Why It’s Hard to Learn New Things

I’ve always thought I hate learning new things. I know it’s important to do it, and it feels really good when I DO learn something new. But I avoid it until it’s necessary. Why does it feel so hard?

Learning Can Be Hard

person wearing glasses at laptop, looking frustrated and biting pencilWhen I learned calculus in school, I also learned a lesson about learning. I would listen to the teacher’s lecture and feel completely lost. The words made no sense. Then I’d go home and read the matching text, and it wouldn’t be so hopeless. By the time I did the homework, the material would make sense. Learning calculus made me feel like my brain was a very tough balloon that I was forcing to stretch with my weak little lungs.

So I learned that discomfort is part of the process, as it is in so many other situations. Later, I often remembered learning calculus when I was struggling to understand something. You don’t always get it on the first try. When I have to read an academic paper, for example, it’s often incomprehensible on the first read, and then it starts to make sense on subsequent readings.

Another secret I’ve found is that I can use my love of sharing material I’ve learned. That’s why I started blogging for writers, editors, and self-publishers: once I learned something new, I wanted to share it, possibly in an easier to understand format. I use the “carrot” of getting to write a blog post as motivation to learn the material. Sometimes I even draft a post as I learn.

Don’t Make It Worse

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn more about e-books. I want to improve my own e-books, for example by adding alt text to the images, and formatting the bold words so they carry over into the e-book. Also I suspect that cleaning up my files (so there are less fonts and styles) will make my e-book files smaller.

laptop on desk in library; the screen looks like a chalkboard and says "never stop learning"Learning tech stuff is one of the hardest things for me. After one e-book webinar, I felt completely discouraged. I went outside to mow the lawn, and continued thinking about how frustrated I felt. I’ve been trying to actively “turn over” unhappy situations, so I dragged myself up from the frustration and tried to think something positive. I told myself, “I will learn how e-books work eventually. This is just the frustration of having made a first attempt.”

The attempt to be positive worked far better than I had expected—I felt not just less frustrated but actually hopeful. And I think I figured out why: I didn’t just add positive thoughts; maybe I displaced negative ones.

I had not recognized that I was perpetuating my own frustration. But knowing my propensity to become bogged down in a negative thought, I wondered: Had I been telling myself something negative? Like maybe, “I’m too stupid to learn about e-books” or “I’ll never get the hang of this”? Maybe the negative feeling I get when trying to learn something new isn’t just about the inherent frustration of learning, but about the story I tell myself, making it worse.

4 thoughts on “Why It’s Hard to Learn New Things

  1. Douglas Andrews

    Dearest Emily, I am Doug Andrews and I bet you at the Asheville Bread Festival last year. I have been praying that the recent rash of tropical storms has not shredded your life and your loved ones also. I shall always remember the warmth of your smiles and hugs. I bought the new cookbook from John C. Campbell Folk School and wish I could jump into Dr. WHO`s Timemachine and share a “spot of tea” over it with you. Please, if the storms has ravaged the lives of you and your loved ones, Please,Please let me know so I can help in some way. Blessing to You and your loved ones from, Doug

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Doug, Thanks for checking in and for your kind words. Hillsborough has been lucky with both storms and not had much damage. I have not seen the new cookbook yet but look forward to picking up a copy in at the school in January. Take care, Emily

  2. Douglas Andrews

    At least you didn’t have to learn to do calculus with a slide rule or do it with only a just text book and pencils and paper by candle or oil lamp light like when it was first invented.


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