Learning Gets Harder

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Learning Gets Harder

When my daughter was about three years old, I sat her down in front of a computer for the very first time and showed her how to use the mouse. We used a simple coloring app at Barney.com (yes, the purple dinosaur).

I showed her how to click, double-click, and drag. Within about 60 seconds, she had all three of these skills pretty much mastered. I remember how surprised I was at her ability to handle the mouse so quickly at such a young age. In about a minute or two, she was using the mouse to play with the app without any of my help.

Several years prior to that, I had taught my dad how to use a mouse. He was in his early 50s at the time. Teaching him how to click, double-click, and drag was a real battle. Teaching him to right-click (he used a PC) was even worse. It had nothing to do with his health or his intelligence. My dad is a sharp, well read, healthy guy with two masters’ degrees and a doctorate. Didn’t matter. Learning how to use that mouse was a challenge.

After about an hour working with him, he was using the mouse but was still having lots of trouble. It took him about two days before he could master it easily.

Around the same time, I visited my grandpa and taught him to use the mouse. He was around age 80 at the time. Teaching him to use that mouse was an absolute nightmare. His hands were healthy and didn’t shake, but clicking and dragging was a very difficult skill for him to become accustomed to.

Even three weeks later, after using the computer daily, he reported to me that using the mouse was still problematic. Eventually he got it, but it took him weeks.

So what took my three year-old daughter 60 seconds to master took my 80 year-old grandpa about a month.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Untrue. However, it is accurate to say that the older the dog is, the longer it’s going to take him to learn those new tricks. The older you are, the longer it will take you to learn any new major skill. Business skills, computer skills, new languages, etc.

This means two things:

1. Learn all the important skills you’ll need to hit your big goals in life as soon as you’re able, while you’re as young as you are. If you wait 10 or 15 years, it’s going to be harder to learn the same skills, at least a little.

2. If you’re older, don’t use that as an excuse to not learn new skills. While it took him a while to figure it out, my grandpa did eventually master the mouse. The term “lifelong learner” is cliché, but it’s somewhat accurate. You should learn your key skills as soon as you’re able, but you should still always learn whatever skills you need to live a rich and happy life, regardless of your age.

This article was originally published on July 15, 2015