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October 29th, 2020


Mistakes are annoying.  Particularly in retrospect.  Most, if not all of them look dumb or silly or easily avoidable.  And because of this, it’s perhaps understandable that new mistakes can be instantly frustrating and endlessly annoying. These siblings to anger might be due to the idea that we should have wised up by now - learned from the past and figured out how to navigate around these pesky obstacles.  Some mistakes certainly don’t have to be perennial, there are repeated mistakes from which can be gleaned a way forward that is devoid of such folly, but that doesn’t mean the future will ever be clean of new mistakes and obstacles.


Learning is mostly taken to be a sort of knowledge acquisition.  It’s the process of getting something in a book or something someone says into our head.  At least this is how many seem to think of it.  But learning, more than anything, is about emotional regulation.  This might seem like an odd tie-in, but when it comes to the subjective experience of navigating a new field to figure out how it works, that process is roiling with emotion.  That emotion may be rooted in curiosity, and the experience - subjectively - might be quite enjoyable and fun.  But more often than not, it’s quite the opposite:  learning is often a battle against frustration, annoyance and confusion.


Compare for a moment those two experiences and wonder:  who is likely to make progress in understanding faster?  The frustrated person who is annoyed with their own confusion?  Or the curious person?  


The answer is obvious, of course, but we seem to ignore the reason why, and how it can be used to our benefit in frustrating circumstances.


More important than the answer is to ask: what is the difference between frustration and curiosity that allows for faster learning with one instead of the other?  That is certainly a topic fit for a book, but it dovetails into the core of the topic at hand:  


If one emotional state is more conducive to our task and our progress and our ability to learn, then regulating emotions is a subtle key to unlocking our ability to make faster more efficient headway - no matter the task at hand.


The person who can funnel frustration into focus becomes unstoppable, first and foremost because that person is no longer in their own way.


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