The Learning Pit

by Michael Plank

What does learning feel like?

We all know what it is. We all know that it has to happen. But we don’t always map what that process looks like. At our conference this past weekend, I saw it drawn out visually and it was super helpful for me.

Learning, it turns out, is not a straight line. We don’t just know a little more each day until we have mastered the subject. On the contrary, something worth learning takes us down into The Learning Pit. Learning new things – like a new language, or musical instrument, or gardening, or cooking… or CrossFit – involves confusion, frustration, failure, and stalled progress that feels like hitting a wall.

And then it involves dusting yourself off and trying again; and asking for help from an instructor or coach or mentor; and then some clarity; and then excitement, and then finally the acquisition of a brand new skill!

THIS IS HOW LEARNING WORKS. Any skill you can think of that’s impressive always has a learning pit. In fact, the speaker this weekend pointed out that if you can jump over the pit, you probably didn’t actually learn that much. So why does this matter?

Because it means that in your training journey, when you get confused and frustrated, when you miss goals and when your progress stalls, it’s NORMAL. It’s a part of the process. It’s not a sign that you’re failing, it’s a sign that you’re learning. And if you’re learning, you’re growing. And growth, after all, is what progress is all about. Physical progress is why most of us start, but that’s not always completely within our control – there are injuries and accidents, there’s aging and disease – but as long as our minds work, we can learn, and as long as we can learn, we can grow.