The very first part to gaining knowledge is to allow it in — into our brain. There were many times when I would crack open a book and dive in to the material only to throw my hands up in frustration minutes later. I was “studying”, but I wasn’t really ready to let the material in. Taking a minute to prepare my mind before I dive into any work, but especially something technical has been one of the best and most effective tools for me in my learning exploration.
In order to “allow information in” consider the psychology required to learn tech (or any hard skill). Our psychology is driven by the words that we speak in order heads or — self-talk. When we allow ourselves the option of not having learned something “yet”, we are telling ourselves that we will learn it. We are saying although it might require traveling down a few different paths before we find the right one, it is inevitable that we will figure it out.
In her groundbreaking research, Carol Dweck set forth a movement with her Growth Mindset concept from the book Mindsets. As opposed to the Fixed Mindset, the Growth Mindset offers thoughts such as “I haven’t learned that yet”, “this is tough, but I will get it” and “what are other ways to approach this challenge?” The Fixed Mindset conversely echos in our heads thoughts of “you can’t do this”, “you’re not smart enough” and “you’ll never figure this out”. The truth is that none of us is really fully one mindset or the other. We can embrace either one given a specific circumstance. The advantage the Growth Mindset offers is in opening up the brain to possibilities of learning — we allow the knowledge in. The Fixed Mindset language shuts down learning and offers only quitting as a solution. The fundamental learning principle that positive self-talk provides is in the learning that it allows. Without the execution of mental self-talk that is rooted in a Growth Mindset, it is hard to be successful in tech. Tech is a world of complex intricacies, but also a world that is constantly changing. In order to be successful, a Growth Mindset can allow our brains to be opened, to process and to develop solutions that are complex and involve newness of information.
When we talk about positive self-talk and Growth Mindset, we are talking about is metacognition — thinking about what we are thinking about.
Becoming aware of our metacognition — thinking about what we are thinking about — is a powerful learning tool. Implementing a Growth Mindset can be infinitely more plausible if we learn to identify what we are thinking about it and then directing it towards internal language that promotes learning.
One of the best way to think about what we are thinking about is to write it down. It can be challenging to recall what we were thinking at a specific time or place. By writing it down, when we encounter a similar difficulty, we can identify that signal and by naming it, we are more easily able to shut down Fixed Mindset language and replace it with Growth Mindset language. So by writing down our challenges and documenting how we overcame them, we are developing metacognitive strategies that develop our understanding and expand our learning.
Some questions to ask when developing metacognitive strategies that are rooted in the Growth Mindset are:
- What was the solution?
- What language did I use to arrive at that solution?
- What strategy would I use next time to get to the solution quicker?
Once we have language that promotes learning (instead of preventing it), the way to improve learning is through execution. Perfect practice makes perfect. Applying a similar solution under multiple different scenarios (e.g, one API in multiple different environments or multiple API’s within one environment) will enable a deeper level of understand that puts you on the road to mastery. If you practice writing multiple different API’s you will begin to see patterns emerge that will both solidify and strengthen your learning.
By retrieving the information again and again, but over a span of time, we build execution muscles because it becomes second nature, just something we do. After writing a JS include statement about 100 times over several months, we just know it. It becomes part of our knowledge-base and so retrieving it is easily accomplished. Creating a clickable wireframe for a quick user flow to test out a scenario is seamless once we’ve done it over and over again. Using the same software makes it even faster! But the speed and ease of these tasks is not the end goal. The end goal is that with these tasks being easy we reduce cognitive load that then frees up our minds to think through more complicated scenarios. We are able to solve harder, more involved problems.
Using the tools of a Growth Mindset, metacognition and spaced retrieval provide the tools for knowledge, understanding and execution that lay the foundation for tech champion status. These three sciences of learning will enable you to start faster and go further than you ever thought possible!
Happy tech learning!