The Learning Mind: How to Stop Fighting What You Don’t Know

To learn you must unlearn first

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Developing a learning mind is a choice. Pic by Katerina Radvanska

“Learning how to learn is life’s most important skill.” — Tony Buzan

Life has been easy to me. At least, that’s what people think.

It has not always been like that though.

There was a point in my life when I stopped learning. I was comfortable sticking to what I was good at rather than challenging myself.

One day my three-year-old son sat in front of a keyboard and started playing. He was having fun. It made me realize how adults panic when faced with a piano for the first time.

The only music we play is our fear in the sound of excuses.

Saying that we don’t know how to do something is our easy way out. That’s how I behaved too when confronted with anything new.

Life became easier to me when I stopped fighting what I didn’t know.

The Learning Mind

“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” — Brian Herbert

Developing a learning mind is a choice.

It has nothing to do with your smarts. It’s a decision, a way of living.

Some people are natural born gifted learners. Though that wasn’t my case, it didn’t stop me from embracing a learning mind.

I learned to accept that new things feel easy once I’ve mastered them. To get there, I need to get used to diving into the unknown.

If the engine of your car breaks down, most probably, you can’t fix it yourself. That’s why, when you take your vehicle to the mechanic, you expect the expert to be confident on how to solve the issue.

For a mechanic that knows how to repair a car, your engine’s problem should be easy to diagnose. And easy to fix too.

For those who know, nothing is difficult.

But, how can we master something new if we don’t try it for the first time?

To develop a learning mind requires embracing a Change Mindset. To stretch beyond our comfort zone.

Don’t be at war with learning. Befriend the unknown.

Seven Ways to Stop Fighting What You Don’t Know

“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” — Albert Einstein

1. Learning is easy, it just requires effort:

“Learning should be an active progress. Too often, students come to school to watch their teachers work.” — Will Daggett

The right mindset helps but is not everything. Letting go of your fears and jumping into the unknown is just the beginning.

Learning requires time and patience. The learning mind feeds from resilience. You need to overcome your mistakes and frustrations. And practice.

“If you want to get good at anything where real-life performance matters,“you have to practice that skill in context. Study, by itself, is never enough.” — Josh Kauffman, author of “The first 20 hours.”

One of the reasons people quit learning something new is that they compare their abilities when they are beginning to those who’ve already mastered the subject.

Want to master something new? Practice. Practice. Practice.

2. Learning is a journey, not a destination:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi

The road to success is full of temptations.

When we just want to become good at something, we aim for shortcuts. How can we accelerate our path?

Building a strong foundation requires time and effort. Taking the easy route will get you faster, to a place that won’t bring you any reward.

Self-publishing my book “Stretch for Change” felt like an uphill battle. I want it to go the independent way but in a professional fashion. I spent countless days and nights researching possibilities.

From finding a cover designer to an editor who would improve my words but respect my voice. Every step I took was an obstacle and a learning opportunity at the same time.

The same applied to the distribution, speaking engagements, and marketing of the book. Every stop on the journey was as challenging as it was fulfilling. To a point, that now I’m already working on my next book.

3. Stop thinking you can’t do it:

“Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.” — Leonardo da Vinci

If you think you can’t learn, you will be resisting what you don’t know. Your energy will drain in resisting learning rather than on making improvements.

Developing a healthy self-image as a learner is critical. Visualize yourself as being capable of acquiring new skills, behaviors, and knowledge. Avoid being judgmental. Negative feedback will make you feel that you are not smart or capable and get you stuck.

Know resistance is inevitable. Learn to overcome it.

Mistakes are a necessary component of the learning experience. Rather than feeling sorry about them, become your errors best friend.

When we stop fighting our mistakes is when we learn from them.

4. When you are done learning, you are holding your breath:

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” — Albert Einstein

Learning is a natural activity.

The more we expose our mind to new things, the more possibilities we open. On the contrary, when we don’t learn something new, we just keep repeating ourselves.

A life of repetition is not a life, but a snapshot of our past.

I took an online coding course last year, and I struggled across the whole program. But I didn’t give up. Months later, all the concepts fell into place when I was redesigning my new website.

Learning is challenging. But it makes us feel alive.

5. Passion is the driver of a learning mind:

“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” — Alfred Mercier

Fear is a party crasher. It always gets in our way of enjoying.

I’m curious and always asking why. To the point to irritate those close to me. Thinking of different possibilities is how I learn.

Two years ago, I wanted to explore the different versions of “empanadas” (turnovers) across different cultures.

I spent a whole day preparing a sampling menu that included Argentinean beef empanadas, Japanese Shumai, Indian Samosas and Thai curry puffs among more than ten styles.

I cooked them from scratch. Including the authentic dough for each type.

Curiosity fuels my passion. When you love what you do, you’ll always want to learn more. The deeper you go, the more rewarding it feels.

6. Choose your learning style, not every method works for everyone:

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” — Benjamin Franklin

Some people like to be taught. Others like to lead their own learning journey.

I’m experience-driven. I need to do something first before understanding the whole theory. I enjoy feeling lost and trying to figure things out. When I can’t figure it out after many attempts, I look for some guidance and then get back to experiment.

But my style probably won’t suit you.

Review past learning experience. Which ones worked better? Which ones do you want to forget? Why?

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” — Winston Churchill

Understanding your personal learning style will remove unnecessary pains from the journey.

7. Being ignorant is a liberating experience:

“…knowledge imprisons you. You cannot escape it. What you know you cannot ‘unknow.” — Noam Shpancer

Knowledge is dangerous.

What you think you know can get you stuck.

Our society rewards those who know the answers much more than those who are curious. That’s why some people stick to what they know and feel afraid of experimenting new hobbies or passions.

When you are confident enough in who you are, you stop worrying about what others think of you. Only when you cease trying to show that you know, you can embrace a learning mind.

Being ignorant is a liberating experience.

It frees you from expectations unleashing your full learning potential.

Think about something that you’ve always wanted to learn.

What’s stopping you from doing it?

Come on, get started. Now.

Written by

I help teams and organizations build fearless cultures. Creator of the Culture Design Canvas. Insights →

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