Two out of three American high school students are bored in class at least every day, 50% report skipping school, and 22% have considered dropping out.
What about you? How do you feel about learning?
If you have a second, take a moment to answer these questions:
If you wake up every day and think, "Wow - Another day! What can I learn today?", then I really commend you. You have kept the love of learning that you once had as a small child.
Unfortunately, the majority of people have lost the zest and excitement that we all used to associate with learning.
The Love of Learning in Childhood
Have you seen a child learn to walk? They try, then they fall down. They get back up and try again. This goes on for days (maybe even weeks).
When you were small, no one told you that you had to learn to walk. You wanted to learn. When you fell, you just got back up and kept on trying until you mastered the skill.
So it was with nearly everything you learned when you were a small child. You were like a sponge - observing and learning and trying new things.
You wanted to expand your skills, knowledge, and abilities, and you kept trying until you got it. Eating with a fork? "I want to learn that!" Read a book? "I want to be able to do that!"
The passionate desire to learn is innate. It was there then - and if it has dimmed, you can bring it back so you feel that burning desire to learn once again.
Think back to when you were about five years old. Do you remember when you learned to ride a bike? How about learning something you enjoyed, like playing the piano or drawing or cooking? Stepping into that big kindergarten class for the first time?
Maybe these things were intimidating or scary, but you didn't let that stop you. You wanted to grow and learn, so you did it anyway. And you kept at it until you either mastered the skill or decided you didn't want it anymore.
When the Love of Learning Gets Crushed
A lot of different things can happen to us to squelch that innate love of learning that all children harbor.
When you were two or three, you probably asked a lot of questions. Toddlers are notorious for asking, "Why?" a hundred times a day.
If the big people around you who you trusted and looked up to responded with frustration or anger or said things like, "Just do it, and shut up; you don't need to know why", your desire to learn took a hit. You started to learn that questioning was bad. Learning started to seem to be not so fun after all.
And sadly, our educational system plays a big part in turning that exciting eagerness to learn into a dreaded, boring activity.
Think about it. Imagine yourself back in 5th grade. You probably spent 7 hours a day sitting in a dull classroom listening to a monotone voice talking at you, telling you a bunch of facts about things that you were just not interested in.
You came home, and instead of playing, your mom made you go upstairs and sit and read more about that subject that seemed useless and boring.
Then you had to go back to school and take a test. And most tests are designed to simply see if you can memorize facts and spit them back out on demand. Maybe you were good at it, and maybe you weren't. But most likely, you forgot 98% of those "facts" a week (or even a day!) after the test was over.
And what happened when you came up with a new or different way of doing things? Well, schools are designed to teach so that you think the same way they think. You are to act the way they expect you to behave. You are to sit still, be quiet and obedient, and not make waves.
If you did your math problem using a novel approach, you probably got it marked wrong, even though you still came up with the right answer. Because, in general, schools squash individuality and creative thinking.
All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think…Education is the system that's supposed to develop our natural abilities and enable us to make our way in the world. Instead, it is stifling the individual talents and abilities of too many students and killing their motivation to learn.
Peter Gray, PhD echoes a similar idea, but in a more straightforward way:
But I think it is time that we say it out loud. School is prison.
If you think school is not prison, please explain the difference.At some level of their consciousness, everyone who has ever been to school knows that it is prison. How could they not know? But people rationalize it by saying (not usually in these words) that children need this particular kind of prison and may even like it if the prison is run well. If children don't like school, according to this rationalization, it's not because school is prison, but is because the wardens are not kind enough, or amusing enough, or smart enough to keep the children's minds occupied appropriately.
You are Smart – Even If You Did Poorly in School
Unless you were born with a mental disability, the fact is that you are smart.
It doesn't matter if you succeeded in school or if you didn't. Those days are gone - so let it go. It's time to retrain your brain to realize the truth.
Degrees and education and credentials don't make you smart. They can help you stuff more facts in your head. They can help you explore new ways of thinking and solving problems.
But there are a LOT of smart people who don't have the education or the certificates and degrees who succeed in life financially, emotionally, and socially.
Fix Your Beliefs
Beliefs are extremely powerful.
What you believe about yourself and the world determines your physical state, your emotional state, your social state, and your financial state.
