Dogs' new tricks
My husband is a dog person. He told me something about dogs that helped me understand people: learning is "ridiculously easy." It's the unlearning that is hard.
Why it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks
Training older dogs can take 3-5 times longer than younger dogs and takes different methods. It is not that older dogs are stupid or can’t learn or are less tractable: they often learn more quickly. The problem is the other stuff in their head. Anyone who has had to train an animal knows this, my husband tells me.
He told me a story: "As a bird hunter we train to "heel" on our left, but this guy always hunted with two dogs. He trained one on the left and one on the right. That was fine and the two dogs thought that was the natural order. But imagine he’d gotten the 2nd dog as an adult, trained as usual on the left. He might have learned to take his place on the right but it would never have been completely natural. He would have to be reminded repeatedly."
This resonates with me especially as I've gotten older. I learn new things readily, but only if I didn't know anything about it before!
Of course, this reminds me of the cognitive restructuring of psychotherapy for eating disorders or for anything. Eating is so fraught with rules and habits: just the shopping and the cooking not to mention the choosing of what and where and how much. Having learned them, especially under duress, it must be a great deal of work to unlearn even if you've learned new structures and rules!