The 3 Biggest Problems When You Are Trying To Learn

What are the biggest problems you experience with learning? Is it that you find learning some things difficult? Do you just not seem to make the progress you would like?

I’ll assume that it’s something you want to learn, you’re just struggling with part of it, or not picking it up as quickly as you’d like.
So I’ll go through some of the typical problems that people in this situation create for themselves:

Expecting Too Much

This can happen because you just don’t realise how much skill is involved. In this case, find out about others who have learned the same thing and what their experience was. In particular ask them how long things took and what they’d do differently if they were going to start learning the same thing again.

Not Take Notes

Taking notes is a very useful thing to do when you are learning. These are not just for referring to later, but also really help the learning process. Ideally take notes as you are learning and then review and summarise them later that day. Then review them again a couple of days later, then a week later and then a fortnight later.

One of the most skilled people I know (now a very successful doctor) did this all through his school career. His exam pass rate was unparalleled.

Not Reviewing The Information

Teach someone else. As soon as you have learned something, teach whatever it is to someone else. This is THE single best way to retain information.

Does Your Memory Get Worse As You Get Older?

Probably the biggest question that people should ask but don’t is: Why does my memory get worse as I get older?

The answer is that there is no reason for your memory to get worse. It happens because you let it (unless you have some kind of dementia or other brain problem).

Put in a Bit of Effort

If you put some effort in your memory can improve as you mature, rather than getting worse.

The trouble is that most people just don’t put the effort in and rely on gadgets to remember stuff for them.


There’s nothing wrong with gadgets – you probably use them all the time. But it may be that you want to improve your memory so you can start using them differently.

Work out a sensible system for using your gadgets. It should be what suits your needs the best. So you might put in reminders for birthdays, anniversaries etc.  You might want to use your own memory to remember people’s names and brilliant ideas you have while you’re driving.

Remembering Your Ideas

So one way of improving your memory to your advantage would be to, for a first step, start working on a system for remembering your brilliant ideas till you are able to write them down. There are many such systems; here’s just one.

As soon as you have the idea, make it into some kind of visual representation. Make it as funny as possible. Make it moving and add sound. Add music (music is generally very good at evoking memories). Imagine this picture in a place you will pass once you have parked the car, like on your front door, or the kitchen table. Somewhere close to where you will be able to write it down.

Rehearse, in your head, coming home and seeing the illustration and writing down your idea on you list.

This same technique works for remembering things you need to buy or to do.

Self Esteem Improvement Case Study

I got a call from a manager I’d worked with many times. He was worried about his secretary. She was not happy and he was worried about her. She was convinced she was useless.

As it happened, he regarded her as very skilled and a great asset.

I remember our first meeting. Picture it if you can. She was an attractive woman in her late twenties, but was very tense. Her whole body was taut.

We’ll call her Mandy. I asked her to tell me about her job and herself. We hadn’t got very far when she told me that she was useless.

I asked her how she knew. She said that everyone thought she was useless. I asked her how she knew that. There was silence. I asked if anyone had ever said to her: “Mandy, you are useless.” She confessed that no one had ever said that to her.

“So how do you know?” I persisted.

Ultimately she admitted that she didn’t know.

Low Self-Esteem

This is a typical self-esteem problem. You have some fixed negative beliefs about yourself that are not based in fact. But you think they are. You just “know”.

So you interpret everything as though you are right.
This kind of thing is very bad for you. It’s bad for your brain.


Low self-esteem can be a side-effect of stress. This is because long-term stress damages your hippocampus. You have a hippocampus on either side of your brain. It helps to move memories from the short-term to the long term. It’s also very closely related to self-esteem.

If your hippocampus is exposed to long-term stress the neurons in the hippocampus can get damaged. First the dendrites start to wither. They are the links between the neurons or brain cells. Then the brain cells themselves start to die.

As your hippocampus shrinks so does your self-esteem.

Self Esteem

This is your belief in yourself and that you are a valuable person. It’s also your belief in your ability to cope with the everyday problems that life throws at you. If this is reduced, you start to doubt your ability to cope.


This is what had happened to Mandy. I helped her to go through her everyday life to see how stressful it was. She was married to a man who worked shifts. So she was on her own with her very boisterous son every evening.

She found her work very stressful. We went through every hour of the day. I was looking for a part of the day, however small, that we could use as a starting point for reducing her stress.

