Why You Are Stuck Learning New Things And What To Do About It
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.” — James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits
Learning a new thing in your life is easy, except we make it hard. Let me explain.
Just think back to the last time you wanted to cultivate a new skill, habit, or activity in your life. Think of your willingness to learn a new language, finally start painting pictures again, or spend more time with the people you love. No matter what this particular thing is you want to cultivate in your life, in fact, it is very easy to do so. The only problem is that we make it hard for ourselves.
Commonly, the way one goes about the endeavor of cultivating something new, we start out ambitiously determined to spend at least five hours every week on that thing. We make plans, buy books, make the changes needed. We do that at the moment where we feel inspired, motivated, and excited to tackle things. We are in the let’s-make-things-happen-mindset. But then, after just a handful of days, things start to shift. Life gets in the way, and you miss the first days of cultivating that new thing. A few days turn into a few weeks. A few weeks turn into you being back at where you started. The effect? Not that much has changed.
The problem with this (common) approach is that it doesn’t work. The reason for this is that simply life gets in the way. There is always something else demanding your attention and so your initial motivation fades away. Luckily, there’s a better way.
The better way is this: Start by focussing on the smallest possible action you can do on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter how small this initial action is, as long as it is feasible to stick to it on a daily basis.
Want to learn to paint a picture? Focus on at least one brushstroke every day.
Want to learn a new language? Read at least one page in a book every day.
Want to have better relationships? Send one small text to a friend every day.
There is something magic about tackling your aspirations for new things in your life by focussing on the smallest viable action. You need to have the patience to keep going for many years to really learn something new. And the only way you can keep up this habit is by making baby steps first. All that matters is that you keep going, no matter how small, on a daily basis. This way, cultivating new things becomes easy. It becomes fun. It becomes empowering. So why stand in the way of all the amazing things you could start doing? Just focus on the small things first. Every day.