Adopting the right mindset is essential for long-term success in any educational setting. It’s important to understand that education doesn’t stop at the end of a class or semester. We should never allow ourselves to feel like we’ve “arrived” in life because there’s always more to learn and improve on.
There’s always more to learn.
Have you ever noticed that novices and charlatans often act like they know the most about something, while true masters of a subject or craft work on in humble silence? That’s because, as Aristotle famously wrote, “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” This phenomenon is now known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect (illustrated below), which basically means that novices tend to overestimate their knowledge or ability until they become experienced and self-aware enough to realize how much they don’t know yet.
By understanding that there is a lot we don’t know, we can do ourselves (and everyone around us) a big favor. Accept that you have a lot to learn and see studying something new as an opportunity to expand your knowledge, skillset, and life experience, even if you have to study something you’re not particularly thrilled about. You never know what you might take an unexpected interest in or how your newfound knowledge may prove useful in the future.
It’s not always going to be “fun,” and it’s not supposed to be.
I’ve mentioned before that there is no shortcut to learning, and we shouldn’t expect to be entertained all the time. In our fast-paced modern world, we’ve grown too accustomed to instant gratification and constant entertainment, even in the field of education. There’s nothing wrong with having some fun when it’s appropriate or expedient, but there are some things in life that just aren’t fun. We can’t expect to be entertained all the time or enjoy every subject that we have to learn. No matter what app or game you’re trying to study with, how much fun can you honestly expect to have while studying dense and difficult subjects that you’re just not interested in?
It’s okay and even good for you to make yourself sit down and focus on plowing through something boring or difficult. Life is not about being happy and entertained all the time. That’s no way to grow and improve. As gym rats like to quip, “No pain, no gain.” Oddly enough, the same idea applies to more cerebral endeavors too. Wrestling with difficult subjects followed by proper rest and review trains your brain and helps you learn and remember more information. It might not be entertaining or instantly gratifying but setting aside time to train your brain through difficult study is well worth the reward.
Learn to “embrace the suck.”
David Goggins, former Navy SEAL and author of Can’t Hurt Me, often discusses the idea of “embracing the suck.” Embracing the suck means accepting that something is going to be difficult, maybe even painful, and welcoming the trial as a catalyst for personal growth.
It’s not a new idea either. Stoics like Marcus Aurelius also wrote about it (albeit a little more eloquently):
The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.20
(Ryan Holiday wrote an entire book on this quote, if you’re interested.) We can apply the principle of turning the obstacle into the way to just about anything in life, including our academic endeavors. Instead of becoming discouraged and put off by difficult subjects, welcome the challenges they present as opportunities to grow.
Manage and remember.
Embracing the suck and turning obstacles into opportunities can be a lot of work, but there are practical ways to make learning even the toughest of subjects manageable. You might have to plow through some difficult subjects, but that doesn’t mean you have to bulldoze all the way through the course in one sitting!
Create realistic study routines divided into manageable increments of time that you can commit to every day. Study consistently every day instead of trying to cram in too much information all at once. There are lots of different study routines and note taking methods out there, but what’s important is to figure out what works for you and stick to it. Consistency and moderation are more effective and make studying new material more manageable than cramming at the last minute.
One of the most important parts of a good study routine is scheduled review to make sure you remember what you learn. Keep your notes in an organized and accessible format so you can review them often. If you write notes by hand at first, consider reformatting and reviewing at the same time by typing them out later. Use flashcards and apps like Quizlet and Anki to keep important facts and terms memorized easily through spaced repetition.
Learning is a life-long process. Remember that there’s always more room for everyone to keep learning and growing. Nobody ever “arrives” in life, and, while learning can often be enjoyable, it’s not all about having fun or getting quick results. Don’t back down from a challenging subject or skill, and always be ready to embrace an obstacle as an opportunity to grow. Make learning manageable and memorable by creating realistic routines to study and review. Happy learning!