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How to Get Unstuck: Getting Past Tough Subjects

While studying for a technical concept or book there likely will be times you feel like you are at a roadblock. It's too hard, your not getting it, something doesn't quite make sense. I'll just read it "tomorrow" when I can focus better.... When you hit this point you you need to have a specific system to get past the tough points. Here are some of my own suggestions you may want to try when coming up with your own system

Missed a Step?
A lot of concepts are cumulative and I have found a key issue when I am stuck is likely because I glossed over a base concept that this new topic is building on. Try to really break down where in your studies your started to say "ya, I pretty much kind of get what's going on..."
When you allow yourself to to easily skip over understanding what you are reading versus really paying attention and absorbing the information is where your roadblock starts.  Spending more time "at the beginning" ensures you make it to the end. I find this can especially happen when we want to skip to "the exciting parts". You may not want to spend hours learning about , quorum, iSCSI, LUNs, CSVs etc but you can't wait to get to the fun part of failover clustering and high availability.  Guess what, you skipped the entire core foundation needed to understand and implement the topic you ARE interested in.

The instructor mentions an important topic that you don't understand? Ask a question, write it down, research it later but don't let it slide by.

When reading, you may encounter a word you don't recognize that's part of a new topic. Trying to understand the new topic when you don't understand the words used to explain it is like putting together a puzzle that's missing pieces.

If this still fails you may need to approach the topic from a different angle.

Expand your Exposure
Try to expand your exposure to the topic in different ways and maybe through different mediums. A combination of different mediums is more effective than any single one. Try a combination of books, videos, blog posts, courses or peers. Also try another source within the same media. For example if your stuck in a certain part of a book maybe reading a different authors explanation will work better in your case. If asking a classmate didn't help try asking the teacher. They key here is to absorb yourself in the topic in as many ways as you can. Take your weak areas and make them strong by constantly reinforcing your current understanding.

Persist Through Difficult Topics
Just as some concepts are cumulative other concepts are hard to understand in isolation even if they don't share a very linear connection. Persisting, or temporarily moving on, can be useful when you have first checked that you have not missed a foundation topic and already tried all methods of expanding your exposure to the topic. While moving on to another topic it may make the previously cloudy topic clearer when presented in the bigger picture. Ensure you are intentional if you are persisting through a topic that is unclear to you and not skipping it to avoid the work of getting unstuck.

This may seem in contradiction to our first point of not missing a step but the difference here is we are being deliberate about it. Also remember the biggest failure is not that we get stuck but that we give up.

Neil Bryan
IT Consultant & Technical Trainer
Neil Bryan is an IT consultant and technical trainer specializing in VMware, Citrix and Microsoft virtualization and infrastructure.

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