Or to put it another way how soon do we give up trying to learn something and why?

Before we start to analyse our own learning and make the decision as to what we can and can’t do we learn to walk and to talk and we learn a basic social etiquette. All of these situations require trial and error, often failures and sometimes we excel and sometimes we are just okay at it to begin with. I don’t think any of us give up learning to talk or walk even though at first we have very little to go on.  Imagine sitting there and thinking you will never get the hang of this walking thing never mind running as you have seen others do.  “Nope walking is not for me I think I will just sit this one out!”

What is it that keeps us going then? It could be the rewards on offer or the encouragement we get to keep trying. Could it be that everyone expects us to accomplish this task. That is as long as we look as though we should be able to do it. After all walking is a minimum expectation achievement for the human race. When we fall do people say “Well he gave it a go. Never mind eh, keep the buggy handy.” No they offer encouragement, endless amounts of it and they have expectations. We believe we can walk because others around us believe it too and it is expected of us plus there is plenty of encouragement. Remove the expectation and the encouragement and I wonder what we would achieve.

Another reason we do not give up is that we have yet to experience “total” failure as opposed to “temporary” failure which is when we give up trying altogether. You know when you reach total failure because you begin to work out reason for not being able to do something.  You don’t have the talent, the skill or the patience to do something and you tell others around you this so they will stop encouraging you.

I believe we reach total failure when we see the effort as too much and it is not outweighed by the encouragement we receive. As we begin to learn we develop a learning effort threshold and this has a direct link to effort we are willing to make. There are of course things that can override this but many of these factors are negative in nature. For example when our survival instincts kicks in, when we feel threatened or fearful about something happening to us such as being embarrassed or shamed.  The positive experiences such as praise must be directed at the effort made if they are to be effective. Experiences that push us to achieve more can be used to move that effort learning threshold but only if the person recognises what they have achieved was down to them and can see that it was effort related and not luck or some other external factor.

I like to think of these learning experiences as the drawing of a “learning map”, a 3 dimensional terrain that depicts what we believe we can and cannot achieve. Our belief system, our view of “self” is our compass by which we navigate this map. The paths we are willing to take are influenced by how much effort we are willing to make, the risks we are willing to take and the rewards we have experienced.  The map is drawn and sometimes erased and re-drawn throughout our lives and it is our reference whenever we come across something new. Questions arise like “Have I seen something like this before and what was the outcome?” We make our risk versus reward calculations and decide to make the effort and try or look for the excuses and give up.

What do you think, how do you decide what you can and cannot learn and why do you give up?