The process of self-learning is deceptively simple – that is, when you strip away all the myths surrounding it, usually amounting to prerequisites to achieve your goals.
The myths will usually revolve around the concept of innate intelligence determining your potential, certain learning styles being necessary, certain motivations being important, or a certain predetermined rate of progress based on duration of time. These are harmful and disempowering because they tell you that you can’t.
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- Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition. Visit https://bit.ly/peterhollins to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
- For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
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A Self-Learning Plan
Imagine you’re starting a business. You’ve found a great product, and you’re certain the market is going to go crazy for it. All your friends have agreed that they would definitely buy your product. Even better, a Google search shows that no one else has had the idea to sell this particular product. You’re going to be rich. You start browsing private yachts online. The same friends say that you are being premature, but you don’t know what that word means so you ignore them.
Excited by the opportunity, you build a website, buy loads of your product to keep up with your predicted demand, and prepare to ship your goods to customers. All you need to do now is buy some advertisements and wait for the orders to roll in. Business is easyÑwhy don’t more people start their own company?
But of course, things take a wayward turn. You are shocked to see your website advertising costs far exceed your income. Every month you are losing money, and you have made only one sale. That sale was later returned for a refund. There was never any demand for your product, your friends lied to you to be nice, and the product itself was ludicrous.
Why did you find yourself in this position, and could it have been prevented?
Proficient businessmen don’t just come up with a great idea and cash in. They study and learn far before ever taking action, and when they do take action, they act in ways they know will produce the profit they seek. The failure here wasn’t just one of marketing or website design; it was a failure to understand the process of self-learning and how it contributes to anything novel or new in your life. This was a high stakes situation with a lot of investment, and you set yourself up for failure by not taking the initiative to self-learn. In reality, the ability to teach yourself both simple and complex information is the silent determinant of whether you ever get from Point A to Point B.
Sadly, it’s often only after failure does it occur to look to mentors, classes, books, or even podcasts to determine what we do wrong and how we can succeed next time. With business people, this lets them learn to analyze markets, giving them a fair idea of whether their product will be met with open arms or ignored entirely. They also learn about different methods of advertising, allowing them to reach exactly the niches they need for their product to take off. Imagine if you had understood this to be part of the process before you opened your wallet and flushed money down the toilet. Of course, learning on the job and in the moment is also fine, but the skill of learning still must be cultivated.
Now imagine another scenarioÑyou’re learning to play guitar. You don’t want to be a rockstar, but playing some songs around a fire on camping trips with your kids sounds like a fun way to bond and pass the time. You pick up a guitar, spend some time strumming, and are amazed by the cacophony that can emanate from a single relatively small stringed instrument. After thoroughly annoying the family you’re trying to please, you decide that you need some help.
After considering your budget and the time you have available to learn, you decide that YouTube videos and websites are the best way to learn. You set aside twenty minutes after dinner as learning time, and devote yourself to understanding chords and strumming techniques. You make sure to understand the scales and theories before delving into more complex songs.
In no time at all, you can read music well enough to play campfire songs and even add in some new riffs of your own. Because you set aside time and properly expended the effort needed to learn something new, you gained the ability to amuse yourself and entertain your friends and family. There are considerably lower stakes here, and yet, far different results.
In both examples, the key to success was the arduous process of self-learning. It can feel tedious or even impossible because you will have no idea where to start. But this stage of discomfort and confusion must be traversed for anything new in your life. You can consult experts and learn from instructional materials. You can also create your own curriculum based on the knowledge gap between where you currently are and where you want to be. What matters is that by putting time and energy into acquiring new knowledge and mastering new skills, you can get to exactly where you want to be. And once you’re there, new doors will open as well.
Both of our examples produced a profitÑone was monetary, and the other was social, but both acts of learning led to a net increase in quality of life for the learners. All it took was time, effort, and the willingness to apply the knowledge gleaned from expert sources.
Self-learning is what unlocks our potential in every aspect of life. However, if it were an easy task, everyone would be exactly where they want to be. It’s not comfortable or easy. How we learned to learn as children is rarely the best real-life approach. The prospect of creating your own strategy and plan can be overwhelming. And whoever said it was supposed to feel like you aren’t working?
In addition, it turns out there are quite a few mental blocks people have surrounding self-learning that aren’t even about the process itself. They begin with the various myths, which typically amount to the statement, ÒYou need X to learn, and if X is not present, you are forever doomed.Ó These myths keep many people from even getting started onto the path they desire. It’s worth spending some time to dispel these myths so we can dive fully into learning afterwards without any reservations.
The Myth of Requirements
Many myths are empowering and serve as points of inspiration. For instance, the ancient Greek myth of Perseus slaying the snake-haired Medusa to serve as a rallying cry that the impossible is actually quite possible.
Unfortunately, that is not the case with learning. Mostly, learning myths serve to create perceived barriersÑsuch as a certain style, a certain formula, a certain motivation, even, are necessary to effectively think and learn. From the myth of innate learning styles to the falsehood that intelligence quotient (IQ), and thus intellectual capacity, is stable throughout life, many consider themselves to be stuck where they are. None of that is true, and there are no real prerequisites besides having an intention and some self-discipline. This section is about debunking those disempowering myths and allowing yourself even the possibility to get started to learn.
Innate intelligence or talent is needed.
Can only innately intelligent people learn adequately? Are some of us just not capable of picking things up? Are we only meant for some tasks versus others?
No, no, and no. In fact, inborn talent is only a minor factor in determining learning success. Mindset, as it turns out, is the most significant differentiator between successful and unsuccessful learners. Studies have shown that people with a growth mindset who believe they can improve with time and effort fare much better than people who may have more talent but believe that that intelligence is a fixed attribute.
There are a lot of reasons for this. People who believe intelligence is fixed set up barriers to their own success. While that sounds counterintuitive, it makes more sense if you consider that innately intelligent people don’t push themselves to excel because they believe it would be useless. They may start from a higher level of performance, but they are unable to diversify and rise beyond a certain point. This limits the number and type of things they can learn. Others will accept subpar performance in areas they’re Òjust not good at,Ó even when consulting more resources and expending more effort could easily lead to excellence in those abandoned areas of study.
By contrast, people with a growth mindsetÑregardless of their initial aptitude for a given subjectÑknow that with time, effort, and proper instruction, they can master any field. They see that the world is their oyster of opportunity. Unlike people who believe their talents determine their capacities, they know that initial failure is not a reason for despair. Instead, they see failure for what it is: an opportunity for further learning and a lesson about what not to do that they aren’t likely to forget.
In addition to being unafraid of failure, people with a growth mindset have shown a willingness to take more chances, which dramatically expands the types of pursuits they can learn and master. They’ve also been shown to progress faster while learning, probably because they’re less likely to be discouraged or accept their stumbles as permanent blocks to their progress.
The fact is, growth-oriented individuals are right when they flout the common wisdom that intelligence is set at birth. Each of us learns as we age, from infancy onward. We start out by flailing in our cribs, and then learn to raise our heads and crawl. Soon, we’re taking our first steps and speaking with our parents and siblings. Eventually, we’re learning algebra, reading literature, and doing our own science experiments.
All of this is part of the inescapable path through human life. We begin undeveloped and unskilled, but our brains grow, evolve, and change with use – not just in childhood, but until the day we die. Each day is an opportunity to learn, be, and do more than we ever imagined possible. All we have to do is take matters into our own hands, believe in ourselves, study from the masters, and practice new skills until their successful execution becomes part of who we are.