“Will this be on the test?”
Seth Godin

How to crack the “tough nut” of motivation when learning new skills

Guaranteed to lead you to greater success and happiness

Motivation is the “tough nut” that therapy seldom cracks. People come in to therapy and want their lives to improve, but they don’t want to do the work. And change is hard. Really hard.

(I’m not talking about anything deep or heavy — I’m talking about a meaningful and common subset of therapy, the “neighborhood” of problems where moderately functional people seek life improvements that are fairly straightforward to implement. Examples of this would be a woman who wants more friends, or a man who wants small annoyances to bother him less.)

People in Western society are never systematically taught how to learn something new or change their behavior. They’re never led through the process of making an intentional change, one they decide to pursue and that they then implement. Once they’ve had this experience, they then have a “measuring stick” that will set their expectations for how they can learn more (or make more changes) in the future.

Knowing all this will let them know what to expect:

  • Learning a body of knowledge (or changing a behavior) takes time.
  • A person first experiences new knowledge (or a new life skill) as being unfamiliar and requiring significant effort to engage with.
  • With repeated practice over a nontrivial amount of time, the new knowledge (or skill) gradually gradually becomes well-known and solidly a part of “who I am.”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to impart this knowledge, this experience to others. Something that I believe is helpful in this effort is what I call “the world’s smallest change,” a modest behavior change that takes just a little effort and virtually no extra time (because it’s something you already do on a regular basis), and therefore is so small that you have no excuse not to do it.

I’ve written a short article about this called “How to Change: Learn by Doing.” It’s about 700 words, very simple, and I invite anyone reading this to look it over.

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