You Can Learn Anything

Somewhere along the way I started believing I was bad at math. The funny thing is, I used to participate in Math Olympiad. I also tried my hand at robotics and found it fun. Around the age of 12, I started to experience trouble at home. I slipped up and paid less attention to school as a result of depression. After that bout in my teens, I thought I was simply bad at studying.

Fast forward a few years from that point, with encouragement from principals and teachers, I decided to attend a polytechnic. Despite not working hard in school, I liked writing, speaking, and other fun things, so they suggested that I play to my strengths. I went for a direct placement in a polytechnic. I started to ace almost every module there. The more I found things interesting, the more I was able to perform well.

Actually, everything is interesting

After years of internally debating what happened here, I currently figure that it was mindset and choice.

First of all, I think we tend to believe in a set of assumptions that we’ve drawn up for ourselves. “I’m not good at this, so this isn’t possible,” we may think. But with all of the literature out there about having a growth mindset and the plasticity of the mind, these are probably assumptions we should challenge. (Although did you know that your brain starts shrinking after you turn 30?!)

I feel strongly about curiosity as a driver of interest as well. I find that if I keep an open mind and stay curious about everything, everything becomes interesting. As with the concept of shoshin, having an open attitude means we are most likely to be receptive and learn new things.

Another important point is the focus on achievement. In being achievement-oriented, we can see how our current actions will ladder up to an outcome that we want. When that happens, we’ll be more likely to see things through. For example, back to that math situation – when I wanted to make sure to get good grades in college and not mess up too much, I ended up making A’s on my calculus classes. Point being, it’s all about how it pushes your goals forward!

Choice: The IKEA effect?

Another factor is choice, or the responsibility that we take for our choices. Since I chose the paths that I took, I am more likely to feel invested in seeing it through. My feelings of agency and autonomy helps me to feel like I can decide what to do, and I want to learn what I can to see things through. I can see situations in which we may feel like we were forced to do something, and that in turn reduces our motivation to learn and improve.

Maybe the outcomes of making choices is also an IKEA effect; we did it, so we liked our outcomes more.

Learn it all

Over my current lifetime, I’ve switched interests and industries multiple times. Each time there’s a steep learning curve, and I enjoy diving deep into each new topic to understand it deeply. There’s a joy that comes with disentangling the confusion of a new topic, and slowly pushing through the fog. From artificial intelligence papers, to cryptography and blockchains, to the science and chemistry of sunscreen filters – everything is fun to learn. And the feeling of knowing that you learned something is exhilarating.

The process of learning is fun and rewarding, and I immensely enjoy it for its own merits. I don’t find myself particularly intelligent, certainly not outstandingly so. Having the mindset for learning and mastery, and enjoying the process of doing it, is what drives my ability to learn.

With all that in mind, I remind myself often that learning should be because you enjoy it, and not just for a milestone. I’ve waxed lyrical about trying new things, so I won’t repeat myself. The crux is to believe you can learn, and then make the choices that help you to learn what you want to.



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