You don’t suck at learning

I suck at learning, I won’t be able to do this. I heard this as people were filling in for a introduction to fingerweaving class I was teaching last weekend. The students had varying levels of crafting skills, but all of them were total beginners as far as fingerweaving was concerned. Even then, everybody learned the basic pattern I was teaching during the first hour and could work by themselves by the time the class was over. A few people needed more help to get started, but they managed just fine and will be able to practice at home.

That first sentence sounds familiar? You may be trying to learn new programming languages and not weaving, but the fear you feel and the process you go through is the same one. Not everybody says it out loud, but this fear is always in the back of your head when you’re trying to learn something new. This feeling will never go away completely, but you can learn to manage it and understand the process so you get over it faster.

I coach people often at work, and even there I’ve never meet people that were totally unable to learn new concepts, be in coding skills or problem domain knowledge. People learn in different ways, but everybody gets there in the end and nobody just sucks at learn. If you got this far in your career and your life, you can learn decently that’s for sure. You didn’t lose your learning ability magically during the night at some point. You just need to be aware that you’ll be going through this process and learn how to learn better.

Here is how it usually goes: at first, everything is new and makes you feel dumb. But as you get more familiar with the basic knowledge and skills involved, you’re able to make links between those concepts and your existing knowledge. You feel more confident and in control. Once you’re past this point, you only need more practice to build on the base you already have. Your new skill grows faster since you have better understanding of what’s going on.

But when there is no teacher with you, you need to be mindful and understand how you learn. You can then use this to go over the fear faster and build confidence instead of just giving up. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself the next time you’re learning something new :

  • Do you learn faster with videos? Or you favor books and articles?
  • Do you need to know all the theory? Or do you learn better with only examples?
  • Should you learn just the minimum and experiment on your own at first? Or do you need a strong foundation to feel confident enough to experiment?

If you’re in touch with your own learning style, you can choose the best mix of resources to help you learn faster. You don’t want to stay stuck too long and kill your momentum: try and look at another resource if it doesn’t stick with the first explanation. And if all else fails, give yourself space by taking a walk or sleeping on it. You can look at the problem with fresh eyes during your next learning session. You don’t suck, you’re just new at it.

Originally published on my blog at http://blog.cindypotvin.com/you-dont-suck-at-learning/