When I was younger I used to think that the key to learning was simply putting in more hours than anyone else. I thought I could become the best soccer player simply by dribbling the ball around the cones for more hours than anyone else.
I’d usually train for less than an hour per day, but every couple months I’d lose a close game, decide to do repetitive drills 5-6 hours per day and subsequently give up before the end of the second day.
At the time I didn’t understand why I couldn’t sustain motivation, but looking back there’s two primary reasons my approach was unsuccessful, and they’re likely the same problems that probably impact your ability to learn and produce results as well.
Lack Of Engagement
The speed at which you learn is determined by the deliberateness with which you practice. Very little learning occurs when you’re simply going through the motions. If you’re not engaged with the process you’re only going to reinforce bad form in whatever you’re doing.
Subconscious learning does exist on some level, but you’ll never learn another language just by listening to it in your sleep. It’s the effort you exert, and the brain engagement that results from it that causes your subconscious mind to activate and identify patterns.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that monotonous activities reduce your brain’s ability to engage. Baseball players improve more quickly at batting when they’re randomly thrown pitches vs. when they’re pitched 15 fastballs, then 15 change ups etc, and allowed to go on autopilot (I believe I read this in Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code).
Introducing novelty may be one method you can use to increase engagement, but the most important thing is that you’re doing an activity you genuinely enjoy (Or are at least willing to maintain an open perspective to), and that you’re challenging yourself to the proper extent.
A flow state is the definition of engagement, and nothing destroys your ability to enter this state more quickly than doing something that’s frustratingly difficult, or boringly easy.
Using Willpower You Don’t Have
Have you ever noticed that the gym is jam packed the first few days of the New Year, but the crowds quickly thin within a week or two? Ka-ching. Reason two jumping into something too quickly inevitably leads to failure.
People laugh when I tell them the best way to begin exercising is to walk one block per day for their first week. They say they’ll never lose weight at that rate.
Unfortunately they don’t see the big picture. When establishing a new habit the level of results you produce is almost irrelevant. Walking a block per day will produce almost no tangible health benefit, however, doing so requires almost no discipline, and it’s difficult to fail a challenge that easy.
After a few weeks the walker will have established a habit and will have overtaken her friend who gave up after three days of triathlon training. From there she can gradually begin increasing her distances to an amount that will produce actual health benefits.
This gradual approach also ties in with engagement and our previous point of tediousness slowing learning. By slowly introducing a habit you establish a track record of discipline, strengthen your willpower, and build up the amount of time you can spend doing it before your brain fries and loses engagement.
In short, start slow, gradually grow, and the results will show.
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