Monday, October 06, 2014

Tough Stuff

Fun things often have rules. Rules often aren't fun. Blast. Chapter 3 of Steven Pinker's book The Sense of Style talks about The Curse of Knowledge and how 'the better you know something, the less you remember how hard it was to learn'. Part of this is the difficulty but another part is the lack of fun. Before something is exciting there has to be a spark of understanding or of inspiration. Once you have that flame burning, to teach or show someone something you need to be able to understand or remember what it is like without that. The early stages of learning something are often plain hard. The great teachers are the ones who can provide the energy or the drive to make it worth the hard slog up front. Perhaps they are even able to break a task down into small chunks when the hurdles are small enough to get a taste of the fun. To turn learning into a game.

Chapter 4 of Pinker's book is the bit that isn't fun. Grammar. Learning the rules is important since, as an example, it arms you 'when an editor or grammatical stickler claims to find an error in a sentence you wrote, but you don't see anything wrong with it, you can at least understand the rule in question well enough to decide for yourself whether to follow it'. Beyond just feeding your ability to defend yourself, having a solid foundation does allow you to have more fun later.

Drills. Fitness. Theory. Discomfort.

Part of gaining an ability to be able to pick up new skills is figuring out how to enjoy the 'horrible bits'. Like learning to enjoy washing the dishes by doing it with a glass of wine and some music playing. There are those who love ironing because they set it up in space of the house they love, create an atmosphere they enjoy and it becomes meditative. For those tasks though, you don't have to be mentally present for the task. For things where you have to be present, there must also be tricks.

I think that is the main role of mentors, coaches, teachers, study-buddies, being part of a team, or even just wanting to be able to use the new ability to engage with people at a later stage - to get a spark going, or keep a flame burning to make the tough stuff worth while.

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
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