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  • Writer's pictureAnna

The Magic and Pain of Learning

Excerpts from the "Humans Not Robots" Newsletter

shelves full of books

We often read about how artificial intelligence works, how it learns, how algorithms work. I do it because I want to understand the magic behind it and the danger it brings.

Clarke's third law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Well, I couldn't agree more. And because we humans are also very advanced technology, I frequently catch myself thinking that what is happening inside me is, if not magic, then at least, something deeply unknown and complicated, like technology I can't get. That is why today I want to share some thoughts about discovering my very own learning model.

The Inevitable Pain, Confusion and All That Jazz of Learning

Few months ago, I had an opportunity to examine my own way of learning, creating new patterns, habits and neural connections. And man, it's a pain! It is fun and there is magic, but it costs so much energy, only the strongest motivation can support such expense. Programming oneself (aka learning a new skill) is harder than building a very sophisticated data processing system. My inner child was often whining that it should be easier! But somehow it isn't. We are not thought at schools how humans learn. We are just being thought literature, biology, math and other subjects, rarely something about ourselves. We are not too well prepared to take over and build self-education programs. Often it's not so clear where to even start.

Stating the obvious, most of the readers of this blog learn constantly. We learn for the job, we learn how to manage our lives, we learn new skills, and we obtain new expertise. In activist life, there is constantly something new to learn about our cause and we can't stay behind if we want to achieve "up-to-date" change. And then there is all this management part of one's life with all the important aspects like health and self-care and getting along with other humans. Learning is inevitable and it's good to know how to do it well.

Learning is inevitable and it's good to know how to do it well.


So this is what I learned about learning when at the age of 35, when I started working on getting my driving's licence.

#1 Teacher-Student connection matters. A lot!

I had 4 different driving's licence instructors, and only with one the process was inefficient and cost me many difficult emotions. With 3 others, there was no such problem. It was hard to listen only to this one teacher, and of course, it was harder to learn from him. If I had lessons only with him, I would doubt myself and thought I was the one to blame because I was not bright enough or too emotional. But with the other three, it was all fine. Learning was still hard, but it wasn't blood, pain and tears.

My takeaway: if you don't feel the flow with your teacher (or textbook, or educational material), it's not worth forcing yourself. Trust yourself and spend this energy on looking for something that it will be easier to connect to. If it's impossible to change it, think about what is bugging you there and how to make it more accessible to your own needs, because your needs are important.

#2 New material (vocabulary, concepts) initially takes a bigger toll

Already twice this year I stepped into completely new topics for me. On one side I'm trying to understand cognitive science, on the other, the rules of traffic. Both times it felt strange how tired I was when trying to grasp the basic concepts, and I was getting dizzy in the net of new words.

Like in the gym, warming up is not the worst idea. I decided to take it slower. But most of all I stopped pushing myself too much in the beginning, and I planned to learn according to my fluency with the subject. Humility helped in not overworking myself, and giving myself more time paradoxically speed up the whole process.

#3 I'm not linear and neither is my education

I felt a strong need to see how the engine works, I wanted to understand all the icons on the cockpit. My instructor reluctantly explained it to me, and it helped me to get a small success of finally understanding something, when mastering driving's coordination was still too big of a challenge. Hyperlinked education takes a bit more time, but for me, it shows more context and keeps me interested.

Ask questions that are not in the program, don't get discouraged by the step-by-step approach of it will be explained/practiced later. Instead, especially in the beginning, trust yourself because we all have different ways to learn. Answering real questions and needs helps in keeping motivation alive.

#4 When it's painful, it doesn't mean it's impossible

I was this bright kid who was rewarded for the talent, not for my hard work. And now I struggle when I can't excel at something in the very beginning, I get demotivated easily and I lose faith.

What helps, is having strong motivation and keeping reminding myself about it. In the case of driving's licence, it is how much I need mobility and the independence that the car gives. This, together with the sense of fulfilling my long-term dream, supports me even when I'm failing test after test.

ps. if you wonder - yes, coaching is all about learning too, exactly because after setting a new goal, we need to learn a lot in order to achieve it. Working with a coach helps in keeping motivation, but also helps in making the process manageable.


This is an excerpt from my newsletter from February, twice a month I send a "Humans Not Robots" Newsletter exploring something that is deeply human in complicated reality of XXI century. Besides the perspective, in every newsletter you can find some digital goodies, along with news on where you can find me and what is new.

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