Learning Things We Hate Part 2

In the last post I talked about why it is useful to learn things that we don’t have interest in or even hate. In this post we will discuss how to learn them or at least make the process easier for you. I’ll continue the dialogue I had with my student.


“I thought you told me that you were a dancer,” I replied.

“Yeah I am, so?”

“Well when you want to spin, can you spin faster by spreading out your hands or by tucking them close to your body?”

She thought for a moment, and then said, “Tucking them in. Why?”

“Because,” I said, “that is physics, albeit at a very basic level. You also skateboard. You told me that if you fall, the best way would be to roll if you can. You know that’s also physics right? You’re spreading the energy of the fall over a wider area instead of one small spot.”

“Oh really? I had no idea… That’s actually kind of cool now that I think about it.”


In future tutoring sessions, she actually mentioned these points I brought up as she realized the point that I was making.


Now I admit, I only took conceptual physics in college. I hate math so I didn’t want to do the more advanced stuff (yes even I have things I hate learning). But I can appreciate parts of physics because I see how they can apply to my own life. Let’s face it, there are tons of things we don’t want to learn for school or for work, but learning them have benefits. They can also be interesting in their own rights. The whole idea is that everything we learn is interconnected.


Realize It Can Apply To You

One of the things I hated most when it came to learning math in school was that you were handed a bunch of formulas and you told to plug in a bunch of numbers, solve for X, etc. It drove me up a wall. I had no idea when or why I was going to use what I was learning in class. I only wanted to learn things that would actually be related to what I would do in life, and math was not one of those things.


My senior year in high school I had a math teacher who was absolutely fantastic. He made a point to mention when certain things in math were used and how they’d be applied. Hearing this made me feel like I wasn’t just learning something that was useless and to be forgotten once school was out. I realized what I was learning had value and could be used in the real world outside of school. It also helped that my father who does woodworking explained some math concepts he used when woodworking. Now people that I actually knew were using ideas I was learning about.


These things can apply to you too. Once you realize that this is something that you could actually use, it becomes easier to learn because you know that there is a use to it. If you think you will never use what you are learning, you are essentially telling your mind to be unreceptive to the knowledge, making it only harder for you to learn it for school or work. You don’t want that.


Be Open To Learning It

So if being closed off to something makes it harder to learn something, the opposite must be true: the more open you are to learning something, the easier it becomes for you to learn it. Think about any hobbies you have that you won’t make a career out of for example. If you can solve a rubik’s cube in a 30 seconds, its most likely not something you’ll make much money off of. But it is something you enjoy (or else you wouldn’t have bothered learning to solve it that fast). You are open to learning it because you want to. The time you spent learning how to solve it quickly passed by very quickly, unlike when learning something you hate, where five minutes in reality feels like an hour. So another solution is to make what we are learning seem less miserable. How can we do this with something we dislike?


Solve A Problem/Do Something You Like

I used to hate learning things for Microsoft Excel. Actually, to be honest, I still hate it. Unfortunately for me, I needed it for school as well as just to have some extra skills when looking for a job. Of course the obvious choice was to take a few courses on Excel. I was picky with the courses I chose. I was actually looking for topics/skills/projects in Excel that I thought were cool, even if my Excel skills were inadequate for the course. Choosing courses beyond my skill level might seem like a bad idea, but it helped me a lot. I found something in Excel that I thought was cool and decided to learn. Interest/motivation covered. Then I had to learn a few skills in order to learn that cool thing, but there was a catch. Sometimes there were other tasks I needed to fulfill that the course didn’t teach, thus I had to learn other skills in order to learn the skills to complete said cool task. Not every part of the learning process was fun, but when I saw what I could do with those skills, it was completely worth all the effort.


By the time I finally finished the course, I gained a good amount of skills and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. All it took was me finding something I liked about Excel, and then solving the problems that arose in order for me to complete a project that I liked.


So in a nutshell, when learning a subject that you really don’t like or even hate, you need to find the things about it that you do like. Focus on the positive. When learning, try to find how it can relate to you and your life. More often than not, there are some aspects that do relate to your life or something else that you have learned. On a higher level, don’t just allow the application to be a possibility, make it a necessity. If you need to do something you hate in order to achieve success in an area of your life, suddenly the need to get it done becomes more pressing than the antipathy you hold.


Learning Things We Hate

“But I just hate science,” my student told me. “I just don’t see how it can apply to anything in my life.”


