“If at first a new idea doesn’t seem ridiculous, then there is no hope for it.”
That was Albert Einstein, and our institutions of learning would be a lot better off, as would we, if he had been responsible for masterminding their missions and policies.
Unfortunately, our schools are not based on the premise of learning new ideas, big picture thinking (systems thinking) and decision making, but rather on memorizing history, and classifying people’s aptitudes based on one mode of learning. This has had quite a profoundly negative effect on our perception of our capacity to learn. So, very much like understanding why we resist change, this step is critical in order to shed negative reinforcement. Indeed, this understanding and therefore unlearning our bad learning habits is the last preparatory step in the adaptability process.
Fear tells you this:
I can’t do it.
It certainly isn’t true. But it’s important to understand why that fear constantly steps in, that is the key to undoing the effects of lifelong negative reinforcement. This fear has everything to do with our learning institutions.
Continual self doubt is simply the residue of being negatively reinforced for so long. It’s akin to being afraid of change. You have been told since you were a child, by teacher, parents, grading systems, and certain marketing institutions that sell products by using negative reinforcement, that you are either good or bad at something, that you have aptitude for certain things, but not others, and that you need things you don’t have in order to be whole. People who decided as children that elementary school math class didn’t come easily and quickly often believe as adults that they are simply not good at math.
It’s all a matter of focus, desire, and finding the proper learning method and tools for your disposition. Ultimately, when it came to education, Albert Einstein’s advice was to hold imagination in higher regard than knowledge. That means to trust who you are and let your sense of wonder, curiosity and playfulness guide you. Your intellect is a given. Think of it as a large empty tool box in your mind. Knowledge is simply material—tools—you gather to fill that box. You can attain any knowledge you want.
And in terms of the best way for you to learn something? Consider that each toolbox might have a different lock. You just need to find the proper key. Are you a visual learner? Tactile? There are ways to find this out, if you don’t already know. And if you do know, for instance, that you are a tactile learner but you’re trying to learn a new skill where hands-on teaching isn’t immediately available, don’t despair. There are tools now that can offer you a tactile experience when you need.
Perhaps the most important aspect of learning new skills is to be open and assertive in terms of what you need in order to learn something efficiently and comfortably. There is no shame in needing tools. People get so ashamed if they don’t learn something immediately, even if the method of teaching is crude, such as the mind-numbing, convoluted worksheets most public schools use to allegedly teach our country’s children math. That shame is societal conditioning. It has nothing to do with your ability to learn.
The tools are here! It’s the 21st century. The primitive group-think method of 20th century classrooms aren’t where education ends.
Because of conditioning, upbringing, training, and exposure, certain knowledge might come easier and faster than other pieces of information. And you can argue that not everyone’s toolboxes are the same size, or that other factors, such as biochemical substance imbalance in the brain, cause different capacities. But you know what? These are minor differences, particularly when applied to the realistic, every day, new things you must learn to keep up with changing times. But let’s be clear here. If you really wanted to become a physicist today, and you are 35 years old, have never been good at math, and are a working at Burger King, you could in fact do it. It’s all a matter of focus. You are just fine the way you are, capable of learning anything, and nothing bad is going to happen.
The key is to start by asking questions, and knowing that there are no stupid ones. You will discover that there are many more avenues to find answers, and to do so with immediacy.
The first question you may want to ask yourself is what new things do you need to learn. Make a list. Then ask how you can best learn them, and finally, where do you find the tools you need. If you have a smart phone, that great shared memory tool that is thankfully a new turbo charged organ in our bodies, you can find out easily, using your sense of digital kinesthesia to jump in and research our global network of tools and ideas, and get social feedback while you’re at it, join a community of people just like you.
If you encounter self doubt along the way, that the newness you’re experiencing is somehow false and wasting your time, take a look, just for fun, at a few examples of attacks on technology that seem idiotic now. Guess, for instance, which technologies people thought would cause death and illiteracy? Trains, telephones, and phonographs.
There were scientists of the day that said that if we traveled on a train over 20 miles an hour that our bones could explode.
The telephone, for example – 1876, front page of The New York Times, and the telephone debuts, and the article, you know, starts off describing what this technology is but then goes into this long list of things that the telephone is going to do negative to society. And one of them is that people will never leave their house again.
Not even a year later, out comes the phonograph, and the front-page article in The New York Times about the phonograph says the telephone that was just regarded as the invention of the century is about to be eclipsed by the phonograph, where people can buy bottled quarts of conversations, and they’ll never leave their home again.
And there’s a great line that says, you know, blessed be the boy of the future who never has to learn how to read.