August 8, 2012

Learning in the Discomfort Zone


I’ve been thinking lately about how learning is something that feels uncomfortable.

Feeling like you might fail is risky.  Challenging your assumptions, looking deeper and considering alternative perspectives is uncomfortable.  Your brain is working hard at new ways of thinking and being. 

Children are amazing learners.  They really want to learn no matter the frustration and discomfort.  Watch them learning to walk.  The fall over.  They get up and try again.  They fall over.  They fall over a lot!  They change something and try again.  They have no fear of making a mistake or looking silly.

Adults like to stick with things we know we can handle, the things that are familiar and comfortable.  But learning and growth comes from new, unfamiliar things.  This is referred to as disjuncture (Peter Jarvis, Learning from Everyday Life, HSSRP, vol. I, no. 1 (2012): 1–20)   -

"we can take our world for granted because we are in harmony with it. But the world is not a constant and unchanging place and so there are times when we cannot take it for granted and we are forced to ask questions: Why? How? What does it mean? and so forth. This is disjuncture – we have to find new explanations, new knowledge, new ways of doing things – in other words, we must learn." 

Disjuncture motivates us to learn to regain our feeling of comfort, independence and our confidence in our ability to learn and handle new challenges.

When you are learning you want to feel inspired, challenged, stretched and a little uncomfortable.  You aren't learning if you are feeling so at ease that you are bored, uninspired or falling back on the same behaviours all the time.

Don't let your discomfort with something new dictate what you can and can't do.  It's uncomfortable to practice a skill again and again.  It's uncomfortable adjusting to a new habit, like exercising every day or eating differently.  Sometimes it's uncomfortable being in a situation where someone you love is hurting and knowing there isn't much you can do - but that is a time of learning about yourself and about the strengths of other people.

When was the last time you took up an uncomfortable learning challenge?  Are you coasting along feeling confident or are you challenging yourself?

Starting to work as a teacher has been a big learning challenge for me recently.  This year is the first time I’ve had my own class.  There’s a new curriculum to understand and work with, new colleagues and work environment to manage and a myriad of other challenges.  For 3 months, it felt like I was drowning and had so much to do that I would never achieve it all.  But now I am comfortable managing day-to-day challenges, I know how the work environment operates and what’s required.  I am starting to feel that I could take on something new to improve my performance.

What challenges or life experiments could you try?

Think about your career, relationships, travel, recreation or any large area of your life.  What new skills would you like to learn or that it would be helpful for you to have?  What new projects could you take on?  What have you always wanted to do, but just felt too nervous to try?  These answers to these questions were the inspiration behind some of the goals on my life list.

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