learn to play. play to learn.

As a child, we had this natural curiosity and natural discipline. Everything seemed like a mystery and we were curious about it. We learnt a lot by being immersed in what we were doing.

Nowadays learning feels like a drill. It is forced. We force ourselves. We turned our natural discipline into an unnaturally forced discipline. The reason might be that we lost touch with playing.

We lost our playfulness and became more work-full. We focus on finishing the work. On finishing the tutorial. On finishing the lecture. We don’t play anymore with what we learn.

I don’t mean we literally have to play like a child again. But we should rediscover our playful attitude. Learning with a playful attitude will spark your interest and curiosity. It will give you energy and motivation to keep going.

With a playful attitude, you might even rediscover your natural discipline. You might enjoy building a deeper understanding of what you are learning. And all of this without feeling to force or drill it.

You might be asking yourself “But how do I learn to play again?”.

One. Don’t be judgemental of yourself. Don’t think you are stupid because you don’t understand. Don’t think you are a failure because you made mistakes. Mistakes are there to learn from. Taking time to understand is important.

Even allow yourself to get frustrated. Frustration is fine as long as you come back. Don’t hold onto it for too long.

Two. Ask “How can I play with this?”. Find elements in learning that feel like playing. During my studies, I collected information on a lot of papers. Distilled it. And organized it on one big piece of paper. I had to leave things away and focus on main points. I thought about how to put everything onto one sheet. It felt like a puzzle. It felt like playing.

Because of this, I had to go deeper in my understanding. And anything gets more interesting if you gain a deeper understanding.

I also made mistakes and had to throw away a complete sheet because of a writing mistake or because not everything fit onto it. A bit frustrating, but it was okay.

If you ask “How might I play with this?”, it transforms big scary obstacles into nice challenges to learn from.

Three. Apply and use what you learn. If possible, try to apply and make use of what you are learning. Have a project to apply your knowledge. Give yourself the opportunity to test and tinker.

Sadly, since my studies, I lost more and more of my playfulness in learning. I started just watching online tutorials and educational content. I only took notes in form of transcribing what is being said. I rarely reviewed notes, thought about insights, tried to connect new knowledge to old knowledge. My learning just turned into consumption. It was work. I just wanted to get it over with.

I’m trying to rediscover my playfulness. Now I have my learning system in Notion. I plan and shape my learning. I keep track of my progress. I take time to understand and write notes by rephrasing insights. I define and work on learning projects. I track my curiosity and questions to spark my interest each day.

The three points above helped me to rediscover playing again. I hope it will help you, too.

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