The Little Known Benefit to Learning a New Keyboard Layout

If you're the average person, you probably haven't thought a whole lot about the keyboard you type on. But, those out there who have a little nerd in them may already know that the standard, Qwerty keyboard layout was designed in the 1870s for the typewriter.

Typewriters frequently jammed with alphabetically-laid keys. The solution, by printer Christopher Stoles, was a keyboard layout that kept the machine's typebars further apart for letters frequently typed together. Even though the direct purpose wasn't to slow down typing, speed certainly was not a priority.

Since then, several keyboard layouts have been designed with efficiency and ergonomics in mind: the Dvorak Layout, by August Dvorak and more recently Colemak, by Shai Coleman are two examples. The common benefits to picking up one of these layouts are slightly faster typing speeds and less fatigue in your fingers and wrists.

But when I started using Colemak this past June, I discovered something much more profound.

I discovered how my brain learns.

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There are a lot of phrases that all boil down to, "If you just keep trying, you'll succeed eventually." But, it's not always easy to come up with examples of this or recognize it when it's happening. Learning a new keyboard is an amazing opportunity to blatantly see this phenomenon in action.

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When you first start out, you simply cannot type functionally. The first few days, your shear commitment will keep you pluggin' along, but by day four your fingers won't even be able to type in Qwerty anymore.

This is a blessing in disguise. You'll realize the only option to get back to using your computer is unabated persistence in learning the new layout. You'll spend hours on KeyBr or KeyHero, practicing your typing and watching your speed increase.

Sometimes it will suck. Around day 7, you'll feel as if you haven't improved at all - your numbers are down from the day before. You'll go to sleep a bit dejected but wake up to find, out of nowhere, a huge increase in your speed. In fact, you can pretty comfortably type entire paragraphs now!

Gradual progress over the next several days will be punctuated by another sharp increase in skill overnight. The cycle continues until, a month in, you're typing as well as you did on Qwerty which you'd been using for at least 10 years.

In an incredibly short amount of time you've witnessed the fundamental learning processes of your brain - no, you've experienced them. Ultimately, it was commitment to practice, patience and your brain's natural learning response that were the critical components to success.

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With such a crystal clear experience of what it takes to learn a new skill, I'm approaching them differently these days. After a life-time of wanting to learn how to juggle, I can finally do so totally naturally. It feels incredible and I got there by now knowing that I would accomplish my goal if I just kept going and dropped the balls enough times.

It's liberating to have that confidence going into something new - you put in the time, fail enough and you get there. It frees your mind to stop worrying and just have fun learning.

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Nothing is more persuasive than an undeniable personal experience. Taking some time out to learn Dvorak or Colemak will, more than anything, give you a plain and simple control-case of what it takes to go from bewilderment to mastery.


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