I’ve been trying a lot of things these days to connect my 9-year old son Chaitanya with a variety of new learnings – in life, human behaviour, how the mind works, ethics, and how to develop good lifelong habits.
To say that I have been successful in making this connection would be an overstatement. There are some aspects about such learning that he easily connects with and loves what I show or tell him. But like most kids, his mind wanders away frequently, towards things that he finds more interesting and engaging.
Now, either I could worry about his lack of concentration on a few things that would really matter as he grows up, or I could let him just be himself and learn whatever he enjoys learning. Over a period of time, I have become more inclined towards the latter.
So, it was without doubt that I loved it when I read a 100-year old letter Albert Einstein wrote to his 11-year old, Hans Albert, where he laid down the secret to learning anything.
In 1915, aged thirty-six, Einstein was living in war-torn Berlin, while his estranged wife Mileva and their two sons, Hans Albert Einstein and Eduard Tete Einstein, lived in Vienna.
In November 1915, having just completed the two-page masterpiece on the theory of general relativity, Einstein sent Hans Albert the following letter –
My dear Albert,
Yesterday I received your dear letter and was very happy with it. I was already afraid you wouldn’t write to me at all any more. You told me when I was in Zurich, that it is awkward for you when I come to Zurich. Therefore I think it is better if we get together in a different place, where nobody will interfere with our comfort. I will in any case urge that each year we spend a whole month together, so that you see that you have a father who is fond of you and who loves you. You can also learn many good and beautiful things from me, something another cannot as easily offer you. What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.
I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .
Be with Tete kissed by your
Regards to Mama.
The Secret to Learning Anything
As Einstein wrote to his son, “…the way to learn the most is…when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”
Now, this advice works wonderfully not just with a 11-year old but also with a 31, 41, or 51-year old. Your real learning happens only when you completely enjoy what you are learning.
It’s easy for me or anyone else to ask you to be a learning machine, which is, by the way, very important advice you will ever receive in life. But no one else but you must decide whatyou want to learn, because you know what brings you the greatest enjoyment.
Yes, whatever you want to learn – and this is an advice I also give to my kids – the first thing you must do is to let go your natural inclination to judge yourself and your current abilities and habits as good or bad. Avoid saying things like –
- Oh! I’m good for nothing.
- I want to learn but I don’t know the ABC of this thing.
- I look like a fool in this group of learned people.
- I want to ask this question, but what if I look like a fool?
It’s only when we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneity and focus in the learning process.