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Make smart learning a life-long habit

12th October 2018 | Beverly Landais

If you want to do well in your career and acquire the skills you need for personal growth, then you need to take responsibility for your learning. Many of us find it difficult to obtain new skills or be innovative in our approach to problem-solving even when there is the opportunity. Why is this? There are three issues at stake:

Being trapped in the comfort zone

You are at ease with what you already know and feel safe in your “comfort zone”. However, when most of your activity in this zone life is “comfortable”, you have limited opportunity for personal growth.

Focusing on just doing more of the same can lead to the zone shrinking. Your “stretch zone” is the area of novelty, exploration and adventure. This zone is not a comfortable place, but it is a stimulating one. It is where you meet challenges - mentally, emotionally or physically. Without regular stretch, you can easily end up in the “panic zone” by default. When this happens, you can feel anxious, stressed and out of control.

The key to learning new skills is to live at least part of your life in the stretch as it builds resilience, makes change possible and helps develop a growth mindset. This means seeking out new experiences and stepping up when you have the chance to try out new skills.

Fear of change

You can feel unsettled by change even when it is self-directed. Often FEAR is a key driver. This is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. When this happens your primitive “fight/flight” kicks in, and you react instinctively to something new as a perceived threat. The brain goes into survival autopilot and focuses on the worst-case scenario. You begin to collect evidence that confirms your belief that you will fail.

The result is that your “panic zone” is activated and, of course, this makes it unlikely that you will succeed. So, the vicious cycle continues. The important thing is to notice when you are in autopilot and to do something about it. Here is a framework to self-coach in these situations as suggested by Chris Johnstone, resilience specialist:

What’s the worst that can happen?

  • What’s my evidence for this?
  • How can I act to mitigate the worst?

What’s most likely to happen?

  • Is this ‘good enough’?
  • If not, how can I improve on this?

What’s the best that can happen?

  • How can I act to enable this? 
  • What will this take?
  • What support do I need?
  • Where might I find this?
  • What’s the first step?

Poor learning technique 

It is rare for people to be taught the methods of learning effectively and thinking analytically or creatively. You often get taught “what” but not “how”. Fast learning and clear thinking are skills that can be acquired with deliberate practice. They are skills that 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. Most people have a combination of learning techniques. 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.

The full version of this article is published in the PSMG magazine October 2018 

12th October 2018 | Beverly Landais

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