Learning something new is much easier if it’s something interesting; but if there’s no connection with what you are learning or why, it’s pretty common to “tune out” and let your mind wander. Whether at school or work, the habit of tuning out can lead to problems. Anyone can learn anything they put their minds to, but it’s important to lay the groundwork first. To be sure you are in the best position for learning and remembering new things, start with motivation.
Are you motivated to learn? I often hear students say “why do I need to know this stuff? I’m never going to use it!” If it feels like the content is being force-fed, it’s difficult to focus or get excited about learning. Oftentimes students will hit this roadblock: “This is ridiculous, I have no idea what the teacher is talking about? I give up!” This is usually because without the ability to focus on what was being taught, whatever the student heard or read essentially went in one ear and out the other.
In order to feel motivated, most people need to be able to make a connection with what they’re learning, and have a reason to spend time and energy learning it. I have a friend who felt “stupid” because he failed his high school Spanish courses; but a few years later he traveled to Africa and taught himself to speak several of the local languages! The difference is when in Africa, he had a reason and desire to learn the new languages (and had the opportunity to practice and use them).
What motivates you? You may have to put some thought into this. There are two types of rewards: Intrinsic (doing something just because you like to), and extrinsic (doing something to get a physical or monetary reward). Are you motivated by spending time with your friends, playing video games, earning an A? There are many ways we can become motivated to learn. It’s just a matter of convincing ourselves: “This isn’t really a waste of time because if I get an A on this test it will really help my grade point average- which will open up more options after I graduate.” (or) “This stuff really isn’t that boring, and I have to keep my grades up if I want to be on the soccer team.” The good news is, you have control over motivation. Just change your attitude so that you can become, if not excited, at least open to learning. It’s really that easy! Using rewards, while not the only method, can be a very effective way to motivate yourself.
Once you’ve convinced yourself that you can and should be learning, the next step is to do it. I will write about overcoming procrastination and learning how to focus in upcoming articles. Stay tuned.