Why Do The Simplest Skills Take the Longest to Learn?

Baby PottyWelcome to Thoughty Thursday here at More Cowbell! Thanks to my toddler, I’ve got learning on my mind.

Baby Girl is potty training. And by that, I mean she’s been showing interest in the potty: sitting on it, making us sit on it and (I just found out yesterday) going when she’s at school.

That child (much to my dismay) has been watching me sit on the toilet for months. Bathroom time is now “together time,” rather than the “private time” I’m used to.

Not only has Babykins tried to pull down my  pants (rather than her own), one time she shoved my thigh over so she could see what was going on down in Porcelain Mysteryland.

[Yeah, you pre-kid peeps…you lose ALL your dignity when you’re a parent.]

Then yesterday, I get the report that, as usual, they asked the Little Bean if she wanted to use the potty. As usual, she (emphatically) said “no.”

Then one of her little friends said, “Oh, come on…use the potty with me!!.”

She walked over to where they were changing another child’s diaper, grabbed the Dora potty-seat off the shelf, placed it on the toilet, took down her pants, climbed up and went.

Hubby and I, and her Godpop that works at the school, all started cheering when we heard. You’d think that child had built the Eiffel Tower or discovered the cure for AIDS.

[I’ll just remind you of that dignity thing I mentioned above. Gone…out the door…ka-PUT  the moment you become a parent.]

And I started thinking about all the simple stuff that takes people forever to get.

Asking someone on a date…
Mixing a good drink…
Doing a push-up…

As kids, it’s pretty understandable that learning takes awhile — they have a TON to learn in a short amount of time.

But what about us adults? Does it really take a while to learn all the adult skills, or does it simply take a while to feel confident about them?

How many times have friends of mine:

  • Not played a game because they didn’t know the rules, rather than joining the fun and learning as they went?
  • Not attended an event because “they didn’t know anyone?”
  • Refused to take a turn on the dance floor “because they didn’t know how?”
  • Not tried for something like a job or a publishing contract because they were afraid they’d fail?

I can’t even count all the incidents up.

Except for the last one, all of the above just require that you show up and “go with it.” Really.

Photo from Sodahead.com (plus I have this sign)

Photo from Sodahead.com (plus I have this sign)

I’m going to pose a crazy thought. The most common phobia is the fear of social embarrassment, so I’m going with the Fear Factor being the thing that drags us down as we learn a new skill.

Rather than enjoying ourselves as we try something new, many of us worry about whether we look good doing it.

I think for most things, if we were willing to fail at them for a while, rather than be rockstars right out of the gate, we’d get a whole lot further. I am especially bad at being patient with my first efforts on something. I usually want to be “good at it” NOW.

(If you read my last Crossfit post, you know that already!)

What about you? Are you patient with yourself, or are you all “hurry-hurry-hurry” whenever you learn something new? Can you think of something that seemed simple that took you a long time to learn? Will you share it? Enquiring minds always want to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
This entry was posted in Inspiration, Parenting, Thoughty Thursday and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Why Do The Simplest Skills Take the Longest to Learn?

  1. emmaburcart says:

    Yes! You are totally right about that! I don’t like to do something unless I’m good at it. At least, in front of other adults. In my classroom with the door shut, I can sing and act a fool because I know the kids love me anyway. Hmm, I guess it really is about social acceptance. Maybe we need to spend more time around people who will accept us no matter what. Then we will be willing to try things and fail. I, too, have the hardest time with this at CrossFit. I am the newest one and no matter how much everyone encourages me, I still worry about making a complete fool out of myself. And knocking out my teeth on a box jump. Weird fear, I know. I think tomorrow I am going to be like baby girl and pick up that barbell like it’s a Dora potty seat! Thanks for the kick in the butt I needed. 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      It’s so funny that you used this example, Emma! I was just telling hubby last night that one of the hardest things about Crossfit for me is that I know I look crappy doing it. Slowest runner in the class, can’t do a full pull-up or push-up… And the coach always reminds me (when I start bitching about my time) that “at least I’m there.” I try to focus on that.

      Oh, and BTW, for me the box jump worry is that I will break a bone. 🙂


  2. I hope that’s the tipping point for Baby Girl. 😀
    I tend to get impatient with – and set some stupid-high expectations for – myself. But, I love to learn new things. It’s one of my favorite things to do. If there’s a new game in the offing, and as long as it doesn’t entail stripping, or hold the potential for someone to be injured, I’ll plunge on into the pool and laugh at my own ineptitude, and keep practicing and learning. 🙂


    • Oh! And that one item that seemed simple? Bread-making, the old-fashioned way. I lost count of how many loaves of bread came out of the oven feeling like a lead weight and looking like a door stop before I understood it couldn’t be rushed and needed plenty of hands-on TLC. There’s no slap-dashery in bread-making. 😉


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      On the “tipping point”…me too! We’ll see. We’re not going to go cold turkey until May, just to make sure she gets to succeed at this. Then I heard it’s many changes of clothes and a couple pairs of shoes at school each day.

