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!
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