In Part 1, I talk about finally learning to drive a car with a manual transmission. I recognize that it’s a pretty common skill, especially outside the US. I don’t think I’m suddenly a rocket scientist because I can make a car go. I’ve found a lot of value in looking at the learning process though, and wanted to share what I noticed.

Learning From Learning

When I hopped back into the little ’01 manual again this week, I was in a different mentality than I had been during my previous attempt.

giant angler fish mask

Recognizing progress for what it really was: not easy! Image by Helder da Rocha on Flickr.com

I had thought about the process of learning to drive stick more, and come to the conclusion that back when I quit years ago, I had been right in the thick of the process of internalizing the motions and timing and finesse of how to make my husband’s little car go.

As I was making that inner progress toward automaticity, outward results seemed to get worse – back to bucking and stalling out like it was my first day. What I mean is that I was not actually regressing, even though it looked (and felt!) like I was.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my poor outward results were a symptom of the progress I was making in learning to drive a manual automatically. Progress looked different from what I expected – and from what I wanted.

I got into the car last night hoping to work my way back up to the point of increased mistakes. My mental model acknowledged that the path to success was through screwing up. I went in search of a messy learning process.

This was incredibly different from timidly “doing my best” while walking on eggshells lest (gasp!) mistakes to appear and prove that I am a failure of a human being. Equating a mistake with failure sounds absurd when it’s baldly written right here, but for me, it’s a serious hindrance as a vague, unnamed pattern of thought.

So… um… what’s the point?

I think that considering the nature of the learning process and taking a hard look at what progress really looks like helped me overcome a lot of what was overwhelming to me and join the ranks of those who can drive manuals.

And that, in turn, has given me a lot of food for thought.

kitty tiptoeing around spikes on a wall

Tiptoeing: a good idea on that wall, but unhelpful for learning. Image by Da-Eye on Flickr.com

Thoughts on driving:

  • Driving around my neighborhood at barely the speed limit at night with no traffic and only using the first three gears, all with J giving me advice, does not constitute mastery – just a good foundation.
  • I need to commit to practicing. Little ’01 car is leaving us soon!
  • I need to stay focused on the process, let myself keep on learning, and remind myself that making mistakes is not a step backward, but a sign that I’m really trying (instead of tiptoeing).

Thoughts on taking this lesson to other skills and parts of my life:

  • Wow, isn’t this sort of similar to my irrational fear of cutting and sewing Minnie’s (and my first-ever) quilt?
  • What other things do I irrationally fear? (um, cable knitting! Eek!)
  • In what other situations does progress look different than I might expect?

Education-y thoughts (I teach part-time – sometimes Teacher Emily can’t be silenced!):

  • It seems like metacognition can be a really powerful tool for building resilience.
  • This was nothing I ever learned in K-12 school, either directly or indirectly. Ever.
  • Speaking of school, how does the emphasis on testing and results connect to the learning process and to resilience?
  • How can examining the nature (and guises) of progress be useful for my adult students?

Make the world a better place thoughts:

  • How can we encourage each other to try to achieve an overwhelming goal the way J encouraged me to learn a skill that hundreds of millions of other people have mastered without blogging about it drive a stick?
  • How can kids best learn resilience?

Other people’s takes on a really similar idea: