When it comes to learning or forming new skills or habits, results are ultimately what matters.
This isn’t to say that the “journey” of the learning process doesn’t matter. But let’s face it: if you’re not seeing some results along the way, no matter how small, you get discouraged.
Who likes futility, right?
What we’re talking about here is developing an eye for signs of success, no matter how tiny. We need small wins or baby steps to keep us motivated.
Sometimes, the small wins aren’t obvious, so we need to look closely at what we’re doing. Take the classic case of wax on and wax off from Karate Kid. Daniel LaRusso wants to learn karate from Mr. Miyagi, who spends a lot of time making Daniel do seemingly unrelated odd jobs, like wax his car. Daniel eventually becomes fed up, until he realizes that the act of waxing on and off is laying the foundation for learning the martial art.
The lesson is, practicing whatever skill or talent you want to develop will often breed unexpected results. You need to revel in this undiscovered experience. You get to enjoy the unexpected results as well as the predictable achievements that come with practice.
You have to push through the inevitable feeling that practice is a bunch of boring repetition with little connection to what you actually want to achieve. Looking for signs of development, no matter how small or unexpected, is a good way to instill meaning in what you’re doing.
The Sum of Small Parts
A collection of small wins is the true path to any goal.
Let’s use another example: learning to play guitar. When you take guitar lessons, you often start by learning the essentials such as how to hold the instrument, how to reach music, and basic chords.
If you don’t let yourself appreciate that each step builds on the other, providing you with stable incremental growth, then you wind up getting intimidated. You start to see the quest to learn guitar as a massive, unconquerable monolith
Any accomplishment is built of small iterations. Think of this learning segmentation as building a stairway, step by step, that will take you to the top of the monolith.
The Failure Space Between
The space between small wins is sometimes filled with failure.
Back to the guitar: there will be days when your fingers will seem to not work right, and you won’t be able to play the chords.
Your decision at this point is to either resist the process by not admitting failure also paves the path of learning, or accepting that you suck sometimes.
The suck is part of the process. Embrace it.
If you’re learning to draw, then your first few pictures that don’t involve copying or tracing might look terrible. The first song you create is going to sound bad. In the early stages of any effort, you’re going to forget everything you learned.
If you accept that this is going to happen, that sucking is vital to the process, then it won’t derail you.
The Critic Creep
Also, accept that there will be critics. Again, they are as old as the act of learning. There has always been someone there to criticize the work of others. I’m sure someone made fun of the person who discovered how to use fire or the wheel.
Contrary to what critics might say, failure is part of the process. But critics are everywhere, within us and outside of us.
You will always hear the voices of those that fear your success. They fear you because if you succeed, there’s no reason they can’t either. It means they will have to face facts and be responsible for their own success. And It’s easier to criticize than to do the work needed to succeed.
The Final Word
Sustained motivation is a huge contributing factor that determines if you learn a skill or not. You don’t need an iron will or supernatural talent to succeed. What you need to do is enjoy the process, look for small wins, and persist!
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