When life gets complicated it is helpful to remember that "a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." It seems that key to learning new skills is to live at least part of your life in the stretch zone as it builds resilience, makes change possible and helps develop a growth mindset. This means seeking out new experiences and stepping up when you have the chance to try out new skills.
It also helps to know your learning style. There are many different approaches to learning, but according to an article by Marcus Buckingham in the Harvard Business Review (June 2015), the three most common styles are: analysing, doing and watching. Most people have a combination of learning techniques.
- Someone predisposed to analysing will understand a task by taking it apart, examining its elements, and reconstructing it piece by piece. If this sounds familiar, you are likely to learn more efficiently through role-play, seeking to understand the detail and the assessment of progress.
- Doers need practical experience, and they probably don't check the instruction manual before they start. People like this tend to figure things out as they go. If this is you, then the best way to motivate yourself to learn a new skill is to dive right in and attempt some of the more straightforward aspects. Over time you can increase the complexity of the tasks until you master every element.
- Others would rather watch demonstrations and listen to explanations. For instance, TED talks, video tutorials, attending workshops or lectures are all excellent ways to stimulate learning if you are a watcher.
You can work out your ideal learning style by looking back. A good tip is to reflect on some of your past learning experiences. Make a list of good ones and another list of bad ones. Identifying common strands can help you determine the learning environment that works best for you. For example, I thrive when exposed to practical, evidence-based learning that is informed by robust research, experimentation and reflection.
I recently became a member of the Henley Centre for Coaching, which is a global leader in coaching research and coach training. The Centre holds appeals for me because it consists of leading practitioners and academics whose writing, thinking and analysis are at the cutting edge of coaching practice. It is also a vibrant learning community where coaches network, collaborate and share ideas. I am a lifelong learner, so keeping my skill set fresh and up-to-date is a pleasure. I also believe that it is my professional duty to ensure clients benefit from new thinking in coaching practice, which is why I invest in Continuous Professional Development.
Take a moment for yourself today to consider how you best absorb ideas, information and data. A handy self-coaching question is: "What did I learn today?" which will help keep you in the zone of a growth mindset. Then think about what can you do today to accelerate your learning. Here are a few ideas:
- Watch a TED talk on a challenging topic.
- Go to a lunchtime concert or visit an art exhibition.
- Perhaps attend a seminar on a topic about which you know nothing?
- What about starting a book club at work?
- Don't just admire someone's expertise - why not ask them to share some tips.
- What are the courses offered by your local adult education centre?
- Set aside time in your diary for learning experiences - otherwise, it is unlikely to happen.
Seek out the quality online platform for education and learning. For example, have you checked out online courses offered by edX? Founded by Harvard and MIT, edX is home to more than 20 million learners, the majority of top-ranked universities in the world and industry-leading companies. These are often relatively inexpensive and enable you to learn new skills and enjoy the society of others.
Consider how you can blend quality digital learning experiences with in-person activities. Doing so will maximise the benefits of exposure to fresh ideas and enable you to test given assumptions while enjoying a shared experience. The possibilities for trying out different ways of expanding your mind are limitless. The question is: What will you do today to broaden your learning horizon?