Why do children generally learn things better and faster than adults?

“I was watching my kids in their skiing class. Whenever one of the kids fell, they would all excitedly yell ‘WIPE OUT’ in unison. After that the kid would get back up and try again. And whenever one of them did something cool or well they would receive praise from their instructor and their peers.” -Mother

As someone who is no longer a child, have you ever not tried something because you were afraid of looking like a fool? What is going on here? I believe that the difference is not in ability. In fact, it can be argued that an adult has more ability than a child. Instead, the difference lies in attitude. Children who receive praise from their instructors and peers generally have a positive attitude towards learning and treat ‘falling’ as part of that process. They experiment, make progress, fall, then get back up and try again before falling once again. When they do something well, they receive praise, which leads them to want to do even better.

Now imagine if the child is in an environment where the instructor is harsh and their parents are critically watching their every move. Imagine if every time they fall, they are met with harsh criticism and boos. “Why did you do that? I’m embarrassed to watch you.” “I knew you’d fall.” “You suck.” Do you think that the child would want to continue skiing, much less train to see how good they could get?   Most likely not.  Yet we sometimes do this to ourselves (and to our children). We feel like the world is watching our every move – ready to criticize us at any moment – so we don’t try new things. We stay in our comfort zones and when we do that, we don’t grow. The child/beginner is willing to make mistakes, to look like a fool. They view mistakes as part of the learning process instead of as condemnation.

In the past year I have tried many new things in different areas including dance, sports, career and relationships. I have fallen many times, sometimes with a lot of pain.  But I have always gotten back up and kept going.  As a result I have greatly expanded my comfort zone. Yesterday I started playing golf for the first time in my life. I looked like a fool, but I am committed to improving my game. Did I have a perfect golf swing on my first attempt? No way. I am going to need to hit thousands upon thousands of golf balls to get a good golf swing, much less a perfect one – but I know that that is just part of the path of mastery, which has no destination.

“It’s simple. To be a learner, you’ve got to be willing to be a fool.” – George Leonard, Author of ‘Mastery’

Who knows what we can achieve, if we are willing to look like fools. There’s only one way to find out; the choice may not be easy, but the choice is certainly yours.

Taken from Permission to Shine

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