Learn slower

What’s the rush?

Learn slower

One of my favourite articles of all time is Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years by Peter Norvig. The synopsis of the article is to learn slower, as in, building good skills, worthwhile skills like programming take time.

You see courses teaching speed learning or speed reading, or do X in 24-hours and get fit in six weeks. And it's clear the modern world loves speed, but speed is a marketing tactic.

I've been spending time on a farm, and if you go into nature for long enough you'll see Mother Nature doesn’t wear a watch. Everything moves at its own pace. Going the speed it needs to go.

So knowing this and knowing the modern world loves speed. A real good way to differentiate yourself is to create your own timeline.

Use your biology as a clock.

If you're trying to learn something, challenge yourself yes but let it go at the pace it needs to go. And if something becomes boring, abandon it.

School does a terrible job of making learning feel like you have to learn this, you have to learn that. Simultaneously convincing you to learn everything and leaving you feeling like you know nothing. And if it's not hard, you're not doing it right.

The education system promises you the cookie you're after at the end of high school.

But wait, there's another cookie.

It's at the end of university.

Oh, you've finished your undergraduate?

Beautiful. Well, we have another cookie for you. How about some post-graduate study, a masters degree? You'll get that beautiful cookie at the end, promise!

Oh, you’ve finished your masters?

Well, now we have a PhD for you, just a little more, a little more learning. And then you'll finally feel like you've learned something.

I failed my first two years of university. So I'm not the best one to talk about a concept like this. Nor is this an argument against universities, they have their place, it’s an argument against learning in a rush.

Every time I've learned something because I've had to learn it, as in, I've been force-fed some curriculum that's over fluffed (because universities are so expensive these days they have to load you up on extra materials that aren't necessary because you have to feel like you're getting your money's worth), I've forgotten everything. Trying to learn what I had to learn led me to ask the question "what's on the exam?" rather than "what am I curious about?"

The same is true for a lot of books these days, 300 pages of fluff around 10 pages of good stuff. What should've been left as a blog post is now turned into a New York Times bestseller.

Whereas things I’ve learned because I’ve wanted to or books I’ve read because I liked the cover and wasn’t bored to tears by the first 10 pages, I remember like a nostalgic smell.

And so my argument against concepts like speed reading and speed learning doing something fast is twofold.

First, nature doesn't really care about time. And going against nature rarely works out well.

Second, if something is fun to learn, if something is fun to read, if I'm really enjoying a book, I don't want it to end. I don't want to speed it up.

Have you ever been reading a really good book and got to the last 10 chapters, the last 10 pages and prolonged it? Maybe you start reading only one page a night. Prolonging it because you don't want it to finish.

You get up excited in the morning if you're learning something new, excited to continue connecting the dots.

The cookie at the end of the road is nice but I much prefer following the trail of crumbs.

Recall learning to ride a bike as a child or learning almost anything as a child, you would play, you wouldn't try to hurry things up.

I don't remember asking anyone, “how long will it take for me to learn to ride a bike?”

I get many questions of this nature.

How long will it take me to learn to code?
How do I learn machine learning faster?

And I can understand where the questions come from because I too used to be of that mindset.

But every time I've tried to rush something, as in, tried to learn something faster than what it could be learned, it's caused avoidable unhappiness.

Maybe it's necessary. Necessary to go through the pains of learning and trying to learn faster than you can, finding your limit and adjusting from there. Pain is a fantastic teacher.

Some like the grind. The grind of being unhappy unless you put in the work, put in the effort until they're on the verge of breaking. That's not my style.

My style is: if something's worth learning, I want to enjoy it.

When a child learns to ride a bike, a fall isn't a negative thing, it's information, it's a dot to jump to on the way to the next. One of the best feelings in the world. The hundred times you fall over when you're learning to ride a bike is what makes the first ride so enjoyable.

That's what I live for when I'm learning or creating something.

I don't want to speed up the process. I want to magically stumble upon one of those moments where one dot connects to another and learning becomes a beautiful dance. And a dance is always more fun when it's curiosity driven.

How enjoyable is it when someone says "you must dance"?

The same as when someone says "you must learn this!"

No thank you. I don't have to learn anything.

You don't have to adhere either.

The internet’s flowered into a wonderful place where you don't have to adhere to the traditional style of learning (though the real traditional style of learning is tinkering, placing small bets, remembering all of nature has to come to be with one tool: the mistake). You can create your own path. You can make it whatever you want.

If something doesn't interest you, if something's not fun, move to something else or figure out a way to make it fun.

Don't forget. If you do make it whatever you want, if you have the freedom to create your own path, you now also have the responsibility to keep creating it.

What's the rush?

Learn slower.

Make it fun.

You can see a video version of this riff on YouTube.