How can we learn just about anything?

Curiosity.

Learning anything new is challenging. Often, we start with great gusto and soon enough, the challenges of learning are so arduous that we give up. We often think of learning as a Goal-Oriented activity. That is, “I want to be able to speak Spanish fluently” or “I want to be able to play the piano like that person”. We begin anything with a desire “to be” like someone else or “to get” somewhere else. Usually, these desires are other motivated – the mind usually gets a big kick about imagining how we would be perceived by others as we spoke fluently in Spanish. Social appreciation is a BIG motivator for most of us.

But the task of learning the grammar of a new language or having to practice scales is deeply boring. There is simply no way one can sustain this with just the motivation of the goal “I want to be able to speak Spanish fluently”. The trick is to have the goal, but quickly transcend it. We must make learning a process-oriented activity. Ask yourself this” why is it that we keep coming back to our video games? We don’t need to set daily goals to be able to enjoy ourselves. Video games, internet videos, and other forms of entertainment are designed to inherently capture our mind through stories, images, sounds. It is interesting enough for the mind to do it. Grammar on the other hand isn’t. But what if we can train our minds to enjoy grammar?

This is where curiosity comes in. If we can be intensely curious about things (yes even grammar), then learning doesn’t become a burden. We actually begin to enjoy it. Understand that the human brain loves to learn. We have to learn to leverage this natural trait of biology.

Even boring things can be made interesting by approaching them with curiosity. Drop all notions of goals, and targets. They add immense psychological pressure unto ourselves. We never approach a movie on Netflix saying, I need to finish this as soon as possible. There is simply no way one would enjoy the movie, for the fastest way would be to fast forward the movie and quickly arrive at the end. Unfortunately, our culture is a massively goal-oriented culture, which means that we start off by setting targets. In most cases, and for most people this brings immense pressure to perform, and they eventually quit. Thomas M.Sterner in his small, yet delightful book The Practicing Mind says this:

In order to focus on the present, we must give up, at least temporarily, our attachement to our desired goal. If we don’t give up our attachement to the goal, we cannot be in the present beacause we are thinking about something that hasn’t occoured yet : the goal. When you shift your goal from the product you are trying to achieve, to the process of achieving it, a wonderful phenomenon occours : all pressure drops away. This happens because, when your goal is to pay attention to only what you are doing right now, as long as you are doing just that, you are reaching your goal in each and every moment.

Thomas M. Sterner. The Practicing Mind. Page 23,24. Jaico Publishing. Seventh Edition.

The only way we can make an activity into a process-oriented one and sustain activity is by taking a curious approach to the habit. In fact, I would go further and say that by taking a curious approach to the very process of learning. By observing and taking joy in the way we learn, we take off the pressure to arrive at an imagined point of excellence. Take for example grammar. Grammar is seen as something boring. But if we can begin by observing patterns such as verb conjugations or the way articles are used, we can actually begin to like grammar. The brain loves to pick patterns and we are simply aiding it when we begin to observe and reflect on facets. Discipline need not be forced unto ourselves. Discipline is the natural result of repeatedly enjoying what we do.

In order to do this, we need to have a mind that is not dulled by the repeated blows of entertainment. Too much exposure to social media, videos, text, audio, and even people, can dull the mind from overuse. Sit in front of a television all day, and we feel terribly lethargic by the end of the day. Therefore, in order to bring curiosity to the smallest of the small and apparently boring things, we need to ensure that our minds are not overloaded by the wrong sorts of information.

To summarize. We can learn just about anything. Learning anything is comprised of a motivation to learn and discipline. These are seen as difficult things. In reality, it isn’t. Both are natural outcomes of developing curiosity. Curiosity can come about when we shift our lives from a goal-oriented way of living to a process-oriented way of living. That is, there is joy in every activity because we can learn from the simplest of things.

We erroneously think that there is a magical point that we will reach and then we will be happy. we look at the process of getting there as almost a necessary nuisance we have to go through in order to get to our goal.

Thomas M. Sterner. The Practicing Mind. Page 21. Jaico Publishing. Seventh Edition.
A Sunbird on the Flame of the Forest (Butea Monosperma). Uttarakhand. 2017

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