From the comments in a recent post, You’ve Probably Read Enough, Joe left an insightful thought:
“This might go without saying, but it really helps to have a project. In fact, I’d say it’s the key to learning. If you just sit down and say “I want to learn this” all you end up doing is reading and implementing examples, and chances are, you’ll retain absolutely nothing.”
Looking back on intense periods of learning that I’ve had, all of them had a project attached to it.
When my bank account was quickly approaching zero and I had to generate some additional income I convinced a friend to let me build his business a website for $300. I had never done it before despite wishing I could. The motivation attached to a project fueled my learning.
About a year ago when I was the second employee, after a graphic designer, at a start-up that still needed a website, that provided another big chance to grow through a project.
So how can you learn something and get out of the “wishing” phase?
There are two things that will make it much, much easier (though not easy) to learn anything:
1. Motivation or a deep desire to learn
2. A project
In the great book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, they break down what makes someone change their behavior.
To make a change in your behavior, you need need to get what they call the elephant and the rider in sync.
The elephant is your motivation or your “drive” to do something.
The rider is the rational part of us. It is directed by reason.
While elephant provides the gas, the rider steers the car and picks a direction.
How this applies to learning:
Being constantly curious gives me the fleeting interest of learning a lot of new things. But desire is rarely enough to get me to the point of actually learning. My elephant needs a rider.
It’s not until I have the desire and a project to apply it to that I really begin to learn.
When you have a project to apply your motivation, everything changes. You have direction, a path to follow, and progress is much more visible. And hopefully by the end of it you have something of value.
If you’re stuck with untapped motivation, consider taking on a project.
Connect with me on Twitter: @BenNesvig