Summer Series: Wilderness Maxims for Learning; Part 5

Maxim 5: –Take it slow and steady. Go slow to go far.

With the hottest summer days upon us, this week’s Wilderness Maxim for Learning reminds us to pace ourselves and live in the moment. One critical way to do this, often overlooked, is by managing expectations. Everything looks like a failure if we expect immediate perfection in what we attempt, especially when we compare ourselves to the performance of others. There is a belief shared across many cultures throughout history—from ancient Persian rug makers to Zen potters, Greek sculptors, Jewish home-builders, Amish quilters, Navajo weavers, and more—about making at least one ‘deliberate imperfection’ in any project as a way to honor the reality that nothing on Earth is perfect. As mentioned in earlier posts, learning often prioritizes the goal without giving enough attention and appreciation to the process. This week’s maxim reminds us to experience each step and notice the little details and changes along our learning journey.

Connection to Learning:

This week’s maxim is ‘Are we there, yet?’ meets ‘Hurry up and wait!’ meets ‘Work smarter, not harder.’ The art of slowing down with learning is about developing your study skills. It’s about reading the manual and wearing the appropriate safety gear before using that brand-new power tool just out of the box. Parents, teachers, and administrators, alike, can all be guilty of expecting learners to know fundamentals without anyone putting in the time to teach basics like time and task management, effective note-taking, or the myriad of complex skills required for learning. What’s worse, these mentors may even push students to burnout rather than cultivate their confidence with a patient, steady hand. 

Photo Credit: Philip Canterbury

Wilderness guide Holly Johnson recommends that hikers “prioritize taking small and frequent breaks,” in order to keep a steadier overall pace, avoid exhaustion, and increase enjoyment during a hike. Classrooms and independent learners can also benefit from this principle, where ‘taking a break’ presents a variety of different options. I often took my classes on a hike after completing a big assignment, and each lesson always included several small brain breaks. This maxim, however, is about more than just incorporating buffer time into learning.

Chunking’ is another way to use this wilderness maxim as a learning strategy. A hiker doesn’t set off at full speed until they burn out and collapse somewhere on the trail, and neither should a student. Instead of jumping right into an activity, figure out ways to split it into parts or sections. Identify patterns so that the entire thing makes more sense. Still, most students rush into reading an assigned article from start to finish rather than previewing it first. You can learn a lot in 3 minutes by looking over the images, captions, and headings in an article or essay and then writing down what you noticed. Even if an essay lacks images or any subheadings, we can more casually scan the intro, conclusion, and several sentences throughout the article. This isn’t cheating, even though students have told me that it feels like it is. This is about taking greater care with a task, learning more intentionally, and beginning with success in mind from the start. Instead of having to remember the entire thing beginning to end, chunking a reading helps us see all the parts, each of which then becomes more memorable on its own. This strategy works with writing, language acquisition, and test prep, as well.

Photo Credit: Philip Canterbury

Discussion/Journaling Prompt:

Think of a task or project you’ve been procrastinating starting because it seems daunting or intimidating, only break it apart so you can more closely explore its pieces and parts. You can either “free write” about anything that comes to mind when you think of this task, or you can consider any of the following guided questions and prompts to explore this more closely:

  • What makes certain parts easier or more challenging than others?
  • What will it cost you to undergo this process, and what do you imagine you will gain from the experience?
  • Compare this task to something you’ve already completed that also seemed impossible at one time.
  • What are the personal, professional, emotional, or relational benefits of completing this?
  • What emotions come up when you imagine what it would be like to complete this and finally be finished?
  • What character traits will you need to exercise or rely on in order to succeed in this task?
  • What advice would you give a friend in order to motivate them through a task like this?

More is to come in Part 6 of this Summer Series on Wilderness Maxims for Learning. Like, share, subscribe, or comment if these ideas resonate with you.

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