I struggle with my learning goals, even today. I use the ‘word’ struggle because I know how to repair the process, but that repair tends to be inconsistent and needs constant attention and care.

Last month, as I was struggling to complete an online course, I went down a rabbit hole to understand `How can we really build consistency in our learning goals with distractions, life events and our very close friend named ‘procrastination’? 

In this blog, I will share why we deprioritize learning and 3 actionable takeaways to build consistency in learning.

Why do we ‘deprioritize’ learning? 

1. Inactive learning

Inactive or passive learning is learning by consumption over learning by creation. For example, asynchronous online courses are passive, one-directional and the outcomes are focused on the learners’ consumption over creation. If we learn passively, our brain builds ‘stories’. It assumes that our learning goals are not as important as other priorities. 

2. Distractions

Distractions are entertaining. We created distractions to relax and let our minds wander. Instead, today our distractions lead our days and divert our attention consistently. For example, as I write this article, my twitter tab is open and I feel like it’s calling my name. 

3. Procrastination

Tim Urban is one of my favorite creators. He built his blog ‘Wait But Why before blogs were a thing. In his Ted Talk, Tim speaks about the ‘Procrastination Monkey’ who pushes away the rational decision maker and encourages us to dive down rabbit holes instead of doing the task at hand.

Procrastination in learning is directly proportional to:

  • If you like the topic at hand
  • If you want to learn the topic at that moment
  • If you are able to apply the learning with practice

Bruce Lee once said ‘Long term consistency beats short term intensity’.

This quote is a reality check. As we take on new goals and challenges, our energy in the short term is high and diluted in the long term. 

How do we prioritize consistency over intensity in learning?

1. Flexible consistency

Anne-Laure Le Cunff wrote about the power of flexible consistency in her blog, Ness Labs. In this article, Anne-Laure encourages us to plan for disruptions and build a system to help us get back on the routine. She also highlights that if we derail, it’s key to stick to the schedule and reduce the scope of the goal

2. Consistency needs space

I took Barbara Oakley’s course, Learning How to Learn, and was astonished with how the brain works and how we can train it to learn better. In her course, Barbara Oakley highlights how our brain works in two different modes:

  • Focused mode: In this mode, our brain is ‘on duty’.
  • Diffused mode: In this mode, our brain is ‘off duty’. 

If we learn with intensity without breaks, we push our brain to be in constant ‘focused mode’ and ignore the much needed ‘diffuse mode’. To build consistency, we need to:

  • Create learning blocks – This block tells our brain that we are ready to focus and engage
  • Create space between learning blocks – This block gives our brain much needed rest and time to wander

3. Practice

After each ‘learning block’, create ‘practice blocks’. Let’s take an example: Joe is learning Spanish with the help of a learning app. He reads about buying groceries and wants to practice. How can Joe practice his Spanish?

  • Joe can call his friend and ‘role play’ his purchase at the grocery market.
  • Joe can draw out simple stick figure characters and use that setting to practice.

Practice helps our brain create links and find ways to build connections in the information. If Joe calls his friend or practices using art, he is creating auditory and visual links to help retain

Consistency in learning does not mean learning every day. It’s about creating a schedule that fits our life depending on other priorities

Unlearning Thought

How many times have you deprioritized ‘diffuse mode’? 

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