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Overcoming that initial painful resistance when starting to learn something new

by | Jul 11, 2022

You know that if you learn a new skill or take a new training your life could change for the best, but you are not doing that. Something is holding you back. You know what to do, but somehow you are unable to do it. You know the cure to your problem, but you resist the treatment. I want us to discuss what holds people back from being habitual learners. Probably this thing is the biggest thief of individual success. 

There is this feeling inside that overwhelms you when you think about or start learning something tough. That feeling floods your head when you try solving a math problem or when writing an essay on a complicated topic. If you have felt this opposing force, you are not alone. It is a universal experience and even the brightest of minds have felt it. How you make sense of this feeling is very important because if you can find ways to deal with it, you will change how you learn forever. In this article, I will show you something you likely have not thought about and it will be one of the most fascinating things you will ever learn. If you can persevere till the end, you will never regret reading this article.

What I describe as a feeling is formally called “Resistance” in psychology. This resistance is the same internal force that you battle each time you encounter situations. The more strange and difficult the change, the higher the resistance. This is an obstacle that you will inevitably face throughout life, and so you better be equipped to face it fiercely and upfront. Unless you unmask this resistance, it will hide beneath your subconsciousness and you will foolishly play along with it. For many people, this resistance can feel like an internal struggle between two parts of themselves — one that overtly wants to change and one that covertly fights it.

Where does this resistance come from and why do we experience it?

This is one of those existential questions that have baffled me for a long time and have equally crossed the greatest of minds across history. Let’s take a close look at this thing! 

From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, we evolved to survive.

The limbic system of our brain is the primitive part of our brain that drives our emotions and impulses. This is where that resistance arises. We did not evolve to think hard, because natural selection in evolution theory favours survival above all. Our foremost ancestors needed just enough knowledge and understanding to hunt, reproduce and avoid life-threatening situations in the wild. For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors experienced little or no innovation. Most of the innovation and development in human history only started not long ago as humans started engaging in deep thinking. From philosophy to science, we have pushed against this resistance of the mind to uncover life-changing innovations such as the steam engine that powered the industrial revolution and penicillin that cut death rates from bacterial infections drastically worldwide. 

Learning hard things involves a lot of energy expenditure. 

Learning is a gym for the mind! If you have ever studied hard, you must have noticed the huge mental exhaustion that comes with cognitively engaging the brain. Learning is a laborious process for the body. When I was in high school and medical school, I use to lose weight during exam periods. Learning induces a high state of metabolism and requires a lot of energy and oxygen to power your mental processing. So your body burns energy like crazy when you learn tough things. Since the change or learning process requires extra effort, energy, and brain power, resistance can provoke physical feelings of discomfort like tiredness, lethargy, and slowed movement patterns. These are common experiences when you start learning something tough. I once told a friend that “learning is not natural” and he was shocked and still debates this point to date. I hope he reads this article, *smiles*. When someone says “I no like book”, what they often mean is that they can’t withstand the resistance from their mind.

Why is it important to know all of this?

Knowing this is very important because it can improve your attitude when facing this naturally inbuilt resistance. Once you notice that your body is getting into that default resistance mode, you can observe the tricks your mind plays on you to disengage. If you observe your mental state at that moment, you will start gaining more control as you no more identify automatically with this inbuilt tendency. By accepting that this resistance is normal, it will be easier for you to endure and persist. All learning boils down to persistence and passion. As you continuously observe and catch the resistance in real-time, it begins to weaken. This is quite similar to how meditation solves overthinking and worrying. Be able to mindfully identify and catch that resistance in you. Recognize the thing inside you that is resisting change and the learning process. That resistance is not you, it won’t kill you – push against it. You can overcome it. Do not identify with it. 

Where schools failed you

Unfortunately, schools don’t teach students how to learn. Somehow most people learned how to learn by themselves and so they learned terrible self-limiting ways to learn. Schools don’t make enough effort to help students see beneath the curtain (the inner workings of the mind). The student that is mindful of the fact that mental resistance is normal and that if given sufficient time any concept can be understood, is a student who is set up for success in life. That student will benefit from the experiential transformation that comes with making learning a habit. Learning is a lifelong skill, a meta-skill that seats at the top of the pyramid of skills. Schools should teach students how to learn and how to think over how to memorize facts. To be able to make the most out of your life, you have to own your learning. You have to take full responsibility for your learning. To shift your mindset to a place where you enjoy learning things and they make you happy. That place is possible for all. First, start learning more about what you already love and then leverage that enthusiasm to new areas and then expand as your curiosity sparks brighter. 

Factors that influence learning resistance and how you can hack them for your self-growth

a. Your environment and social setting influence how you acquire and sustain learning habits.

