The Four Barriers to Learning and How to Overcome Them

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Summary: While there are many different scenarios that can play out, the barriers to learning something new boil down to a few key issues.
Knowing what the four most common pitfalls are when it comes to learning new things will help you manage your fears and accomplish more.

Have you ever tried to learn something new—whether it was Spanish for your college credits, how to knit a sweater, or how to play a sport—and found yourself struggling to reach the goal you’d set out for yourself? Many people set out to learn something new but rarely make it to the finish line that they had envisioned.

While there are many different scenarios that can play out, the barriers to learning something new boil down to a few key issues: (1) becoming overwhelmed, (2) frustrated, (3) uncertain, and (4) fearing failure.
  1. Overwhelmed: When you first start out, you don’t really have a clue what you’re getting yourself into. You have a fantasy of what it is that you want to accomplish. Once you start getting into the actual work and studying, you’ll realize that there’s a lot more to learn than you anticipated and the project suddenly becomes overwhelming, making you think that you won’t ever be able to do it all.
How to overcome it: Make smaller goals. So you want to learn Spanish? That can take years. Start with something smaller like learning a few key phrases, the alphabet and some numbers. Then learn a new group of phrases and following that, a section of grammar. Mark off each of these small goals so that you feel like you’re working towards a goal that will eventually be realized.
  1. Frustrated: To learn something new is hard, no matter your personality. Just because were great at soccer as a kid doesn’t mean you’ll be great at every sport you try. For a lot of people, especially those who are used to being naturally talented at things, this can make them quit at the beginning, even within the first ten minutes.
How to overcome it: Have a beginner’s mindset. When you’re learning something new, you have to let go of your ego and know you’ll probably be bad for a while. You’re not trying to prove anything to anyone immediately, so put up your blinders and focus on yourself. Eventually you’ll see the improvement you want.
  1. Uncertain: Most people are what we might call “control freaks.” We like to know what’s coming, what to expect and whether or not we’ll be able to handle the situation. When something uncertain comes our way, we start to freak out: “How will this new class go?” “What will the teacher be like?” “Can I handle the extra workload?” These questions can ultimately keep us from showing up on day one.
How to overcome it: There are two ways to overcome uncertainty: one is to change your mindset and the other is to just do it. To change your mindset, you have to embrace the uncertainty and tell yourself that being uncertain means a new experience is coming your way and that it could be amazing—if you invest the time and commit to it. As for just doing it, well, that’s a given. The first step, no matter what your goal, is always the hardest. Sometimes you just have to brace yourself—and all your anxieties—and jump in feet first not knowing how things will turn out.
  1. Fear of Failure: Failing is tough on anyone’s ego. When you’re trying something new, you’re bound to fail many times. Many people won’t even get out of the starting gate because they’re so afraid of failing. They think it means that they are a failure and it feeds their inner critic, which tells them it’s not worth putting themselves out there in the first place.
How to overcome it: Know and accept that you will fail. The simple act of failure itself means that you’re trying something new. While it’s easier to live inside your comfort zone and only do things you know you’re good at, what kind of life is that? Embrace failure. Give yourself praise for trying and failing. Each time you do, you learn something.

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