Confidence, Learning

On Learning

Why are people afraid of getting it wrong when they are learning something new?

My two and a half year old daughter is learning how to speak. As my wife speaks German to her, I speak French to her and her two older brothers speak English to her, that is a task which is slightly more complicated than in most households. So her failure rate is tripled. Not only is that book not blue, but depending on who is saying it, it is actually rot, rouge or red.

If she was an adult, being told, “no, that is not blue, it is red” could be enough to make her give up. It is certainly enough to make me and many people around me give up. When I failed in front of the bureaus recently, I was feeling pretty low, just because someone said to me, “that is not blue, it is red.” How often have you had that feeling? People will laugh at me! I suck at this! That’s too hard! I’ll never be able to do this! So you save face by telling yourself that you are not made to do this. You give up. But at two and a half, what does she do? She says understandingly (in her very cute way), “Ooooooh! – OK” and smiles.

Picture of my daughter looking cute

Maybe the key to being OK to fail is looking cute…

Then points to it again, tilting her head to one side: “Blue?” When, after two or three times of this, she finally says, “rouge?” I beam at her and say, “Yes!” (actually, “oui”, but don’t let that stop the flow…) and she smiles back, happy. Then goes on to another colour, repeating the process again and again.

The next day, she points to another red book and asks, “blue?” and we go through the whole thing again. And so it goes on with every word, until she does get it right first time, then finally joins words together to make sentences.

How often do you allow yourself to get things wrong when you are learning something new? When does your inner critic kick in and start telling you you should know this by now! Are you stupid or something? My God, you’re so SLOW! How quickly do you stop yourself from making the failures which will lead to your success? People often tell me the best time to learn things like new languages is when we are young. Is that only because our brains are more malleable? Or is it because we are much more willing to say, “blue” a few more times than later in life?

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