I am a slow learner. I don’t pick up new physical skills quickly. I take a very long time to learn new movements, and I have enough coordination issues that I was diagnosed with dyspraxia as a child. When I say I am a slow learner, people rush to reassure me that I’m not. “No, you’re fine” they say, as if I just called myself stupid or useless.
There’s a huge assumption that to learn something quickly is preferable. I can see why. There’s less frustration in the learning process, and you can learn more things in a shorter space of time. People who learn quickly and well are seen as talented and skilled. But when you learn slowly and with difficulty, is that actually a bad thing?
Dealing with frustration is a vital skill. No matter how physically adept somebody is, they will reach a point where they hit a wall. Anybody who trains hard knows this. That wall may be picking up a new movement. It may be increasing the weight of a lift or the time you can balance on a rail. If you do parkour, it might literally be getting over a wall. For those of us who learn slowly and with difficulty, hitting that wall is a routine occurrence. As a slow learner, the painful feelings that come with it are very familiar to me. Frustration, anger, disappointment, even shame. By now, these are no big deal.
For those who are used to learning very quickly, it’s not always so easy. Much like conditioning the body for a climb-up, you need to condition the mind to overcome this. Fast learners can be mentally tough as well, of course, but as a slow learner you have so much more opportunity than others to practice dealing with the wall and to develop the grit and determination needed. I have known people who, although they started off learning quickly, simply quit learning a skill when they hit a wall. It seemed such an insurmountable thing to them that they simply walked away instead of working at it.
Discipline also comes naturally to us. If you do not pick things up quickly, you either quit or you doggedly try again and again, whether it’s fun or not. You know how to work, because it is the only way to get anywhere.
You may feel envious of people who don’t seem to need to put that work in at first – but there are some things you cannot develop without the discipline to work consistently and repetitively, even if you don’t feel like it. Conditioning is a good example of this, as are accuracy and balance. If you’re a slow learner, you know how to work. You know that even when it feels like you are getting nowhere, if you just keep grinding away, progress will happen. For those who do not need to work so hard from early on, this can be a hard lesson.
And then there is understanding the learning process itself. Because learning is not easy for me, I spend a lot of time observing how I learn. I try different methods to see what works and what doesn’t. I observe coaching styles, and how different people respond to them. When I train, I’m also developing my powers of observation. I’m applying critical thinking, and because I know that I need all the help I can get, I’m motivated to study the theory behind whatever I am trying to pick up. Also, as I learn about myself, the difficulties I experience give me some insight into the things others may struggle with, and I like to think that might be helpful one day.
I haven’t made it sound easy to keep going when you are a slow learner. I’m not going to lie. It’s not. It would be so much easier to walk away from parkour, skating and general movement skills and do something that comes easily to me. But although it’s tough, it’s worth it. Looking beyond the joy of movement itself, to be a slow learner is to be mentally strong so that you can become physically strong. It is to have self-discipline, to develop insight into yourself and the learning process. And it’s to be familiar with difficulty, so that when you encounter someone who is struggling, you can be there for them. If that’s not being strong to be useful, I don’t know what is.
For more great articles from Katie follow her personal blog at https://idomanythings.wordpress.com