Eat Your Broccoli

When you study something, you sometimes get a feeling of discomfort up in your head. That is simply the feeling of learning something new – a precious ability that we should exercise over the course of our lives. It’s a part of the idea of ‘inner-lotus’ control, where you believe that your future is shaped more by your actions than by the influence of external forces. There’s a positive feedback loop between challenging yourself and being ready for the next hurdle.

It may be the case that making the learning curve of a skill a bit steeper may help you internalize the information more deeply. For example, Leonard F. Koziol, et al., posit that “Attention is variably expressed and will randomly undermine the full expression of otherwise intact encoding and working memory capacity. Therefore, a child or adult may perform better on a difficult task than a similar but easier task.” In other words, you don’t always make use of your mental faculty optimally. It’s easier to work on something that grabs your attention, or, ‘The right thing, at the right time’. Another interesting article is from Harvard. The summary of that one is that when uncertainty – or perhaps difficulty – is introduced to a cognitive experience, it tends to make you doubt yourself and then work that much harder to regain your footing, in keeping pace with the learning curve of the subject of your attention.

If you are curious about something, just try it. “Strike while the iron is hot”, or do things at a time of day when you are naturally more attentive and primed to do something. For me, that time starts in the morning, and that may all still sound obvious, so here’s a personal example.

I’ve long been interested in music, and have curated a varying collection over time – I even hosted a radio program back in university. Anyway, I’d never made music of my own until very recently. As my interest in it hasn’t waned over time, I decided to dive into learning Ableton Live in this new year, 2017. In five days, I’ve allocated about 28 hours; initially on Coursera in the free course from the Berklee School of Music, but soon most of my time was in the program itself and on Google. It’s pretty powerful software, but the reason things were or weren’t happening wasn’t that obvious to me. When I had a problem with the sound of a mix, or with the output not being what I wanted or expected, I jumped on Google to query what I thought others would ask in the same situation, and also used good old trial and error. I’ve now made something I’m reasonably happy with, and I’ll continue to be more ambitious in what I try to compose and produce.

Having curiosity is extremely conducive to mastering new things. If you have it naturally, just jump into learning a new skill, as you can improve quickly with that starting gun to give you a running start. If there is something you need to learn that isn’t so instantly rewarding – for example, learning how to save for retirement – maybe you can try to gamify it. Rather than mourn the loss of a percent of your income each month, try to set a high score for your percent contribution. Instead of being overwhelmed by a huge list of vocabulary words in a new language, see if you can just talk a little more each time with the staff when you go outside to the shops. Does a high score sound silly when talking about a 401K, IRA, and beyond? Is it really any sillier than getting a high score in a pay-to-play game? I’ve posted about that before. Let’s assume you’re ready to try something new.

What is something you could do right now that would most help you achieve a goal? It can be onerous to switch modes and do something we should be but don’t forget that after you’ve completed it you’ll feel a sense of real accomplishment. It’s not so different from when you have a chunk of free time, yet feel guilty about enjoying it. Just do something you should be doing first, and then you will more fully enjoy your remaining time because you are actually a pretty productive, value-adding person and after you eat your broccoli, you can and should feel like you deserve the siesta.

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