If you want to grow you must push yourself beyond where you are at. Sometimes this means reading material that you don’t completely understand. Obviously you can’t pickup a book in a completely foreign language and expect to get anything out of it, but you can pickup a book on a topic where you don’t really have the right prerequisite knowledge to understand 100% of the content and still learn a lot.
Lets say you are reading something where 25% of it is completely foreign to you. By foreign I mean that you understand the words, but you don’t really understand what is being said. Many people would consider this a waste–because you don’t understand it. However, your mind is a marvelous thing and if you try to understand the contents, it will fill in the gaps. You may need to know A to understand B, but if you read B first it will still somehow remain in your unconscious and when you happen on A things become just a bit more clear.
When I was in high-school I learned a great deal about MIDI and electronic music simply by reading the specs out of musical instrument catalogs. When I started, I didn’t understand half of what was written in the descriptions, but little by little things started making sense as I pieced together a bit of information from one description with a snippet of information from somewhere else.
Even though it might be hard, pressing through reading materials that you don’t fully understand can be a very good way to gain comprehension in a new area. Obviously having access to the Internet makes it much easier to look things up. If you don’t understand a concept, chances are you can find a simpler explanation somewhere.
However, I wonder if this is always good. Sometimes information is so readily available that we don’t really bother to remember or even understand it. We trade the convenience of a Google search for the hard-won knowledge that comes from wrestling with a subject in a struggle for comprehension.
i didn’t understand one word of this article
phik li says
hahahahahahaha you’r efunny
Which word you don’t understand? Try a dictionary.
Mark Shead says
I think Jr was joking.
Ricky Buchanan says
I was going to say I think that 25% not-understood would be too high a percentage for me, but on the other hand I just remembered I initially taught myself to program (in BASIC) when I had never physically seen a computer.
So I guess that (a) 25% probably isn’t too high, and (b) you can now guess how old I am.
Mark Shead says
My first programming was basic on a Timex Sinclair computer. You had to load the programs to and from a tape player and 9 times out of 10 it wouldn’t work right. :)
Arthnel Edwards says
I get the gist of the article and I really fully agree with the opening line, “If you want to grow you must push yourself beyond where you are at.” It’s really fascinating how the mind works when you think you are simply wasting your time paying attention to bits of information that may simply mean nothing or have no use to you right now.
I think the situation is comparable to dipping your hand in a honey pot, it’s just impossible to remove it without some of the honey sticking. At some in point in future your mind is able to recall or relate, if necessary, to some bit of that information, even if it’s just to better your communication skills on various topics.
I also think another great discipline is learning to read an article or a book or column ALL THE WAY THROUGH. We have become so accustomed to just scanning that we purposefully miss so much interest and understanding from the get-go. No matter how we may feel…just read it through.
I agree 100%. I’ve wrested with new technology, knowing nothing but reading all I could find. It’s exciting when one piece of new info makes old info gel into insightful knowledge and understanding. Am teaching myself about investing/stocks/bonds now. Internet allows me to read several different phrasings of an idea, which helps me understand.
Stefan @ Startup-Journey says
Completely agree on your post Mark! That’s why I think you should always try and solve problems yourself (e.g. with regards to programming or just a simple Microsoft Office problem) rather than asking someone to help you (unless you are under time pressure obviously). When you force yourself to dive into the problem you learn so many new things along the way which you would not have if you had asked someone else! I realize that every day when I’m working on my webapp project ‘dalister’ and I get stuck with some random ajax/jquery/php/mysql problem. Obviously it would be easier to just ask someone for help but I try to solve it myself by reading through forums, code exmples and documentations (even though I often understand only a fraction of what people talk about there) and I have learned so much by just doing that! Don’t wanna talk about how much time I have wasted trying to figure out some random code snippet though ;-)
jackson rodgers says
I agree that you need to push your self to improve and that means learning new things. If you don’t constantly learn new things, others will pass you by. For me, it helps if I can talk with someone about what I just read. I retain things better that way.
Perfect timing – I read this great piece just as I was struggling with a book on investing. Its not my natural interest or inclination to read on this subject, but for a while I have felt the strong necessity to educate and understand more about this subject. I found a simple enough book but don’t understand everything – but hey, if I did comprehend everything why would I be reading it?
Its important to stay the course even when you feel you are struggling a little, and your point about things clicking and meshing together makes it more motivating because I know now that complex concepts will start making more sense to me down the line as I focus more on this subject. Thanks!
As a linguist, I have to say this makes perfect sense as a way to learn and expand yourself by reaching beyond understanding. That’s how we all learned to speak … a child is forced to learn it the hard way and the best way–by immersion and patience–and sometimes that’s all you need.
In the broader context, I think the benefit of this approach is that it generates questions, and I ALWAYS retain better when I actively ask the question because then it means more to me.
Some essays or treatises are written in a very complex, hefty style. This can be frustrating for the reader, and he/she may begin to think there is something wrong with them. I am all for putting down these type of books and go for the ones that convey the same ideas the easy way.