      And I am positive that you have a lot more fun jumping into the pool than staying on the sidelines. 🙂


  3. Ginger Calem says:

    I’m guilty of not wanting to do something if I’m not good at it. I’m a perfectionist and like to be good at stuff. ha! It can be a huge roadblock in so many areas.


  4. Julie Glover says:

    Dealing with those kid moments gave me some perspective about failure. I love your description of how excited you were (Eiffel Tower/cure for AIDS)…because it’s so true. We nearly throw a party the first time our kid’s poop lands in the potty. But we parents don’t freak out about the kid not getting it on the first try, or the second, or the third, or the… Why don’t give ourselves the same grace to learn something new and master it?

    Perhaps you’ve inspired a new concept in my brain, or at least a phrase for thinking about it: The next time that Fear Factor rears its ugly head, I’m going to give myself a pep talk that goes like this: “C’mon, Julie, step up to the potty!”


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Yep, it truly is about stepping right up, isn’t it? And I’m so much patient with her trying than I am with myself. Of course she has a whole different daddy mentality cheering her on and it will make a HUGE difference for her. 🙂


  5. Gene Lempp says:

    Woot! Congrats to baby girl 🙂

    And then, sigh, guilty as charged. I think this is often a hanger on from the teen years. We want to fit in. We want to not be seen as incompetent. We want to avoid our fears to the point of motionless obsession. And, it is even worse for those of us struggling with perfectionist syndrome (and if it isn’t an official syndrome it sure the hell should be). Nail on the head, Wonder Twin.

    Words I needed to hear today – Bookmarked this, More Cowbell please 🙂


  6. LauraDrake says:

    See, that’s the wonderful thing about kids – they have no expectations of themselves. They wade in and try. Look how much they learn in 4 years: walking, a new language, managing bodily functions, sense of self — I could go on and on.

    Since our brains get bigger as we grow – and we learn less and less, I have to think that the “adult factor” (I’d look stupid if I failed) weighs in much heavier than we think.

    Live like no one is watching!


  7. Congrats to Baby Girl 🙂 I have friends who are going through potty training with their kids right now, and so that’s a major accomplishment!

    As for the rest, I think you’ve been eavesdropping on my brain. My grandma still loves to tell the story of how she was trying to teach me the alphabet as a child. I absolutely refused to repeat the letters after her. Then the next time I saw her two days later, I recited them perfectly. But I wouldn’t say them until I was sure I could get them all right. That’s kind of the pattern for my adult life as well. I’ll work my hiney off privately to get something right rather than risking public embarrassment and failure.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I love that story, Marcy! So you’re a private practicer to avoid public embarrassment. It seems like it’s working out well for you, my dear. I prep as much as possible but in the end, I know there’s nothing like experience to make you good at something. I found that out teaching: No prep will make you as good as the experience of your first class.


  8. K.B. Owen says:

    Jenny, fab post! And as a mom of three boys (the first two were very S-L-O-W at the potty thing) I wish you a hearty congrats! There were times with the first two boys (the third just whizzed – haha – along) that I would just breathe and remind myself that they wouldn’t be wearing pull-ups to college.

    You are spot-on about folks being afraid to try new things for fear of failing or embarrassing themselves. But Baby Girl’s little friend had the perfect solution: it’s always easier to try new things when you’ve got a buddy by your side!



    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Baby Girl has been veeeeeeery slow at this. She’s been watching us and the other kids at school for at least 6 months, the last three very avidly. But she’s always been that way — kind of like Marcy up above. She watches and thinks and watches and practices and then one day she gets up and does it perfectly. She did it that way with both walking and talking, and took her sweet time about both. Evidently potty training is to be the same way.


  9. I have no patience with learning either. I want to know what I want to know and I want it NOW. Funny thing is, I appreciate what I learn MORE when I have to work for it.


  10. K.R. Brorman says:

    Congrats Mom & Dad for allowing “Little Bean” to figure it out for herself. Mine are 18 & 16 and are doing just fine even though they weren’t masters by 18 months.

    I’m a toe dipper, testing the water temp several times before jumping in and ALWAYS wish I’d jumped sooner. The day will come when I’ll just grab the Dora chair and GO!


  11. Carrie says:

    I’m not sure how old Baby Girl is but MY kids were BOTH super slow. My oldest finally potty trained at one month shy of 3yrs and my youngest wasn’t until almost 3 and a half! Ack!!

    As for being afraid, totally there with you. I hate looking like an idiot and I’d rather not take the chance and participate and have fun than look like a fool. However many times if I DO take that chance I have SUCH a great time!!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Well then, it’s time to embrace those times you take a chance, Carrie. Remember this chat the next time that situation arises.

