“I’m A Slow Learner” – 14 Things To Know If This Is You

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Unless you’re an absolute genius who’s been able to instantly learn every skill and subject under the sun, you’ve undoubtedly felt frustration when you haven’t been able to grasp something straight away.

Furthermore, it’s likely that at least one person has given you grief about your supposed failure to instantly comprehend something you’ve been taught.

As such, you may have been labeled a “slow learner,” either by yourself or an authority figure.

But what does that mean, exactly? And why is it a bad thing? How does this label get affixed to someone, and how can they make peace with their own individual learning parameters?

Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you feel better about your capacity to learn new things if you perceive yourself to be lacking and have low self-esteem because of it. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.

What makes someone a slow learner?

In the past, being a “slow learner” referred to a person who had cognitive impairment or a low IQ score. It came with negative connotations and was often used as an insult. It also did people an immense disservice, as it failed to go into the reasons why they might not have been able to catch on to concepts or skills as quickly as others.

The truth is, people often have a harder time absorbing things that don’t interest them or that they feel pressured to learn. As such, they might disassociate and daydream so everything has to be repeated.

Additionally, there are many conditions that can prevent someone from learning as easily and quickly as others.

For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can render a person incapable of focusing for significant periods of time. Then there’s dyslexia, which disrupts brain areas that govern reading, and dyscalculia, which impedes understanding of number-related math skills.

We’re now aware of how broad the autism spectrum can be, and neurodivergence can affect learning rates in countless different ways as well.

In fact, if we got into how illnesses and traumas can affect one’s ability to learn new things, we’d be here for weeks. Everything from traumatic brain injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect a person’s learning!

Then, of course, there’s a rather pressing question to ask here: Are you sure that the problem lies with you? Or are you a “slow learner” because you’ve had unhelpful teachers? You may be much more capable than you give yourself credit for, but people or past events that hampered you did a number on your self-esteem, so you just think you’re slower than others.

As such, the stresses and negative associations that come with “slow learning” may have nothing to do with being “slow” at all. Just different.

With all that in mind, here are 14 things you need to know if you consider yourself to be a “slow” learner.

1. People learn in different ways.

My partner can glance at an instructive paragraph once, remember it perfectly, and sort everything out as needed. Contrarily, she’d have to be verbally told those same instructions half a dozen times for them to stick. Meanwhile, I just need to hear something peripherally and I’ll grasp it easily, while written instructions can be confusing to me.

This is a perfect example of people who learn different skills in different ways. She’s a visual, theoretical learner who has difficulty with auditory processing, while I prefer auditory instruction and hands-on practice.

Neither of these methods is better than the other. But she has struggled in university lecture classes because processing information auditorily exhausts her, and I’ve needed time to practice skills several times before I felt comfortable with them.

There’s also a great deal to be said about previous learning experiences. This goes for muscle “memory” as well as other skillsets. For instance, a person who’s already a great cook will have an easier time learning how to bake than a novice in the kitchen. This is because they already have foundational skillsets that can be transferred over. It’s rather like how someone who has previously been in shape has an easier time getting back into exercise than someone who has never flexed those muscles before.

Try learning skills or new concepts in a few different ways to see whether they “click” for you or not. Furthermore, see if you can learn from various masters. Every professor, craftsperson, chef, or artist uses different techniques. They’ve been taught in different ways and will also have a wide range of teaching methods. As such, you’re bound to discover those that resonate with you.

While you’re learning from these people, study how they work and how they make life easier for themselves. How is their work table laid out? Do they have a ritual or established process each time they start or finish what they’re doing? By studying these masters’ behaviors, you can assimilate their practices into your own individual work style.

2. Bad and abusive teachers hinder the learning process.

When the average “slow learner” is asked why they feel that label applies to them, they generally say that a parent or teacher told them so at some point. Many have had to deal with adults telling them that they were stupid or even retarded because they couldn’t understand a subject or learn a skill. Sometimes these adults would even get physically abusive if a concept wasn’t grasped, or if a mistake was made practicing a skill.

