Learning isn’t necessarily difficult. Any dog owner can attest to the fact that after a couple weeks of persistent training, the dog learns what to do and what not to do. Even lab rats have shown a great capacity to learn and adapt to the demands of new instruction. Then, why is it so difficult to learn as a human? We are conscious, thinking animals who understand what is good for us and what is bad for us and still, the choice is difficult. Other animals can be trained to understand but that instruction can still fail to improve us. Even a child can write a list of good things to do and bad things to avoid and by doing that, showcase a level of understanding that is above that of any other animal, however, as an adult, one cannot help but dip into the bad. Time and time again, the repetition of habits and actions that are controlled by short-term pleasure, by the id according to Freud, short-term pleasure who even the Stoics of ancient times thought to be a troublesome and should be avoided. All these hundreds of years later, it’s still the same fight. Throughout time warning bells against immediate gratification have gone out and even now, just observing the people around you, the people that may be leading lives that you wish not to have for yourself, more often than not, they are lead by that hedonistic need for pleasure in the now.
Knowing all of this, why do you still fail to learn?
A moments thought on your past will bring forth all the times you promised yourself that you will no longer be moved by pleasures demands and that you will stay disciplined towards the larger goal.
A week later or perhaps even a day later you are back promising yourself once more. The failure of will. The failure to change. The failure to learn. However, not a failure to understand for you know even as you commit the act which you have promised yourself not to do, you know even then that you should not be doing it. The guilt or shame that follows after the act is another sign that you understood well enough.
According to philosophers like Heidegger, this shame or guilt comes from the failure to be what you should be. That one has the freedom of choice and you choose the negative, the harmful, the choice that takes you away from the ideal you. When this happens, the action is followed by guilt or shame. A positive to take out of this is that fact that it is a choice. Meaning, you can choose the other option. At least that is the goal.
What to do about this failure? About this guilt?
The famous psychologist, Carl Rogers practiced a technique with the purpose to align the individual’s actual self with his or her ideal self. He believed that incongruency developed in the person when their own self-image was not close to that of their ideal self. In order to develop proper congruency then, the self-image and ideal self have to be similar.
So, a possible solution to the failure to learn issue could be a simple one. Take a piece of paper and write down what your ideal self is. What is the vision of the perfect you and the characteristics that individual has. Then, on the other side of the paper, be honest about yourself and write a list of characteristics that the present you has. Once that is done, keep the paper by your side as a daily reminder or even an hourly reminder if you need that. See what you can be and see what you are and know that ideal you is attainable so that when that bell rings, the call comes to give in, to seek out pleasure right now, you can see that the ideal you would not allow his or her will to break so easily. Even if you are able to delay that immediate gratification for a day that is a win. Most likely, if you are able to delay it for another hour even, that desire to give in will weaken. If you are able to delay it for a whole day then the next day, that gratification bell might not even go off and through this, you can build momentum towards bridging the gap between the ideal you and your current self-image.