Finally she triumphantly told me that she enjoyed reading in bed before she nodded off to sleep. So I had finally found a calm state I could use to get her going. Something told me to ask what she read: Horror stories.

It was no wonder she was so stressed.


Eventually Mandy learned how to relax, which reduced the stress she was feeling. Virtually none of the situations she described were insurmountable. She had turned them into really difficult situations by the way she dealt with them.

Low Self Esteem

This had had the knock-on effect of reducing her self-esteem. You’ll be glad to know that, over a few weeks, she started to improve. But it took a while.


The stress had caused her to make very negative assumptions about friends and colleagues and what they said.

These assumptions built on each other and she ended up extremely stressed and getting worse. It was just because her manager noticed that something was wrong that she got help.

She thought he was going to fire her! That’s how bad it was.

Be careful you don’t create damaging situations like this for yourself. Once you start they can be a very slippery slope.

Tips On Dealing With Bullying – 1

How To Recognise Bullying At An Early Stage

The sooner you can spot the behaviour the better, because then you can be ready to deal with it.

So watch out for:

  • People who ignore the needs of others
  • People who put their needs ahead of everyone else
  • People who use sarcasm
  • People who state their opinions as though they are facts
  • People who insult others in front of a group
  • People who lose their temper and shout at others.

These are all things that bullies tend to do. It doesn’t mean you’ve got a bully if you see one of these behaviours, but it does mean that bullying is more likely.

Look out for my next blog on bullying (Tuesday) where you will find more tips on how to deal with it.

Biggest Memory Problems

The Biggest Problems With MemoryPeople often complain to me that they have trouble remembering things, yet when I ask them what they have done to improve their memory, the answer is usually “Nothing”.

How do you expect your memory to improve if you don’t make a bit of an effort yourself? Improving your memory is not magic; it can be done quite easily with a bit of effort.

The Biggest Problem

The biggest problem by far is just not using your memory properly. Stuffing lots of information in there with no system and expecting to be able to remember everything. It’s like having a car that you haven’t had serviced for years and haven’t even topped up the oil for. Then being surprised when it won’t start.

“I used to be able to remember phone numbers, now I can’t”
Of course you can’t, because they are all programmed into your phone and you never practise remembering them.

On our “How to Improve Your Memory Now and for the Rest of Your Life” workshop, we do a test at the beginning and several others through the afternoon. People always manage to improve their score – some as much as double it in just three hours.

They discover that they have just been a bit lazy and haven’t put any effort into their memory for years. As soon as they do, they get great results.

Relying on One Route for Retrieval

Most memory problems are not about being able to remember information, but being able to retrieve it. You know this because you will often have had the experience when you were trying to remember something and, when someone else told you, you knew the answer or it was “on the tip of your tongue”.

It’s like putting things into your filing system at random and expecting to be able to find them.

Most computers these days have several different ways of finding documents:
Remembering where you filed them

  • Searching by title
  • Searching by words in the content
  • Searching by the date you created them
  • Searching by the date they were last opened
  • Searching by document type

You need to have a similar number of retrieval routes.

One way of doing this is to link what you want to remember with something you already can remember.

An Example.

I needed to meet a client in Slough recently. Afterwards I needed to remember the total mileage for the trip. It was 267. As it happens I used to work in Slough many years ago. The number of the building I worked in was 266. So I imagined that old building + 1 and was easily able to remember the number.

As I thought about that building I remembered all my old friends and the things we did and where it was on the road. I imagined my client at that building.

All these things were done very quickly because it’s something I’m used to doing.

But it doesn’t take long to get into the habit once you have started.

Just Doing It Once

The last big problem with memory for this blog is only doing it once. Memory is much better when things are repeated. So go over the things you need to remember several times, in different ways if possible, and that will help.


Try reviewing the TV program you watched last night. List out the characters, the plot and other details. Do this every morning, perhaps on your way to work. Notice what helps you to remember and see what you need to do to improve.

Motivating the Unmotivated: A Case Study

I was asked to work with a client who was seriously depressed. You could tell how bad it was just by looking at him. His features were downcast, his shoulders were slumped. He sighed. There was no energy in him at all.

Where To Start

I asked him what he wanted. “Dunno.” He responded.
Me: “Do you like your job?”
Joe: “No.”
Me: “What kind of job do you want?”
Joe: “One that’s not like this one.”

