On Learning Slowly

“Abraham was known among the boys as a bashful somewhat dull, but peacable boy. He was not a brilliant boy, but worked his way by toil.” —John Hanks, cousin of Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln As I Knew Him”

I learn deeply and slowly.

I’ve never caught on quickly. I deliberate too long. I follow every rabbit trail.

This means my learning curve is really shallow early in the process, but after a long slow period, it shoots upward rapidly. Deep learning pays off in the end, because the intensity of my learning means I build robust mental models. I’m unsatisfied with rote memorization—I insist upon complete understanding.

Why? How? Where is the connection? I’m always asking questions, slowing myself down, slowing others down. I work slowly, strong and steady.

Learning this way is painful and discouraging, because it’s so easy to get lost in the details. I’ve come to terms with that fact that this is how my brain works, so I’m learning to step back and track my progress occasionally from a bird’s-eye view.

The nice thing about this type of learning is that when I come up for air from a tricky problem, I find that I know far more than I ever thought possible. Progress in the sharp curve (when it finally comes) is surprising and exhilarating. Deep learning belongs to the tortoise—not the hare. I must constantly remind myself to push through the low, slow periods for an inevitable victory over my lumbering brain.