In general, I am passionate about learning. I think about it all the time. If I'm not learning something new, I'm bored. Thus, conversations around learning are very nearly an everyday occurrence for me. It is no miracle that last night's conversation was centered upon learning and my latest goal of becoming a master of web development.
The conversation was started by a discussion about the great book 'The Power of Habit'. The best method of learning is to form a habit. Regardless of the material you use or your genetically endowed intelligence, you will learn if you make a habit out of it.
The big question seems to be: how do I form a habit? Clearly, forming habits is one of the hardest things for us to do. If everyone effortlessly formed a habit then we wouldn't make New Years Resolutions.
All I can contribute is my two cents to the conversation. I'm not going to solve the problem any better than anyone else but I do seem to easily be able to form habits. So, maybe, I will be able to shed some light on how I do it.
Mental Toughness...or lack there of
Personally, I think that mental toughness is one of the most under-taught skills in modern society. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things worth quitting. We are inundated in modern culture with shiny objects that take up ridiculous amounts of our time. These are absolutely worth quitting. However, really important tasks, which wil have a long lasting effect on our life, are definitely worth making an effort to accomplish.
I don't have a definite answer as to how I built up my level of mental toughness. Yet, I am convinced that it is an ability/characteristic that anyone can acquire. Case and point, when I was young I would routinely leave things unfinished. I remember my sister getting frustrated with me because I would never completely finish coloring-in a picture before I wanted to move onto the next one. Yet, I clearly had enough mental toughness to make it through Special Forces Assessment and Selection and Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course, two of the most difficult courses in the world to pass. I am very proud of completing both of these grueling tests of will. Dive school was incredibly difficult. It was not fun. All 6 weeks of it absolutely sucked!!
I think that mental toughness is like anything else, you have to work on it, just like muscle building. You don't walk into the gym the first day and push 400 lbs. When I first entered a gym I could barely lift 100 lbs but, little-by-little, I made improvements and my strength grew. Mental toughness and learning work on the same principle, you have to exercise them.
Mental toughness only kicks in when things really get boring or they really start to suck. So, the goal is to continually raise your threshold so that things don't suck. If I took someone who has never run out to run 5 miles at my pace, they are never ever going to want to run ever again in their life. However, if I lead them through a short run each day and build up to 5 miles over the course of 4 or 5 months, it will seem easy. They will run 5 miles effortlessly. The final 3 minutes of every run will not be fun. Yet, pushing the pain barrier will allow them to make great advances. However, the pain barrier should only be touched for very short periods of time. This is how you build mental toughness: little-by-little. You do repetitions. Then, next time it gets easier.
Mental toughness is like a blowing a bubble with gum. If you blow too hard at the beginning it will pop. The best bubbles are made by carefully blowing at a steady pace, little-by-little the bubble expands. Exercising your mental toughness shouldn't be a test. You don't learn mathematics by taking tests all the time. Constantly putting yourself on the spot and seeing if you can pass a rigorous standard is far too stressful to be beneficial. Professional athletes train for hours each week in order to complete a 'test' (i.e. a race or competition). Whether you are exercising muscles, brain cells or mental toughness, you have to train to get better. No one is born into perfect knowledge or ability. It takes careful effort at a steady pace.
The same applies to learning new things or skills. Build up your pain threshold little-by-little. Then, we you get to the point where you don't feel as though you are making any progress, go back to something comfortable. Give yourself a boost of confidence. Expand the bubble of mental toughness and then retreat a bit in order to let your mental heart rate relax.
Mental toughness needs to be exercised in order to become a great learner. You will have to push through boring moments where you don't feel like you are making progress. These moments define a life-long student. You don't have to stubbornly spend hours doing something boring. Just do 15 minutes each day. This is mental toughness. Eventually, you will break through and your progress will take off like a rocket.