If you've had some negative experiences associated with school or with learning in general, you've probably adopted some beliefs that need revisited and revised.
Here are a few beliefs some people cling to, whether consciously or subconsciously:
- I'm not good at ______ (math, science, cooking, drawing, etc.).
- My teachers/parents/sister/friends thought I was dumb, so I must be.
- People don't like know-it-alls.
- Learning is for nerds.
- I can't _______ (sing, solve problems, finish what I start, do math, etc.).
Your brain likes to play tricks on you sometimes. One of those tricks happens when we adopt a certain belief.
When you decide something is true and you adopt it as a belief, your brain then does whatever it can to reinforce that belief and make it seem true for you. This is called confirmation bias.
When beliefs are threatened or attacked, your brain feels like it will lose its identity, and it doesn't want that. So it defends, attacks, gets scared, gets angry, and most of all, searches for (and finds) proof that the current belief is the "right" one.
So what does that mean for you?
It means that it's not easy to change a belief. Not easy, maybe, but definitely doable!
If you continue to think "I can't...." or "I'm not smart", your brain will look for evidence to prove that you're right. But if you start saying "I am smart! I can do anything", your brain will shift gears (maybe not right away, though), and it will look for those incidents and events where you were smart and where you were able to do anything.
Let's take a generic example. Say you wake up late for work, and because you're late for a very important appointment, you're feeling mad at the world.
You get in the car and drive to work, and you're speeding the whole way. It seems like everyone is going 20mph day! You think "Why are these people determined to make my life miserable?"
You really take notice at the car that cuts you off as you try to switch lanes. You notice every red light. You notice the grandma gripping both hands on the steering wheel while driving 30 mph.
Your brain is proving you right. The fact is, there are other things to notice, as well, but your brain's not paying attention to those things.
Did you notice the flowering trees with their white spring flowers as you flew by? Did you notice the 4 green lights you were lucky enough to hit? Did you notice the people who moved over and got out of your way as you sped by? Probably not.
The brain sees what it wants to see in order to reinforce your thoughts and beliefs.
The point is, if you don't take time to examine and change those negative beliefs you have about learning, your brain will find a way to sabotage any effort you make to learn or to renew your passion for learning.
It's not always obvious, either. Say you want to change, and you want to enroll in a course online to learn something new.
If you secretly think "I can't do this. I'm not smart", your brain WILL find a way to make you unsuccessful to prove that your beliefs are correct.
You'll get "sick" and miss class. You'll have a car accident (God forbid), and find a reason why you can't continue with the class. Something will happen, and even though it might seem "random" or "external", a lot of times it's your subconscious beliefs and thoughts that make such things occur.
So, it really is important to examine what it is you really think, then work to adopt more helpful beliefs instead.
Here are ten actionable steps you can take right now to rekindle your love of learning. Click each headline below to read more about it.
Imagine what kind of world this would be if we all rekindles that innate love of learning we once had.
Creativity and innovation would escalate. We'd have better social and political systems, and schools that kids actually wanted to go to, and.....well, you can think about that.
The one takeaway from all this is that you are smart. You are talented.
Maybe you haven't seen it or developed it or explored it. Maybe some bad childhood experiences or negative beliefs have cut off the flow of passion, but it IS possible to rekindle it, whether you're 16 or 60.
You have a lot to contribute to the world, and you can do that better if you make learning a daily, lifelong adventure.
I'll leave you with this video. It's an experiment done on gamification. They wanted to see if they could get more people to take the stairs if they gamified it. Here's what happened:
What do You Think?What makes you love to learn? Share your tips in the comments below.
When you were a kid, I bet you loved to learn. As we get older, though, life happens and the passion to learn often dies. Learn why the passion fades, and get actionable steps you can take to today to rekindle that excitement and passion for learning. We'll cover:
- Poll: Where Do You Stand?
- The Love of Learning in Childhood
- When the Love of Learning Gets Crushed
- Video: Eddy Zhong TED Talk
- You Are Smart - Even if You Did Poorly in School
- Video: Suli Breaks
- Fix Your Beliefs
- 10 Actionable Steps to Rekindle Your Love of Learning
- Video: Gamification