spain for three weeks to practice and to see how much I had learnt. I was both surprised at how much I was able to understand and how much went over my head in simple everyday conversations. I could have easily become discouraged and allowed myself to believe I was incapable, but I decided to accept that I didn’t know as much as I thought and use my time as an opportunity to learn and grow.
When trying to acquire knowledge or skill, we’re bound to face difficult walls to climb over, and the person with the right attitude knows they’ll vary in height, accepts they’re coming and is ready to blast straight through them. That is to say, that having a positive attitude means seeing a challenge as an opportunity for growth. Knowing that anything worthwhile will not come easy, and understanding that mistakes are an essential part of progress.
Do you have a positive attitude?
There’s only one way to climb a mountain, and that’s to take it one step at a time. It’s a really simple fact. So simple that you may feel I’m insulting your intelligence or wasting your time. However I’ve seen this simple law of learning broken by some really smart people, so it’s definitely something worth talking about.
Language, for example, is often described as a complex system, and this often deters people from trying to learn a foreign language. However complexity is nothing more than layers of simplicity; so if you’re struggling to understand something complicated, then the chances are you need to go back and become better aquatinted with something simple.
If we only bite off what we can chew, we’ll never have problems digesting.
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. – Albert Einstein”
There’s no do doubt that consistency is related to successful learning. I’ve seen many people fail to make much progress on their mission to acquire new skill because they don’t stick at it long enough to make significant progress.
It’ happened to me too. Spanish is my strongest foreign language and I’ve taken many breaks, sometimes months at a time. What I’ve found when I have returned to my studies is that words have been forgotten, my clarity of expression has diminished and that any attempt to communicate is a draining and difficult task. It’s as if I’m starting from the beginning again.
Anyone who has experience going to the gym can relate to the disappointment felt when two months of dedicated work disappear after a two week break. There’s a loss of strength, the body is not as agile and you have to go back a couple steps, sometimes back to where you started.
Whether you’re learning a language or developing your fitness, it’s a lifestyle choice and it has to be maintained otherwise progress will be very slow. Learning a new skill is largely about developing new habits. By definition, for something to be a habit it has to be carried out consistently.
Learning is all about making connections, acquiring new informations and linking it to knowledge we already have. However as we absorb information there is a high tendency to forget particular details or perhaps misunderstand the information that we take in. That’s why it’s important to get some sort of feedback to ensure that we have processed our newly acquired knowledge correctly.
Feedback comes in many different styles and forms and we can be creative about how we receive it. If we take for example language learning, you can improve your command of a language by recording monologues of yourself speaking and getting a native speaker to correct your mistakes as well as point out ways to improve your pronunciation and accuracy of expression.
Many of the errors we make when learning a given skill are unconscious, in order to become conscious of these mistakes we turn to external feedback. In my own language learning I rely heavily on friends to correct my mistakes when speaking and writing.
Getting feedback is also helpful for learning what you’re doing right, which can give you a boost of confidence and help you realise that you are in fact making progress. This serves to reinforce a positive mental attitude and helps keep you motivated.
In order to maximise this universal law of learning you should allways remember that all forms of criticism can be used as a form of feedback to help us improves.
When you find yourself struggling to improve on your journey, ask yourself: Have I got the right attitude? Am I trying to make incremental progress? Am I being consistent? Am I getting valuable feedback?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, you’re disobeying a universal law of learning, and you need to make an adjustment to advance.
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