How People Learn

“The longest journey on earth begins with a single step.”
(Anonymous)

Can you remember when you first learned how to drive a car? Before you learned how, you were in theIgnorancestage. You didn’t know how to drive the car and you didn’t even know why you didn’t know how to drive it.

When you first went out with an instructor to learn how to drive, you arrived at the Phase 2:Awareness. You still couldn’t drive, but because of your new awareness of the automobile and its parts, you were consciously aware of why you couldn’t drive. You may have felt overwhelmed by the tasks before you, but when these tasks were broken down one by one, they weren’t so awesome after all. They became attainable. Step by step, familiarity replaced fear.

With some additional practice and guidance, you were able to become competent in driving the car through recognition of what you had to do. However, you had to be consciously aware of what you were doing with all of the mechanical aspects of the car as well as with your body. You had to be consciously aware of turning on your blinker signals well before you executed a turn. You had to remember to monitor the traffic behind you in your rearview mirror. You kept both hands on the wheel and noted your car’s position relative to the centerline road divider. You were consciously aware of all of these things as you competently drove. This third phase is the hardest stage – the one in which your people may want to give up. This is thePracticestage. People tend to feel uncomfortable when they goof, but this is an integral part of Phase 3. Human beings experience stress when they implement new behaviors, especially when they perform them imperfectly.

In Phase 3, you must realize that you’ll want to revert to the older, more comfortable behaviors, even if those behaviors are less productive. At this phase, you must realize it’s alright to make mistakes. In fact, it’s necessary so you can improve through practice, practice and more practice.

Returning to the car example, think of the last time that you drove. Were you consciously aware of all of the actions that I just mentioned above? Of course not! Most of us, after driving awhile, progress to a level ofHabitual Performance. This is the level where we can do something well and don’t even have to think about the steps. They come “naturally” because they’ve been so well-practiced that they’ve shifted to automatic pilot. This final stage, Phase 4, is when practice results in assimilation and habitual performance; where your productivity increases beyond its previous level and reaches a new and higher plateau.

This four-phase model for success can help you break out of the rut most of us dig for ourselves. By experiencing success and encouragement at each level, change can be exciting instead of intimidating. The bottom line is this: skills and attitudes will both improve by taking one step at a time.

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Are Your Intellectual Muscles Strong or Getting Flabby?

Don’t let your intellectual muscles get flabby!

Your intellectual image comes from how well you’ve developed what’s inside your skull. This is your intellectual self. I’m not talking about a high IQ or your ability to win at Trivial Pursuit. I’m referring to the depth and breadth of your knowledge, your mental fitness. Most of us were given plenty of basic intelligence. We alone decide whether we’ll use it to capacity or let it get flabby or stiff from disuse.

Can your mind lift abstract concepts from The Wall Street Journal, or from the professional journal in your field? Can you grasp the intricacies of a problem explained by someone in a field completely different from your own?

Can you see an issue from a perspective that’s 180-degrees from your own feelings? Can you entertain ideas that come from a different culture, or from people you don’t like? Can you hang in there when it’s going to take a lot of convincing to get people to see things your way, or when it’s going to mean clearing seven committees and the CEO?

Training your mind to take on longer-term and more demanding tasks gives you the stamina you need when mental marathons come up. Other ways to strengthen your mind might include:

– Taking some classes in a subject you’ve always wondered about — art history, acting, geology — but never studied.

– Learning to play a musical instrument. Or, if you prefer, learning to scuba dive.

– Committing to teaching yourself a new and difficult skill: celestial navigation perhaps, or gourmet cooking, or origami, or winemaking.

– Joining a foreign-affairs group, or investment club, or reading circle, where new issues and speakers abound.

– Buying an expensive subscription to a weighty series of books or musical performances. Paying so much, you’ll probably feel compelled to get your money’s worth.

– Here’s a real test of mental discipline: Listening to a daytime TV talk show without making judgments about the intelligence of the participants!

Another intellect-strengthening exercise is to get in the habit of not assigning labels to people. When you’re at a party and another guest is introduced to you as “a life-insurance salesperson,” don’t you, mentally at least, take a couple of steps backward? Ditto, perhaps, for “IRS auditor,” “debutante,” “parole officer,” or “yachtsman,” depending on your mind-set?

Thus, the hidden assumptions of language can control your behavior. Your preconceived notions of accountants, say, as bland and boring, or of professors as tweedy and reserved, probably does you and them a disservice and may prematurely kill what could be a valuable relationship.

To maximize your intellectual image, attempt to get past the labels. Don’t overlook, for instance, the opinions of a mere “clerk” while perhaps overvaluing those of a “consultant.” It takes intellectual strength to avoid the trap of confusing the specific for the general. But if you can get into the habit of appreciating people’s unique, human side and not judging them generically, you’ll win their respect — and you may learn something, too.

How People Learn

Can you remember when you first learned how to drive a car? Before you learned how, you were in the Ignorance stage. You didn’t know how to drive the car and you didn’t even know why you didn’t know how to drive it.

When you first went out with an instructor to learn how to drive, you arrived at the Phase 2:Awareness. You still couldn’t drive, but because of your new awareness of the automobile and its parts, you were consciously aware of why you couldn’t drive. You may have felt overwhelmed by the tasks before you, but when these tasks were broken down one by one, they weren’t so awesome after all. They became attainable. Step by step, familiarity replaced fear.

With some additional practice and guidance, you were able to become competent in driving the car through recognition of what you had to do. However, you had to be consciously aware of what you were doing with all of the mechanical aspects of the car as well as with your body. You had to be consciously aware of turning on your blinker signals well before you executed a turn. You had to remember to monitor the traffic behind you in your rearview mirror. You kept both hands on the wheel and noted your car’s position relative to the centerline road divider. You were consciously aware of all of these things as you competently drove.

This third phase is the hardest stage – the one in which your people may want to give up. This is the Practice stage. People tend to feel uncomfortable when they goof, but this is an integral part of Phase 3. Human beings experience stress when they implement new behaviors, especially when they perform them imperfectly.

In Phase 3, you must realize that you’ll want to revert to the older, more comfortable behaviors, even if those behaviors are less productive. At this phase, you must realize it’s alright to make mistakes. In fact, it’s necessary so you can improve through practice, practice and more practice.

Returning to the car example, think of the last time that you drove. Were you consciously aware of all of the actions that I just mentioned above? Of course not! Most of us, after driving awhile, progress to a level of Habitual Performance. This is the level where we can do something well and don’t even have to think about the steps. They come “naturally” because they’ve been so well practiced that they’ve shifted to automatic pilot. This final stage, Phase 4, is when practice results in assimilation and habitual performance; where your productivity increases beyond its previous level and reaches a new and higher plateau.

This four-phase model for success can help you break out of the rut most of us dig for ourselves. By experiencing success and encouragement at each level, change can be exciting instead of intimidating. The bottom line is this: skills and attitudes will both improve by taking one step at a time.