How to Learn ANYTHING!
The Most Important Skill as a Juggler is Knowing
How to Learn Something New.
Before you continue reading ask yourself these questions: 'If you could learn anything in the world what would it be?' and 'how hard are you willing to try?'
The secret to learning anything lies in understanding how the brain works. The brain records memories by connecting brain cells like making a picture by playing connect-the-dots. Whenever you practice or study something your brain plays connect-the-dots with a thin pencil line. That night, when you sleep and dream, your brain lightly 'inks in' all of the pencil lines from the day. When you do the same things or make the same choices day after day you trace over the same lines to make a stronger, more permanent 'ink' drawing. This is your brain cells making strong connections -or 'synapses'. In time, the things you have practiced become routine, whether it's learning information, skills, or behaviors.
So what does this mean?
It means there are two key factors to learning:
1. Practice every day
2. Sleep well every night
Is It Really That Simple?
Well, yes... but there are other factors that can get in the way.
The same rules for the brain apply to other things you learn, like choices and habits.
So when given a choice between practicing something new or doing what you always do, your brain will want to go back to your old routines just out of habit.
Is this a bad thing? Not really. It's just the way the brain works to process information easier and to repeat choices that worked in the past. You can probably make a sandwich while thinking about other things just because you've done it enough times -imagine if you had to look up the recipe every time you wanted one!
So replacing old habits for new ones can take some time -whether it's practicing a new skill, improving study routines, or changing a learned behavior. That's why it's so hard for people to start a new diet or to quit smoking.
Are You Stuck in a Rut?
The brain is a complex network of pathways and when we make choices we choose the most familiar pathways. This saves us the effort of having to think about everything we do throughout the day. Think about what brand of toothpaste you chose, or what you always order at the drive-thru. It may not be the best choice, but it is the one we know and it makes us feel comfortable. After all, if it works, why change it?
What if there is a better choice? Doing anything unfamiliar can feel risky and scary. Most of us wouldn't still be around if we didn't feel afraid of the unknown. But that fear can also prevent us from making choices towards self improvement. That's why we get stuck in a rut and keep repeating our flaws with eating habits, procrastination, and even relationships. It's frustrating to realize that you keep making the same mistakes over and over, but unfortunately it's human nature.
But you can also use those 'ruts' to your advantage. By making better choices more familiar you can start making new pathways. It is said that it takes as few as 21 days to make a new habit. So when you set a goal of changing a behavior, get a calendar (or download the Study and Practice chart) so you can mark off each day that you succeed.
Staying in Focus
Another important factor in learning is focus. When you are distracted your brain will remember the distractions and not the skill you are practicing. You also need to focus on the same goal every day, day after day. If you practice basketball one day, then music the next day, study history the next day, and play video games the day after that, you really won't get very good at anything. However if you do each of those activities every day you can actually get good at all of them!
How much practice do you need? Maybe not as much as you think. A memory doesn't really sink into the brain until you sleep and dream (when the pencil line gets 'inked in'). So whether you do the same thing 10 times or 1000 times in a day, your brain will retain the same amount of learning. Conventional wisdom says it's better to spend a little bit of time on many different skills or bits of information each day rather than focus on just one.
Can you practice too much? Practicing the same skill for too long can lead to fatigue and distraction. If you start making more mistakes than you did when you began your session you have practiced for too long. Now instead of remembering how to do it correctly your brain will remember doing it incorrectly. Do your best to end your session on a success.
One of the worst things you can do is to learn anything incorrectly. Then, not only do you need to relearn the correct technique, but you need to override the connections in your mind that you made before. It is very difficult to teach anyone who has learned something wrong. Imagine trying to tell someone that the world is round when the 'know' that it's flat. Things that are 'common knowlege' are not always true so don't always believe someone when they say 'everybody knows...' or 'it's obvious'.
Learning a new skill such as juggling creates new pathways in the brain and even grows new brain tissue. It is also possible for brain tissue to diminish over time to forget things we knew before. Drugs and alcohol are notorious for doing damage to brain tissue and breaking apart the connections we work so hard to create.
More important than anything you need desire. No one can make you want to learn, nor can you make someone else want to learn. The best teachers in the world can only show you the information, but only you can make the choice to focus, learn, and keep practicing day after day. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink!"
Desire also helps you get over another important hurdle: practicing on those days when you don't feel like it. Believe it or not, what you want most of all today may not feel as important tomorrow. Having the will power to make some progress on those off days will make the difference between being good and being great!
Why do I juggle? As a kid I took piano lessons. I had talent and plenty of encouragement but not much desire. I had to be reminded when to practice and told what to learn. When I discovered juggling at 14 no one ever needed to tell me to practice. I found something that I enjoyed doing, I set my own goals and practiced to achieve them. I would push myself to practice even when I didn't feel like it.
Now, think about how you answered the questions at the start of this article. What do you want to learn?Are you willing to try a little every day to achieve your goals? The first step will be to change your habits of procrastination and choose to make progress towards your goal a daily priority. It won't be easy at first but I know you can do it. Download the Study/Practice chart and Start TODAY!