Who you surround yourself with is very important. Surround yourself with people who are fascinated by learning and self-development. Spend time in places where learning is happening and put yourself in situations that facilitate learning. Learn in groups and have learning accountability partners. We have been organizing the “4 am-daily program” that has enrolled more than 700 people so far since 2018, this is one of such learning environment. Thank God for the internet, you can quickly build these networks today more than ever. 

b. Your previous learning habits and experiences might be what is holding you back.

Schools do such a bad job at making students understand how to learn and the purpose of learning. If pupils in primary school were made to see the purpose of learning and were taught what happens inside the mind when they learn, we will have more adults who love to learn. If to you, learning is about memorising facts and sitting for tests and exams, you might never look at it as deep as we are discussing here. You learn to think and not to regurgitate facts. Generally, students tend to be quite rigid and believe that the goal of education is to learn “the right facts” and so they have a propensity to be less focused on skill development and critical thinking and rather mostly on memorization and acquisition of factual knowledge.

c. Having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset is a big driver for learning.

People who acknowledge that they are “work in progress” are more likely to embrace the resistance to learning and be persistent and enduring as they develop lifelong skills. People with a fixed mindset on the other hand, easily draw an upper limit to their learning abilities and live their lives believing they are of average intelligence. Develop for yourself a strong positive self-image as a learner. Convince yourself that you are someone who can acquire new skills, knowledge, behaviours, and insights. This is the goal of this post. To help you see your true potential. You have a huge potential that you must unlock to enjoy the wonders that a learning habit brings into your life. 

d. Fear of the unknown or uncertainty inhibits change and the learning process.

To evolve, you must be ready to leap into the unknown. You should never be stuck in your comfort zone. Dare to take new learning adventures. Try new ideas and skills, and do things outside your regular field of expertise or training. Get comfortable going out of your comfort zone.

In a nutshell, to break free from the limitations of your mind, you should be aware of how your own mind tricks you into avoiding learning. It does this because learning is mentally exhausting. However, the good news is that you can override this by being aware that you can pull the switch progressively as you intentionally transform yourself. The mind is a loud and lousy deceiver, it’s your best friend and your worst enemy. So you must face it and negotiate for what you want fiercely. Calm yourself down, speak to your mind, tell it – “Dear mind, I know you don’t want to be overwhelmed by learning – I understand. But I want you to do me a favour, just drop the resistance by 50% and I can live with that and won’t bother you”. Strike this deal with your mind. What happens is that you get more comfortable learning hard things amid that resistance and as time goes on you keep negotiating till you have curbed this resistance substantially. This seems like a crazy idea but it works like magic! Being this aware of your own mind is the singular way of taking over control. You are a moving genius sleeping on him/herself. Don’t betray you! 

If you are interested in learning hard things, don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list. What is the one thing about learning that has always baffled you? I have shared mine, now it’s your turn. Drop a comment below.  

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19 Comments

  1. kuni frank

    This article says so much about how i feel when ever i am about to learn something new, there is always this huge inertia setting me back. In my opinion more people should see this because the awareness would help each individual to set up basic principles that would suit them in their various situations

    Reply
    • Ebasone Vanes

      Exactly! Knowing that resistance exists and its source is a very good first step that anyone can take to make a difference in their learning journey.

    • Molly Vanessa

      I want to first thank my mentor for posting this link on his status, and also thank sir ebason for this thoughtful and amazing article. I have a lot to say about this article but I will cut is short.

      When I was in college I always study one week before the exams and also didn’t care about how deep I go so far I could just get what we talking about I’m good, but when I got to high school I started walking with people who are determined. People who don’t just study for studying sake but goes deeply into what they are learning so those with whom you surround yourself with really matters and I’m happy about it. But then again I restricted myself from a lot of things especially growth but coming across this article makes me believe that I have a huge potential that I must unlock. Thanks sir

  2. Mkong Nelson

    The worst habit I had about learning was first focusing on the size of the material, and this alone was very counter productive, as I will easily give once I notice the material is above a certain volume. Once I noticed how much this wasn’t helping me, I made a conscious effort to avoid checking for the size of the material before beginning the process of learning. It helped me learn many things I otherwise wouldn’t have.

    Reply
    • Ebasone Vanes

      That’s a good one. It can really be overwhelming to the brain to think about the workload it will have to endure through 😃

    • Sofiyah

      I am just coming across this article since it has been published due to as assignment given by my lecturer but i will this is very insightful and informative. I have learnt that i have to be comfortable leaving my comfort zone and trying hard to speak to my mind. What is that thing that resist me from learnig? I have to find out.

