The Impatient Learner and Burnout.

by David · 4 comments

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When we set out to learn a new skill it’s common to feel impatient. There’s a long road ahead and we want to enjoy the fruits of labour – but they come later.

When we become impatient, there are two common responses:

  1. Stop trying – fail instantly
  2. Work extremely hard – attempt to speed up the pace and shorten the distance.

Working hard will take you places, but working smart will take you further.

I’ve seen it countless times, young runners (learners) at the beginning of a long journey using all their might to cover as much ground as possible, they make it about ten percent of the way, feel an overwhelming burn, stop, crash and burnout.

This happened to me when I started learning Spanish, for the first three months I studied and listened to the language round the clock. I really wanted to be fluent. I was impatient. I learnt a lot of Spanish, but I couldn’t keep it up. I crashed and I didn’t study any Spanish for two months – I simply didn’t have the endurance

Covering great distance in a short period is useless if it means you can’t complete the journey.

Fortunately, I was able to reignite my flame and kept going, and I still am. However, I count myself lucky because I’ve seen many burnout, only to never return.

Patience will take you over the hills and far away; impatience will take you as far as you can see.

If you become impatient as a learner, be weary – a slow and steady pace will build real strength, which will eventually allow you to travel faster. Working intensely for long periods takes endurance, which comes only with time – no shortcuts.

Whenever faced with the choice of working hard and working smart – be smart.

  • Amazing post David! The timing couldn’t be any better too.

    When I started learning Japanese around 6 months ago I went at it extremely hard and with all of my strength. It was my first time learning a new language but I was already immersing myself about 18 hours a day. I learned all the Kana in a very short period of time and I got started on Kanji immediately. I got to around 600 Kanji and then I just crashed. Three months in I just stopped doing ANY Japanese whatsoever. I even stopped watching anime, and listening to some of my favorite Japanese music.

    The reason this happened to me was because of what you said. I was so impatient and I just wanted to be good at Japanese so I was working as hard as possible. Just like running, I started getting that pain on my side but I was still going. The next thing I knew the pain was so unbearable I just crashed. It was like I fainted on the street. It was due to dehydration and overwork. Did I ever stop to get a sip of water? Did I ever stop to take a nice deep breath? No, I just wanted to reach my destination and I wasn’t watching my health. That caused me to burn, crash, and even lose my interest in Japanese for a long period of time.

    About a month ago I started learning Japanese again but I can already see myself making those same mistakes again. I completed my 21 Day Challenge for Kanji, but I decided to start another one. 5 Days in I crashed. I haven’t done ANY Japanese for two days. I guess it was a huge mistake on my part. It’s like I’m a marathon runner and I just finished a huge marathon. What do I do? I don’t rest and take it easy I start another marathon. That’s not good for my health, and I’ll just end up crashing quicker (this time in 5 days). I’m still really interested in Japanese but I don’t want to go another 3 month period without studying, it just feels horrible so I’m going to take it easy.

    Sometimes you don’t have to run around the block, you can just take a walk down the street and you’ll be fine. Anyways, thank you David this post was amazing and it just inspired me to go make a post of my own! Cheers! 🙂

  • Yeah, this is why I think it’s important to allow yourself to take breaks once in a while. The brain needs time to consolidate and process everything it’s learned. Often after resting for a couple days or so, when I come back to my task I find that a lot of things have suddenly “clicked” and make a lot more sense than they did before. So I feel refreshed and have new motivation to keep on going. As human beings we just can’t function properly without rest, and that applies to everything we do. Good article!

  • Jess

    It is unfortunate that our universities put so much time pressures on students that they are forced into an academic-survival-mode where impatience is the modus operandi. Long-term retention and understanding are often so poor that it’s almost a waste of effort.

  • Silvia

    As an impatient learner… I often feel frustration, instead of appreciating achievements. It is like a drug, you never get enough, you always need a little bit more. Your post is inspiring, a well needed mirror into my face. Thank you.

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