Then I used a little trick to get him to identify what he did want. In other words, to help him identify and define a SMART goal or SMART objective.

A Trick

Me: “Do you want a job that’s smaller or bigger than the one you have now?”
Joe: “Bigger.”

I worked through a whole range of aspects of the job he wanted, each time giving him two options and getting him to choose between the two. As we went along I kept summarising. Gradually his mood started to shift.

We agreed he wanted a job running a project that was bigger than the one he had now, that was more technical, based in a different part of the country, working with fewer people and so on.

I then asked him what he was planning to do to get this job. I expect you can guess the response.

So, gradually I got him to identify the first step. Find out where these jobs were. We broke that into smaller steps. Find out where it would be on the intranet. Identify the managers concerned. Find their contact details. Get the details of the jobs. Find out what the requirements were.
We allocated a week for each step.

Now this may seem slow to you (it is) but for someone who is really struggling to get motivated, you need to start them slowly with something that looks achievable and where they can have some easy successes.

You need to be patient. Not one of my strengths. But it paid off. Just a few weeks later when I saw him, he was a different person. He was already applying for new jobs in other departments.

Why Did This Work?

Because when you are depressed your ability to set goals and think long-term is drastically reduced. Goals are very motivating. So, with no goals, you get de-motivated easily.

To overcome the short-term thinking, you need to set very short-term goals and gradually build them up. With this client, it happened rather more quickly than I had hoped, but with others, it can take longer so you need to patient.

Great Interview Failures

Over the years I have helped many clients to recruit staff.

People do drop real clangers in interviews. You may have done it yourself.

Here are a few of my favourites from my own experience so you can make sure you avoid them:

Not Very Keen

Interviewer (me): “Why did you apply for this job?”
Candidate “Well, I’ve only got two GCSEs so this was about the only thing I could do.”

Fortunately this was just a role-play when I was helping my client to prepare… Make sure you are clear about why you are applying and use an attractive reason, something that will make the interviewer think you want to join them rather than suggesting they are a last resort.

No Skill

Answer to the question: “In the negotiation task where you had to negotiate with the doctor, what were your reasons for handling it the way you did” (The candidate had lifted the actor playing the doctor off his feet by his lapels as she shouted at him)

“Well, when you’ve only got 25 minutes, you don’t have time to negotiate – you just have to tell them!”

This candidate had no negotiation skills. She didn’t understand what was meant by “negotiation” and completely lost her temper with our actor during a role-play. But she didn’t see anything wrong with that.

Big Mistake

Candidate: “Where do you manufacture the boxes for the cornflakes?”

The candidate applied to the wrong Kellogg’s – he told me this himself. He wanted to use his packaging expertise but found himself in heavy engineering.

A bit of research could have avoided this.

Almost Lying

Interviewer: “Which project management software tools have you used?”
Candidate: “Visio”
Interviewer: “What did you use it for?”
Candidate: “I can’t remember”
Interviewer: “Did you install it yourself?”
Candidate: “I can’t remember?”
Interviewer: “What projects have you run using this software?”
Candidate: “Lots”
Interviewer: “Tell me what you used it for in one of them.”
Candidate: “I don’t know.”
This candidate was clearly lying. Make sure you are honest in your interviews and come prepared with examples.

No Chance At All

Interviewer: “How many of these did you complete each day in that job?”Candidate: “Well, I could do 12 but I only ever bothered to do 10”

This candidate was honest about what she had done, but had completely the wrong approach and clearly wasn’t aware what the interviewer was looking for.

Yes, they are all true!

Three Key Tips For Motivation


Have a really clear objective – SMART objectives or SMART goals – identify what it is you need to achieve. People often focus on what they are going to spend their time doing, rather than what they need to achieve.
So identify your goal: “I am going to earn enough money to go on holiday to Africa.”
Instead of thinking about working at your boring job or a job you hate.

Keep A Record Of Your Progress.

Remind yourself how much closer you are to your goal now than you were last week or yesterday (or even this morning). Focus on the improvement.

Break It Up

Break your task into small pieces and reward yourself as you complete each piece.
Sometimes having too big a goal can in itself be really de-motivating. So break it into manageable chunks. Don’t worry if they are really small. Then keep track of how many you have completed and give yourself a reward after each one.  A big reward when you reach a milestone.