Learning new skills and knowledge – Why and How

Learning new skills and knowledge

There are no cons in learning new skills and knowledge. We are living in a time where life’s circumstances change on daily basis. This requires of us to be on an everlasting quest to stay in pace with the world. Every new single skill that you acquire for your skill-set puts you one step ahead. You might ask, ‘but what is the destination?’ The destination is life-long learning and development, and living a fulfilled life.

Learning new skills and knowledge
Picture by talibamba under CC 2.0

Myths about learning

Most people’s image of learning is traditional, institutionalized learning, with strict rules of how knowledge is acquired and tested. This presents just one among many ways of going about it. There are a lot of people that think that their learning process finished when they left school/graduated university, but they can’t be further from the truth. Spontaneous learning happens every day in a number of given situations (you learned a new word, a new way to cook something, learned to use a new app on your phone etc).

One more dangerous belief that impairs learning is the myth of talent.  László Polgár is a Hungarian educational psychologist who, with his wife home-schooled his children. In order to prove his theories, he raised his three daughters to be chess prodigies. One of them went on to become the first female chess grand master while simultaneously receiving the title of youngest chess master, beating Bobby Fischer by 3 months. These experiments proved that a genius is not born, but a genius is made. The psychologist and his wife even considered ‘specializing’ their children in other areas, but they settled for chess since it’s easily measurable.

Benefits of learning

First of all, let me stress the importance of learning new skills and knowledge. When you learn a new thing (be it a language or how to solve a maths problems) it forms new neural connections within your brain. The problem is we only have a limited number of neurons in our brain, except for a couple of places where they continue to form throughout our lifetime. In order to make best use of our neural networks, the brain has adapted to use our neurons in a number of different ways and each neural pathway has a specialized role in an action. The neural pathway for a real life problem, like figuring out how to jam everything in your small suitcase, could use only one different neuron from the pathway that lets you comprehend grammatical tenses in Spanish.

As you might have concluded by now, the process of learning new skills and knowledge has been thoroughly studied and examined and this helps us draw some strong indicators as to what facilitates the learning process.

How to persist

Motivation

Most of us have found ourselves in this situation. The preparation for learning has already started when you first had the idea to learn. It takes your brain around 10 minutes of passive (warm-up) and 10 minutes of active (reading, trying new skill) preparation to get into learning mode. Motivation is the key factor here. If you lack motivation, there are always ways to help yourself. Make a cost analysis. Let’s say you want to learn to play the guitar. It would cost you two hours every couple of days to learn to play within a year. While it might seem like a long journey, think of the benefits. Once you learn, you will be able to play the guitar for life. When studying material that you haven’t chosen to study (school, university, training at work …) remind yourself of the sense of stress that you should be doing something. You spend hours or even days avoiding this and making excuses. Now calculate how many hours will it take you to learn and be done with this. The costs/benefits are always higher than the actual time spent learning.

Discipline

Where motivation stops, discipline starts. Learning new skills and knowledge requires at least some degree of it. The initial sense of accomplishment that washes over you once you start will eventually wear off. The trick in this phase is to remind yourself why you started it in the first place. Would you like to go back to the same old you from before? Not sticking to your principles can have a huge negative effect on your self-view and self-esteem. The trick is to let your brain absorb everything at a steady pace. When you first start learning something new, you are subconsciously trying sort the new information in systems. This is purely for ease of access, but why not use it to your advantage. Reflect and examine these systems. Most people get frustrated because of wrongly organized information.

The best way to clarify this is through an example. Let’s say you want to learn another language. You start an online course and within a month you have 100 words under your belt. You already perceive yourself as ‘good’ at this task, you are a beginner speaker of this language. Then after a month you encounter a new grammatical rule and all your efforts to comprehend it are futile. This goes directly against your image of yourself as a smart person, maybe even talented for language. In situations like these put yourself in perspective, remember how long have you been studying this thing and most of all, remember to ask yourself why are you not able to do what you want to do.

Healthy Means Happy – HealtHead.com

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