After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. ~ from the movie “The Matrix”
Over the last few weeks I’ve discussed the importance of developing a practice of learning. As someone whose schedule is filled to the brim with obligations that demand my attention from morning until night, I’ve certainly had my share of struggles over the years accomplishing this exact goal. In case you can say the same, here are three suggestions that may help.
Remind yourself the goal is learning and nothing else.
From the moment we enter the school system we are trained to associate learning with outcomes such as exam scores, progressing to the next grade, getting into our college of choice, and graduating college. This way of thinking carries forward to our professional lives when learning becomes associated with increased pay, better jobs, and moving ahead. These are all worthy goals but if we want to develop a habit of learning, the key is to remind ourselves there is pleasure simply in learning. Learning in and of itself is the goal.
The reason for this is simple.
The last thing busy professionals want is for learning to become another job or task on an already overflowing to-do list. If that occurs, given the choice at the end of a long day between learning or plugging into the Matrix, most of us will chose the latter. On the other hand, if we remove expectations, deadlines, and outcomes, not only do we increase the likelihood of keeping at it but we’ll tend to focus on what is really important, namely, the process of learning.
Recall that what started us down this path was the recognition that technological change will make it increasingly difficult to remain relevant in today’s economy. Further, because change is occurring so rapidly, it’s difficult to know what we should learn today to be relevant in the future. If we focus on process instead of product, I contend it really doesn’t matter what you’re learning as long as your ability to acquire knowledge improves. Not only will this allow you to keep up your chops for when you really need them, my sense is folks who believe in their ability to learn new things are more likely to embrace change – a prerequisite to remaining successful in an ever changing world.
Construct learning goals in bite-sized chunks.
My wife and I chose to be be married in the Grand Canyon because we had spent many a week there backpacking during our courtship. So it was that the both of us, our sisters, and a pastor hiked eight miles into the Canyon to a spot we had picked out several years prior for the ceremony.
When it came time to hike back out, it quickly became apparent that in the absence of some help, our pastor wasn’t going to make it. I took his pack and walked with him, and proceeded to discretize his return journey into half-mile chunks. I’d point ahead at a curve in the trail or a pile of rocks and get him to focus on that rather than the entire journey ahead. We’d get to that next point in the trail, take a break, and then continue on our way so that eventually we made it out of Canyon just as it was getting dark.
It’s important to view learning in the same manner I encouraged my pastor to view the trail. Rather than making overarching statements like, “I’m going to learn to become a/an ….”, it’s better to partition your goals into bite-sized chunks. This will keep you moving along the way and when you take the occasional breaks, you’ll be more likely to get back up and tackle the next stage.
Since I don’t like the idea of being a “hobbyist,” I personally have a very difficult time with this approach. However, with a business to run, a family to support, and an expanding waistline to battle, the fact is, on a good day dabbling is all the time I have. I suspect it’s the same with you.
Regardless of how busy or difficult things are though, each of us gets to decide between the blue pill or the red pill. That is, while there is nothing we can do to stop technology or some new Mr. Smith fresh out of college from vying for our jobs, we do get to decide whether to spend 30 minutes on our social media feed or 30 minutes in Wonderland seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes.
As for the pastor, I ran into him years later at a bass camp (the instrument, not the fish) when I heard my name being yelled out from across the room. He made his way to me and thanked me for saving his life and teaching him about the Canyon. I told him, as evidenced by my happy marriage, there was a whole lot of saving going on that day and we parted company. Before the day was over I was lucky enough to watch our pastor jam with the accomplished bass player Harvey Brooks.
Pick learning goals that can be integrated into your over-scheduled life.
Although commitments at work and home may prevent you from realizing your dream of going back to school, they shouldn’t keep you from learning. A few weeks ago I mentioned that while I’d love to continue playing the guitar, it’s simply not something I can integrate into my life at the moment. I can however, pick up a book, take an online course or listen to a podcast, and so can you.
Indeed, for awhile the only free time I had during the week was during my son’s basketball practice. Instead of spending that time chatting with other parents or watching my son mess around in line, I’d put on my headphones and open up my laptop.
Don’t know where to start?
How about with the most popular Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) of all time (according to The Online Course Report): Learning how to Learn. Created by the University of California, San Diego the course contains nine hours of content including lectures about procrastination, memory, and techniques for learning. Give it a try and you too may find yourself agreeing with Bertrand Russell who once said:
The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.
And now to broaden our minds with new music. As to this week’s music selection for the Manufacturing Peace of Mind Spotify playlist, I thought it appropriate to add some music that featured Harvey Brooks. Having played with artists as diverse as Dylan (on Highway 61 Revisited), Davis (on Bitches Brew) and the Doors (The Soft Parade), there is certainly a lot to choose from. Will give it some thought and add a few songs!
On that note, until next week, here’s to living the good life.
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Having said that, I am interested to hear from you. Good, bad, or otherwise, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m the only person who will read your email and, as time allows, I’ll do my best, at a minimum, to personally acknowledge receipt.