The real barrier to most of us doing things isn’t the thing itself, but the stuff we put around it.
A few days ago I started taking some lessons on a site called Codecademy. It’s a website that helps newbies learn how to code.
I really like the idea of the site. It’s a really easy, intuitive system to cajole a beginner into making computers do things. Codecademy realizes the real struggles that accompany learning something new. A good teacher helps us take away all of the barriers that we use to keep ourselves from trying new things–e.g., “I can’t go to the store because I’d have to shower and put on my makeup and some shoes”–by making the learning experience extremely simple and piecemeal.
Don’t know how to code? Fine. You know how to type your name in between quotes after the word ‘alert,’ right? Look! There your name is, in a popup window. Neat, huh? Don’t have to download any new programs, read a textbook or put on your makeup.
I’ve been interested in learning HTML and web design for about a year now. As I approached graduation a year ago, I was insecure and worried I didn’t have any marketable skills. Since I like the idea of creating things, and I am good with language and systematic thought, it seemed like a natural go-to. So I picked up a few book with the words “For Dummies” on the cover and started learning a little bit, but then I stopped learning because there were too many psychological barriers and I wasn’t really that motivated.
When I encounter a big body of knowledge, or a unfamiliar culture or a kind of music that I don’t understand, I take comfort in the fact that in the end, it’s all made by humans.
Linear Algebra? Humans came up with that. Portugese? Also a human invention. Car repair? A being with my same general equipment and faculties dreamed up each of those internal parts. Even the most dizzing complex literary theory had to first happen in a person’s brain.
When you enter a new field of knowledge or a new job, it’s disorienting. You can only tackle a few things at once, until you get used to them. Backing your car out of the driveway requires a near impossible level of physical coordination and mental firepower the first time you do it, but seasoned drivers have been documented literally driving in their sleep.
I’m comforted knowing that every human system started as imagination in a normal person’s mind: a person who had insecurities and trouble sleeping and awkward family gatherings and occasional moments of brilliance–but mostly just normal ones.
Of course, the really difficult things to learn aren’t the systems and the facts. Things like emotional maturity and being able to step outside of yourself are what’s really difficult. Stuff like learning to code (without giving up). Blogging real things adequately every day instead of just fantasizing about creating The Perfect Blog, someday. Asking a question in class and taking on the risk of being the stupid one.
The really tough things are more like making yourself get into a pool and taking on the agony of letting your body temperature slowly adjust. It’s not any less jarring or uncomfortable to jump into the cold water first, but it can be psychologically easier, because it’s a commitment. A commitment to the discomfort that comes with the change.
Codecademy has something called “streaks.” You get a reward for every consecutive day, as long as you finish even one lesson. Lessons don’t take very long–maybe ten minutes. It’s a clever way of tricking you into learning, by making it easier to take the first (and hardest) steps of what could be a life-long lesson.
It’s another way to goad you back into the pool. To be uncomfortable for a little while, until you find yourself having fun.
It’s Codecademy’s version of the old staple:
“Come on in! The water’s fine.”
[Image source: Luis Hernandez - D2k6.es via photopin cc]