Learning how to learn

Julia Evans on getting better at programming by learning how things work:

When I’m asking someone questions to try to learn about something new, sometimes this happens:

me: so, just to check my understanding, it works like this, right?

them: actually, no, it’s

me (internally): (brief moment of panic)

me: ok, let me think for a minute about my next question

It never quite feels good to learn that my mental model was totally wrong, even though it’s incredibly helpful information. Asking this kind of really specific question (even though it’s more effective!) puts you in a more vulnerable position than asking a broader question, because sometimes you have to reveal specific things that you were totally wrong about!

When this happens, I like to just say that I’m going to take a minute to incorporate the new fact into my mental model and think about my next question.

This perfectly captures for me that somewhat horrifying yet exhilarating feeling when I suddenly realize that I’ve been living my life with a completely wrong understanding of something. Exhilarating in part because I’ve come to appreciate that these moments are usually followed by a series of “Wait a sec, does this mean that” realizations where a bunch of other bits of understanding suddenly come into focus and click into place.