Learning how to learn

// 1.535 min read

When was the last time you were a beginner at something? Learning is a skill we need our whole lives, and if we stop, that’s when we start to die—creatively, emotionally, and physiologically. Our brains are plastic, and it’s a case of use it or lose it.

So… how do you learn how to learn? The first step in learning anything is to first understand that you must be at peace with being terrible at it. You need to accept that you’re going to be a newbie, at least to start with.

Turns out, that’s really hard.

Being a complete beginner again feels embarrassing. It feels scary. It is scary. But the fear is almost never actually about a real threat to our survival like it used to be. It’s simply the fear of the unknown.

Too many of us are unfamiliar with what it feels like to admit we’re bad or incompetent at something, so we avoid situations where we have to confront that reality. Lo and behold, our natural curiosity begins to fade.

But learning, by definition, requires that we make a transition from the unknown to the known, from the hidden to the revealed, from the confusing to the understood. If we want to learn, we must accept that our brain will tell us to be scared, and we must accept that feeling that fear is both okay and unnecessary.

We must build up a familiarity with the specific state of discomfort we feel when we become a beginner at something. Until we’re familiar with that state, we’ll fear it, and it will prevent us from learning anything—including the most important skill of all: learning how to learn.

Go become a beginner at something today. You’ll be learning that thing, but you’ll also be working on a much more important skill—learning how to learn.

Coby Chapple (@cobyism)

@cobyism—a.k.a. Coby Chapple is an autodidact, systems thinker, product architect, pixel technician, full-stack algorithmagician, multi-media maker, cryptography geek, aspiring linguist, and generalist Designerd™ extraordinaire. Read more »