Feb 25, 2011
Why aren’t you learning faster?
For me, one answer is: because I’m not asking questions. I blunder through conversations trying to “do my job”, or to look good, or elaborating my own theories, or allowing cached replies to come out of my mouth on autopilot. I blunder through readings, scanning my eyes over the words and letting thoughts strike me as they may. Rarely am I pulled by a specific desire to know.
And most of my learning happens at those rare times.
How about you? When you read, how often do you chase something? When you chat with your friends -- are you curious about how they’re doing, why their mouth twitched as they said that, or why exactly they disagree with you about X? When you sit down to write, or to do research -- are you asking yourself specific questions, and then answering them?
Are there certain situations in which you get most of your useful ideas -- situations you could put yourself in more often?
Lately, when I notice that I’m not curious about anything, I’ve been trying to interrupt whatever I’m doing. If I’m in a conversation, and neither I nor my interlocutor is trying to figure something out, I call a mini “halt, melt, and catch fire” (inside my head, at least), and ask myself what I want. Surely not stale conversations. If I’m writing, and I don’t like the sentence I just wrote -- instead of reshuffling the words in the hopes that the new version will just happen to be better, I ask myself what I don’t like about it.
Thus, for the past six months, several times a day, I've interrupted my thoughts and put them back on an “ask questions” track. (“Grrr, he said my argument was dishonest... Wait, is he right? What should it look like if he is?”; “I notice I feel hopeless about this paper writing. Maybe there’s something I should do differently?”) It's helping. I'm building the habit of interrupting myself when I'm "thinking" without trying to find something out, or taking actions that I expect won't accomplish anything. As a human, I’m probably stuck running on habits -- but I can at least change *which* habits I run on.