One of the most important things you can ever do is learn. It’s how a child grows into an adult, a novice becomes an expert, and a newbie becomes a savvy veteran.
Learning enhances and strengthens your memory, boosts your capabilities and confidence, and provides the fuel and the spark for your creativity – all of which allows you to, among other things:
- Better understand what’s going on,
- Identify, avoid, and solve problems,
- Come up with new ideas,
- Create and pursue your own tasks, projects, and goals.
But although you almost certainly can and do learn, that doesn’t mean you’re making the most of the power of learning, any more than simply walking or running automatically means you’re getting the most benefit from your exercise.
Fortunately, you can learn to learn better.
If you take steps to learn in better and more effective ways, you’ll not only get more of the benefits available from learning, you’ll also absorb and retain more of everything you learn.
Here are some ideas on how you can maximize the power of learning:
Learn Through Action
One of the best ways to learn is simply by taking action. Just start doing something you think you’d like to do, and you’ll learn plenty.
Of course, learning through action can lead to unexpected problems and unwanted consequences. For example, you may do some of your learning by touching a hot stove, investing poorly, or eating something that makes you sick.
This is why learning through action generally works better when you follow some guidance and/or exercise caution. You’ll gain more and suffer less from learning through action when you ask for advice, read books, watch instructional videos, and otherwise avoid the unmarked poison ivy and predators that regularly cross our paths.
Learn Through Analysis
In addition to your mind’s ability to receive and remember information, it’s a powerful tool for learning because it can also figure out some of what’s going on “behind the scenes” of the situations, events, and activities you perceive.
This kind of analysis is a complicated subject, of course, and varies considerably depending what you are trying to analyze. However, much analysis boils down to answering such questions as:
- What’s really going on here?
- What motivates the people involved?
- What forces are at work?
- How do these forces operate individually and in combination?
- Which of these forces and other relevant factors can I control?
- What changes do I have the power to make?
By analyzing the situations, events, and activities you encounter, you can learn a great deal about both the specifics of what you are analyzing and the more general principles and patterns you will almost certainly encounter again and again, elsewhere in the world.
Learn Through Decision-Making
Situations, events, and activities often present you with choice points, where you can decide how you will proceed going forward.
Some of your decisions will lead to favorable outcomes; some will not. But whatever happens, your choices and the outcomes they produce provide wonderful opportunities for you to learn more about:
- Your capabilities, preferences, and feelings,
- Other people’s capabilities, preferences, and feelings,
- How the world works in this and perhaps other situations,
- How to obtain better results in the future.
It’s regrettable that much of life is not a science experience, because if it were you could easily re-visit and re-run a particular choice point under controlled conditions to learn how each of your possible choices would work out.
But although many of your choices in your work and your life are “one-off” – that is, you might never face the exact same choice again – you can still learn a great deal to help you make better decisions in other situations, events, and activities.
Learn Through Imagination
As you learn more about yourself and your world, you begin to gain an ability to form your own ideas about the past, present, or future. These imaginary situations, events, and activities allow you to – in a sense – run those “experiments on reality” without causing actual problems or doing actual harm.
This gives you a safe method of learning about at least some of the people, places, and things you encounter. Learning through imagination thus helps you be smarter about what you may eventually do and say in real life.
Learn Through Observation
As we’ve discussed, much learning is based on what you do, what you think about, and what you decide. But you can also learn by watching others.
Experts, for example, have already spent a lot of time and effort to learn a great deal about their specialty. By observing them in action, you can absorb some of what they’ve learned – usually faster and easier than they originally learned it.
And you can learn from non-experts, too. The “Darwin Awards,” for example, are a great source for learning what not to do. But there’s a good chance that observing almost anyone and anything can offer you an opportunity to learn something.
Learn Through Reflection
Reflection is a combination of analysis, imagination, and observation that can also lead to learning.
For example, when you reflect on how you handled a recent task, project, or goal, you can often identify:
- How you felt about it at the time, and now.
- What you did right.
- What you did wrong.
- What you can do better next time.
Regularly learning these lessons from your own experience – as well as from those of others, when possible – can result in a rich source of experience, understanding, and wisdom that you can share with others, and that will help you increase your future level of productivity and success.
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