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Learning how to LEARN
The idea of picking up a skill or learning something new can be exciting. Living in an era with access to the internet is one of the best periods to live in, especially since the internet has helped massively increase our scope of learning almost anything and being the best version of ourselves.
However, learning could be stressful and there is no way out of it. Pushing through the pain you endure when learning a new skill determines growth and progress.
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A quick shout out! Here's a “video version” of the article. If you are the visual type, I recommend watching the video. I bet you’ll enjoy it :)
And as much as you’d like to think of learning as a linear process, it is very much the opposite, which could be frustrating and anxiety-inducing. All that said, the best thing you could do is to invest in yourself, and “learning how to learn” is a good step you could take toward that goal.
It’s okay to be overwhelmed
Being overwhelmed is the first obstacle when learning something from scratch.
This usually stems from the fact that we immediately start to look at where we would be if we successfully learned what we set out for, which is a long way to go. It's never a good idea to think of the outcomes just yet.
It's natural to draw unrealistic comparisons with experts in the field we are trying to progress in and feel like an imposter.
And worst of all, we are just a google search away from an ocean of information, which could cause much anxiety and overwhelm.
In this state, the first thing you would feel like doing is procrastinating your learning. There is too much to take in. Where do I start? You ask. You would like to put off your learning for tomorrow. That’s easier, isn’t it? Or are you better off giving up on this journey? That’s a tempting thought. After all, why should you go through this phase of unnecessary suffering?
No, you don't want to give up now, it's way too early. In the beginning, you want to do two things that would help you start your learning journey.
Step1: Unstructured learning
In the beginning, you want to do two things that would help you start your learning journey.
Firstly, start by being specific with what you want.
You want to start an online business.
You want to become a UX designer or
maybe a video editor.
Whatever it could be, make sure to put it down in paper and etch it in your mind.
Try to get a feel for what you are learning
Next, push yourself and try to get a feel for the skill you are interested in learning. Details are not important just yet.
Keep your mind empty.
Read articles, books, or blog posts.
Watch videos, and listen to podcasts.
Get a feel for it and see if you like it. Keep your pursuit purposefully unstructured in this phase. It’s okay if you are reading the fundamentals one day and watching a technical video another day that goes over your head. No problem. Don’t stress over something you don’t understand. The best thing you could do is to keep going. Don’t be pressured to squeeze an outcome from this exercise.
This makes the ride smoother, things are less overwhelming and you have the drive to keep yourself invested in your pursuit. This phase will tell you if you want to give this a serious shot. With time you get comfortable and manage to get a broad sense of the subject of interest.
Step-2: Structured learning
Know where you are headed
You are learning “ABC” to become “someone”. To achieve this, give your learning routine some structure, something like a curriculum. Splitting what you have to learn into sizable chunks helps you digest the subject better and you know where you are headed. Although you could learn stuff by going down the free route I suggest investing in a good course because
courses have a structured curriculum you could follow. Knowing specifically what to learn next could give you direction and
course authors are usually experts and could guide you into taking a handheld path saving you much time.
Learn by doing in small chunks
This is where things get interesting. You have direction. Okay. But you should also know you are making progress in some quantifiable sense. To do that you have to test yourself because a large part of learning is problem-solving. Do this by giving yourself mini challenges. Learn just enough to get your hands dirty and “do something”.
If you are learning to code, you could solve bite-sized challenges as and when you are learning, to reinforce what you learned.
If you are learning to create videos, you could film short clips that are just a few seconds long with your phone and try editing footage.
If you are learning to digitally illustrate, play around and create some sketches however silly they may be.
TLDR, keep doing something in small bouts to test yourself.
Relearn to reinforce what you learn
As compared to how you begin the process of learning something, you must put some intention into your learning as you make progress. Remembering what you learned is important and hence relearning what you already learned would help connect or strengthen neural connections in your brain. Learning isn’t linear. There will be a times when things won’t make sense. That’s normal. Don’t get stuck. Feel free to move on to the next step if you have to. Come back when you feel like it and relearn something you didn’t understand before. Mix learning and doing.
Step-3: Deliberate Practice
Avoid getting into a tutorial rut, a never ending cycle of learning. You would most probably feel like an imposter. Snap out of it by indulging in practicing what you learnt. Start working on projects. Learning how to create an online business? Launch your online business, go for it. Learning web development? Create a web application. Learning how to write? Launch a newsletter and write consistently.
The key to learning anything effectively is deliberate practice. While you may think learning and practicing are the same things, they could in essence produce very different results. Learning passively could help accrue knowledge while practicing diligently helps accrue skill. In essence practice helps you apply knowledge you accumulate in a meaningful way.
James Clear very eloquently writes about the difference between learning and practicing in his article “Stop Thinking and Start Doing: The Power of Practicing More”.
Passive learning is not a form of practice because although you gain new knowledge, you are not discovering how to apply that knowledge. Active practice, meanwhile, is one of the greatest forms of learning because the mistakes you make while practicing reveal important insights.
- James Clear