It’s easy to get excited about learning something new.
And then the actual work begins.
If you’re simply adding to your expertise, learning usually is quick and easy. But if this is something new, the learning curve kicks in, which means performance decreases until you learn what you need to learn.
It can be difficult to go from expert to beginner. What makes it more difficult is that you’re still working hard to perform well at the rest of your job. And then, of course, there’s the internal – and possibly external – pressure to perform immediately at a high level. That’s not how learning works.
If you want to be good at something, it’s usually trial and error: you make mistakes and figure out how to not make them again. You practice until what you’re learning becomes second nature. It’s frustrating. It can be easy to want to stop. But if you want to keep going, here are some tips that could be helpful.
Know what you want to accomplish: Have a clear goal
Goals can serve many purposes. Here are two.
- A goal you want to accomplish can be a powerful motivator. If it is your goal, you might climb a mountain or get a college degree, or learn programming, or write a book. I’ve written three books and earned two graduate degrees partly because they were goals I wanted to accomplish.
- Making a general goal specific helps you figure out what you need to do to achieve it. For example, let’s say you have a co-worker who uses stories very effectively in her presentations. You want to be able to do the same thing. So, you begin to figure out what she does and break it down into some component parts – the story itself, how she tells it, etc. Now your goal has a very specific direction. You know what success looks like. And you even know what progress looks like: it’s mastering those different parts.
Get comfortable with discomfort
Adjust your expectations. You already know you’re going to be outside your comfort zone at least part of the time. That means frustration and discomfort. If you’re dealing with your manager’s expectations, discuss and agree on what’s reasonable in terms of workload, what you should learn by when, etc. You might set up a plan with some milestones. That way each of you will know how you’re progressing.
Be patient and persistent
Chances are you’re not learning as fast you want. But you’re probably learning as fast as you can. Getting down on yourself because you aren’t going faster usually isn’t helpful. Being patient with yourself helps you be persistent. If you’re an adult, you’ve been through the learning curve many times before. You can do it again.
Notice concrete signs of progress
It’s motivating when you can see evidence of progress. The challenge is to notice when it happens or soon after. Progress usually occurs in small steps. If your only definition of progress is achieving the end goal, you’ll miss the progress you’re making and just end up feeling bad because you’re not there yet. Instead, appreciate how far you’ve come – and that there’s less distance between where you are now and the goal.
Don’t depend on willpower
Willpower works well with things you want to learn. But it’s difficult to force yourself to learn something you don’t want to learn.
Sometimes, however, your choice is to learn what you don’t want to learn or find a new job. That’s a kind of external motivation. So are rewards. They work for a while, but ultimately you have to find a way to motivate yourself.
Assuming you decide to learn the material, here are three things you might find helpful for developing internal motivation. Think of the story telling example.
- Get curious
- Find a challenge
- Break it down into small steps that you can master and see the progress you’re making.
Learning is something we often do alone. But learning with other people can make a big difference.
- There’s the accountability part: you’re more likely to follow through on learning something, if you’re accountable to a group or another individual.
- There’s the learning part: discussing what you’re learning with someone else can awaken your curiosity and help you see things you would not have considered. This can help motivate you to want to learn more.
Learning something new can be challenging and frustrating. But there are some things you can do to help yourself keep going when you might want to quit.
- Know what you want to accomplish: Have a clear goal
- Get comfortable with discomfort
- Be patient and persistent
- Notice concrete signs of progress. Accept that it’s likely to be one step at a time
- Don’t depend on willpower. Find a way to engage with what you’re learning.
- Involve others in your learning