What We Really Need When Learning Gets Hard

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Laughing and learningWhen learning gets hard, it’s easy to tell yourself you just need more self-discipline. But what if you don’t?

I’ve been a student of meditation for years. When meditation apps came out, I thought I’d found an easy way to stick with my practice. I’ll admit I’ve downloaded quite a few. The result? Beyond a few days of initial excitement, I always default to a haphazard practice that I abandon when time is tight.

Until recently, I blamed myself. That is, until I found a game-changing resource that led me to ask, is self-discipline only part of the picture?

The app I found works for me in ways I never thought possible. Now I not only look forward to my next session, but I prioritize it in ways I never did before. And that’s a big change. The even bigger change is in recognizing it doesn’t have to be so hard. It doesn’t have to be all about self-discipline. Instead, it’s about finding the right resources to help stick with it when the learning gets hard. It’s about prioritizing how I learn. 

Tara Mohr, in her book, Playing Big, has a chapter on this very topic called, “Let It Be Easy.” When she wants to learn something new, she asks herself:

Have I chosen the right goal, a goal that truly resonates with and inspires me, one that comes from a spirit of self-care and not of perfectionism or self-criticism? If yes, then how can I truly set myself up for success in achieving that goal, with resources and aids that make it easy for me to take action consistently?

In the pre-app era, Alan Deutschman, author of Change or Die, made a similar argument. He recognized that people who succeeded in learning did so when they found the right resources. Once they had them, they could keep learning, even when it go hard and even when they’d failed before. They stuck with it because they had the right resources. When they did, their mindsets began to change, and they achieved their learning goals.

It’s time to get past the mindset of self-discipline and willpower alone. That mindset worked when all we had were a few books or local experts. Now we have access to so many more resources. Now, instead of getting stuck in self-criticism, we can recognize that the right resources make all the difference. It’s a different way of looking at learning and at ourselves.

My takeaway? I need to prioritize how I learn, so that I can, whenever possible, let it be easy. Learning new things – new skills, new knowledge – can be challenging. That’s part of the process. But if I find the right resources – the ones that work best for me, especially when the learning gets hard – I can succeed in ways I never thought possible.


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