Learning ability: What you will develop into matters the most over what skills you have now

Earlier, I wrote a post, noting that long term potential and character are more important than what a person currently has. That is true in terms of their income, their wealth (as measured by net worth rather than what their lifestyles are), and even their previous experiences.


The question then becomes, how does one maximize learning ability?


Previously I wrote about character. I think that character will dictate how you approach your problems.

  • How do you approach something you do not know? Are you satisfied by ignorance, or do you have a burning desire to “know”?
  • Do you always ask the question “why”? Do you look and wonder what the root cause might be?
  • What do you do when you approach challenge? The best way is to look for new ideas and to think about ideas very carefully.


I am not perfect. I will be the first to admit that I do not always exhibit the traits that I idealize. I do not believe that any human does completely.


On one hand, you cannot be type A at everything. Doing so would increase your probabilities in suffering terrible health problems. There is also research suggesting that competition itself in some ways may be counterproductive. I think that striking a good balance between work and life is monumentally important. Your health depends on you doing so. However, when it comes to intellectual pursuits, I think it is best to always strive to be the best you can be.


The process of learning is a complex one and from my experiences, it will come down to:

  1. People have to learn the new information, the skills, and learn from their experiences, along with perhaps most importantly, their mistakes.
    1. That requires a firm commitment to trying to learn. Not everyone is engaged to learn and as a result, their learning ability correspondingly suffers. By contrast, those who do learn will do well, but in the long run. The gains will not be immediately visible, but they will happen with time.
    2. Another huge part of the learning of course is having access to good learning materials and outstanding teachers. I think that it is a serous indictment on our society that there are those who denigrate education and teachers as a profession. Barrack Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union Address noted that in South Korea, teachers were regarded as “nation builders” versus the level of respect they get in North America.  In the professional world, it means having good mentors. Many successful people have said that their successes came down to great mentors.

  2. Once the facts are there, people have to try to retain their knowledge or at least the ability to re-learn quickly.
    1. Attitude plays a huge role here. If you think something is not useful because it has no immediate future benefit, then you are not going to remember it, save perhaps how much you resented learning it. By contrast, you are far more likely to retain something that you wanted to learn.
    2. The other big bottleneck is that of course, you cannot remember everything. Only a small percentage of what we learn goes into long-term memory. I like to write things down to help mitigate this problem.

  3. As you advance, the next step is to understand the implications of what you have learned and to think about the problem.
    1. Again, motivation plays a huge role. Those who just wanted to pass the test or earn their paycheck are not going to think about what they have learned. They are only going to do the bare minimum.
    2. Learning is not memory-work. Certainly a degree of rote knowledge is required for competence, but it is not mostly memory work.
    3. It also means drawing connections between what you have learned now, what you have learned in the past, and how they are related. Sometimes skills can be quite transferable, and in areas that you may not suspect.

  4. It is only then that you reach the level of being proficient and actually learned the skill.
    1. From what you have learned, you will be able to apply it more effectively than you would otherwise.
    2. Furthermore, you will be wondering what how you will want to expand your knowledge.


You will notice that I have put a strong emphasis on attitude. A lot of this comes down to curiosity, openness to new ideas, openness to competing facts, and new experiences. Not everyone has this ability. In fact, most people I fear do not to a satisfactory extent. I have lamented in the past about the lack of intellectual curiosity in our society. For your sake, I hope that you have a great deal of learning ability. If not, I urge you to strive to improve your learning ability. Make small incremental steps, and over time, they will build up.


I suspect that if you were to take a group of students in high school (and I wonder if we could do something similar to the famous Marshmallow Psychology Test), except only this time for learning ability. I suspect the results would be quite an eye-opener.


Remember, learning ability is what you can develop into, not what skills you have today. So do not be discouraged if you do not have a great ability to learn. Everyone does and attitude plays a huge role.


In future posts, learning ability is something that I will be writing about in greater detail. I think that learning ability is one of the defining attributes of a Gadfly.

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