If your formative years were marked by stress, expectation, and cruelty, then chances are you’ve been conditioned to believe that you’re incompetent. In reality, you may have just had really horrible teachers—both at home and at school.

Some teachers are far too critical of those they’re teaching, and many of them just aren’t great at what they do. They might explain a concept with the assumption that others are already familiar with it, then get frustrated or insulting when it doesn’t get grasped immediately. They might lash out and ask things like, “What’s wrong with you?” or “How can you not get this?” out of frustration, regardless of what kind of impact that’ll have on the one they’re yelling at.

This goes for parents as well as professors. There’s a startling amount of damaged people out there, and it’s important to remember that teachers (and parents) are people too. And they screw up a lot.

For example, a teacher who has a grudge against a pupil’s parent might take their anger out on the child by belittling or harassing them. That young person might have been incredibly promising in numerous subjects, but after having their confidence shattered, they assume that they’re “slow” or “stupid” and stop putting in any effort. After all, why bother? Anything they do will earn them cruelty rather than accolades. They’ll even convince themselves that they won’t “get it” and shut down so nothing seeps in.

If you’re in a situation where you’re having difficulty learning something because of the environment that you’re in, consider either taking action to get another instructor or moving to a different environment entirely.

And if you’re being mistreated by someone who’s giving you crap for not learning something quickly enough, call them out on it. Ask them when they magically became good at everything, and if their most effective teachers ever treated them the way they’re treating you.

(Please note that the use of the term “retarded” in this section was for illustrative purposes only, because, sadly, some people will have been called that in real life situations. We recognize that it is a highly offensive term.)

3. Our thoughts create our reality.

To build upon the “I’m slow, so why bother?” concept mentioned earlier, those who have been led to believe that they’re “slow” can often create self-fulfilling prophecies in that vein.

For example, they might self-sabotage by not putting effort into schoolwork so they fail by default. After all, failing intentionally is easier to deal with than putting sincere effort into something and then getting humiliated and defeated by unintentional failure.

Some even use this type of approach to weaponize their incompetence. They may be good at something (like cooking, or filling the dishwasher), but if they “can’t seem to learn” and keep burning things or breaking plates, they won’t be asked to do it anymore. Then someone else will step up and do it for them and they can get back to whatever they’d prefer to be doing.

When and if you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk (such as berating yourself for being “slow”), try to consciously stop yourself. Ask yourself if what you’re saying is true and kind. If it’s neither, try to turn it around. Be the cheerleader your child-self needed in order to thrive, and offer encouragement rather than cruelty.

4. Most people have unrealistic expectations of what learning *should* look like.

You know how we discussed that different people learn in different ways? Well, the learning process is also going to take varying amounts of time, depending on the person.

TV series and movies often show unrealistic depictions of people learning their skills. How many times have you seen a film in which the protagonist is the best at something EVER the first time they try it?

Sure, on rare occasions someone might get something right very quickly, or learn a subject with lightning speed, but those are the exception rather than the rule. Learning anything new takes time and patience. Furthermore, retaining that knowledge requires just as much diligence.

I’ve found that one way to improve my learning and retention is to approach either the subject or the skill from many different directions. For example, when I was learning blacksmithing, I read books on it and watched videos in addition to trying out different techniques at the forge.

Similarly, my partner has been studying texts on herbal medicine from all cultures, dating back thousands of years. She’s found nuggets of wisdom that have broadened her knowledge (and practice) exponentially, and she might have never discovered them otherwise!

You never know what you will read, learn, or try out that will be a catalyst for dramatic forward momentum.

5. We’re not all capable of learning everything, and that’s okay.

Everyone has subjects or abilities that they find easy to learn, while others struggle with them. It’s absolutely okay to acknowledge that you’re not going to be good at everything. In fact, there may be subjects or skills that you’ll always struggle with. And that’s fine. You don’t need to be skilled in everything across the board.

Furthermore, recognizing your blind spots and weak points can even be beneficial.

For example, if you choose a partner whose abilities complement your own in different ways, you can support one another equally, but differently. Similarly, when people in work environments have specific skillsets, they can be matched to the tasks that best suit them so they can excel in their work.

