‘If you don’t like math, you will hate coding’. I have heard this statement multiple times growing up. Most of my career choices are a result of similar statements or myths. I am confident that if you reflect back on your choices, you will notice patterns of influence that have very little scientific data but are more rooted in conjecture and the fear of failure

Last week, I was listening to Adam Grant’s Rethinking podcast with neuroscientist Chantel Prat and it got me thinking about the overarching faith that we put in the brain myths and how they mold our choices. To date, some of these myths influence systemic decisions in education and the individual choices that follow.

In Adam’s Podcast, Chantel speaks about research that highlights how we learn to code. One of her studies debunks a common myth that the predictor of learning to code was not math or cognitive ability but language skills.

I remember one of the key reasons I did not choose engineering as a career choice was my love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with math. Through the years, I worked with engineers with diverse backgrounds. Some of them transitioned from a different field or art students who found coding by accident. These diverse individuals made me wonder if my fear of math was an irrational excuse. I was right and Chantel and Adam put a pin in it. 

In this blog, we will debunk learning myths and build actionable practices to question these myths in your daily life. 

Let’s look at some common myths and how they impact our actions:

1. Learning style myth

Myth: We all have a one learning style and do not learn if the content is presented in another manner. For example, a learner who loves learning by doing cannot learn by following videos.

Impact: If we follow this myth, we tend to avoid testing different styles and create a vacuum around us. 

While we do have preferences, we learn in multiple ways. 

2. Learning prerequisite myth

Myth: For example, you need to be good at math to succeed as an engineer. 

Impact: The impact of this myth is that it leads us to make decisions that are rooted in fear. Curriculum standards are set in place to help learners follow a certain path. In most cases, these are checklists that help instructors follow a pace. Instead of knee-jerk reactions to prerequisites or standards, it is better to understand the rationale and lean on research

3. The Left Brain v/s Right Brain myth

Myth: We are either left-brain or right-brain dominant. We are either logical or creative. 

Impact: We tend to box ourselves into thinking that we are either logical thinkers who love math or artists who are creative and hate logic. This myth is limiting

Armin Iraji, a research scientist in the Center for Translational Research in Neuroimaging & Data Science (TReNDS) debunks the right brain left brain myth in his research “You can think of the brain like an organization where employees work together to make the whole system run. For a long time, we thought brain networks were like departments or offices, where the same people were doing the same job every day. But it turns out that they may be more like coworking spaces, where people move in and out and there are different jobs being performed at any given time.” 

While there are other myths that are making the rounds, the question is how can we unlearn and relearn that our brains are unique and can be challenged and molded to achieve more than we can fathom?

Through the journey of Unlearning Labs, I discovered my love for writing, and building in public, and overcame the fear of failing in public and of course our dear friend procrastination. This journey was possible by following three practices and most importantly debunking myths. 

Practice 1: Efforts over everything

In another fantastic podcast by Adam Grant with Mark Cuban, Mark speaks about ‘following effort over passion’ and ‘letting the effort and results’ create passion. If our efforts are consistent, it is easy to debunk the learning myths and move forward. 

Practice 2: Be purposeful

A blind effort is worse than no effort. Writing has been a purposeful habit and it has shown me progress, and growth and connected me with a wonderful unlearning community. If purpose drives effort, it helps to keep myths at an arms length and helps us experiment and fail forward.

Practice 3: Belief in the long game

Another takeaway from Mark Cuban’s episode was his journey of Cost Plus and how it took the team three years to get through regulations to sell their first drug. This episode was remarkable for me. Mark, an entrepreneur, and investor who is immensely successful also needs to believe in the long-term effort for his new venture and it was inspiring to hear about his journey and the hoops he jumped to bring systemic changes in the healthcare industry. 

Unlearning Thought

Effort + Purpose + Belief in the long game = Recipe to debunk the learning myths