How to be an extraordinary learner

This article featured on the Training Zone website on 7th January

Ian Lock has some tips to up your learning game. Read on for enlightenment.

When was the last time you truly learnt something new? 

I don’t mean something small like someone’s name or how to get from one place to another. I mean something that required your learning muscle to be properly flexed. 

The world we live in today is changing at an exponential rate. Keeping up with the new technologies and the vast information available at our fingertips is a big task. The connections we are able to make to different people with different thoughts and new ideas all around the world flood our lives not only with possibilities but with a whole raft of new things for us to learn. The speed of this change is only predicted to get faster, so how can you prepare yourself to be an extraordinary learner in this future? 

There’s something that happens to us as we grow older concerning the process of learning. When we are children it’s accepted that we will take time to learn, that we will get things wrong and that to really succeed we need encouragement when we get it right and when we get it wrong. In fact to really learn, we need to fail as much as we need to succeed. But as adults many of us actively shy away from getting it wrong and falling over in our learning. It’s as if suddenly we feel that we should have developed an ability to learn immediately, to be brilliant (or at least competent) very quickly. We get caught in trying to look good in everything that we do. 

I remember the utter joy and frustration I experienced about 10 years ago when I started to learn to surf. This was a completely new experience for me and a skill I didn’t have. The focus and concentration required was both exhilarating and exhausting. Time and time again I would try to stand up on the board once I had caught a wave and fall headfirst into the water. It took me 20 hours of practice before I could stand, even briefly, on the board. This was because I refused to take any lessons for the first week as I thought I ought to be able to do it myself! 

There were times when my desire to get it right would be so strong that each failure was like a personal indication of my utter inability to be good at surfing. I also remember the first wave that I rode into shore all the way and the sheer exhilaration that I felt on being able to do it. Hours of practice had paid off, I was now a surfer, or so I thought. In reality I had learnt just a little about a very complex and skilled sport. 

This is where our ability to practise self compassion helps us to be extraordinary learners. Self compassion allows us to fall over, to fail, to get it wrong, to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It allows us to ask for help and it allows us to smile when we can’t always learn as quickly as we’d like. It reminds us that learning is about discovering something new and taking the time to do that properly and enjoyably. Most importantly it gives us a much greater chance of succeeding because it allows us to take the time to understand and explore and really embed what we are learning. 

So – what are the questions you should be asking yourself to become an extraordinary learner? 

  • What is your current approach to learning something new? 

Are you gentle and compassionate with yourself? Do you allow yourself time to learn, or do you set yourself punishing standards and try to get it right straight away? 

  • What are your beliefs about what helps you and others learn brilliantly?

 Think about when you learn best, what are the factors that are usually in place? How do they help you learn? Similarly with others, when have you noticed that others learn best? What is the environment that you need to create to facilitate successful learning? 

  • What have you noticed that stops you learning? 

Think about the things that you have noticed over the years that really reduce your ability to learn. How do you set yourself and others up to fail? Do you have beliefs about learning that might be hindering you? 

  • What would an extraordinary approach to learning be for you? 

Imagine yourself learning at your very best. How you would create an environment that allows you to do this? 

  • What opportunities will you take to learn today? 

Approach everything you are doing today as an extraordinary learner. See what you find out and what difference it makes. Notice where you have stopped using your learning perspective and are actively employing your ‘I know what I’m doing’ perspective.

Ultimately learning is not about looking good, it’s about being genuinely interested in the possibilities and the joy that result from growing and developing as we walk through our lives.

Ian Lock