Why Learning How to Learn Is so Important

Once we learn how to learn effectively, we realize that knowledge is a tool that allows us to create the lifestyle we want and desire.

Did you know humans have a hidden superpower? No, I’m not talking about your ability to get dressed within five minutes of going to work or finishing a 30-minute workout session in 25 minutes; I’m talking about learning how to learn!

For most individuals, the idea of pulling out a textbook and exploring new material is something that induces anxiety and dread from years spent struggling in high school and college. But once we learn how to learn effectively, we realize that knowledge is a tool that allows us to create the lifestyle we want and desire.

Learning Is 80% Mindset, 20% Execution

When we examine our past academic endeavors, we often reflect on hours spent in a cramped classroom trying to force material into our heads to no avail. While we found ourselves struggling to understand basic concepts and formulas, some of our classmates were soaring through the course material with a smile on their faces. “How the heck did they do that?” you asked yourself.

Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, states that the difference between overachievers and people who can barely manage to show up to class is related to adopting a growth mindset.

While a growth mindset means something different depending on who you ask, the broad definition describes one’s willingness to put forth effort and time to learn new and challenging material. If a growth-mindset individual is confused or overwhelmed by the information they don’t initially understand, they view it as a challenge to overcome.

For most of us — myself included — we view dense material as something we either ‘get’ or ‘don’t get.’ If we want to adopt a growth mindset and overcome artificial barriers that present themselves while exploring new topics, we must view confusion as a natural part of the process.

Rather than backing down and saying we’ll never learn the new material, we must push past our ego and dedicate time and effort to comprehend the data. In essence, the difference between someone who embraces a growth mindset and someone who doesn’t is the time, effort and perseverance they dedicate towards a given domain.

Passive Versus Active Learning

Once you’ve given into the idea of a growth mindset, you’ll inevitably stumble into the issue of being unable to comprehend a new piece of information. For programmers, this may come when learning about ‘for’ loops for the first time, or when a painter tries her hand at hyperrealism and begins to second-guess her innate ability.

Although you may hate programming and loathe art, you’ll hit a place in the road where you don’t know what to do, and the thought of giving up sounds seductive. If you’re in this area, don’t give up yet!

Barbara Oakley, a brilliant engineering professor at the University of Oakland, recommends students diffuse their thinking patterns when they run into a sticking point. The next time you’re about to give up and throw in the towel, try some of the following techniques:

  • Go for a walk and review the material in your mind.
  • Meditate for 20 minutes.
  • Get to the gym for a light workout session.
  • Take your dog to the park.
  • Eat a meal and reflect on where you’re stuck in your studies.

While these tasks may seem counterproductive to learning a new skill, they allow your brain to relax and formulate connections between vague areas in your mind. When this occurs, you may have your very first ‘Eureka’ moment.

Learning Made Easy

Lastly, I encourage you to use your time wisely and efficiently. No, I don’t mean regiment your day like you’re in the military, but I do encourage you to break your study habits into bite-sized blocks.

If you’re a person who can’t sit still longer than 30 minutes, break your study habits into 20-minute chunks with a 5-minute break between each study period. This approach — commonly referred to as the Pomodoro Technique — was created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s to eliminate procrastination. Once you harness the power of the growth mindset, focused versus diffused thinking and the Pomodoro Technique, the world becomes your oyster!


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