The Uncomfortable Relationship between Learning and Quitting

Spectrum of Learning
Finance, Interpersonal Reconciliation, Careers, Marriage, Pixar, Video Games, and more. How do we keep a spectrum of learning without embracing chronic quitting?

I love learning. There’s something about obtaining more knowledge, about understanding that I now know how to do something or that I know about the history behind something, that I find incredibly fulfilling. And maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found over the years that I have a wide variety of interests. In the past 5 years, I’ve invested intentional time to learn about personal finance, stock market investing, hypermiling, fitness, building websites on WordPress, personal psychology, healthier eating, acoustic guitar, entrepreneurship, Toyota Supras, marriage and masculinity, and more, and that doesn’t even mention my undergraduate and graduate level studies. So, yeah, I think it’s safe to say that I love learning.

Unfortunately, loving to learn lends itself to habitual quitting. Y’see, in order to learn something new I am inevitably going to quit learning about/doing whatever I happened to be fascinated with most recently, if only for a time. So how does an avid learner avoid chronic quitting?

Obviously the solution isn’t to stop learning. After all, “once you stop learning, you start dying.” (FYI, that quote or similar ones has been attributed to a number of people including Albert Einstein, Isaac Asimov, and Tom Clancy.) And honestly, if you or I truly love learning, we couldn’t possibly stop learning – it would be like losing a part of who we are.

So how do we continue to learn about new things without creating or reinforcing a habit of quitting? That question has been reverberating through my mind constantly since starting eX-Quitter, and I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. Below I breakdown three different possible approaches that I can foresee.

Simultaneous Maintenance

First, the learner can attempt to maintain their learning of past interests alongside their new interests. The good news is that you won’t be a quitter if you keep up your learning. But the most obvious issue with this approach is that the learner will soon find that they have a ton of things that they’re learning simultaneously. Remember the list of topics I’ve studied over the past 5 years? There’s no way that I could have learned about all of those things to the same depth that I did if I was trying to learn about them all simultaneously. And if that’s the issue we run into over a period of 5 years, it probably won’t be sustainable for a lifetime of learning.

Focus on Categorical Learning

Second, the learner can attempt to narrow down the topics they are going to pursue for a time. Going back to the things I’ve recently learned about, you’ll see that they fall into general categories like “cars” or “finances”. So in this second approach, the learner would pick a category to learn about for a period of time, before moving on to something else. For example, you could spend two months learning about health and fitness and dig into body weight training vs. weight lifting, slow carb dieting vs. the paleo diet, Crossfit, and anything else that interests you, as long as it has to do with health and fitness. The obvious downside to this approach is that you can’t just learn about whatever tickles your fancy. However, if something else strikes your interest, you can always jot down a note or set a reminder in your phone for later. This approach could also actively combat habitual quitting by forcing the learner to focus on a single topic for longer. And who knows? Your extended/focused time might unearth something that you’re really passionate about.

Learning Goals

Third, the learner can create learning goals related to the topics in which they’re interested. Although this might seem similar to the second approach, the unfettered ability to choose to learn whatever you desire whenever you desire is a striking difference. But what kinds of goals would you set? That depends on the subject, I’d say. Learning about gluten-free meals? Why not try making one? Learning about weight loss? Apply one of your discoveries! Investing? Set up a Roth IRA at Vanguard. The possibilities are as endless as the topics themselves. Of course, you could also find yourself bogged down by trying to keep track of all these goals, or scattered because you have so any unrelated or conflicting goals (FYI, don’t try to go on a strict weightless diet and also start a muscle building regimen. It just won’t work out well for you.).

So I presented a few different approaches for embracing the spectrum of learning without submitting to chronic quitting. The second and third options seem a lot more viable than the first one to me. Which one do you think will work best? Or can you see a different option that I haven’t even mentioned?

Chris, eX-Quitter


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