My student was talking to me about going to college soon and how she was a little nervous about learning things she didn’t care for. To make matters worse, she would have to learn about these subjects in a foreign language. It got me thinking about all the subjects I skimped on in college or high school but wished I payed more attention to. I wanted her to realize that in the long-run, it is valuable to learn as much as you can. Here are just a couple reasons why we should try to learn as much as we can, even if we we hate the topics.


You Have More to Talk About


While there are several subjects that are boring to us, they can be fascinating to other people, and even having a basic understanding of these topics can help us facilitate a conversation with someone whose life work revolves one of these topics. Not only does knowing it help you understand, but it also can give you ideas about questions you can ask to help further the conversation. Questions along the lines of “I was taught that _________, what do you think about it” or “My professor would always say _______, can you explain what he meant by that?” Asking someone about a topic they love, even if you hate it, is a great way to win over a new friend. And let’s be honest, it makes you look much more informed and intelligent to be able to converse about a variety of topics, even if you aren’t an expert on the subject.


You Can Learn Other Topics Faster


Going along with being able to talk about more, knowing more about one topic can help your understanding of another topic. Some fields of study complement each other nicely (like biology and chemistry, math and physics) and so even if one subject bores you, think about the gain you get in the field you like by learning the stuff you hate. When I was in school, I used to hate focusing on improving my writing skills and English class used to be my least favorite. Now I appreciate everything I learned in that class. Because I studied foreign languages, I had to learn different grammar points. Believe it or not, learning grammar in English class helped my understanding of grammar for foreign languages which allowed me to learn them faster.


You Know More


Let’s be honest, the more you know, the more informed decisions you can make. You have a better understanding of the world around you and while you may not have that much experience (at least if you are currently a full-time student), you can learn from the experience of others. Just knowing more can help you generate ideas for an problem you may have. Maybe an idea you got focusing on the topic you hate leads you to think of an idea for something you like. Heck, maybe just because you hate suffering through a certain topic so much, you devise an easier way to learn it and then you teach others how to quickly and effectively learn that same subject.. The possibilities are endless.


You Might Like the Subject Years Later


You never know if you will one day suddenly become interested in a subject that you once thought was boring, or even if you don’t like it, having an at least basic knowledge of it would be beneficial for you for a particular circumstance. You never know, so why not just learn it anyway? I’ve had that happen to me so many times. I used to think biology was boring in high school and then found it really cool in college. Same with economics history, chemistry, and some other subjects. Right now ,you doubt you’ll ever need the subject, but things change, your interests and tastes develop. Save yourself time later, learn it now.


In the next post, I’ll talk about how we can focus on learning these subjects we hate.

We Are All Beginners

No matter how far you get in any pursuit, there is still more to learn. What the standard person considers to be an “expert” or “master” is really just an advanced beginner. It’s when you finally start to understand art/discipline/field as a whole and then try to find out new things that no one has learned before.


Consider the black belt in a martial art. Are they really amazing at the art? Compared to an average person, indeed they are. But being a black belt simply means the person has learned all the different techniques to a basic level. The next step is true understanding of the art, learning how the different skills are interrelated, and how to apply the skills in a number of situations, as well as more advanced concepts that may be overwhelming without the base that a blackbelt has. I’ve talked with several people that are blackbelts in various martial arts, and they told me that there are still times that they get their @$$es handed to em. They recognize that there is always more to learn.


I like to make this comparison. A person becoming a black belt is like a carpenter or handyman gathering tools. He buys the tool, and have a basic knowledge of how to use it. Becoming a black belt is obtaining most of the tools that he will need. Does this mean that he is an expert carpenter or handyman? Again, compared to a normal person, he is better. Unfortunately though, having a bunch of tools does not mean that you are a master of the trade, it just means you have a basic understanding of the tools. The next step is to truly master each of the tools, to know the full extent to which each can be used, and to fully understand the trade. It’s in doing this that you learn the “neat little tricks” or trade secrets.


On the way to becoming a master, you try to expand your knowledge beyond what a book can teach you. You try to create your own techniques. You experiment. And from that experimentation comes more understanding of what can and can’t be done.


Don’t think that because you “mastered” something that there is nothing left for you to learn. Keep an open mind, if someone brings up something that challenges what you’ve learned, you can still look into what they say. Maybe they were wrong, maybe they were right. Either way, you can build off of what they say and come to a greater understanding of your discipline.


Don’t stop at mastery, you are always a beginner at something.