Learning Barriers – Where do you get stuck?

Learning is all about personal exploration and growth. There are so many opportunities to learn and yet it is often easy to take this for granted, give up when we get stuck or not even try for fear of failing. Sometimes we just don’t recognise the chance to learn or we discount an experience as irrelevant. 

However, learning and its benefits are a fundamental part of wellbeing and therefore overcoming barriers and making the most of all learning opportunities makes sense. 

True learning is acquiring knowledge/awareness/skills and using or applying it. This second part, the ‘so what’ of learning, is what makes the difference to our growth and development, and, in my experience, this is often the hardest part.  (Why Greater Awareness is Essential for Your Wellbeing explains how you can raise awareness and shares a simple reflective model ‘What, So What, Now What’ to help you).

This article explores where you might get stuck in your learning so you can make the most of your opportunities to learn.

Learning for Wellbeing

Learning is recognised for the positive impact on mental health and wellbeing and is part of the 5 ways to wellbeing framework. (See the Wellness Planning series for more details).  Learning offers you opportunities to:

  • build self-esteem
  • contribute to or create a sense of purpose
  • meet new people. 

All of these contribute to your wellbeing through stimulating your curiosity, offering challenges and new experiences and opportunities to connect with different people as you build your network. The Wellness Planning series introduces some of the informal learning routes available and explores how this links to having fun, being more creative and how this all helps us feel happier.

The four stages of learning model
Adapted from the original model by Malcolm Broadwell

The Stages of Learning explains a suggested process of learning and uses The Four Stages of Learning model. This is a framework that applies to all learning in whatever context and understanding the stages and some of the barriers that you can face, can help you progress through the stages and navigate new challenges.

Moving from one stage to the next involves a combination of knowing what to do, being physically capable of doing it and being brave enough to try. And here is the important bit…

Being brave enough to try.

Without this, it doesn’t matter how much you know, if you don’t ever try you will never realise the benefit, physically or mentally.

Know Why You Get Stuck

The Stages of Learning shows progress through the four stages is not linear and it is common for people to get stuck at any of the above stages. The barriers make your learning progress harder, but not impossible. 

Usually, we get stuck because of:

  1. Technical ability – do you have the knowledge and know what is required? 
  2. Physical ability – are you physically capable? Strong enough or fit enough? 
  3. Psychological state, your ‘head’ – do you have the self-belief and the confidence to try?

Technical Ability

This might relate to information or a skill, for example:

  • Do you have the recipe for that healthy meal?
  • Do you know how to do a proper squat?

Learning a skill takes practise. So you have to be prepared to work at it, learn from mistakes and improve. This is the four stages of learning in action.

How many times have you tried a new recipe and it hasn’t quite worked? Something is not quite right, but when you try it again, you make some changes and it is better. 

Consider the following:

  • How often does your technical ability slow you down?
  • What tells you this?
  • What would you like to be different? 

Physical Ability

This relates to your level of physical strength, fitness, coordination, mobility and depends on your lifestyle, activity levels and your health. 

Basically, are you fit and strong enough to do the things you want to do?  The big question is, how much is enough? Your physical ability can mean the difference between you being able to take part in an activity or not. 

Often being able to perform a technical skill relies on your physical ability, for example, my mountain biking. Sometimes I can’t do an obstacle because I’m not fit or strong enough yet. 

Consider the following:

  • How often does your physical ability prevent you from learning something?
  • What tells you this?
  • What would you like to be different?

Psychological State

This relates to how you think and feel at any given time, for example your confidence, self worth or your belief that you can actually succeed.

Your psychological state can influence whether you believe you are able to do something and even if you are worthy of trying. This mindset drives your feelings and can be extremely positive or destructive. 

A positive mindset is more likely to help you feel more confident to try and continue when things do not go according to plan. This doesn’t mean you ignore potential barriers. It means you can be more creative in overcoming them.

Consider the following:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen in trying something?
  • How often does a fear of failing stop you trying something?
  • What would you like to be different?

Overcoming the Barriers

If you understand what is stopping you, you can be better prepared to deal with them. 

Eat, Move, Be Happy Top Tips

1.     You have to want to improve. 

Overcoming learning barriers takes persistence and energy. If you are not ready to spend the time and effort to learn, nothing will change.

Giving up at the first hurdle also means you learn to give up quickly. This might sound harsh, but we get good at what we do. So if you always give up easily, you will get better at giving up easily. We get better with practise, whatever it is we are practising.  So perseverance and trying something a bit different the next time helps develop awareness of what does and doesn’t work. It’s a learning process.

2.       Expect to get stuck

Accepting that getting stuck is part of the learning process can help you reframe the barrier as just another opportunity to learn, rather than as failing. 

Think about:

  • What does “getting stuck” mean to you?
  • How do you typically feel about getting stuck? 
  • How do you react?

3.       Know what type of barrier you are dealing with

Consider the following questions:

  • Where do you get stuck most frequently and why? 
  • How do you know you are stuck?
  • Are you more likely to come up against technical, physical or psychological barriers?

4.     Don’t be frustrated, be curious.

When you get stuck, ask yourself questions and plan your way around the barrier. 

  • What was happening before you got stuck? How were you feeling? What were you thinking?
  • What small steps or changes could you make immediately? Next week? In the future?
  • What else would help you progress? How do you know?

5.     Ask for help

Working through a problem or challenge is always more fun with other people involved. Sometimes you might benefit from more expert support too, depending on your goal, for example a fitness and strength coach to help you build your physical ability. 

  • What type of help do you need and what is telling you this?
  • What do you expect from the person helping you?
  • How will you know if the help is helping?


Learning is a fundamental part of our lives and learning new things can have a positive impact on our wellbeing. Knowing it is not a linear progression, but a complex process, and we will get stuck occasionally helps us approach new challenges positively and focus on what we can do.

I often coach people who tell me they cannot do something. Sometimes a barrier creeps up and stops people in their tracks and they don’t know how to work around it. Sometimes the barrier is there from the very start and is stopping people even trying.

What I know to be true in any context, work, home, with physical and mental wellbeing is:

When we try, we can do more than we believed possible.

goldfish jumping from one glass bowl of water to a larger one. Trying is the start of all new things
Trying is the start of all new things

So, one big barrier we can all overcome is fear of trying. Being brave enough to TRY alone can really make our learning count.  Take the first, small, ridiculously easy steps… what is the worst that could happen?

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