Learning to Learn: Mindsets to Help You Learn Better

MEST, Monday October 15th 2018

This post was contributed by Ropafadzo Musvaire,  a Zimbabwean entrepreneur-in-training at MEST. An established toastmaster and public speaker, she has chaired and moderated several events. She has experience in business operations, and is passionate about empowering and creating opportunities for African youth through technology.

Your mind and your thoughts are the starting point of anything you wish to achieve. I often catch myself saying, ‘things need to happen in my head before I can do them’. This is because our actions are often simply the physical manifestations of our thoughts. Having the right mindsets is therefore a critical starting point in achieving anything.

I recently started a year long journey at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST). My main motivation for joining the program was to learn. I wanted to expand my knowledge base to help build a technology-based company from the grassroots level. In my quest for knowledge, I have realised three vital mindsets I need to adopt to facilitate an optimal learning experience.

The “Conscious Learning” Mindset

To be successful in anything, learning included, you need to have a deliberate and conscious desire to do it. Learning opportunities are  all around us, but unless you are actively seeking to learn you will miss them.

In my opinion traditional educational systems have ingrained in our minds that learning is a process that occurs in four walled spaces. It is like an osmosis process where information is passed from an area of  higher concentration, a teacher or lecturer, to an area of lower concentration, the students. I learned about osmosis in 10th grade and have not had a use case for it until now!

This traditional outlook on learning has completely been dispelled during my time at MEST. A month into the programme I went into panic mode because I was not learning the way I was used to. Subconsciously, I was still expecting the traditional learning experience: one sided lectures, assignments, tests, and deadlines. The MEST program has a structured curriculum; however, a majority of the learning is hands-on and practical. We go into the market, meet people, create prototypes, present, get feedback, and then cycle repeats. If I was not consciously seeking  to learn, I would miss all the invaluable lessons and insights constantly occurring around me through all these activities.

Harbouring the conscious learning mindset also opens you up to diverse learning opportunities. I came to MEST to develop my career through the prescribed business, communications, and technology curriculum. However, a significant  amount of my learning has been outside the classroom and in personal development. I am forging new habits and thought patterns, and have become acutely aware of small growth opportunities that can enhance both my professional and personal life. For example instead of accepting that I am a procrastinator, my conscious learning mindset prompts me to ask myself why I procrastinate and how can I change it.

The “I Don’t Know” Mindset

After consciously deciding to learn, the next mindset to hone is the ‘I don’t know’ mindset, accepting that you don't know and being comfortable with the idea. Admitting that you don’t know is a bitter pill to swallow, one I have been taking everyday since I started at MEST.

My cohort  is comprised of some of Africa’s brightest minds: 51 aspiring entrepreneurs, from 12 different African countries all with varying expertise, experience and skill sets. We have  aeronautical and nuclear engineers, environment and climate change experts, logistics gurus, serial tech entrepreneurs, and robotics geniuses. Being in this environment I am constantly reminded that there is so much I don’t know. Initially I found this very intimidating, but my conscious learning mindset has helped me see it as exposure to new learning material.


The “I don't know” mindset is also vital as it helps reduce the frustration associated with the learning process. It means you become more understanding with yourself when you “can’t” do something. Instead of thinking you can't do it because you are  are incapable, you think you can’t do it yet because you don't know. The difference is that one is a permanent state of incapability and the other opens up room to learn. The next time you don’t know something, keep calm, admit you don't know it, and let Google be your friend.

The “Can Do” Mindset

The final mindset to master is the “can do” mindset, simply realising you can do and learn anything you set your mind to. Although listed last, it is probably the most important. It is imperative to consciously adopt and internalise the “can do" mentality before starting anything. This is because starting from a place of not knowing means you are likely to fail and fail often. Failing in itself is not a bad thing. It doesn't make you a failure. It simply highlights growth areas where you need to put more effort in .

Learning something new will often leave you wanting to give up and conclude that it is ‘just not your thing’.  This is really code for “I suck, can I really do this?” Don't wait to answer this question when things are not working, decide before you start that you can do it! Accept and embrace failure as a part of the learning process.

As you embrace failure, remember it is only effective when you take time to reflect, review, and learn from the growth areas. In the words of Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

If you are going to take anything from this article it's that you can do anything you set your mind to. Consciously decide to do it, and while at it admit to yourself when you don't know.

Meet you at the top!