      Thank you doc for this great article.

  3. Lukong Walters Burinyuy

    This is very insightful and a perfect diagnosis of poor performance even in schools. In the past weeks I was meditating on how pupils and students could be taught how to study and here you are with every details about what needs to be done.
    In fact I in person I am always challenged and most often I end up starting but not completing the learning of new skills.
    Thank you so much Doc

    Reply
    • Ebasone Vanes

      I’m happy you found it useful.

  4. Emmanuel Kobi

    A very excellent article. I teach chemistry in secondary and high school and it worries me when I notice the poor learning habits of our children. Most of them depend on memorization, an show very little critical thinking. Sadly I must admit this problem goes back to teaching approaches and evaluation standards, and specifically, the fact that little or no attention is directed towards teaching students how to learn.

    Thank you for this article
    It has inspired me so much to
    begin anticipating and proactively strategizing on how to tackle and overcome that resistance when I embark on a new learning experience. Also it has prompted me to consider dedicating time during the preparation of lessons on how to actively engage and help my students walk through the mental barriers into true learning.

    Reply
    • Ebasone Vanes

      I totally think it will be great to find ways to encourage students to not give up easily. So that they know that become excellent takes persistence and endurance.

  5. Michele

    Your choice of words and everything you say in this lovely article is the best I’ve had to read in a long time. I am a 100% guilty of not talking to my mind and giving up but I do acknowledge I’m a work in progress and will put in that work a thousand times more and speak to my mind. Thank you for constantly sharing your knowledge

    Reply
    • Ebasone Vanes

      You’re welcome Mich!

    • ChonaVic

      Thanks for this very informative write up in which I clearly identify with. Even though I will say before now ,I didn’t just see it as some self-resistance, am sure it’s the reason I will often cleared it with sayings like there are many other things I can possibly engaged learning, I surely won’t know everything.
      But thanks to this article I now know better than using this excuse. Also I love the mind negotiation remedy, it’s just tired well with a character I had built, self-motivation…Thanks again Doc , I will share this article so that many more people could get the help its richly contains.

  6. Pavel

    I have had to think in this direction in a few instances, but never felt as convinced of its effectiveness as I’m feeling right now, after reading this post.

    What I’ve got to understand is that even when we find ourselves on the right path, it’s never easy to stay on it. We face difficulties to practice even what we had told ourselves was the perfect approach.

    At times it’s because we feel it’s not as right as it had seemed.

    I think this sentiment springs from the fact that we don’t give ourselves enough time to fight against that resistance. It actually requires consistency as you rightly said, and to accept that it was not meant to be easy.

    One thing I would say is good to bear in mind before picking a learning or working habit as one to be consistent with, is to understand how effortlessly we get absorbed in the process.

    For example, some people will be very productive in the mornings, like myself, while others are at their best in the evenings, etc.

    For me, the moment I fail to capitalize on my mornings, how productive I would be for the day becomes very questionable.

    If we understand such patterns about ourselves and still push to work against them, then chances are high the end may be catastrophic.

    I’m happy I fell on this article.

    It awoke my awareness of how important it is to be consistent, especially in a fight like this.

    Thanks for the write-up🙌

    This is my very first long reaction to a post in my whole life😂

    Reply
    • Ebasone Vanes

      Thanks very much for the additional words of wisdom. Picking the right thing and consistently working towards it will definitely be the way to go.

  7. Glory Shemlon

    I find it intriguing that the limbic system can create such natural resistance which can destroy a person if there is no persistence or negotiation with it. It was a good read. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Odette

    Great article. The momentum when studying for an exam is always different, you know you have to give up on sleep and other things just for a week so you do everything possible to pass, keeping this momentum in our daily routine and learning is the hard part. Thank you for this article, I’m gradually learning to fall more in love with learning and being more focused. Another thing that keeps me going when I’m trying to resist is delayed gratification.

    Reply
  9. Clenise

    Thank you so much for this article doctor! You won’t believe that this caught me right there. I have always liked to learn and improve myself but that force that keeps making me feel like it’s a hard job has always been the reason for my laxity. Now,with these,I will negotiate with my mind and get started from there.

    Thank you so much🤗🤗

    Reply
  10. Vickie Phillips

    I am trying to learn a new skill, but every time I start to study I begin to feel overwhelmed. My body starts to resist. I decided to try to find out why and I came across this article. Thank you so much for helping me to realize what is happening. I know now that I can learn this new skill which will benefit me greatly. Thank you to everyone who also shared their experiences. I feel so much better knowing that I am not alone in this and that their are others who have experienced these emotions as well and that I can overcome them.

    Reply

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