      And yep, Babykins has been sl-o-o-ow, but I just ordered one of those Dora Potty Seats online at Amazon and it should be here TOMORROW. 😀


  12. Louise Plummer wrote an essay about this called “Fear, I Embrace You.” It’s in her (now out of print book of essays, which are fun and insighful, btw), but she says that much of what we do FEELS like it’s life threatening, when it actually isn’t. But we let the fear hold us back.

    I’m totally about being embarrassed. LOL I think it is in my genetic makeup. My dad hates to be the center of attention. So I really have to push myself out of my comfort zone.

    Re: potty training. I hooked my daughter into by buying her the frilliest pair of panties ever. I told her she had to stay dry to wear them. With my son, it was a gumball machine filled with M&Ms. He got a penny for going. You do what you have to.

    And on sharing your bathroom experience, I took this acting class WAAAY back when. The teacher wanted us to get in touch with our primitive selves by doing some stupid stuff, like pretending to eat like a Cro-mag or something. Yeah, I was embarrassed. BUT, I pointed out to him that I’d given birth AND clapped for poo and pee. I was a mom and totally in touch with the primitive. Grin.


  13. Yay for Baby Girl! Once they are out of diapers, it’s a whole new world of freedom. Hmm, I have to think about this. I love to learn, but I’m not in a rush to learn everything right NOW. But then again, I am. I guess I’m selectively OCD. Some things, like gardening, I’m okay with screwing up fifty-six times. Other things, like writing, I want to get perfect the first time out. But I know it will take fifty-six times or more to get the perfect draft and that makes me bonkers. As for that push up? I could care less if I ever get that sucker right. I suppose it all depends on what’s important to you. Now bread ~ I love that you can’t be slap dashery about it. I’ll have to remember that when I make my next loaf. I’ve been wanting to make bread for a while now…


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I’m looking forward to the freedom part. 🙂

      Tameri, it sounds like (just like me) you’re okay with screwing up the things you don’t have a real emotional investment in. But the stuff you do?? You wanna rip your hair out when you suck for a while.


  14. Jenny, your experience with baby girl reminded me of what I missed out on. I was not the potty example in our family since I had boys. My hubby had a potty buddy. Can I tell you how much he loved that? (Not really). But hey, it worked. And just remember, boys usually take way longer than girls. So I think you’re on the road to potty independence my friend!

    I would like to ditto Gene’s comment and most of the above. Perfectionism. What is that all about? But I don’t think that it’s all self inflicted. I was raised on perfect, cause everything had-to-be! So I’m slowly unraveling the perfectionism cord that has had me tied up for years causing much frustration. And that’s what I like about writing. It’s a form of therapy I plan on using for the rest of my life. 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I don’t know that having your kid try to peer THROUGH YOU to the toilet is something to miss out on, but I get what you’re saying. She is awfully cute when she tells you, “Pants down!”

      I have trouble with perfection too, but I’m getting better. 🙂


  15. tomwisk says:

    Hi Jenny, “Now” is a word that has followed everything I tried and wanted to be good at. It happened for some, okay very few, but by and large they took effort. To young peeps out there, as you get older it doesn’t get easier.


  16. Congratulations to all of you for surviving potty training! Did you make up potty songs too? Thought so!
    Learning all of this social media ‘stuff’ has been challenging and there are days when I wonder if I will ever get the hang of it – hello, Triberr! Thanks to you it’s getting easier!


  17. claywatkins says:

    Nice post, I sauntered over from Susie’s place and was asking myself a similar question a couple of weeks back as it applies to learning. I know kids – my students and my own kids – would rather practice a athletic or dance drill or skill than take time to read or write. Yet, it is more likely that reading and writing will be critical to their overall success.. just as learning to be social or going to the potty, it’s fear of getting it wrong or doing it wrong, that drives us to avoidance. Thanks and I look forward to following along!


  18. Susie, you know – – – the one that throws those great parties? – – – well, she sent me. And you have made some good points in this blog; “like the not dancing.” However, I am a fast learner when it comes to “Mixing a good drink”; at least that is what my wife tells me. So here are some of my best posts on “mixology.”



  19. Oh how familiar having bathroom buddies is. And congrats for Baby Girl’s potty success. I hope she’s got the hang of it now. Mine are also still learning and they’re 4 in few months. They pee to potty just fine every time but don’t like to poop there.
    I’m not very good at figuring out things while doing it. I want to know all about it first before I try, and internalize the process. But pantsing is fun when you know what you’re doing.


  20. filbio says:

    I’m still learning how to use the potty!

    Not true – but I think many adults still don’t know how to use it. Ever go in a public bathroom?

    I thinks it’s a confidence thing when it comes to learning the simple things. Some of us would rather not go through a learning phase as we get older. Me, I’m up for anything.


Comments are closed.