The Huge Learning Mistake We All Make

“What am I doing wrong?!”

Thought the world-class missionary and linguist, Daniel Everett.

He had been sent deep into the heart of the Amazon jungle to teach Christianity to a tribe known as the Piraha. [1]

The Piraha language has been called THE hardest to understand on the planet. It seems to have no grammar structure to it, no alphabet, and no way of expressing either the past or the future!

That’s why Everett was brought in. The previous missionaries had spent years trying to understand the language. But they were nearly driven insane trying to communicate with the tribe.

Everett, however, was confident. He believed that with his advanced degree in linguistics and enough perseverance; he would be able to meet the challenge and be the first to crack the code.

When he arrived, he instantly started making great progress. He spent a full year in the village with the tribe learning more every day. He took copious notes on every word and learned much of the vocabulary.

But one day he stopped making progress.

Some things just didn’t make sense. They didn’t have a word for left or right. They had multiple meanings for certain words that didn’t seem to connect. With each step forward, he felt as if he was taking two steps back.

This must have been when the previous missionaries went insane. 

What was everett doing wrong? 

Clearly, learning this language was not impossible. Children in the tribe seemed to pick it up with ease! So why couldn’t he?

After months of feeling like he was getting nowhere, Everett finally ventured outside of the village. He joined the Piraha men on one of their hunts. There, he discovered something remarkable.

The language they were using while hunting was completely different than the language used in the village! They communicated with different pitches of whistling that allowed them to be stealthier when stalking their prey.

This was a completely foreign idea to Everett. Nothing that he learned in school prepared him for a completely different language used in different scenarios.

It was then that it hit him – he had been looking at the Piraha language completely the wrong way!  

He had been trying to learn how the Piraha language fit into his idea of how language is structured. With vocabulary, grammar, an alphabet, etc.

The reason that children were able to learn the language easily is because they had no idea how a language should be structured! They weren’t trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, they simply observed and learned with a completely open mind.

The Huge Learning Mistake We All Make

We all start out life with this same open mind. Everything we see is new and exciting to us. We seek to learn about things without placing judgment on them. We don’t see our culture or way of life as better or worse than others.

We simply learn and observe; accepting our role as the student. As we grow older, though, we start closing our minds. 

We start realizing what is “realistic”. 

We start placing judgments on people and things as “good” or “bad”.

And we start feeling superiority in our way of thinking.  

It was this feeling of superiority that doomed Daniel Everett with the Piraha.

He saw himself as the intelligent scientist coming to study the Piraha language the same way he might study the behavior of ants. So he didn’t fully embrace their culture and couldn’t see its powerful connection to their language.

Once he let go of this feeling of superiority, he learned the language with ease and changed the way linguists across the world think. 


This shift allowed Everett to change his mental perspective to what is called the “Dimensional Mind”.

The dimensional mind is open. There is no prejudice, no superiority, and no judgment on what is and isn’t possible. Like a child, it simply observes and learns – accepting the role of the student.

Cultivating a dimensional mind helps you overcome one of the biggest flaws in learning anything new – the feeling that you already know what’s best.

This smug feeling prevents you from being truly curious. It causes you to begin subconsciously placing judgments on things before you even start to explore the details. [2]

The truly dangerous part of this phenomenon is that you will not realize that you are doing it! Like Daniel Everett, you will believe that you are indeed approaching the learning process with an open mind.

After all, who would admits that they have a bias or prejudice toward anything?

Unless you are willing to admit that you – and everyone else for that matter – have this natural tendency, you will never overcome it. Self-awareness is the first step toward self-improvement. 

How to Develop Your Dimensional Mind

Once you have come to terms with the fact that you have a natural tendency for judgment, we can talk about ways to overcome it. 

Unfortunately, you cannot revert back to your child-like openness entirely, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. As you accumulate more knowledge about the world or your domain, your brain wants to become more active. [1]

The key is to never be satisfied with what you have learned.  

This is not natural. Your brain wants to genuinely believe that it knows everything that it needs to know about the world around you. This way it doesn't need to explore every detail and it can conserve its energy. [3]

To avoid this, you need to understand that no matter what you know today, there is always more to learn. With this perspective, you can begin to implement the techniques below that will begin to open up your mind and help you learn:


You probably take so many things in your world for granted. You see a kitchen table as just a kitchen table, you see a computer as just a computer and a car as just a car. But where did they all come from? How do they all work?

When you were child, you asked questions like that. You saw a car driving by like it was a rocket ship and wondered how it all works. You were curious about everything around you and that trained your brain to be more open.

Then, as you grew older, you began to accept everything in the world around you simply as it is. Your curiosity about things ended and you began to train your mind to be closed.

The brain works like a muscle. If you exercise your curiosity about one thing, it will begin to become more curious about everything else. Just like lifting weights in the gym will also help you lift anything else. [4]

So take 10-15 minutes every day to simply be more curious about the world around you. Look at people, objects and technology and simply wonder, “why?” You don’t even need to find the answer. You just need to open your mind to the question.


There are few better ways to train your mind than through meditation. And one of the main benefits of meditation is the rewiring of the brain to have less judgment and more empathy.

This will influence your subconscious mind to avoid placing judgment on everything you see, which will allow you to be more open and curious. It only requires 10 minutes of daily meditation to make a significant impact on your subconscious. [5]

To get started, check out this article which will list all of the benefits of meditation and give you some helpful exercises to get started.


Regular writing has been proven to have many mental health benefits, one of which is opening your mind.

Most of your "thinking time" is undisciplined. Time spent thinking is really just allowing your brain to wander; which can quickly lead to placing judgment on all of the things in the world around you. 

By keeping a journal, you help your mind develop focused creativity. [6]

Whether you’re writing about events in your life, a problem you’ve been dealing with, or a new idea, as you write you begin to see the problem from different angles. You start to open your mind as you put your ideas to paper and see things from a different perspective.


You have a natural bias toward your own culture, your own religious/political beliefs and your own ideas. The huge learning mistake that we all make is allowing these biases to close our minds off to what others can teach us.

When you were a child, you didn't have these biases. You simply observed and learned - accepting your role as the student. This helped you learn and develop far faster than many adults can today.

By practicing curiosity, meditation, and journal writing, you can begin to train your mind to go back to that child-like openness. This will help you immensely in becoming a better learner, leader, and citizen of our global and diversified world.

After all, even the great Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, "Every man is my superior. In that, I learn of him."


  1. Greene, R. (2013) Mastery. New York: Penguin. Print.
  2. Sywelster, R. (2005) The Role of Snap Judgments in Intelligence. Brain Connection.
  3. Irwin, L. (1988) Comparative Neuroscience and Neurobiology. Boston: Birkhäuser. Print
  4. Saville, E. (2014) How Curiosity Changes Our Brains. The Washington Post.
  5. Kristeller, J. & Johnson, T. (2005) Cultivating Loving Kindness: A Two-Stage Model Of The Effects Of Meditation On Empathy, Compassion, And Altruism. Zygon� 40.2 : 391-408.
  6. Willis, J. (2011) The Brain-Based Benefits of Writing for Math and Science Learning. Edutopia. Web.