I am sure this question might have overwhelmed you at some point in your life, because it never ceases to attack me when I least want it to. A wandering mind, a lingering feeling to give in to a song, a void beginning to spiral out of control, or the onset of a nihilistic episode that seems to stretch on (do you ever know where it ends and where life begins?), anything is suddenly more important than the task of learning something. But why is it so hard to learn something new?
Whether it be a new language, an instrument, polishing your vocals to sing, learning to moonwalk (just kidding?), or simply a topic you need to cover from your school syllabus, there comes a time when you throw your hands into the air in defiance as if ready to battle with the demons within your head and scream in frustration, “Why is it hard for me to understand things?!”
Well, you’re not alone. I am sure almost all of us go through this phase even when we remember being the most motivated person in the room who could get things done faster than anyone we knew. What happened? Why are we suddenly riddled with questions like “Why do I struggle to learn?”, or “Why can’t I learn quickly?” They swarm us like bees, don’t they? The thought of procrastinating over learning from my mistakes still keeps me up at night more than the learning itself, though. Can you imagine?
I, who was once a person who rarely procrastinated, seem to have been engulfed by this ‘disease’ in a way that it had become cancerous, and treatment is in order. However, before learning how to get rid of something, we need to know why we are victims of something in the first place.
Learning something new is like a mountain you have to climb, a weight you simply cannot muster enough courage for to lift, except of course in short bursts of motivation when you feel like you can achieve anything, and what is the use of those temporary highs when you can’t be consistent in what you do?
I struggled with these questions too. I still do on some level. But I have realised the answers to some of the whys here; the whys that continue to haunt us on every stop of the road.
For me, reading a book falls under the category of learning something; I might learn how to write through reading a novel, or how to restructure my life and be more conscientious when I read Jordan Peterson. (It could be anything though, from studying, to learning a new instrument, to writing.) Why is it so hard to keep reading sometimes though? And the weird part is, we know deep down. We know why some thing is hard for us, but we dare not accept it until we are forced to.
P.S: To make this reading experience easier for you, for God knows what you’re dealing with right now (and I hope you learn whatever you’re trying to learn in the best way you can) play Changes by Hayd below:
So, here’s a short list of what I think makes it so hard for us to learn:
There’s already something we’ve left on pending in our lives.
No, I’m not talking about that relationship you haven’t received closure from, because you need to let that go, kid. I mean that incident you haven’t properly mulled over, or a very close friend with whom you’ve let distance nudge its way through, or a book you started writing once but then gave up thinking you weren’t good enough to write something yet. Look around you. Better yet, look inside you. There’s probably something you need to finish learning before you begin to learn something else, and you do know that you end up being a different person than when you started something, right?
Are you imagining yourself at the finish line?
That is the most common mistake we make as adults who are aware of the advantages of a new skill and all the ways it could be exploited (by ourselves, I mean). This would look great on my CV. If only I could be a master of this. But why? Why ruin an experience with expectations of mastering it? Outcome-based thinking works well in arenas where you aren’t necessarily proving something. To stress yourself out before going through an initial process of learning something new by thinking about the outcome takes away the delight of the experience. And one only thinks of the outcome when they think it is something that would benefit them greatly if they have it. Jordan B. Peterson might have not put this in better words when he said, “Perhaps you are overvaluing what you don’t have and undervaluing what you do.”
Are you doubting yourself?
Perhaps you’ve told yourself what you’ve decided to do is so different and unique to what you usually do that you have subconsciously alienated yourself from initiating the pursuit of learning something new in itself. Retrace your steps back into time, when you had overcome the hardest of challenges, breakthroughs you didn’t know you were capable of. You surprised yourself when you were faced with a sudden and unforeseen challenge, something you weren’t prepared for. You overcame your shock, you had to; you were forced into a situation where you had to act, pushing aside the self-doubt, the dark side that sometimes threatens us into succumbing to a breakdown. Why not now when you are leaping into something knowing full well its identity, its sense of harmlessness? Jordan Peterson does it again here:
“What is your friend: the things you know, or the things you don’t know? First of all, there’s a lot more things you don’t know. And second, the things you don’t know is the birthplace of all your new knowledge! So if you make the things you don’t know your friend, rather than the things you know, well then you’re always on a quest in a sense. You’re always looking for new information in the off chance that somebody who doesn’t agree with you will tell you something you couldn’t have figured out on your own! It’s a completely different way of looking at the world. It’s the antithesis of opinionated.”
The discomfort of stepping into uncharted territory.
More than the doubt or the nervousness we impose on ourselves while imagining the outcome, we are sometimes yanked back into the comfort of the things we know more strongly when faced with uncharted territory aka the thing that makes us feel that it is very hard to learn anything. Here you should know that unknowns only bring us closer to new opportunities. We almost never regret stepping into an unknown. In a lecture, Jordan B. Peterson went ahead and explained it in his undeviating manner:
“Go into the unknown because you already know what you know and that’s not enough unless you think you’re enough. And if you’re not enough and you don’t think you’re enough then you have to go where you haven’t been. If you don’t listen to that thing that beckons you forward, you will pay for it like you cannot possibly imagine.”
You can buy his book 12 Rules For Life from here: https://www.amazon.com/12-Rules-Life-Antidote-Chaos/dp/0345816021
Why are you doing it?
Most of the times something is hard for us to learn not because it really is hard, but because we simply don’t want to do it. Now would be a good time to set your priorities straight. If it is causing you more unnecessary stress rather than excitement, such as something you have picked up voluntary but with a subconscious peer pressure or something you have imposed upon yourself because you ‘think it would be good for you in the long run’ then let it go. If it is something you have to do and you have no choice then find different ways of learning it that would make it easier for you learn, such as mind-mapping, or doing it with a friend. You don’t have to be alone. Reach out to people. You’ll find out it’s not as bad as you thought.
At the end of the day, learning is paramount to who we are as humans. We can never stay in a state of static. Only when we choose in which direction to move and how would we be able to align what we want with what we can receive.
Written by Dua Khan