Learning is something that naturally comes to us as soon as we’re born. We learn the basics of the world and how it works, then we go on to expand on that through our educational system. And we never truly stop learning at any age, so it should be easy, right?
Well, yes and no. Yes, we can still learn anything no matter what age, but no, it’s not as easy as we were younger. Our brain has this thing called “plasticity”, which says that the older we get, the harder it is for our brain to change its way of thinking, and the harder it is to learn.
So are there any strategies or tactics to help us working engineers who probably haven’t been to school in a while learn and retain information? Here are 5 ways on how to learn better.
The hardest part of doing anything is starting it. That’s how procrastination starts, after all. The best way to tackle this is the 5 minute rule: Learn on what you want to learn about for 5 minutes, and after that, you can choose to continue, or leave it for another day. 95% of the time, everyone chooses the former. People just overestimate the difficulty of things and are afraid of failing, but once they actually do it, they realize it isn’t so bad.
Fight what’s only worth fighting for
Listen, no matter how dedicated you are, there’s always an upper limit to what you can do. Again, we fall into the pits of our brain’s current plasticity, so at some point in time, we have to make a tradeoff: which is more important, to learn this, or that? Should I go deeper, or broader? Should I continue studying, or start applying it?
Make these decisions wisely. Choose what excites and motivates you the most, and choose the ones that you know will matter. Don’t waste your time on things you could care less about and don’t enjoy just because you think you should.
Fight battles than can suit your current abilities
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to learn something, we just can’t seem to do it. It’s at those moments you should think “Am I doing something wrong and not trying hard enough? Or is this just too difficult for me?”
If your answer is the latter, then the battle you’re fighting just is too hard for your current abilities. Nobody runs a 20 kilometer marathon on their first try. So maybe you should scale back. Learn the basics first. Master those basics, and build from there. Skill takes time, and building on it means solidifying your foundation.
Choose your battlefield
School and books aren’t the only way to learn, and for many, they’re not the most efficient way of learning. Don’t limit yourself to conventional forms of learning. Find audio books, online tutorials, YouTube videos, one-on-one tutorial, etc. Find which works for you and which you can learn from the best. It’s the 21st century, and there’s many ways to learn stuff now.
Surrendering isn’t shameful
Finally, know that giving up doesn’t always equate to failing. Sometimes, it’s just out of our abilities, and it just isn’t the right time. Maybe you’ve misjudged the difficulty, scope, time, or commitment involved in whatever you’re trying to learn, and that’s not a bad thing.
Don’t be afraid to quit and don’t be discouraged by an incomplete objective. There will come a time where everything will eventually fall into place, and you’ll end up learning about it again, but this time, it won’t be as hard.