The Effortless Learning Mindset

Published 07 October 2020 at 20:00

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The Effortless Learning Mindset

Esther was getting good grades in Maths until Year 8. She decided she was good at Maths as it came naturally to her and it was her favourite subject. In the first assessment for Year 9, her grades fall drastically. Her immediate thought process was “I don’t think I am good at it. It was just a fluke that I was getting all those grades last year. I will drop Maths the first chance I get!”

We all have had situations when we had setbacks. During those times we do feel like we do not have it in us, and the first reaction is to just quit. We want things to come easy and effortlessly for us. We feel we are inherently special. We love the idea of being that gifted person who can do things without any effort. It guarantees a lifetime of success and admiration, doesn't it? And compare that with having to work hard every day even for little gains in skills. The choice is pretty easy to make, isn’t it? In fact – not.

Photo Credit: Jeanette Virginia Goh

Dr. Carol Dweck is a psychologist who has done a lot of research on why some people fail and some people succeed. According to her, when someone owes their success or failure to their inborn and inherent smartness, they tend to fail in the long run. She calls this type of mindset “Fixed Mindset”. But people who believe they fail or succeed because of their efforts, strategies and hard work, tend to succeed. She calls people with this mindset, Growth Mindset.

When we are in a fixed mindset, like Esther, in our example above, we are:

  1. Judgement focussed: If I get material, I am good. If I don’t, I am dumb. The faster I understand something, the better I am.
  2. Crave External validation: Our grades win us approval and admiration of the world, on how good or bad they are. If we are not getting that, it’s not worth trying.
  3. Win focused: Win-Win. Everything depends on winning. One has to avoid failure at all costs. You lose once, you are always a looser.

Photo Credit: Freepik

How does it affect us?

In my line of work, I see a lot of teenagers, intelligent and seemingly resourceful, paralysed by setbacks. The reason is whilst they are achieving success, they are fine. As soon as there is some form of upset, it derails them. They get so comfortable in the place they are, and they are so fearful of failing that they do not want to even try something new. They are so afraid of losing the approval of people who matter to them, that they do not want to go to the next level. They are scared that if they do, and they prove to be not as good, they will lose the love and attention.

Ray’s parents started teaching him Chess. To their utter delight and pride, he picked up fast and easily. To take his chess skills further, they got him to see videos of great chess players and wanted to enrol him in classes, so that he could take his chess skills to the next level. Ray refused to join classes. Can you think why? Watching videos of the great players made him scared. He started thinking he would never reach that level. He wanted to stay where he was. That way he could always say, I had it in me, I just chose not to try. For him, he was already successful. He admired his parents. He did not want to ruin it by trying to get to another level and failing at that.

Photo Credit: Cocopelli

So, what does it take to make our learning effortless?

Before I answer this question, let me ask you. Do you need to make any conscious efforts when you walk? Have you ever seen a baby learning to walk? Do you see how much effort the baby needs to put in? How many times does they fall? Yet, a baby gets up each time and keeps going. For the effortless walking and running you can do today, you worked hard as a baby. You had failed many times but chose not to give up. When you could walk and your parents adored you for that, you did not stop there. You wanted to learn to walk. And you did all this because you wanted to do it. Not because you wanted to prove to someone something or you wanted to be the first one amongst your friends in walking.

When it comes to what kind of learner one should be, a baby is our greatest guru. Learn the way a baby learns. It makes learning seem so effortless right from walking to talking and so many other things.

Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images

Here is the key to effortless learning:

  • Learn for the sake of learning and nothing;
  • Work hard and work smart. Come up with strategies to help you reach your goals.
  • Keep going. Do not stop whether you fail or fall.
  • Focus. Focus. Focus. Do not get distracted with anything else. Just focus on your goals.

Photo Credit: Tom Wang


Challenges, struggles, and setbacks. No one wants them. We all want effortless easy sailing. Scientific research now has compelling evidence that during formative years when we put in efforts to learn new things, overcome new challenges, it helps our neural network to get stronger and our brain to get faster.

So, the choice is ours. We can choose to do the easy stuff and avoid putting in the hard work in learning which would eventually get boring and frustrating. Or we could put effort and focus on goals, along the way build an active and fast brain.

About the Author:

Shalini Bindal is a professional coach certified by International Coaching Federation. She focusses her coaching efforts on Teens, Parents and Women. Shalini has an MBA in Human Resources and has worked in consulting firms for more than 10 years, consulting companies from the list of Fortune 500 like GE, Aviva, BMS etc. If you find yourself procrastinating and would like help to move from holding yourself back to discovering a NEW YOU, check out her GET-SET-GOAL programme on the website.

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