Learning isn't Linear

change learning momentum taking action Jun 22, 2021

Learning something new can feel uncomfortable. We like being good at things, and we don’t like being bad at them. But to learn something new, we will likely have to be pretty bad at it for a while. We’ll be confused and not understand what’s going on. When we have that expectation going in it makes the process of learning much easier.

What we think learning will be like

linear graph

Our brains are wired to think linearly. We expect to incrementally learn at the same rate over time. This can be frustrating because we feel like we should be further along in our new skill than we are. Frustrated that we don’t get it yet and not understanding why it’s taking us so long to get there. Feeling stupid and that other people would learn it faster.

What learning is actually like

exponential graph

In reality, learning isn’t linear. When learning something new there’s often a lot to learn. That means we won’t understand how all the pieces fit together at first. We could suck at it for a while.

But then something magical happens. One day, things start to click. Those previously disjointed concepts start to get clarity around them and we start understanding how they fit together. We have aha moments! It starts to make sense!

When that happens, our skill begins to exponentially take off. We rapidly improve, and pretty soon, we get close to the skill level we want to be at. We might not be at the exact level we need to be yet, but we’ve now seen such huge progress that we believe in ourselves and can see the path forward to get there. We have momentum.

What’s important to keep in mind is that we need to have patience during the time when our learning hasn’t taken off yet. Patience when we don’t understand yet. To learn something truly new and complex we could be in that confusion zone for years. Are we willing to put in that effort and time to get good at something? If what we’re learning will help us in a meaningful enough way, the answer is absolutely.

Too often people quit because it’s not clicking yet. But they could be quitting just before their learning was about to explode and take off exponentially.

What if we quit here?

exponential graph with arrow

If we can keep at it long enough, chances are good that it’ll start to click. And when it does, our new skill can change our lives.

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