If you come across a subject or skill that you’re ill-suited for, try to approach that with grace. Acknowledge it with the phrase, “This is not for me,” and then turn your attention elsewhere.

6. You’ll be more confident if you put time and energy into skills/subjects you enjoy.

Feeling able to do something—or at the very least being willing to try something—often goes hand in hand with experiencing enjoyment in that thing. Learning tends to come more easily when you actually want to engage in the activity behind it.

This is why you’ll find some students who excel at certain subjects even while they may get below average grades in general. Perhaps it’s all about sports for them and they are on many a school sports team. Or maybe they are most happy and most “successful” in classes that involve getting hands on such as art, food tech, or woodwork.

That’s why the generalized “you must be good at everything” school curriculum that most of us grow up with doesn’t suit everyone.

This builds upon what was mentioned earlier with regard to different people being good at different things.

What is it that you know you’re good at and can learn more easily than most other subjects? Once you’ve determined that, you can put your time and energy toward those natural skillsets.

Doesn’t that just make sense? Why try to mash a square peg into a triangular hole when one can just slide into the square hole instead? That makes life a lot easier, as well as more enjoyable.

7. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on what you love.

Quite often, the things that people have an easy time learning are things that they love. Even if these subjects or techniques are challenging to them, they’ll persevere with more enthusiasm and care because they’re important to them.

Many people are incredibly skilled at things they dislike but have to do on a regular basis. For example, someone might have a natural skill with math and sciences and were pushed into a medical career as a result. However, they absolutely despise it and would rather do graphic design all day. They’d struggle more with design because that doesn’t come as naturally to them, but it would make their life more fulfilling to do so.

Life is short, and most people regret following life paths that were expected of them, rather than doing what makes them happy. So do what makes you happy.

8. Grease the groove.

This is also known as “slow and steady wins the race.” It means doing something bit by bit to make progress on it, rather than going full out and exhausting yourself. There’s nothing wrong with learning something slowly.

Devote as much time to the thing you wish to do as you can but stop well before you burn out. It’s okay to start slowly to begin with, as you’ll be able to increase both time and effort as you go.

If you only have five minutes to spare, find some aspect of that skill that’ll only take that long. For example, if you want to get in shape, try doing ten pushups within five minutes. Or, if you’re trying to learn a new language, write a few new words and phrases in your notebook at the beginning of the week. Then focus on those for five minutes a day, every day. Chances are by the end of the week, you’ll have memorized them.

We rarely have a full, uninterrupted hour to work with, but we will have five to 10 minutes free at some point during the day. Hey, work on remembering those phrases when you’re in the washroom or on public transport during your daily commute. Use whatever time you have available to you to its greatest potential, and increase that time as you’re able to.

9. Immersion is one of the best ways to learn.

Immersing yourself in a topic or situation is ideal for learning, as you’ll approach a task or subject from many different directions.

I had this epiphany after working in retail, as there were countless moving parts and skills to learn on the job. If you’ve ever worked at a cash register, you’ll know what I mean. Although it was intimidating at first, I soon became very proficient at doing all the things involved in that job as I was doing it at least eight hours a day. Within six weeks I could do all that was required within that field with my eyes closed, and had forgotten what it was like to feel awkward and overwhelmed by all the different codes, transaction types, etc.

The same can go for learning a language, familiarizing yourself with a new city, and countless other situations. If you’re in a situation in which you have no choice but to do “the thing” on a constant basis, almost every day, you’re going to pick it up very quickly.

This goes along with what we mentioned earlier about people learning in different ways. Once you’ve determined which methods work best for you, see if you can go full out with them for a while, just to see what happens.

10. You may not have found your personal strengths yet.

Just because you don’t know what your greatest strengths and abilities are doesn’t mean that you don’t have them. It simply means that you haven’t discovered them YET.

There are many people who think that they’re not good at anything. But, I’m pretty sure they haven’t tried out everything in the world yet, so there are plenty of skills and pastimes that they’ve yet to explore. They might discover that they’re absolute wizards at vegetable carving, or that they have an eerie natural skill at deciphering cuneiform tablets.

