Developing a thirst for knowledge
By SANDY CLARKE
In high school, I was quite a lazy student. If a subject didn’t immediately inspire me, I would set my motivation levels to ‘bare minimum’ and hope that was enough to make the grade.
My maths teacher was particularly mystified as to how I could be performing so poorly and yet, when it came to studying physics, I was in the top class.
“Surely the two subjects are similar,” said my exasperated teacher. “How is it possible that you don’t perform well in my class?”
At the time, the answer was obvious. Maths class, to me, was as exciting as an unseasoned green leaf salad, whereas physics was a subject that came alive – physics explains how the world works!
Looking back, I realise I failed to see the value in education beyond the enjoyment of immersing myself in subjects that I found fascinating.
Certainly, I lacked any awareness of the concept of “lifelong learning” and how important it would be in future with regard to helping people keep pace with social and technological trends and developments.
With the rising tide of competition and the ever-evolving, ever-demanding markets, the ability to cultivate knowledge and develop new skills is more important than ever before.
To my good fortune, by the time I left university, I had found a thirst for learning and was able to build up a necessary resilience to sticking with topics that didn’t quite capture my imagination.
As many of us know, in our professional lives, there will be certain aspects of our work that we enjoy less than others.
Occasionally, this will include venturing outside our comfort zones and having to learn a new skill or subject, which can feel like the last thing we need on top of everything else we need to juggle.
When we’re in this mindset, we’re at a physiological disadvantage.
Thinking about how much we don’t want to do something triggers the part of the brain that makes us feel pain, which is why the idea of doing chores we hate, for example, can actually be painful.
So how can we overcome the pain of learning? In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that our habitual behaviours exist because the brain “is constantly looking for ways to save effort”.
Therefore, we have to reframe the way we look at taking on the kinds of challenges we’d rather avoid. Here are some of the ways to reframe the pain of learning:
Find a reason – however small – why you’ll benefit from your experience
It might be that learning a new skill or subject will set you up for a promotion, or help you by simply enhancing your skillset in a particularly useful manner.
Maybe it could help pave the way for that career change you’ve been thinking about.
Whatever the reason, looking for some way that you’ll benefit from the learning experience will provide you with the motivation you need to stick with it.
Bin the perfectionism
Especially as we get older, the notion of not immediately mastering a new concept or technique can be frustrating.
In part, it might be because we don’t have a lot of time to waste, but it’s likely that we’ll also be self-conscious in our attempts to learn something new.
Few learning experiences “click” on the first, second or even third try. The key is to aim for progress rather than perfection, and to be proud of the progress that is made.
Did You Know: Researchers in France found, following a study conducted in 2009, that multitasking can half the brain’s working capacity.
When we try to multitask, there’s no flow of concentration of focus, which means we take twice as long to complete a single task. As if that wasn’t bad enough, multitasking also increases our error rate by around 50%.
Kill the brain pain with the “Pomodoro” Technique
This is a time management tool that helps people increase their focus and creativity without suffering from mental fatigue.
How it works is that, for a period of 25 minutes, you commit to focusing on the task at hand with no distractions.
Afterwards, you reward yourself with a five-minute break. Repeat the cycle as required.
If you fit in four ‘Pomodoro’ cycles (100 minutes of work and 15 minutes of downtime), you get to reward yourself with a 15-20 minute break after the fourth cycle.
Find the pleasure in taking a break from your routine
For some workaholics, taking time away from important tasks might be their idea of hell.
But look on the bright side – spending some time away from your usual tasks can give your brain a much-needed breather from the routine.
As a result, you’ll come back to your work refreshed and it’s likely that the break of focusing on something new will have sparked all kinds of ideas or, at the very least, some renewed mental energy in taking on the remainder of your to-do list.