July 6, 2015

Learning #5

There are states for accelerating your learning and there are states that will not only de-accelerate the learning, but actually bring your learning to nearly a stand-still. In the last “Neurons” (#28) I spoke about the state of trying to feel good when learning and how that will interfere with your learning. Because learning, by its very nature, means entering into a realm where you do not know something and/or are unsure, uncertain, confused, ignorant, etc. if you do not know how to live comfortably with the discomfort of not-knowing, then your dislike-of-your-discomfort will undermine your learning. You will be focused on your feelings rather than on your learning.

Let’s now focus on the states which will accelerate your learning. And probably the very best model for this is a young child who is still a ferocious learning machine. What enables a young child to be so incredibly able to learn? Isn’t it the drive of curiosity, the playfulness of experimenting, and the passion of being safe to learn? Put a small child in a home where two languages are spoken and the child will become fluent in both. If there are three languages, the child will fluently speak three. How do explain this?

The child isn’t “trying” to learn in the way that we adults “try.” The child’s trying is more that of playing around, testing, and experimenting. The child will jabber all sorts of sounds trying to make the sounds of the languages and he does that without any self-judgment, without any pressure for performance. The child will laugh and giggle and play at it. It’s fun. For the child there’s no mistakes, there’s just the practice and the play and there’s no long-term goal by which he is measuring himself.

Could this be the difference? Could we adults be trying too hard?

Could we be interrupting the learning by our premature evaluations?

Could we be inducing ourselves into states of pressure when we need states of fun and passion?

We know that children during the early years are passionate learners. They learn easily and quickly, and it doesn’t seem that they have to be trying. By way of contrast, if we fast-forward just a few years, with most children we begin to see a very different picture. They become less effective in learning, now learning becomes a struggle for them, now they have less passion, less fun, less experimenting. Now they may even come to “hate school,” think “learning is stupid,” despise and not want to go through that experience. So what’s happened? What has gone wrong?

Could it be that School has induced the wrong learning states? Could it be that the teachers and classes have not preserved the original passionate states about learning? Conversely, what if the School and the teachers set out to create a context where a child’s original learning states could be maintained? If that happened, they would aim to create a context for the drive of curiosity, the playfulness of experimenting, and the passion of being safe to learn. How would they do that? What changes would be required? What new skills would the teachers have to learn to be able to facilitate this?

I’m mostly involved with adult learning. In the trainings I conduct, the books and articles I write, the consultations and coaching sessions that I do, those I seek to influence are adults. This provides me two challenges. The first concerns the learning states and strategies of those who come to the trainers. The questions I ask myself regarding them are these:

Do they know how to learn? Do they have access to their best learning states when they arrive? Do they have an effective learning strategy?

Many simply do not. They want it but simply have not developed it. So in the trainings I assume responsibility for facilitating the context for inducing the best states—curiosity, relevance, fun, challenge, meaningfulness, playfulness, etc. With them I will use lots of practices (exercises) which will immediately challenge them to do something about the learning. Many “professional students” find that challenging and very uncomfortable. They want to passively receive and just sit back and think about it (philosophize) and not do anything.

The second concern is for those who have learned ineffective learning states and strategies. This is a bigger challenge because they not only lack the best states and strategies for learning, but they first have to do some unlearning to eliminate states and strategies that are in the way. Here I also ask myself lots of questions to discover the specific things that they have learned which now block and interfere and prevent effectively learning today.

Do you have permission in yourself to be confused? Do you have to get everything the first time? Do you put pressure on yourself to understand fully, to be able to perform with excellence, to pass the tests? Do you allow yourself to ask “dumb questions?” Do you mis-match everything you hear trying to find how it is different and not the same as what you already know? “That can’t be right because of ….” Do you match everything you hear so that you put it into the categories you that you already know then you can tuck it away, “I already know that, it’s the same as…”

Learning requires lots of things—openness, exploration, experimenting, trial and error, making mistakes, doing uncomfortable things, playing around, having fun, being silly, using your full mind-body system (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.), interacting, reflecting, getting confused and living with the confusion, etc. Learning involves taking in information of all sorts, representing that information in multiple ways, using it, experimenting with it, seeing how it fits, its relevance, comprehending its meanings and significance, and integrating it into one’s overall style and life.

Now given that the future belongs to those who are forever learning and learning faster and more thoroughly than the competition— the states and strategies of learning lie at the heart of business, of entrepreneurship, of wealth creation, of living an adventurous life, etc. Here’s another thing about learnings states and strategies— when you see a human being, regardless of age, in the accelerated learning states, you see someone alive mentally, emotionally, and physically. The accelerated learning states makes that person young, more vital, more passionate, more awakened to the wonder and mystery and joy of life. For me, that’s reason enough. Now, pass me that book! 🙂

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.