I’m on a mission to figure out how to enjoy learning JavaScript. I have learnt about learning that I need to get the cognition to motivation loop working with me instead of against me.

You’ll learn poorly if you’re not motivated, and you’ll be demotivated if you’re learning poorly. But, from vicious to virtuous cycle: you’ll learn well if you’re motivated, and you’ll be more motivated if you’re learning well!
Curse of the Chocolate-Covered Broccoli (or: Emotion in Learning)

This in-depth article by Nicky Case is fabulous, and reading it has helped me think a lot about how I am trying to learn. What do I need to put in place to improve both sides of that loop? How can I find resources that work for me? Learning is incredibly individual, and what might be a perfect approach for other people won’t necessarily do the trick for me.

I have started paying very close attention to my levels of cognition and motivation.

Farewell Fear of Failure

I have amassed plenty not-wildly-successful attempts at learning JavaScript in previous years, and it has mostly felt like wandering though a particularly vast marsh. Not getting anywhere, not having fun. All these attempts have formed sediments of “proof” that I probably can’t and won’t ever be able to learn JavaScript. And so the soggy marsh keeps getting worse to traverse, and yeah… these are really not ideal circumstances. I took a serious stab at a React course this winter, and though I did manage something resembling progress; it was slow and painful and never felt like winning. Now I understand that I was trying to work with a cognitive load that was too heavy.

Feeling like shit when learning something… it turns out are not optimum conditions. Who knew!? But seriously, knowing that there is actual science explaining why this is sabotaging me, means I can forgive myself, let go of previous failed attempts and move on.

Put chocolate on broccoli?

No! Because that doesn’t work, random bells and whistles are distractions when you are trying to learn. But broccoli is great when prepared properly! And quoting the same article: “there’s a natural motivation already in understanding the unknown.” I need to identify the resources and learning techniques that provide me with a cognitive load difficulty just above my comfort zone. And also embrace that following step-by-step instructions is most effective for me as a beginner, while active exploring will be great when I have become an advanced JS student.

Vanilla 🍦

I have had new & exciting success lately with this approach:

  • Watch video and do exercise from beginnerjavascript.com 🏀
  • Refactor that exercise with my content and my design ♻️
  • Study MDN docs and write a bunch of code comments explaining syntax 🤓

The first step gets me curious, pushes me onto the stage, and let’s me believe that this thing I am working on is not impossible. The next fuels motivation further because I code something fun for me. For example: we code a practical pop-up modal in the course, I refactor that into flash cards for practicing Chinese numerals. And the third step is what improves cognition in a way that works more for me that the “just code” approach that is often advocated. I repeat and dig deeper into understanding properly what I just learnt. The code comments become excellent notes I can easily find again. I worry a lot less that I’ll forget or didn’t understand a concept properly.

It’s working really well! For the first time since never — I am having actual fun learning JS.