The primary purpose of learning is to acquire a new skill. Learning itself is a skill that is hard to master. So when you try to acquire a skill that is hard in itself, your task has just become harder.
I am not talking about things that you do not want to learn. Even easy to acquire skills are hard to do so if you are not inclined. I am talking about learning in the context of acquiring a skill so that you become proficient at it or even better: master it.
But why is learning hard and why is it that it is even harder to learn something that is hard? When do we exactly realize that learning anything hard is hard?
I think we realize that learning is hard when we become adults and take up work. At that point of time we are all supposed to acquire new skills all by ourselves. But most of us till we begin work, are learning even without realizing that it is difficult. Why? Because we are learning at school, college where our primary responsibility is to learn, though most education systems can even hardly claim that to be their primary motive. So there we are, the education system provides us with the learning support system.
What does this system provide you?Everything basically. From books to teachers to lectures to peers to evaluations. Everything is set in stone for you. You just have to follow the route. So what this system does is makes it easy for you to learn new skills. But what does it take away from you? The process of learning itself! And I think that is a big take away. Years and years of habit of using ready made systems to learn new skills would I think subconciously condition you to assume such systems would be in place for you always. And the absence of such systems when you being your career or take up work makes learning hard without us even realizing it. The only such system then that you have at your disposal is you, hardly a comforting idea. (I hardly consider training departments at any workplace to be comparable to schools, colleges; so you cannot rely on them as support systems!)
So by the time we have grown up to work we learn to read, write, do math and much more, but we hardly ever learn to learn unless and until you were fortunate enough to have met some enlightened soul who has imparted the gospel of learning.
Let us try to verify with examples if all this is true. Take any hard subject that you learnt at school. For example, Calculus is something that most find hard. Even with the learning system in place, we find it hard. So how harder would it be if you were left all alone to learn Calculus? How would you even figure out what books to learn from, who are the good teachers of the subject that you could turn to and how to even verify that you have become good at it? This is an example from within the system. Replace the subject Calculus with your favorite(?) hard subject and the results should be the same.
An example from outside the system that you would identify with is making presentations. Most of us at work have come across situations where we have to make presentations. What if it is an integral part of your work? So you would have to acquire that skill. Sounds hard doesnt it? It is. No wonder you may find most of your presentations suck (if you are honest to yourself).
Thus now we have come halfway. We know that till we take up work, we are conditioned to assume that readymade systems are in place to help us learn a new skill, which is hardly if at all the truth. Thus when we encounter situations after taking up work, we come unstuck due to two reasons: earlier, we had only one job and that was to learn; and now with work, we have two jobs - one is to work and the other is to learn. Unfortunately we are found wanting in both and ironically the reason is the same ”lack of experience”.
I could easily sense this when I began work and I had to learn quite a few things on my own (if I wanted to be good at what I did). And that when you learn on your own, you have to build that support system which was there for you. You have to decide how much to learn, what material to learn from (books, tutorials and they hardly come good); getting hold of experts to have a word with them (again experts are rare and to have a word with them is even more rare!). So the point is it is an extremely difficult process. And when faced with difficulties, only focus can help you stay afloat and sail through.
But focus does one other thing that is very hard otherwise: it tends to provide you with the energy and motivation to do the thing that you are trying to learn. And we all know that learning by doing is one of the best ways to learn, but hardly ever get to it. When you are focused, doing will happen automatically. Doing is the most important supplement that learning needs and focus provides it. Focus also forces you to review your learning and that is the way you improve. Thus focus works like a nourishment, an energy provider without which you cannot ’really’ learn.
So if you are focused enough you will end up becoming proficient at both calculus and making presenations. You will not be deterred when you stumble, you will persist, you will solve a lot of calculus problems, you will make a lot of presentations. You will continually review how you fare (or self evaluate, again a part of the learning system at school) and finally become proficient.
The best part about self learning is that the more skills you acquire via this route, the better you become at the skill of learning itself. Eventually, I realized that learning new things on my own was not that difficult as long as I was Focussed, kept doing it and had a regular feedback loop. You might find the same. Along the way you might start enjoying the process of learning itself and would look forward to acquire new skills alinged with both your personal taste and professional demands.’Stay Focused, Keep Learning’ now seems to make sense.
I am a polyglot software engineer specializing in shipping iOS and 3d scientific visualization applications.