With the current state of the world forcing us to stay indoors longer and change our routines, you've probably tried to learn a new skill or subject. If you are not an active learner, you may believe that it is taking you too long to learn a new skill or memorize new information. You may even believe that you are a slow learner.
Slow learning, on the other hand, frequently has more to do with our ability to focus, our mindset, and our attitude toward learning than with our innate ability to learn.
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Let's look at four reasons why you might be learning slowly and what you can do about it.
1. A lack of focus slows learning
Focus is essential for learning. If you are not paying complete attention to what you are attempting to learn, it will make learning more difficult and time-consuming. So, while you may believe you are a slow learner, the truth is that you are most likely a distracted learner.
You'll be surprised at how quickly you can internalize new knowledge and skills once you improve your focus. How can you improve your concentration? Here are a few pointers to get you started.
It's Easier to Concentrate in a Quiet, Distracting Environment
Have you ever tried reading an article in a noisy environment? Have you ever tried reading a book while texting every few minutes? Concentration is nearly impossible.
So, the first and most basic strategy for improving your focus is to remove as many distractions as possible. Choose a quiet location for your learning and make sure you will not be interrupted.
It is easier to stay focused than it is to refocus.
Multitasking, as we have come to understand it, does not exist. Our brain cannot perform two cognitively demanding tasks at the same time. Most of the time, what we think of as multitasking is actually task switching. We switch back and forth between activities.
Some people are better than others at task switching, but in general, task switching is inefficient and causes us to lose focus. It takes several minutes for our minds to refocus after being distracted, especially when refocusing on things that require a lot of mental energy, such as learning. As a result, we would be better off avoiding any type of task switching (or even mental wandering) in the first place.
A good way to do this is to set aside time to learn and make an effort to tune out everything else. When we schedule something, our minds are free to turn off all the “mental” notifications (“gotta send that email,” “gotta prepare for that meeting tomorrow,” etc.) and allow us to focus on the task at hand.
It is easier to concentrate when our bodies and minds are well rested and healthy.
Poor nutrition, dehydration, lack of sleep, and unhealthy habits all have an impact on our ability to focus. We frequently attribute our learning abilities in a given day to our reasoning abilities or memory. However, our physiology plays an important role in learning and internalizing new knowledge and skills.
If you want your brain to focus and be in top shape to learn, you must also keep your body in top shape. Your brain will reward you with more focus and more effective learning if you get a good night's sleep, improve your diet, drink less alcohol, and stay hydrated.
2. Mindset and Beliefs Have a Big Impact on Learning
Carol Dweck, a world-renowned psychologist, explains the impact our attitude has on our growth in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
People who have a fixed mindset—the belief that we are born with characteristics that cannot be changed—have a tendency to think in terms of “you either have it or you don't,” which can create a mental block that hinders their progress.
People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, are motivated to stretch their capabilities and work harder to improve. A growth mindset is the belief that we can develop and improve our abilities through passion and perseverance (what Psychologist Angela Duckworth refers to as “grit”).
“Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right,” Henry Ford once said.
This is especially true when it comes to learning. If you believe learning myths such as “you either have it or you don't” or “old dogs can't learn new tricks,” you will create a negative placebo effect (AKA nocebo effect) that will slow down your learning or make you want to quit.
3. Unrealistic expectations lead us to believe that we are slow learners
When we want to learn a new skill or subject, we assume that the learning process will be easy. However, learning can be frustrating, stressful, and time-consuming at times.
We lose sight of this reality because, as adults, we rarely venture into new fields we are unfamiliar with. You're probably already good at your job and the various things you've been doing for a long time. So you've probably forgotten what it's like to start learning from scratch—and how much time and effort it takes.
The bigger issue arises when we fail to meet our unrealistic expectations of how quickly we should learn, and we blame ourselves. We believe that we are slow learners, that we lack talent, or that we are not as intelligent as others.
Our expectations about the learning process and our learning speed, to a large extent, contribute to our perception of being slow learners—even if we aren't.
So, in addition to being aware of our mindset, we must also keep our expectations in check and make sure we talk to people in the field (teachers, advanced students, etc.) to get a more realistic perspective on the time and energy commitment required to learn what we are going into.
It's also worth noting that learning is a long-term process. Some people move faster in the beginning but then slow down later on.
Others, on the other hand, learn slowly at first but quickly at intermediate and advanced levels. The point is that a quick or slow start does not accurately predict your abilities as a learner.
4. Previous Learning Has an Impact on Learning Speed
Who do you think will learn snowboarding faster, someone who is an experienced surfer and skater or someone who has never tried board sports?
Previous knowledge influences how quickly we learn something new. A good surfer or skater has a foundation of board sports to transfer to snowboarding, which will help him learn the new skill faster.
In an oversimplified sense, our mind functions as a scaffold—everything we've already built serves as a foundation for what comes next. This is where comparing ourselves to others can be deceptive. We don't know anything about their background or what they've learned in the past.
When we compare ourselves to classmates and colleagues, we may believe we are slow learners, but they may already have knowledge and skills that allow them to pick up new knowledge much faster.
The strategy for becoming a faster learner in this case is to never stop learning. The more we learn, the faster we will be able to learn new things.
People are not born with the ability to learn quickly or slowly. It is not so much a question of their ability to learn as it is of how efficiently and effectively they use that ability.
Consider the following: Consider moving a wheel from point A to point B. But suppose instead of rolling the wheel, you lay it on its side and push it. You'll move the wheel and get it to go where you want it to go, but it's not the best way to do it. It will take you longer and more effort to get from point A to point B.
The speed and ease with which you move the wheel is entirely dependent on how you use it and has little to do with the wheel itself.
The same is true for your brain. You may believe you are a slow learner, but the truth is that you simply need to learn how to use your brain more effectively. You will discover that you are a much faster learner than you thought by improving your focus, mindset, and understanding of the learning process.
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