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Five ideas to help achieve your highest potential

1st May 2018 | Beverly Landais

We all want to be better at something. After all, self-improvement can help us get ahead at work and provide personal satisfaction. Mastering something new can also boost self-esteem and build self-confidence. In fact, the ability to learn new things, think creatively and solve problems are essential skills anyone can acquire - and with good cause.

The deluge of new information that hits you every day means you need to know how to assess what you read and rapidly assimilate useful information. The job market is changing fast. You must learn new skills and adapt more quickly to stay relevant. The world is becoming ever complicated, and this means that the ability to analyse information logically, interpret what it means and make sound decisions are essential skills.

If you want to do well in your career and acquire the skills you need for personal growth, then you must take responsibility for your learning. Once you know what you want to be better at how do you start? Being taught the techniques that enable active learning is unusual. We often get taught ‘what’ but not ‘how’. In fact, with deliberate practice, you can acquire the skills of fast learning, clear thinking and sound decision-making. These are vital skills that can increase your market value and employability in the rapidly changing world of work. 

There are many different approaches to learning, but according to an article by Marcus Buckingham in the Harvard Business Review (June 2015), the three most common styles are: analysing, doing and watching. Someone predisposed to analysing will understand a task by taking it apart, examining its elements, and reconstructing it piece by piece. If this sounds familiar, you are likely to learn more efficiently through role-play, seeking to understand the nitty-gritty and the assessment of progress.

Doers need practical experience, and they probably don’t check the instruction manual before they start. People like this tend to figure things out as they go. If this is you, then the best way to motivate yourself to learn a new skill is to dive right in and attempt some of the more straightforward aspects. Over time you can increase the complexity of the tasks until you master every aspect.

Others would rather watch demonstrations and listen to explanations. For instance, TED talks, video tutorials, attending workshops or lectures are all excellent ways to stimulate learning if you are a watcher.

Most people have a combination of learning styles. You can figure out your ideal learning style by looking back. A good tip is to reflect on some of your past learning experiences and make a list of good ones and another list of bad ones. Identifying common strands can help you determine the learning environment that works best for you.

While learning style will determine the best way for you to absorb new knowledge, there are some general principles you can follow to maximise your mastery of a new skill. Here are five ideas to help you achieve your highest potential:

1. Break down your goal. Pick apart what you need to do to accomplish a task. Think about the Pareto Principle which states that 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of the results. Identify the critical steps that will create a foundation for successful learning. By starting this way, you will activate your brain’s ability to visualise and to plan for success

2. Imitate the experts. Whatever the skill you're trying to improve someone out there does it better than you, so seek out the top performers and start learning from them. The key is to think about how you can apply the knowledge you gain to hone your technique. Then do the required work to put it into practice and regularly review your progress to seek improvement.

3. Use your brain for thinking, not remembering. Information is unlimited. It is simply impossible to remember everything through memory alone. You will improve the chances of retention if you write down important information and summarise what it means to you. There are a variety of tools that you can use to get organised, such as apps, notebooks, journals and so on.

4. Have focused goals. You are more likely to succeed if you put your resolution into a SMART format – Specific, Measurable, Action-orientated, Realistic and Time-bound. Being specific helps you figure out what to do, and it also makes it attainable.

5. Develop a MASTER plan. You can make attaining a new skill more likely by thinking about the six stages of learning. These stages can be remembered using the acronym MASTER: Mind, Acquire, Search, Trigger, Exhibit and Reflect. First published by Colin Rose in ‘Accelerated Learning for the 21st Century: The Six-Step Plan to Unlock Your Master-Mind’, you can use these stages to create your MASTER plan for successful learning:

  • M - stands for Motivating your Mind. Your mindset has a significant impact on how you approach learning situations. The self-talk that goes on in your head influences how you see the world, so keep a check on it. If you have a Fixed Mindset, self-talk might mean telling yourself to avoid failure, or that something would be easy if only you were talented enough. Recognise that negative internal dialogue. Notice the effect it has on you. Talk back to it with a Growth Mindset voice, telling yourself that if you get it wrong, it’s a chance to learn. 
  • A - represents Acquiring the Information. By knowing your preferred learning style, you can sponge up the underlying facts in the best way that suits you. The key is to make the new information memorable to you. For some, flash cards work well. Others use talking books, watch video clips or summarise what they have learnt by writing up their notes.
  • S stands for Searching Out the Meaning. You need to explore what you are learning. There is a difference between knowing about something and truly understanding it. For instance, this might mean reading widely around a subject and exploring the impact of what you have learnt through discussion with interest groups. Book clubs and online special interest groups such as the ones on LinkedIn are excellent examples of this.
  • T stands for Trigger the Memory. Now you need to memorise essential elements of what you have learned. The aim is to commit one or two key facts to memory, so the rest of what you’ve learned comes flooding back.
  • E represents Exhibiting What You Know. One of the best ways of consolidating your new-found wisdom is to explain the topic to others. It is a helpful way of testing your understanding. For example, you might volunteer to assist in a talk by a master practitioner in whatever you are learning. After attending a course, offer to make a ‘lunch and learn’ session with colleagues or create a presentation explaining the key points and their significance.
  • R means to Reflect on How You've Learned. Take time to consider your learning experience. What worked well – and what didn’t. What might you do differently next time? This process will put you in a resourceful state of mind and improve your ability to be a self-managed learner.

Learning should be a more natural and fruitful experience if you follow these simple steps. The measures will prove useful if you adopt the right mindset and find a learning style that motivates you. Then create specific goals so that you can put in the work and monitor your progress over time.

1st May 2018 | Beverly Landais

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