In order to stay relevant and competitive, we have to ready and able to learn. While the ability to learn new things quickly and adapt to that learning has always been a key factor for success, it’s even more important these days as the pace of innovation is reaching new heights. These are exciting times for sure. Make sure you’re ready!
(Photo Credit: John Althouse Cohen/Flickr)
Here are a few tips to help you keep up by becoming an even better learner.
1. Be enthusiastic, not afraid.
On a bad day, it might seem like younger workers are more capable of harnessing all the powers of new technology and applying them to your business than you could ever be. But, the first key to becoming a better learner is to eliminate your fear and self-doubt and replace these feelings with enthusiasm.
Fear releases chemicals into the body that actually impede learning. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, opens us up to trying and learning new things. We’re out of our own heads when we’re in this state, and thinking about the task at hand instead of ourselves and our doubt. So, know that you can learn new things and remind yourself of all the reasons you want to do just that. Having a positive mindset is an important factor in being a great learner.
2. Be willing to relearn, or even unlearn, old stuff.
When you’re working on learning something new, you have to be willing to cast doubt on everything that you thought you knew up until that point. Question old ways of doing things, and place old systems under the microscope. If you’re super busy defending the way you’ve always thought or the way you’ve done things up until now, you won’t be as open to learning a new way. Be willing to let go of things you once “knew” and you’ll find new learning has an easier time sinking in.
3. Find the strength and courage to be a little uncomfortable.
Monique Valcour recently wrote a piece for Harvard Business Review about the importance of what she referred to as “learning agility.” One of the tips she highlighted for successfully building this skill was to step out of your comfort zone. Being willing to struggle, to ask questions, to try things that you aren’t sure you will be good at right away, these are the building blocks that lead to better learning.
“Staying within your comfort zone is a good way to prepare for today, but it’s a terrible way to prepare for tomorrow,” David Peterson, director of executive coaching and leadership at Google, told Valcour.
It can be hard for highly successful people (especially perfectionists) to open themselves up in this way. But, remember that it takes strength and courage to be willing to try something new.
4. Learn in order to keep learning.
Learning new things is a practice that propagates itself. If it’s something you do often, you’re likely to continue to learn. This is true generally, and also specifically. In other words, if you’re the kind of person who often enjoys learning new things, than the process will naturally come easier to you than it will for folks who are out of practice.
The idea also works when learning something specific. Let’s say you’re learning to code – practicing your new skill often will help to cement the new learning. This phenomenon relates to a process known as “pruning.” This is a brain process that involves the elimination of certain pathways and the maintenance of others. Practicing new skills helps to strengthen them; do so often when learning a new skill.
5. Work on boosting your executive functioning skills.
Executive functioning skills (attention, memory, ability to multitask, etc.) are proven to contribute significantly to our ability to learn and retain new information. Additionally, research suggests that these skills can be honed and strengthened. Practice resisting temptations for distraction and focus on improving the flexibility of your thinking, for example.
Being generally aware of your focus and the rigidity (or hopefully, lack thereof) of your thinking could help set your mind on a track that will improve your overall ability to learn new things quickly. Try to stay open-minded and engaged throughout the learning process and your new skill will improve right alongside your ability to learn.
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