About learning

Today I had this reinforced: If you’re struggling to learn something, try something even harder.

Now, I’ll definitely admit that this doesn’t always work, but it should be considered more often. It reminds me of how Chemistry in college was really hard for me from the start, but I stuck with it, and even though the stuff I was currently learning never got any easier, the stuff we’d already learned did.

Here’s how it came up today: I’m taking a “Pre-Masters” swimming class twice a week now, and I am learning flip-turns. When we started two weeks ago, I couldn’t believe how hard they were. Missing the wall, shooting off sideways, gasping for breath. Just two days ago I was practicing them and still spluttering. Last time, my teacher starts telling me I need to start doing backstroke flip-turns… and I resisted. (My backstroke is horrible.) “I can’t even swim straight! And I don’t know where the wall is!”

But today she made me try a backstroke flip-turn, and, well, it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. And after adding that extra level of complication, the freestyle flip-turns seem like a cinch! “Hey, I can totally see the wall coming, this is awesome.”

So that goes to show me that a little insecurity looking forwards can also mean a little confidence looking back. It’s a lesson I’ve been reminded of many times, in many places; and even if it’s just flip-turns in the pool, it’s a good lesson to learn.

February 25, 2008. Uncategorized. 4 Comments.


  1. gerard replied:

    great article today. My bro and i do some Tri’s from time to time and the swimming training, while an absolute blast, always consists of me touching the wall and then turning around, lap after lap after lap. flip turns just seemed too hard and disorienting. i will have to renew my quest. haha… cheers!

    February 25th, 2008 at 9:04 pm. Permalink.

  2. Brandon replied:

    Hey this is cool. I have a related “Ratchet Theory of Learning.” The idea is, you are trying to learn something and at the end of the process, you are totally confused. Then you forget a bunch of what you “learned”, but you end up knowing more than when you started. So you sort of “ratchet” your way up by going too far, then sliding backward, but you land on a plateau that is higher than where you started. That’s the hope anyway! I think this applies to exercise too. Maybe alcohol consumption, too.

    March 4th, 2008 at 5:08 pm. Permalink.

  3. Michael replied:

    I also think it’s interesting how we don’t realize the learning process is taking place. Even as we get better at something, we focus on our imperfections and don’t catch the fact that we may have improved. Maybe some of this is rooted in the fact that most people build confidence much slower than they build an actual skill. They need validation, self or otherwise, before they will accept that they’re doing something well. It seems that individuals who have that confidence already are able to learn quicker. They expect to do well, and so they do. Or at least better than ones who don’t expect to do well.

    In any case, good luck on the flipturns. I re-taught myself them last summer and forgot how much water I could swallow.

    December 10th, 2008 at 3:14 am. Permalink.

  4. jeremy replied:

    Do they really still teach backstroke flip turns? In competitive swimming, and I also assume in master’s swimming, the backstroke turn has been replaced with a half-stroke, roll-onto-your-stomach freestyle flipturn.

    February 10th, 2009 at 7:48 pm. Permalink.

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