In your spare time, practice learning a wide variety of different things. This includes anything from tying different knots to cooking various world cuisines. The more varied things you learn, the easier it becomes to pick up and adapt new life skills. Furthermore, you may discover an aforementioned skillset that lights a spark inside you.

We grow by learning and doing very different things.

Challenge yourself by going out of your comfort zone. For instance, are you more cerebral when it comes to the subjects you’re interested in? Or are you more hands-on and practical? Most of the time, a person who’s skilled in one of those ways will struggle with the other.

I suggest choosing something that you’re not typically comfortable with, but are still interested in learning how to do. This way you’ll be pleasantly challenged, since it’s a new endeavor. Furthermore, you won’t feel as stressed since it’s something you want to pursue, rather than something you’re doing out of obligation or under pressure from someone else.

11. Timing makes a huge difference.

When do you think you’re more capable of absorbing new information and learning new skills? At 2am when you’re exhausted, frayed, and calling yourself names? Or on a pleasant afternoon when you’re relaxed, sipping a lovely cup of something warm, and allowing the learning process to flow nicely?

Our circadian rhythms and internal clocks all function differently too. I learn best late in the evening when my partner is practically drooling on herself and likely to forget her own name. Meanwhile she’s full-on awake and aware around noon, which is when she dives into the distance courses she’s taking.

Work with your own natural clock instead of forcing yourself to adhere to someone else’s idea of a good schedule.

12. You’re likely far more critical of yourself than you need to be.

Believe it or not, you might be doing just fine as far as your learning rate is concerned. You’re just being way too hard on yourself. While this kind of goes along with the unrealistic ideas of what learning should look like (that we mentioned earlier), it has more to do with perfectionism and demands of the self.

Learning is a much more enjoyable endeavor if you can relax and open up to the process rather than putting a huge amount of pressure on yourself. If you can, try to focus more on the experience than the outcome. Most people rush through various life experiences, trying to dash through to the finish line as quickly as possible as though life were a race to be won.

Be gentle with yourself, and try to enjoy the learning process as you move through it. You’ll never be done learning: there will always be new techniques to discover, new words to incorporate into your vocabulary, and so on. So why rush? And why put pressure on yourself?

As the Tao Te Ching (Book of Changes) suggests: “Embark on every endeavor and adventure with total commitment and complete detachment.” This, like many other gems of ancient wisdom, is easier said than done. Essentially, give your all to what you’re immersed in, but don’t get caught up in the outcome.

13. Mistakes are great because they give you an opportunity to learn.

People are generally motivated by either fear or love, and either can result in errors. And that’s okay, because mistakes offer us opportunities to learn. That said, when these errors inevitably happen, try to acknowledge it as inevitable, rather than being harsh and unforgiving toward yourself.

If you’re learning something for the very first time, chances are that you will totally screw it up. That’s ok. In fact, it’s expected.

Observe the mistake and determine what went wrong, so next time you have the awareness to polish that particular part of the process.

14. You have time.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

There is no rush, and you’re never too old to start learning something new. Or re-learning something you were once good at and now need (or want) to get back into. Take your time, and make learning a pleasurable experience rather than a punishment or expectation.

When you shift your mindset about the learning process, and eliminate the stress and demands that had previously been put upon you—especially by yourself—you may discover that you pick things up with greater ease than ever before.

So, grab a notebook, pick a subject, and get learning! This moment right here is a great time to start learning something new: on your own terms, at your own pace.

Still think you’re a slow learner? Is it taking it’s toll on your self-confidence? Talking to someone can really help you to handle whatever life throws at you. It’s a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.

Speak to a therapist about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to explore your feelings about your intelligence and show you that you are better at learning that you imagine.

BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

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About The Author

Finn Robinson has spent the past few decades travelling the globe and honing his skills in bodywork, holistic health, and environmental stewardship. In his role as a personal trainer and fitness coach, he’s acted as an informal counselor to clients and friends alike, drawing upon his own life experience as well as his studies in both Eastern and Western philosophies. For him, every day is an opportunity to be of service to others in the hope of sowing seeds for a better world.