Myths That Hinder Learning

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. 

Myths 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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Certain learning styles are needed.
A second pervasive myth is that we each have unique learning styles that make it easier or harder for us to learn from certain methods and in certain mediums. This myth goes on to say that each of us is mentally programmed in a different way, such that certain styles are necessary to reach our potential.
This widespread school of thought originated from the research of a psychologist named Howard Gardner, who published the book Frames of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences in 1983.
Gardner outlined eight different types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. These intelligences don’t describe individual skills, but form part of a collective. As Gardner describes in his original theory, each intelligence is a branch of a single system of acquiring knowledge. These different branches are meant to work together to facilitate different, additional approaches to teaching people new material.
Unfortunately, pop culture transformed his work into a way of differentiating between people. Journalists and other well-meaning people promoted the idea that each of us has different ways in which we are more or less intelligent, and we have different styles of intelligence or learning that we are more or less capable of performing successfully. This served to excuse students who performed poorly, and offered an alluringly easy solution: if we presented the material in a different form, they would learn more easily.
Studies on the topic have debunked this theory – every single study on the topic. When people were given material to learn in their preferred style, they didn’t show any tendency to learn material better or more quickly. Instead, it was discovered that everyone, regardless of their preferences, learned material best when it was presented in a form that suited the material being learned.
This makes intuitive sense. While everyone is different, we aren’t so different that some of us learn sports better by reading about them; that always has to be a kinesthetic aspect. Similarly, languages must be heard and read if they’re going to be pronounced and written correctly.
Gardner’s original theory of multiple intelligences lines up with these findings exactly. He posited that each of us used all these methods to learn, and thought that being aware of these different avenues might help teachers find more ways to communicate with every student – not just those with “learning styles” that were suited to novel approaches.
A similar, also debunked myth about learning and the brain insisted that some people were right-brained or left-brained. Left-brained people were supposed to be more logical, while right-brained people were more artistic. Many believed that because of these supposedly biological differences, people needed to learn and act in line with their own skills and limitations.
This myth arose because of some brain scans that showed different levels of activity in each hemisphere doing different activities. But more recent brain scans have showed that the brain functions as one unit in these intellectual pursuits. In reality, the brain operates in a more holistic way in all people; we all use one hundred percent of our brains on both sides of our heads, and we aren’t limited to having only a logical or artistic aptitude. Many excel at both types of learning, and so can you.

Certain motivation is needed.
A third mistake people make is waiting for the motivation to learn something new to come along. They believe there must always be a light at the end of the tunnel. This, a form of waiting for inspiration to strike, is a mistake. Let’s face it, no one is going to enjoy or feel some inherent motivation or desire to learn something they simply don’t care about. Whether it’s calculus or a new piece of software, the end goals do not always justify the means. There’s no way it’s always going to have an enjoyable or pleasurable element, and there’s not always a silver lining.
If we take those statements to be true, it means that motivation isn’t what will get you off the couch; confidence is.
Confidence is your belief in your ability to attain a specific goal. If you have high confidence, you believe you can accomplish the task you’ve set out to do. If you have low confidence, you’re afraid you’re going to fail in reaching your goals. High confidence drives you toward learning because you know if you stumble or fall, you’ll be able to pick yourself right back up again. You know you’re competent, capable, and able to finish what you start. This confidence motivates you to continue, as there’s no internal friction preventing you from careening toward your goals.
By contrast, low confidence is riddled with fear and doubt. When you’re not confident, you wonder what will happen if you make mistakes, and you become afraid of how many mistakes you’ll make. Lacking confidence, you compare yourselves to others who have achieved your goal, and you wonder how you could ever hope to achieve that level of greatness. When you don’t have confidence, every imperfection stands out like a testament to your incompetence, and it feels like finishing your project is impossible. Why even get off the couch at all, in that case?
Learning is hard work. It takes time and effort. Genuinely challenging yourself to learn new information never comes easily for anyone. There’s no reason to wait around for the mood to study to strike; that mood will probably never come. Learning isn’t always fun, and it isn’t something you can only do when it feels good.
Learning is how we become more than we already are. It’s difficult. But if you have a sense of security in what you can accomplish, then what’s the holdback in getting started, besides some laziness?

A certain amount of time is needed.
Even when people know things they could learn to improve their lives, many put off that learning by claiming not to have enough time. This excuse is exacerbated by the public notion that it takes massive amounts of time to become proficient in a new skill or hobby. Avoidance of learning is actually encouraged by a rule of thumb popularized in Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success. In it, Gladwell claims that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to master a new skill. With such a high benchmark for success, it’s no surprise that many look at that figure and decide they’re too busy to learn. After all, if failure is guaranteed by an inability to generate ten thousand hours of free time, why should someone start learning something new? In that time, you could watch hundreds of movies, go on hundreds of dates, and nap for hundreds of hours with time to spare.
Fortunately, this myth is as false as it is pervasive.
If you spend three hours shooting a bow and arrow on your own, you’d learn a little bit. But compare that time in undirected self-study to three hours spent with an expert marksman, who can watch and correct your form and better direct your focus toward the techniques you need to master. Are both sessions likely to be equally effective? Of course not. Having a teacher makes it quicker and easier to learn the skills you need and eliminate the bad habits that inevitably surface when you begin to practice any skill. (And of course, having a strategic plan combined with some self-discipline will also get you there faster than you might think.)
Gladwell’s ten thousand hours completely ignores the reality that the quality of practice matters a good deal more than the quantity of practice we perform.
According to bestselling author Daniel Goleman, deliberate practice usually requires “someone with an expert eye” to help you identify the specific ways you can improve and to motivate you to reach your greatest heights. “Without such feedback, you don’t get to the top ranks. The feedback matters and the concentration does, too – not just the hours.” With expert guidance, we can eject our mistaken notions and bad habits and get to our destination in the shortest amount of time possible.
With deliberate, quality practice, we can employ special techniques and shortcuts that transform learning from a long road littered with self-reinforcing mistakes, to a shorter, easier road where mistakes are spotted early and proper techniques are mastered swiftly. When we have good guidance, whether it’s in the form of a mentor or quality instructional materials, we have our attention and our practice focused, and we become more efficient learners. In brief, it really is possible to work smarter, not harder. And when we do that, we save a lot of time.
In short, the ten-thousand-hour rule is somewhat incomplete, and though learning is linear, you can certainly think smarter and not harder.