Learning by flowing

Learning can be a struggle to overcome confusion, disorientation or misunderstandings. Learning can likewise fall into place effortlessly. Toddlers picking up twenty new words a day without "drill and practice" provides an image of learning by flowing.

I've been reading two books a week for the past 17 years. I continually have experiences of losing interest in the book I'm reading and coming back to it weeks or months later. When I start where I left off, I'm amazed how it ties into what I was just reading in another book, thinking about in another context or questioning myself over. This has happened so many times, I've gotten the sense there is a flow to go with when we are learning.

To find this flow, I've learned to let go of what I think I should be reading. By not knowing what, when or how much to learn, I am open to happenstance and fluctuations of mood. I've discovered my waning enthusiasm for whatever I'm learning is simply a shift to something else I've now intrinsically motivated to explore. "A bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless I fail to make the turn".

This flow embodies perfect timing. The sequence of what I'm interested in develops my understanding superbly. The timing of when I become curious about something -- happens to coincide with when I'll soon need to know that, have a use for it or have access to further exploration of it.

This flow maintains perfect balance and proportion between endeavors. If I become too cerebral and analytical, my motivation spontaneously shifts to active experiments and experiences. If I've gone deep into reflection, I suddenly want to browse and absorb outside sources of information. If I have bombarded my mind with lots of fascinating ideas, I will naturally get in the mood to ponder how they tie together, relate to my understanding or appear useful in another project.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals in his book about Flow, this flowing embodies the "joy of learning". There are no problems with motivation, endurance or obstacles. Challenges are welcomed and accomplishments occur with ease. Flowing is like losing oneself in an immersive game experience that proceeds non-stop until dawn.

Flowing is like the Taoist ideal of wu wei wu: non-doing doing. The learning takes over whenever I get out of the way, as if the learning has a life of its own. Learning falls into place when I get with the program and stop "pushing the river". Learning happens easily when I'm wise enough to not know what's next.

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  1. Thanks for your nice post!

  2. You're very welcome Michael. Thanks for letting me know you're valuing this.