What’s the value of learning hard things?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about the value of learning hard things…

What is the value of learning hard things? Such ‘hard things’ might include learning to play the piano or learning to speak a second language. Or even, learning to write.

Academic, writer and blogger Cal Newport feels strongly about the value of tacking tough stuff. (I’ve lauded Newport before, most recently for his post on not obsessing over news — see here, item 5.)

Newport addresses the issue of challenging work in a post running under the headline, “The deep benefits of learning hard things.”

Here is how he phrases his analysis:

When you practice the art of practicing, the skill can be applied widely . It’s why spending time to learn the piano, or archery, or chess, or hobby electronics can be more than a high quality alternative to the numbing blandness of passive information consumption, it can also make it easier later when you decide at work you need to master a complex new mathematical model or supply chain system.

He also expresses the idea of the psychological benefits that come from such learning —  especially during times as the ones we’re facing right now, in lockdowns as a result of the coronavirus.

As Newport puts it, there is a “meditative aspect” to learning a new skill. We gain the benefit of distracting ourselves from our troubles and the ancillary advantage of learning how to focus and concentrate.

It’s almost as if learning to do something new is only a side benefit…