How to Kick-Start Your Learning When You Get Stuck
Photo courtesy of Creative Ignition.

How to Kick-Start Your Learning When You Get Stuck

Written by Bev Webb

Topics: Creativity

Why is it that learning something new can feel amazing on some occasions but drive you insane on others?

When your learning is going well, you feel unstoppable. You consume all the information you can get your hands on, the ideas just keep on coming, your project develops in leaps and bounds, and you get to spend hours lost in a state of flow.

But then, of course, there are those other times. Those are the times when, no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to get to grips with the new skill you’ve been so keen to learn. You stare at a blank sheet of paper or screen, and, rather than feeling inspired, you feel desperate.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with lots of creative media, from photography to charcoal drawing, and from metalwork to guitar playing. No medium has ever challenged me as much as clay. I’ve always yearned to be able to work with clay. I love the way it feels, its malleability, and the transformation it goes through in the kiln. But it’s the one medium that I always get stuck on and I don’t know why.

Not liking to be beaten, I recently decided to give clay another go. I went to an open session at my local community center. How did I get on? Well, I can’t say I created a masterpiece, but I did have fun making a clay tile. I’m hoping this might be the experience that helps me turn the corner, and begin a more positive relationship with clay. The experience also got me thinking about kick-starting the learning process when something isn’t clicking.

What can you do when your learning gets stuck in a rut?

Feeling stuck while learning can be even more frustrating for multipotentialites than the average learner. After all, you’ve tried your hand at plenty of completely new things before. You’re doing exactly what you’ve always done, with the same preparation and flexible expectations. Why are you feeling stuck this time?

As compulsive learners, we multipotentialites spend more time at the start of learning curves than most people. No one knows better than we do that learning new skills can be challenging. And yet, on occasion, it feels like there’s something bigger than the usual beginners’ difficulties in our way.

So what can you do when the new skill you want to learn is proving particularly tricky to pick up? Here are a few ideas to get you moving forwards again.

1) Try an alternative approach

At school there were some math concepts which I totally got first time around and there were others that I found really hard to grasp. In situations like these, it’s often worth taking a 360 degree look at the challenge to see if there’s another way to approach it.

For example, it might help to do something practical, to gain experience of applying your skill to a ‘real life’ context. Using my math example, I could have learned about statistics using real life data and outcomes rather than purely theoretical number exercises.

On the flip side, if your learning has been mainly practical, it could be time to read up on some of the background. If you’ve been using written instructions or learning from a book, you could try using video tutorials or taking a class. It might also be useful to ask someone for help, as other people often provide different perspectives which might be all you need for a breakthrough.

2) Take a breather

I’m a great believer that the subconscious can work things through and find its own solution, given a little space and time. You may have had an experience in the past when something you were struggling with suddenly made sense, as though all the little pieces had finally dropped into place. That’s the power of time out.

When I get frustrated with something, my mind becomes far less receptive to learning and that’s my cue to take a break. I often give it a breather for an hour, a day, or maybe even a week, until I can find the focus to return to study.

3) Change your environment

Moving into a different space or environment can reinvigorate your mind. If you’ve been working indoors, try opening a window to get some air flowing, or experiment with learning in different places such as cafes, the library, or a park, and see if that helps. As strange as it sounds, sometimes just moving to another part of the same room, or standing rather than sitting, can be all it takes.

Many people find that background music helps them concentrate, so try digging out your favorite playlist, and boogieing around the room while you learn!

During our lifetimes as pluralists, we’re going to take on the challenge of learning potentially hundreds of new skills, so it’s worth stocking up on a range of techniques to help troubleshoot when problems that arise. Happy learning!

Over to you

Have you ever had difficulty getting to grips with a particular skill? Did you decide to tackle it head on, take a breather, or give up on it entirely?

bevBev is an artist, creativity coach and founder of Kickass Creatives, a website offering practical support to frustrated creatives. She’s over 20 years of working in the arts: experimenting with everything from performing in a fire circus and managing a hiphop dance company, through to web consultancy and jewellery design. Bev is passionate about using her experience to enable others to fully develop (rather than hide) their multitude of talents too. Connect with her on Twitter @creativekickass.


  1. Lauren says:

    I’m a fan of taking a breather… all my best ideas come to me in the shower usually. Yesterday I had a bath (I was freeezing and needed to be warmed up!) and suddenly had an epiphany – a problem I’d been trying to solve with my blog suddenly solved itself. It was like this knot in my brain slipped undone, and I leapt out of the bath, ran to my computer (well, got dressed first) and made the changes I needed to make. That kickstarted the whole thing and today I completely redesigned the layout and relaunched it within an hour! I’m happier about the direction it’s going now and suddenly have loads of ideas of articles I can write… all because of that lovely warm bath and the break it gave my weary brain.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Lauren. Wow, yes, the shower is a great place for having those breakthrough moments! it is interesting that in giving a problem some space, a solution is more likely to appear than if you stay consciously focused on it. :)

  2. Jo says:

    I find that happens to me with showers (I don’t have baths!). It happens most when I’ve been for a run or walk, half-listening to BlogcastFM, and then have a shower. It seems to be the perfect amount of doing but not doing something for my mind to float off and for things to click. Congrats on your progress with your site!

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Jo! Thanks for your feedback :) Yep, doing what appears to be “nothing” is often actually exactly the thing you need to be doing. It’s like the less hard you try, the easier it becomes.

  3. Jen says:

    Oh man, I got completely stuck when I tried to take dance classes. I absolutely LOVE dancing, in my own weird way, but I completely sucked at trying to follow choreographed moves!! It was kind of hilarious. I just tried my best and had fun for the rest of the class and figured free-form dance is more my style. :)

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Jen. I totally know that feeling! I once tried to learn Tai-Chi, only to discover I found it almost impossible to remember more than a couple of moves in any sequence. Have fun with your free-form dance moves! :)

  4. Livia says:

    I remember how I had my wow-effect with the field of structural semantics at university. I opened books over books on this linguistic approach and tried to figure what the sentences in these essays really meant. It was an ordeal. The scientists language was no easy read.
    Two things helped me in the end:
    – giving the subconscious its time to tie up loose ends. In my case this meant, OK, I read these difficult essays, but not all on one day, and I always took down some written notes. And I stopped worrying about things right then and there. I gave it its time, changed to other topics too, before I went back to that.
    – The second helper was a shorter description of this linguistic concept from a book directed to freshmen or beginners. This is in general a good starting point: all those books “for kids”, “for beginners”, “for dummys” are in most cases easy to read and understand. And this gives you the general ideas or a sort of frame.

    After some time all my notes really made sense to me – my personal wow-effect. I like to rely on my subconscious when learning something difficult. :-D

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Livia. Yep, there’s a lot to be said for using a range of different resources, especially when they’re written from the perspective of a total beginner. Sounds like you’ve got a great learning system going! :)

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