Sunday, February 25, 2018

The effect of new ideas on learning

"It's always good to learn something new" - or so the proverb goes. Let's examine whether this is true, and how to maximize the impact of our learning.

In this article, I will classify new ideas into two categories: growth beliefs and limiting beliefs.

How our beliefs affect our learning.

To keep this article short, I will make a claim that I'm not going to back up further: Whatever we learn is merely a new belief, a new concept we hold about reality.

Growth beliefs

A growth belief is an idea which accelerates our future learning. Adopting a growth belief has a sustained beneficial effect on our ability to understand the world. Growth beliefs tick off slowly by slightly broadening our horizon, allowing us to integrate new ideas faster. Thinking in networks, a growth belief is a belief where further beliefs can easily be attached to. The following illustration visualizes the idea:

Upon the growth belief, further ideas are built and can be adopted easier.
The growth belief acts as a sustainable basis for growth of ideas

Limiting beliefs

A limiting belief is an idea which inhibits our future learning. Adopting a limiting belief has a long-term negative effect on our ability to understand the world. Unfortunately, the danger of limiting beliefs is that in the short term, they might give a massive boost to our ability to understand certain things. Again, thinking in networks, a limiting belief has a strong connection to related ideas which are oftentimes adopted immediately - while at the same time, the limiting belief is inconsistent with other ideas which become harder to adopt:

The limited belief is closely related to similar ideas
 - and inconsistent with other ideas, which we then struggle with or reject. 

When conflicts between ideas arise, we usually reject the new idea based on the ideas we already hold. Subconsciously, we find reasons why the new idea is wrong - either by trying to prove how it is deficient, or by trying to prove how our current belief is "superior". We are no longer open to listen to the merit of the new idea, as long as the cost of adopting it feels higher than the cost of rejecting it.


Unfortunately, there is no certain way to know upfront which beliefs are growth or limiting ideas. As a general rule of thumb, though: The easier an idea tries to explain a complex problem, the more likely it will turn out to be a limiting belief. Or, in more scientific terms: The level of explanatory power of an idea is directly related to our long-term understanding of reality. Beliefs which we hold despite low or no explanatory basis are most likely limiting and should be put under scrutiny.

When ideas with higher explanatory power conflict with ideas we already subscribe to, we should examine what really makes us believe the things we already do and potentially discard the ideas we already hold.


It's only good to learn new things if we can either understand where the things we learn inhibit us, or if we have a mindset of letting go of inhibitive ideas. The latter is extremely hard, as beliefs we have already adopted are often strongly related and make up what we see as "real" - so the best thing is to avoid the trap of adopting limited beliefs wherever we can spot them.

Another thing we need to understand: One person's growth belief might be another person's limiting belief, based on both where the person currently stands and what the person is looking for. When we discover ideas to be truly limiting, it may already be too late to discard them without rejecting a major portion of who we are.

So - be careful what "new things" you learn! It might cost you dearly, years in the future!

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