The Learning Curve

Nik Moore - The Mindset Ninja

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Published: 14th May 2020

This Article was Written by: Nik Moore - The Mindset Ninja

“Learning new stuff makes me feel inadequate!”. Don’t worry. It’s a common feeling!

We’re all very used to the concept of learning. After all, we went to school. But learning isn’t something that is massively celebrated as an adult. Why is that?

I believe that a lot of it is to do with the fact that learning causes us to feel inadequate. When we learn something new, we soon realise that we actually know very little about that new topic. It’s called conscious incompetence (see below). I.e. we soon know….what we don’t know. Whereas before opening the book or logging onto the online course, we were blissfully unaware of what we didn’t know.

Not only can this cause us to realise just how much we have to learn, but it sharpens our self-awareness about how incapable we are in respect to that new thing that we’re trying to learn.

Overwhelm and a feeling of inadequacy. Wow! What a horrible combination.

The result?…… we close the book or log off the online course. All because we find our internal voice saying things like “Why can’t I get this?” “Why am I so rubbish at this?”

Well, guess what. It’s perfectly normal.

It’s all down to what we call The Learning Curve.

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How does it work and how does it affect me?

Well, first of all, it affects us all. Nobody is immune from it.

Let’s first look at the shape of the curve. When we learn something new our performance drops. It’s because we have to put effort into thinking. We go into the memory banks to search for the new information in order to apply it. The “muscle memory” is weak and hasn’t yet been built up. As the graph moves along to the right, our performance plummets – this is where most of us fall off the learning curve before we hit the bottom. We give up basically.

But it’s the bottom that’s most exciting, in my opinion. The bottom represents maximum frustration, annoyance, lowest self-belief, sometimes anger at ourselves. And if you persevere beyond this point…… you start to feel the benefits as your performance increases.

Over time and with practise you get to the far right hand side and, as you can see, you have grown overall as a person. Your overall performance is higher (in general terms) as a human being. The new knowledge essentially adds a new layer onto your existing skills and you grow overall.

This is what we call a Growth Mindset. You have expanded as an individual.

What about Unconscious Incompetence etc? What do they mean?

So as you can see you go from:
Unconscious Incompetence – not being aware that you’re not very good at this new thing (yet)
Conscious Incompetence – now you are aware that you’re not very good at it
Conscious Competence – you’re aware that you’re good at it but it still requires some mental effort and thinking
Then, thanks to practise, an unconscious habit is formed. You become Unconsciously Competent. You no longer have to think about doing it.

Driving a car is the perfect example of this process. Can you remember how much of failure you thought you were on your first lesson? Now, do you even bat an eyelid at putting the seatbelt on?

Being aware of the process is liberating

Now that you know that this is a very human condition that we all go through, is it liberating to know that you’re not a failure when you learn something new? You’re not inadequate. It’s just that you need time and perseverance to get used to the new skill until your brain adapts and the habit forms.

No action. No change.

And now for the tough love bit of the blog. If performance only improves with practice and repetition, then action is needed. And constant, repeated action is what we need.

If you listen in to people throughout your daily life, how many of us say things like “yeah, I’d love to do [new skill], but it’s just too much effort”. If you listen out for this you’ll hear a variation of it all the time. So many of us sadly don’t realise that anybody can learn anything and all of us can become masters of any new skill. We just need to appreciate that our performance will drop and, when it does, we have to keep pushing on ahead because, after time, we will improve.

If you find that you ever have more time on your hands, and you want to learn that new skill that you’ve always wanted to learn, try and keep the learning curve in your mind. It’s hugely empowering and can prime your conscious mind to push on, even when you get bored, overwhelmed or low in self-belief. I love it. It has changed my own life for the better.

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