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Learn faster by giving up the fear of embarrassment

It is obvious that human beings are well equipped to adapt to changes within or around them. Whether we’re thinking about the science of evolution or research on how we regulate emotions, there’s plenty of evidence that humans are good learners. It is possibly what we do best, what distinguishes us from other species. And we also know that much of learning feels good. Our brains are happier when they are used (if we measure happiness by things like nutrients consumed or produced). Our minds are also happy when we gain new knowledge and even happier when we can use that knowledge to get the results we like.

Therefore, it must take something powerful to prevent human beings from seeking an experience that feels good while doing it and produces useful results. Why isn’t every market filled with people looking for the latest and greatest ways to learn?

What stops almost everyone is fear. It is not fear that they cannot learn. It is the fear that they will feel embarrassed while learning. The fear that the learning process will leave you exposed and vulnerable prevents people from learning more, learning faster, and enjoying themselves more. We only need to embarrass ourselves once and we can restart eons of evolution. The learn switch is moved to standby and we wait for a situation that feels safe enough for us to get back to “playing”.

The problem is that there are relatively few options for learning in the environments that feel safest. They are the environments in which we have already learned most of what there is to learn, environments that are safe because we already know them. It’s possible to learn in finer increments in this kind of security, but it’s much more difficult to learn the big, new things that would make a big difference to our well-being or performance.

If you want to learn something great, new, and wonderfully useful, you have to pay the price of admission. You have to sign a waiver that says something like, “I promise not to sue if I feel confused or embarrassed by my experience on this playground.”

When you think about it, every time you were afraid of learning, you were also afraid of being embarrassed. While you may want to disguise that fear as a fear of failure, it wasn’t really the possibility of failure that held you back. You have failed in many things that were not terminal. In a crisis, the moment failure is real and inevitable, you probably know how to deal with it. You may not like it, but it won’t stop you from trying.

What keeps you from trying is the terror of being vulnerable and knowing that other people see that you don’t understand and that you’re not competent. You will lose all your calm. You could lose status or you could lose confidence. You may see yourself through the eyes of those watching you and lose faith in your ability to learn, master new skills, and succeed.

The best way to avoid this terror is to start with it in mind. Know that learning means you will be confused, exposed, and incompetent. And then ask yourself: Is the change you want worth the risk? Because confusion and vulnerability are only fatal if you are truly determined to make them fatal. For most people, they are a temporary inconvenience on the way to something much more important.

Yes. You are afraid that people will see you in a way that you don’t like to see yourself. C’est possible. (Although, it’s like the old nuggets about caring about what clothes you choose to wear. You’re walking into a room full of people who are so worried about their own choices that they might not even notice yours.) Of course, it’s much better to study with someone who understands that feeling of terrified vulnerability and builds some protection for you in the process. But in the end, there is a question that overcomes how scared you are.

What will be better when you are working at full human capacity to learn in a way that feels good and produces great results?

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