Sometimes the thing you most need to learn is the thing you least want to study

I’ve written previously about keeping a learning journal. As a registered psychologist, I am required to both engage in ongoing learning and document it. That requirement ended up sparking an interest in me that is reflected in a couple of my projects: CPD workbook and Digital CPD record for psychologists.

In my formalised CPD (continuing professional development) record, I am required to set learning goals at the beginning of the CPD year (which is roughly in line with the calendar year). I spent some time during the Christmas break, thinking about my learning goals.

In previous years, I’ve been very fortunate that the things that I wanted to learn were closely aligned with what was useful in my day job @ Flinders. I was interested in productivity tools and habit formation/ behaviour change and that translated nicely to developing and delivering programs for students wishing to navigate their studies and sustain their health and mental health at the same time.

But this year, I made a deliberate decision to focus my CPD on some topics that weren’t high on my priority list, but which I think are really important for me rounding out my knowledge-base and being better at my job.

They are as follows:

  • Leadership and management
    • What mindsets, knowledge and practices constitute good leadership
  • Different cultural perspectives on wellbeing
    • How do other cultures think about mental health and wellbeing and what would it look like to unify those ideas with western cultural approaches
  • Mental disorders and their treatment
    • Current best practice on diagnosing and treating different mental disorders/illnesses
    • What it is like to experience different disorders (e.g. first hand accounts)
  • Psychology of relationships
    • Practices that promote the building and maintenance of strong relationships (friendships, intimate relationships)

It has been interesting to observe the process of how I selected those topics and my initial reactions to them. It turns out (at least for me) there are a number of reasons why I might be reluctant to explore a particular topic.

The first is unfamiliarity. It is uncomfortable to start building knowledge in an area where you don’t have much existing knowledge. You feel the weight of what you don’t know, the embarrassment of not knowing it, and the concern at how long it will take you to develop a workable understanding. I don’t like the feeling of being an amateur. It is much more enjoyable and arguably easier to build knowledge in an existing area of expertise. It is why I tend to be drawn to learning in areas that resemble previous learning experiences.

The second is cynicism. Sometimes you develop beliefs about a certain topic that prevent you from examining them closely. It is a strange dynamic where you grow increasingly negative about a topic, whilst at the same time growing increasingly ignorant of it. Getting into such a topic requires a deliberate attempt to put aside those doubts and engage with the topic from a place of curiosity and openness. You don’t necessarily need to change your mind about the topic, but you do need to understand it well enough to communicate effectively with those who could benefit from the insights in that area.

The third is personal relevance. A topic can sometimes hit ‘close to home’ and thus be quite activating. The avoidance of the topic is an extension of avoiding the issue in your own life. You become aware that digging into the topic may elicit a range of difficult emotions, feelings, memories, sensations and so you find ways to convince yourself why you don’t need to acquire wisdom in that area. It is much nicer to engage in learning that activates your strengths, rather than exposes your weaknesses.

The fourth is fear, or specifically a fear of misrepresentation. Some topics involve exploring the very different ways that people understand themselves, the world, the meaning of life. I’m not scared to learn these different perspectives, but I do fear that I will misunderstand those perspectives and then misrepresent them in other contexts. I fear not doing justice to topics that involve fundamental ways that people think about themselves and the world they live in.

There are probably other dynamics at play in my reluctance to explore these topics and I hope to discover them this year as I engage with them. Are there topics or areas of learning that you know logically would be valuable additions to your knowledge-base but which you avoid for some reason?

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